Counterfeit Gospels (In Review)

Derek Ouellette —  May 2, 2011

Counterfeit Gospels
Trevin Wax
4 Stars (out of 5)

If some accused me of “turning to a different gospel” I think I’d be offended. Are you calling me a heretic? Are you saying I’ve abandoned the great Gospel of Jesus Christ? How dare you accuse me of preaching a counterfeit gospel?

Pause on that thought, we’ll return to it.

In Counterfeit Gospels Trevin Wax wants to present the fullness of the Gospel.  The Gospel is like a three-legged stool in which if one of these legs is emphasized to the point of eclipsing one or both of the other legs, the Gospel cannot stand. Furthermore, within each leg stands the possibility of distortions. These distortions Trevin refers to as “counterfeits”.  The Gospel with its respective counterfeits looks like this:

3 Legged Gospel Gospel Story Gospel Announcement Gospel Community
Counterfeits Therapeutic gospel Moralistic gospel Activist gospel
Judgmentless gospel Quietist gospel Churchless gospel

Many people want to boil down the Gospel to the “Gospel Announcement” and this leads people into the error of seeing the Old Testament as irrelevant to the Christian life. But the Gospel announcement without the Gospel story makes no sense. To say that Christ died for our sins presupposes that we have a problem which is carefully explained and elaborated throughout the O.T.

Many other Christians see little need for the Gospel community. As long as they accept the message of the announcement they are good to go. But this continues to perpetuate the error of distorting the fullness of the Gospel:

“The gospel story is the context in which we make the gospel announcement. But we must not neglect the third leg of this stool, the gospel community that the announcement births.” – p.154

There exists within each leg of the Gospel proper the possibility of distortions. In the Gospel Story many preach the erroneous therapeutic “feel good” gospel which is never too far from the judgmentless gospel. In the Gospel Announcement many proclaim a moralistic “you can do it” gospel which is never far from its individualistic counterpart, the quietist gospel. In the Gospel Community many proclaim the erroneous activist gospel and the churchless gospel.

What makes a counterfeit a counterfeit is that it resembles the real thing, with perhaps a wrong emphasis here or minor distortion there. But in the end, it amounts to a counterfeit of the real holistic Gospel.


I don’t think this book would stand a chance against sharp criticism from liberal Christians. But it’s not made to. The intended audience is clearly conservative Evangelicals who may not have a balanced understanding of the Gospel from an Evangelical perspective.

On the whole I think Trevin’s assessment is pretty accurate, though I still content against his assertion that “under this one truth (Penal Substitution) all the other atonement theories find their place” (p.95). Trevin places the raising of the Christus Victor motif in a place of prominence above the Penal Substitution under the counterfeit of the “judgmentless gospel” where he writes disapprovingly, “Jesus’ death is more about defeating humanity’s enemies (death, sin, Satan) than the need for God’s wrath to be averted by His sacrifice” (p.73).

But at least I can see where he’s coming from. The frustration I am beginning to feel is that people seem to downplay the real issue, the root of humanities problem – separation from God as a result of Adam’s rebellion – and the need for reconciliation through the Penal death of Christ on the cross. I don’t think that Penal substitution and Christus Victor stand opposed to each other. I agree with Trevin that to raise the Victor motif to the point of eclipsing or making void the Penal aspect of Christ’ death does result in a counterfeit.

But I would add that to raise the Penal view to the point of eclipsing the Victor aspect of Christ’ life, death, resurrection and ascension – something too common among conservative Evangelicals – equally results in a counterfeit. I don’t recall Trevin adding this balance. But then again, I didn’t expect he would since he tends to favor this theory himself.

On the whole, I thought it was well done for a book written on a popular level. I agree with Jim Belcher’s assessment of this book when he described it as “a full-orbed and robust view of the gospel”.

Returning to the pause. This book is not about accusing anyone of preaching a counterfeit gospel. In fact, I think I’ve emphasized on point of these counterfeits or another throughout dialogue and preaching. This book is an encouragement to keep the “full-orbed” gospel in mind, to keep a healthy view of the gospel and a warning against accidentally falling into one of the many distortions of the gospel out there. Survey the comments on this blog – comments that include this very author – and you’ll see what I mean. In dialoguing and defending our views we tend to overemphasis one point or another, usually amounting to a distortion of the healthy gospel. I’m glad Trevin wrote it.

Be Sociable, Share!

Derek Ouellette

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Kyle Pitts

    I want to read the book.

  • Matt E.

    “I don’t think this book would stand a chance against sharp criticism from liberal Christians.” If by that you mean that they would disagree, granted. If by that you mean that conservative evangelical theology is lacking, well, that’s a matter of opinion I guess.

    • Derek Ouellette

      That is not at all what I meant Matt. Good conservative evangelical theology is not lacking. And actually that’s the point.

  • Matt E.

    Sorry for this misunderstanding. The part I quoted (the way I understood it) seemed a little out of place given the rest of your review. (My point was that we shouldn’t really care that liberal Christians would take issue with it. That’s a given.) Thanks for the clarification.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Many of my readers are strong progressives if not out right liberals in their theological outlook. Hope that explains the out of place statement.

  • Theodore A. Jones

    “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13
    FYI a law was added to the law after Jesus crucfixion. You’ll never hear about this in any church that I know of.

  • Bubi

    It\’s aalwys a pleasure to hear from someone with expertise.