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 . . .

Gospel-Powered Humility

William Farley has written an excellent book, Gospel-Powered Humility,” (P&R Publishing, 2011) on the subject of humility. I first learned about it from a book review by Aimee Byrd written just a couple of months ago. I knew the minute I read that book review that it was a “must read” and I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been humbled by it.

As Farley states on the back cover of his book: “Humility is not a popular concept in our world today. It is seen as a weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation. Unfortunately, these worldly attitudes about humility have leaked into and influenced the church as well.

“Far from being weakness, humility is the crucial virtue. Not only is it integral to the process of conversion and sanctification, but from its soil sprout the fruit of the Spirit. Yet many Christians are unaware of this crucial connection . . . .”

I’ve touched on the topic of pride in a previous post (see Our Default Mode); however, this book is excellent in helping us to understand the differences between real humility and pride which is most often disguised as a type of pseudo-humility. Early on in the book Farley defines humility and pride in very clear terms:

“Humility is one of the least understood spiritual fruits. It is not self-hatred or lack of self-confidence. Humility and low self-image are not the same thing. Indeed, they are polar opposites. Increasing humility brings rest with self, with God, and with life’s circumstances. It produces real lasting joy and healthy self-image. Humility is the ability to see spiritual reality, to see things as they really are. It is the capacity to see myself in God’s light, in the context of his holiness and my sinfulness. In other words, it is the ability to see self, and this world, through God’s eyes [emphasis mine]. God empowers the humble person to increasingly see himself as he really is: ‘wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked’ (Rev. 3:17). The person growing in humility sees his gifts and faults, his strengths and weaknesses, with increasing clarity. Ironically, as we will see, this humility lays the sure foundation for real contentment and healthy self-image because the humble Christian also increasingly sees and feels God’s great personal love. The truly humble believer has a low view of himself, but an increasingly high view of God and his fellow man.

“Pride is the opposite. It is spiritual blindness. It is a delusional, inflated view of self. It is unreality on steroids. And the scary part is this: The thing to which we are most blind is our pride [emphasis mine]. A demonic Catch-22, pride causes us to chase our spiritual tails. We cannot see pride—even though it is our most grievous, disabling sin—because its very nature is blindness, and the first thing to which it is blind is its own existence. Even though God was speaking to me about my arrogance through Isaiah 66:2 and I Corinthians 13:12, because pride blinded me I could not see it. Dazzled by my own self-respect, I could not see my failings. Pride is a spiritual veil blinding us to the truth about ourselves and God. The proud person has a high view of self but a low view of God and his brother.

“ ‘There is no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. ‘If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed’ (quote from “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis, pp. 109, 114).

“Here is the great paradox: the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud. The humble man sees his arrogance. He sees it clearly, and as a result he aggressively pursues a life of humility, but he doesn’t think of himself as humble. The proud man is completely unaware of his pride. Of all men he is most convinced that he is humble” (Ibid, pp.24-25).

The insidiousness of pride is what makes us think we are humble. It is, indeed, “a demonic Catch-22” as stated above. The prophet Jeremiah stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). That goes against everything we want to believe about ourselves. In our pride we want to believe that we can be–indeed, that we are–humble most of the time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I love what Aimee Byrd had to say in her book review of Gospel-Powered Humility.” She starts off her review with, “I’m not perfect. Don’t we love to pithily drop that aphorism? What we really mean is, I’m pretty darn close. . . . Some of us are masters at hiding our pride—even from ourselves. We can even make it look meek.” She continues, “As he (Farley) broke down some of the symptoms of a prideful heart, like critical speech, spiritual elitism, grumbling, and avoiding confrontation, I started to see a picture of myself. I wasn’t so inspired.”

As Farley points out in the preface of his book (quoting Dr. Jim Edwards, p. 10): “American Christianity is suffering theological collapse. The primary commitments of church members seem to be peace, the search for personal fulfillment, and the conviction that God judges no one.” In another quote by David Wells (p. 10), he notes, “In America 45 percent (of Christians) say they are born again but only 9 percent, and maybe only 7 percent, give any evidence of Christian seriousness by way of minimal biblical knowledge for making life’s decisions.”

As Byrd points out in her review, “Our generation has done well preaching the love of God. The problem Farley points out is that we’ve stopped preaching and talking about the wrath of God. He points out the necessity of explaining the bad news so that we can even see the good news. Without the bad news of God’s wrath over our sin, we keep feeding our fantasy life steroids. Sure, we recognize that we are not perfect. But in our imagination, we aren’t too shabby. We think we’re pretty good.”

And that is the whole problem—we don’t see sin the way God’s see it. Hence, even in our sin we still think we “aren’t too shabby.” And we miss God altogether in our blindness—a blindness that comes from pride.

The final chapter of this book is on the power of a humble believer. As Byrd’s states in the last paragraph of her review, “After serving up a convicting gut check on intellectual pride, spiritual pride, selfish ambition, and pride in your giftedness, Farley offers up the most powerful part of his book: Hope for proud Christians. This is where he really brings our pride issues to the cross, to the One who was humbled in our place. He explains how Jesus atoned for our pride, that His life and death motivates us to pursue humility, how in love He helps us to grow in humility and that this good news should completely astound us! That’s gospel-powered humility.”

I highly recommend this book on a subject that is rarely preached on today—humility. It is at the heart and core of the gospel message. As Jesus humbled Himself to the will of His Father, so in like manner must we do the same to live a life centered on God, on others, and not on ourselves. From humility sprouts the fruit of the Spirit–“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). The Message Bible states those same verses like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

So if, as Farley states on the back cover of his book, you’ve been thinking of humility as a “weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation,” think again. “Far from being a weakness, humility is the crucial virtue.” This book will show you just “how much humility does matter . . . and what we can begin to do about it.”

If interested you can order the book here: