In the Counterfeit Gospels Trevin Wax uses the metaphor of a three-legged stool for the Gospel, each leg being emblematic of one of the three aspects of the Gospel: The Gospel Story, The Gospel Announcement and The Gospel Community. In my review I took no issue with this metaphor because I agreed completely. But a blogger named John Starke (from the Gospel Coalition) did take issue. “The” Gospel is the Gospel Announcement. No matter how helpful the other two “legs” are (the Gospel Story and the Gospel Community) they are not “the” Gospel “per se“.
Apparently Trevin essentially agrees with John since he shares the view that the Gospel Announcement is the “core” of the Gospel, and so he clarifies the position he outlines in the book. But as John pressed Trevin to think about these important matters more carefully I feel as though Trevin has forfeited the “fully-orbed” and “robust” Gospel definition as he sought to express it in Counterfeit Gospels.
In short, I agree more with what I thought Trevin was saying in the book than I do now that he clarified what he meant.
The Clarifications In Question:
Trevin says that John put his finger on one of the dangers of his three-legged stool metaphor:
“People might come away with the impression that the gospel story, announcement, and community are all the same, or that they have the same function.”
In response I like to suggest that to say that “the gospel story, announcement, and community are all the same” is not the same thing as saying “that they have the same function.” I did walk away from Counterfeit Gospels agreeing with what I thought Trevin was saying, that the three legs of the stool are all the same (in a trinitarian sense which I’ll explore in a moment), but not for a moment did I think they had the same function.
Trevin then affirms John’s argument that “the community is not the gospel.” In a moment I’ll argue that the community is the gospel, but in a way that I think will transcend John and Trevin’s discussion.
The second concern is that Trevin’s three-legged stool metaphor will confuse the Gospel Story with the Gospel Announcement. Trevin again affirms John’s argument (in general). In the Gospel Story (defined as Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration) Trevin says that the “Creation-Fall” part (or God-man part) is not the Gospel strictly speaking, though it does give the Gospel context.
Again, Tevin affirms: “John is right to say that the grand narrative is not the gospel per se”. In a moment I’ll argue again that, like the Gospel community, the grand narrative is in fact the Gospel.
Trevin says that John “sees a danger in conflating the two. I see danger in separating the two”. Alas, we have the Christology debate all over again! Is Christ the same as the Father (a conflation of the two) or are they separate? And like in that debate, I’d like to point to another mystery and a much more emotive metaphor for a solution: a trinity.
The Community as the Body of Christ
In Counterfeit Gospels Trevin says that the Gospel Announcement “gives birth” to the Gospel Community. But in the post I am engaging with, Trevin clarifies that by “gives birth” he was making a distinction between the core of the Gospel (the announcement) and the Gospel Community. If the purpose of that distinction is to say that they do not serve the same function (as he says in the paragraph I am citing) then I’d wholly agree. But he builds on this argument to say that “the community is not the gospel”. I’d like to suggest that for something to be the “same” does not necessitate that it serves the same “function”.
Take the Trinity. It is made up of three persons who form one (the “same”) being but who each serve a different function. Trevin’s analogy of “gives birth” is very useful here. Wasn’t Jesus Christ “conceived” by the Holy Spirit? And yet by a Trinitarian reading of the scriptures Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one in that they are both “GOD”, but they serve very different functions even though in a sense the Spirit “gave birth” to the Son.
This analogy can actually be pushed further into the discussion of the Gospel Community. After all, didn’t the Spirit also “give birth” to the Body of Christ on Pentecost? Just as the Son was conceived by the Spirit and yet the two are one but serve two different functions, can it not also be said that the Gospel Announcement (i.e. Peter’s sermon) “gives birth” to the Gospel Community, that they serve different functions but are one and the same Gospel?
Let me offer an analogy from scripture as to how the Gospel Community can also be “the” Gospel. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes that “in Him we have become the righteousness of God”. N.T. Wright takes “we” to mean specifically the apostles, and “righteousness of God” to mean God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham climaxed in the cross. While I believe “we” is broader in application and includes the whole community of God, I think the analogy is fitting. The Community so embodies the faithfulness of God in Christ at the cross by being the risen new creation and proclamation of that good news message and victory, that Paul can literally say that “we have become” that righteousness of God. Whether we agree with that interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:21 or not, the analogy is fitting. Can it not also be said that “we have become” the Gospel?
The Story As Gospel
I like how Trevin turns to 1 Corinthians 15 to remind us that Paul “makes sure we know (twice) that this announcement is “in accordance with the Scriptures.” I was prepared to make that same point. Unfortunately Trevin still affirms that the Story merely gives context to the Gospel Announcement, but that “John is right to say that the grand narrative is not the gospel per se”. In 1 Corinthians 15 the actual Gospel Paul preaches is the Story of Jesus Christ which was “according to the scriptures”. I think proclaiming the Good News and the content of the Good News are two different facets of one and the same Gospel. But I want to push this point a bit further. In Hebrews 4 the author tells us that “we also had the Gospel preached to us, just as they did”, “they” being the ancient Israelites in the Exodus event. If the ancient Israelites had the same Gospel “preached” to them as we did, we have to ask, how was it preached or how was it “announced”? The answer is, through the narrative in which they were living. The Story did not just make up the context of the Announcement, the Story was the Announcement.
It seems that for Trevin and John “the” Gospel is another way to say the “Gospel Announcement” (the core of the Gospel) so that we could say that the Story is not “the Gospel per se” and that the Community is not “the Gospel per se”. But I think what Trevin argues in his book (as I understood it) presents a more fully-orbed and robust Gospel. As the Divine Trinity is made up of Three persons in One Being, so the Gospel is made up of three “legs” of one “stool”. As with the diagram above, I think it is a danger to raise one aspect of the Gospel above the other two in the Triune Gospel.
Like John I hope and pray that my counter-proposal to his counter-proposal will contribute in some small way in this very exciting conversation as we try to work out together and articulate a more fully robust understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
 I pushed “conceived” to “gives birth” for the sake of the analogy.