Trevin Wax is a pastor, editor at Lifeway, blogger at Kingdom People, and the author of Holy Subversion (Crossway, 2010) and the soon to be released, Counterfeit Gospels (Moody, 2011). Yesterday, I posted my review of the book, and today, Trevin has kindly agreed to answer a few questions related to it and what he hopes readers will learn from it.
What made you decide to write Counterfeit Gospels?
About a year after I wrote Holy Subversion, I began work on a second book proposal that highlights the fact that truth is beautiful precisely because it’s true. The editors at Moody were intrigued by the “beautiful truth” proposal, but they encouraged me to apply that idea to the gospel specifically rather than just the beauty of Christian teaching in general.
As I got to work on Counterfeit Gospels, I had two goals in mind:
- I wanted this book to present a compelling view of the biblical gospel so that common counterfeits would be less attractive.
- I wanted to deal with common counterfeits that are attractive to me and the people in my local church. I wanted to look deeply into our hearts and root out those counterfeits that tug at us in some way. In other words, I didn’t want this book to be: “What’s wrong with everyone out there?” but “What counterfeits are affecting me in here, in my own heart and life?” What are the counterfeits that we encounter on television, in bookstores, in conversation, in church? In short, I wanted the book to be pastoral in tone and intent.
How do these counterfeits get started?
It depends on the counterfeit.
Some counterfeits get started because we are uneasy with the idea of not fitting in culturally. So downplaying the notion of judgment (“the judgmentless gospel”) or uniting around social causes (“the activist gospel”) enable us to maintain bits and pieces of Christian ethics while drifting from the offense of a bloody cross at the heart of our faith.
Other counterfeits are simply truth out of proportion. We take a glorious truth like the need for a personal conversion and end up reducing salvation to “God and me” which leaves little room for the church (“the churchless gospel”) or the implications of the gospel in society at large (“the quietist gospel”).
Then there are the perennial temptations of self-justification (“the moralist gospel”) and self-esteem (“the therapeutic gospel”).
Counterfeits are usually not obvious; that’s why we have to be on guard. Matt Chandler writes in the foreword, “I am not a fearful man and passionately believe that, when it comes to doctrine and theology, a slippery slope is just that – a gradual slide toward what is incorrect.” Matt’s right. It’s that gradual drift that I’m warning against here.
What were the most rewarding and most challenging parts of writing this book for you?
The reward and the challenge were one and the same: writing about the gospel. It was challenging because I was overwhelmed at the thought of writing about the gospel. I felt so inadequate to deliver something of value about news that is priceless. It was rewarding because I was given the privilege of thinking deeply about news too marvelous for angels to comprehend.
You write that you find your “heart is constantly sliding back into a moralistic framework of understanding of the gospel” (p. 119). Why do you think that is?
Some people think pride is the root sin at the bottom of everything. Other people think it is idolatry. Regardless of whether pride or idolatry is the root sin, both lead to moralism. Because pride and idolatry are sins that we constantly battle, moralism is an ever-present danger. I am constantly seeking to justify myself before God, and one way that I do that and you do too is by enlisting God to join us in our own self-help project. I often find myself looking for reasons to commend myself to God rather than commend Christ to others. So I have to bask again and again in the grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ and let that grace shatter my moralistic tendencies.
In writing of the activist gospel, you make the case that in many of the causes that are cool to care about (like poverty or environmental sustainability), we seem to be investing our time in them simply because they’re popular. Why do we seem to want so desperately to be liked? And what answer would you offer to your own question, “What happens to the cause when it’s not popular anymore”?
I don’t believe that everyone involved in these causes is motivated by the desire to “look cool.” But I think most would agree that there is a segment of evangelicals who enjoy the popularity that accompanies these causes. The problem is that popularity doesn’t sustain long-term transformation. Instead, we ought to be activists driven by the gospel. Our motivation matters.
As Christians, we ought to have a heart for the poor because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us, not because the world likes our work and will commend us for it. Gospel-driven activism takes place when Christians see their good deeds as a platform for verbal proclamation. You’re not bold if you’re just running errands for the world. You’re bold when you’re living a life on mission that simultaneously brings the world’s applause (because of your good deeds) and the world’s scorn (because of your gospel proclamation).
Your chapter on the judgmentless gospel is very timely (and although I’m hesitant to say it, borderline prophetic). Did you ever anticipate this counterfeit getting so much attention on so grand a scale? Why is this counterfeit in particular so alluring?
I certainly wasn’t seeking to be prophetic with the chapter on the judgmentless gospel. In fact, at one point, I intended it to be towards the back of the book because it wasn’t the most relevant. Boy, was I wrong! I knew that there were teachers like Rob Bell who probably held judgmentless views deep down, but like many liberals in evangelical churches (I’m not using “liberal” as a slanderous term here, but in an historic sense), they usually stay quiet about them. I didn’t expect Rob to throw a hand grenade into the evangelical world by describing the traditional view of God as “toxic.”
Why is a judgmentless gospel alluring? Because it minimizes the heinousness of sin’s offense. It brings God down a few notches and makes him less threatening and scary. The sad irony is that when we try to tame God, we make Him irrelevant. The very attempt to make the character of God more palatable to our senses is what eventually makes Him boring. A judgmentless gospel leaves us with a one-dimensional god—a sappy, sanitized deity that we can easily manage.
What do you hope readers will take away from Counterfeit Gospels?
If the best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the real thing, then my prayer is that we would know the biblical gospel. When I talk about “knowing” the gospel, I don’t mean that we would master the gospel in a cerebral, objective sense, but that we would be captured by the beauty of what God has done for us in Christ. I hope that the truths in this book are a faithful representation of the truths in the Book and that our love and affection will be directed to Christ the Savior.
The Counterfeit Gospels giveaway has concluded and the winners have been notified. Thanks to all who participated!