Spotting Counterfeit Gospels

gospelThis week, I discussed “counterfeit gospels” with a couple guys I am meeting with for discipleship. After unpacking the horizontal gospel and vertical gospel for the last three months (those are my terms for what Matt Chandler has called the “gospel in the air” and the “gospel on the ground”), things began to crystalize as we considered ways in which evangelicals misunderstand the gospel.

To that end—understanding and recognizing our deviations from the gospel—Trevin Wax’s book Counterfeit Gospels is a great aid. In three sections, he outlines the gospel in terms of story (creation, fall, redemption, and new creation), announcement (God sent his son to die in the place of sinners; he raised him to life on the third day for the justification of sinners; and any and all who trust on Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be saved), and community (the people of God are formed by the gospel and are called to announce the gospel).

In each section, Trevin explains in detail what the gospel is, but then he devotes two chapters in each section to tackle what the gospel isn’t. And better than any book I’ve read on the gospel, his book exposes the false gospels of our day. What Counterfeit Gospels does so well is, borrowing the language of J. I. Packer, to show how half-truths masquerading as whole truths become damnable untruths—okay, so  I might have added the anathema. But the point remains.

A Modern Evangelical Problem

As is too often the case, Christians who (I think) believe in the gospel fail to communicate the gospel. Instead of articulating the gospel in Scriptural terms, they dress it up in psychological language, reduce the weight of God’s judgment, and replace evangelistic witnessing with social action as the mission of the church. And these deviations does not include the false teachers who outright reject the true gospel or intentionally declare a false gospel.

Concerning the unintentional misrepresentation of the gospel, I heard a pastor recently preach a gospel-less Good Friday message. Yet, when I spoke with him about it later and asked him what the gospel was, he clearly articulated it’s meaning. What is going on? Continue reading