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Counterfeit Gospels

Back in March I wrote a post on a book I read that powerfully impacted me regarding the subject of humility from a biblical perspective titled Gospel-Powered Humility.” The subject of humility–true humility and not it’s false counterpart–is rarely preached in our churches today, yet it is a topic of utmost importance to Christians who desire to serve Jesus Christ from a pure heart. You can find that post by clicking here.

This past week I read another book that powerfully impacted me. The title of this book is Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope” by Trevin Wax (Moody Publishers, 2011). If you’re in my age group (Baby-boomers), we grew up in a time and culture that was still considered to be “Christian” America. That is no longer the case.

Over the past several decades that image of America has eroded significantly. America is rapidly becoming a “post-Christian” nation, and if you don’t believe me, just consider the ramifications of the following quote concerning the younger generation today:

“James Emery White, pastor and former president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, tells a story of an Episcopalian priest speaking to some parents who visited him with a notepad filled with questions from their teenage son. One of his questions was: ‘What is that guy doing hanging up there on a plus sign?'” (Counterfeit Gospels, p. 212). I don’t know about you, but that quote shocked me into a realization of hard fact–much of the younger generation doesn’t know anything about the gospel of Jesus Christ. What’s even more shocking is that his parents couldn’t answer his question.

Recently, Franklin Graham published a letter regarding the younger generation in America on The Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s website titled, Unless God Moves, This Will Be a Lost Generation.” I think part of the problem is parents who never believed or fell away from the faith years ago for a variety of reasons or have grown lukewarm in the faith over the years (starting with the Baby-boomers), and the many “counterfeit gospels” that have sprung up in our churches across the land over the past few decades as well as the lack of emphasis on the true gospel message from the pulpit.

If you want to see what the younger generation is reading, just go into any local bookstore and glance over the sections for teens and young adults. No wonder they have no idea who Jesus Christ is but they know all about witchcraft, or vampires, or whatever else is being published for them to read. And, if they do happen to attend church, they get an earful of “how to be the best that you can be” and other variations on that theme in the sermons that are so prolific in many churches all over America where Jesus Christ is almost a side note (if His name is mentioned at all) in the latest “sermon of the week.”

Trevin Wax’s book, Counterfeit Gospels,” exposes six common “counterfeit” gospels that saturate our American landscape today, both inside and outside the church. See if you recognize any of them (this information is taken from a chart on p. 210):

  1. The Therapeutic Gospel: The Fall (of mankind) is seen as the failure of humans to reach our potential. Sin is primarily about us, as it robs us of our sense of fullness. Christ’s death proves our inherent worth as human beings and gives us the power to reach our full potential. The church helps us along in our quest for personal happiness and vocational fulfillment.
  2. The Judgmentless Gospel: Restoration is more about God’s goodness than His judgment of evil or His response to rebellious humanity. 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. The boundaries between the church and the world are blurred in a way that makes personal evangelism less urgent and unnecessary.
  3. The Moralistic Gospel: Our sinful condition is seen as the individual sins we commit. Redemption comes through the exercise of willpower with God’s help. The good news is spiritual instruction about what we can do to win God’s favor and blessing upon our earthly endeavors.
  4. The Quietest Gospel: The Grand Narrative of Scripture is personal and applicable primarily to those areas of life that we define as spiritual. Christ’s death and resurrection is a private and personal message that changes individual hearts. It is not concerned with society and politics. The church focuses on self-preservation, maintaining its distinctiveness by resisting the urge to engage prophetically with culture.
  5. The Activist Gospel: The kingdom is advanced through the efforts of Christians to build a just society. We are the answer to our prayers for a better world. The gospel’s power is demonstrated through political, social, and cultural transformation brought about by involved Christians. The church finds its greatest unity around political causes or social projects.
  6. The Churchless Gospel: The storyline of Scripture focuses on an individual’s need for salvation and purpose. The community of faith is at the periphery of this narrative. The good news is an announcement solely for the redemption of individuals. The local church is viewed as either an optional aid to personal spirituality, or an obstacle to be discarded in one’s pursuit of God.

This book goes into much more detail on each of the six “counterfeit gospels” listed above, and it also states very clearly the true Gospel message of Jesus Christ in three parts which he describes as a three-legged stool: the Gospel Story; the Gospel Announcement; and the Gospel Community. A brief definition of those three parts is stated below and found on pp. 16-17:

  1. The Gospel Story: First there is a gospel story, the overarching grand narrative found in the Scriptures. The Bible tells us about God’s creation of a good world that was tainted by the sin of Adam and Eve. God gave the law to reveal His holiness and our need for a perfect sacrifice, which is provided by the death of Jesus Christ. This same Jesus will one day return to this earth to judge the living and the dead, and thus renew all things. The gospel story is the scriptural narrative that takes us from creation to new creation, climaxing with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  2. The Gospel Announcement: Second is the gospel announcement, namely that God–in the person of Jesus Christ–lived a perfect life in our place, bore the penalty for our sin through His death on the cross, was raised from the dead to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as Lord of the world. The announcement centers upon Jesus and what He has done to reconcile us to God. Our response to this announcement is to repent of our sins and put our trust in the work He has accomplished on our behalf.
  3. The Gospel Community: Third is the gospel community. Our response to the gospel announcement–repentance and faith–is not a one-time event. It’s a lifelong expression of gratitude that wells up from the bottom of our hearts and overflows into love for God and His beloved community. We are shaped by the gospel into the kind of people who herald the grace of God and spread the news of Jesus Christ. God has commissioned the church to be the community that embodies the message of the gospel. Through our corporate life together, we “obey the gospel” by living according to the truth of the message that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord of the world.

This gives you a quick synopsis of what this book is about. It is an excellent source of information on what is taking place in our culture and our churches today and is well worth reading if you care about the deadly effects the “counterfeit gospels” are having across America. At the end of each chapter is a list of “Scriptural Truths” for further consideration and study and this book could easily be used for a group study that I’m sure would create some rousing and seriously thoughtful conversations, discussions, and considerations.

I’ll end this post with a couple of paragraphs from the introduction on p. 13:

“All Christians everywhere must realize that we are at war. Our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers . . . of this [present] age,” Eph. 6:12 (NKJV). Awareness of the battle can help alert us to counterfeit gospels that the Enemy wishes to spread into our churches, counterfeits that will destabilize us, confuse us, and cause us to lose confidence in the biblical gospel.

“Christians and non-Christians are often drawn to counterfeit gospels. Even those of us who have walked with the Lord for many years may be inclined to accept cheap imitations of the truth. Why? Because they are easy. They cost us less. And they make us popular with people whose opinions matter to us [emphasis mine].”

Whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian–get this book and read it. You won’t be disappointed and you will be much better informed about what is infiltrating many of our churches and our belief systems with devastating consequences.

Nough said . . .

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