Countering the Counterfeits: Trevin Wax on Counterfeit Gospels

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:

  1. I wanted this book to present a compelling view of the biblical gospel so that common counterfeits would be less attractive.
  2. 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!

  • http://mrben.jedimoose.org/ mrben

    Fascinating interview. I have to say – I read your review and was a bit “take it or leave it” regarding the book, but having read this interview, I’m definitely in the “take it” category now.

    Ben Thorp

  • Justin

    As a church plant pastor, we are laboring to build a robust gospel-centered foundation to all we are and do. This book would be a great resource for us to walk through as not only remembering what the gospel is but also warring against counterfeit forms of it.

    Justin Perry

  • Kimscat1557

    Hi
    trying to figure out this site thanks Trevin for your book offer sound wonderful..
    Kim Eriksen

  • Ricky Kirk

    this looks to be a very timely for believers and the church today. as a pastor, it will continue to clarify what the gospel is and help communicate that message clearly and effectively…

  • Taj Eaton

    As a pastor, we do much discipleship/counseling every week. One of the first things we do with everyone we have the privilege of meeting with is discuss the gospel with them to see where they are at and how the gospel is functioning in their lives. Not only would I love to read this resource but I imagine it will prove to be a valuable resource for helping people discern truth from error.

    Taj Eaton

  • Kevin Fiske

    I would like a copy of Trevin’s book because it looks very compelling!

  • http://profiles.google.com/rtuinstra47 Roger Tuinstra

    There is a constant assault on the gospel in many subtle ways these days. I’m working on some articles which may turn into a book about the gospel as well. Many Christians aren’t grounded firmly enough in the gospel to be able to stand against the counterfeits. This book would definitely help in clarifying my thinking on this subject.

  • Maureen

    As you said, it’s usually a slow slide down the slope to a counterfeit gospel. I would love to have my eyes opened to the many ways that I can be led astray, so that I can take action early and not fall into the many traps that are out there. I think the book can also lead me to a greater understanding of the true gospel. Thanks for the chance to win!

  • http://honeyandlocusts.wordpress.com/ John Gardner

    I was a big fan of “Holy Subversion”, and was already planning to read this book as well. After reading your interview, it might just start working its way closer to the top of my “to read” pile!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Becky-Pliego/100000416096103 Becky Pliego

    I would like to win this book because of this:

    “Counterfeits are usually not obvious; that’s why we have to be on guard.”…

    Thanks again!

  • Dan Brubacher

    I would love to receive a copy as the gospel is the foundation to life and ministry–and we need to get it right!

  • Wes

    I am new to your blog and read your review of this book and immediately put it on my “to read” list. I find the idea of counterfeits as one that is very prevalent. I see this with myself and the people around me and would like to be more aware of them and how to keep them out of my life and keep the true biblical gospel front and center.

  • Beauandkari

    Looking forward to learning more about this book. We should continually be on the look-out for that which is counterfeit.

  • http://elehack.net/jennifer Jennifer Ekstrand

    I would like to win a copy because it looks like it would be edifying to read.

  • Jacob Sweeney

    I could really use this book because I recognize my heart’s ability to misunderstand and mis-apply the gospel. Travin’s book would help me to combat false gospels and live in the life of Christ offered in the true gospel!

  • Don

    Aaron, thank you for your posts on Trevin’s book.

    The idea of Counterfiet Gospels is so relevant to a large portion of the so-called evangelical church in Australia. And I agree with Chandler’s quote that it’s a “gradual slide towards what is incorrect”.

    From my experience, this can be so gradual that it becomes virtually imperceptible. It can take a crisis before it’s noticed.

    I look forward to ordering Trevin’ book – that is – if I don’t win a copy first.

  • Mike

    After reading your review, I wanted to get the book. Now this interview really moves me to get the book. Clarity…we could all use some clarity.

  • Jacwoolard

    Counterfeit gospels are subtle, sometimes beguiling and sometimes tickle the ears which is exactly why I want this book.

  • Lauradc

    I am bit of theological nerd, more by necessity than choice. I grew up in a strong Christian home and went to a theologically sound Christian college. I spent 6 months in Cambodia doing a program through this Christian college. Here I was part of a group that embraced the judgmentless and activist gospel. It was at a very formative time for me (I was 20 years old) and I struggled deeply with sorting out truth and lies. For the last 8 years I have been on a journey to understand the truth more and be able to sort out the lies better, so that i will never become part of such a “Christian” group again.

  • Matthew W

    The biggest reason I’d like the book is because I know the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is heresy, but can’t figure out how to ezplain to people why it is.

  • Matthew W

    The biggest reason I’d like the book is because I know the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is heresy, but can’t figure out how to ezplain to people why it is.

  • Matthew W

    The biggest reason I’d like the book is because I know the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is heresy, but can’t figure out how to ezplain to people why it is.

  • Matthew W

    The biggest reason I’d like the book is because I know the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is heresy, but can’t figure out how to ezplain to people why it is.

  • Matthew W

    The biggest reason I’d like the book is because I know the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel is heresy, but can’t figure out how to ezplain to people why it is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Don-Hunter/538805409 Don Hunter

    I am a youth leader at our church and many of the teens who attend are from non christian families, most haven’t been church goers and as a general rule they now nothing about the bible. These kids are prime to believe the lies that many are spreading, we teach out of the Bible every week and make every attempt to instill the truth to our teens. This book would be good to show them how false teachers are leading people astray with half lies and almost truths.

  • Doc B

    The primary reason I want a copy of the book is because of the review you posted yesterday. The book looks timely, appropriate, and important.

  • Rob Holliday

    Great interview, I’m intrigued by the book theme. As you noted in the interview, quite timely; this seems like a great book to complement additional resources on false religions (diff modes of false gospels) as well. Thanks for posting! (Following / subscribing via Twitter, FB and via email & RSS).

  • http://profiles.google.com/aaron.sellars Aaron Sellars

    Interview was great. Review you had was great. Would love a copy to read myself as its seems a great resource to not only address what the gospel is, but what it is not (sometimes a more difficult task).

  • http://profiles.google.com/aaron.sellars Aaron Sellars

    Interview was great. Review you had was great. Would love a copy to read myself as its seems a great resource to not only address what the gospel is, but what it is not (sometimes a more difficult task).

  • http://profiles.google.com/sarahlivingstonmoore Sarah Moore

    I want a copy of this book because of this quote from the interview:

    “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.”

    Excellent. Looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

  • al H

    The book would seem to be beneficial in identifying the roots of needs in counseling, which would be my main use of it. Thank you for drawing it to our attention.

  • Anonymous

    I could use this book, I’ll roll the dice.

  • http://profiles.google.com/coloradocookseys Daniel Cooksey

    Really interested in this book now in light of Rob Bell, but also because I’d love to dig deeper into some of the counterfeits he described.

  • http://profiles.google.com/coloradocookseys Daniel Cooksey

    Really interested in this book now in light of Rob Bell, but also because I’d love to dig deeper into some of the counterfeits he described.

  • http://profiles.google.com/xenthius Jonathan B

    The book definitely seems insightful. I would love to do a weekly discussion group covering this book.

  • liammoran

    I have always felt that the greatest threat to the church comes from within. This looks like an interesting book dealing with one of the most important topics today.

  • Herrington

    I’m really interested in this book, because of how much I’ve benefitted from Trevin’s blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.lair Ron Lair

    I’d love a copy!

  • Ckent12

    I read Trevin’s blog regularly, thanks for the interview.

  • Andrew Hall

    Aaron – great interview. I graduated with Trevin from seminary! He’s a stellar guy. Thanks for giving away the books – I’d put a copy in our church library for people to read.

  • http://twitter.com/cudshudwud Matt Church

    Thanks for the review. Actually thought the book was already released went to the Christian book store last week, It wasn’t there :( of course because it hadn’t been release. This is the only book on my to get list right now.

  • Brian Hodge

    I’ll be preaching through Galatians this summer and thought it would be a helpful resource.

  • Bart

    I’d love to read this book in Nook format (assuming I don’t win a free copy)!

  • Josiah

    I’m really interested in the book, as it exposes the many false Gospels that we tend to fall into. As someone looking to combat that in both my own life and the church I’m a part of, the book would be extremely helpful.

  • Josiah

    I’m really interested in the book, as it exposes the many false Gospels that we tend to fall into. As someone looking to combat that in both my own life and the church I’m a part of, the book would be extremely helpful.

  • thomsoncs

    I want to keep learning.

  • Willie

    I would love to get a copy to help teach and lead my church to identify these false Gospels and deepen our love for the true Gospel

  • Chris Land

    I would to have this book to help equip myself and the church about the different gospels that “Christians” are teaching that is not in the Bible

  • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

    Thanks for the review, Aaron. Being on staff at a church plant, I would love to read the book!

  • http://twitter.com/lunchboxsw Aaron Gardner

    Sounds like a great read. I have been trying to do my part in helping people to discern what is “Bible-ish” or “gospel-ish” from the truth of God. Sounds like it would be a great resource.

  • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

    The Winners have been selected and notified via email. Many thanks to all who entered!

  • Dani

    My husband would love to get this book! He’s been excited about it since it came out and really wants to read it.