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The best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the real thing.

When it comes to the gospel, the best way to spot a counterfeit gospel is to know the biblical gospel – not only to master it in a cerebral, objective sense, but to be captured by the beauty of what God has done for us in Christ.

Earlier this year, I listed nine “counterfeit gospels” that I considered writing about in Counterfeit Gospels. Then, I asked readers of Kingdom People to participate in a poll, choosing the six most prevalent among evangelicals today.

Later, I described the biblical gospel by using the analogy of a three-legged stool.

  • There’s the Gospel Story – the grand narrative of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration).
  • Within that overarching framework, we make the Gospel Announcement about Jesus Christ (His perfect life, substitutionary death, resurrection, exaltation).
  • The gospel announcement then births the Gospel Community: God’s church – the embodiment of the gospel, the manifestation of God’s kingdom.

In the book, I describe a counterfeit gospel as a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of the stool until it topples the whole thing. Below is a handy chart included in the book that lays out the six counterfeits we deal with in the book and how each counterfeit affects the gospel Story, gospel Announcement, and gospel Community.

Take a look at the chart below and let me know what you think.

Does your heart drift toward any of these counterfeits? Why or why not?

Which counterfeits do you see as particularly dangerous in our day and age?


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23 thoughts on “Counterfeit Gospels Chart: How 6 Counterfeits Affect the Gospel Story, Announcement, and Community”

  1. David T. says:

    I am intrigued by your choices, particularly the Quietist and Activist gospels. On the surface, these look like opposite extremes. I’ve warned against the activist type of gospel before, but i haven’t considered the quietist version before as also being dangerous.

  2. kRIS says:

    it would be nice to have the correct ‘story, announcement, and community’ in the chart as well.

  3. John Anderson says:

    The result of Moralism is a church where: “people who believe like us can affirm each other in keeping the standards of the community”.

    Ouch!

  4. Trevin Wax says:

    kRIS,

    I didn’t have room on the chart for the correct “story, announcement, and community.” I had to devote a chapter to each in the book. :)

    David, in my experience, those who most loudly “amen” the warnings against quietism and generally those who need to be careful about activism. And vice versa!

  5. Clay says:

    I might also add to the list of counterfeits the “lifeless gospel”. This, as I have experienced firsthand, happens when I reduce the gospel to a doctrine. It creeps in when I try to acheive communion with God through correct understanding of information about Him. The lifeless gospel is a close cousin to the loveless gospel, which I am especially prone to falling prey to.

  6. I totally agree with kRIS-

    Trevin, it would be great and important to see what your understanding of the gospel is in the table as a way to see why you deem the others as “counterfeit.” We can only notice a counterfeit dollar bill by closely examining it with with the real one (we must really know the real bill). You could be guilty of reducing (reductionism) the counterfeits if you can’t narrow down your understanding of the gospel to fit it in the table- that could also be hypocritcal. (Sorry I didn’t read your book, I’m only referring to your table above.)

    Also, the difficult thing here is that all of your counterfeits above have a shade of truth in them.

  7. Trevin Wax says:

    Warrick,

    You’re right about the shade of truth in each counterfeit. They’re not always obvious, which is why they are counterfeits – they are close to the real thing. There’s an element of truth in each.

    I can certainly put my understanding of the gospel into this chart, but first I would like to see a discussion based on the counterfeits. In particular, what makes each of these counterfeit? What element of the story, announcement, or community is tweaked? What do these counterfeits get right? I hope the chart will aid in the ongoing reflection on the gospel and its counterfeits.

  8. Trevin Wax says:

    Clay,

    You are absolutely right. That’s why I take great pains to make sure we’re not thinking of “getting the gospel right” merely in terms of getting the bare facts clear in our head. Instead, the goal is to be ravished by the beauty of what God has done for us in Christ. The truths of the gospel are what lead us to Truth in Person – the Savior who gives life.

  9. Clay says:

    Trevin, I understand what you are saying and agree completely that Christians need to have a proper understanding of the Gospel, both in terms of the overall narrative and the essential facts. However, it seems to me that there has to be more at the core of our Christian experience than intellectual understanding of story and doctrine, even if it is accompanied by a powerful emotional response (ravished by the beauty as you put it). I don’t want to downplay the importance of your book – it sounds like an important critique of much of American evangelicalism. But as I read on your blog and others about “what the Gospel is”, something in me longs for direction in how to experientially know God as a person, not just as a character in a powerful story. I know this probably sounds weird and Pentecostal, but I just sense a gap when I read Jesus’ words about the necessity of knowing Him, of abiding in Him, of being “in Him” like He is in the Father. This intimate communion, to me, is the heart of the gospel, and as important as the narrative and doctrines are, to think that they are the whole shebang is like saying I know Abe Lincoln because I read his biography. I have yet to experience such communion, but I’m on a journey to figure it out.

  10. Anna says:

    Hi, recently I discovered that there is an underlining emphasis on a book, “The Complete Green Letters” by Miles J. Stanford. Does this book fall into one of these categories?
    We are also in the, are we needing to seek a different church stage.

    Please help, thanks =)

  11. Alan Cross says:

    Trevin,

    I really like what you have said here. There are likely many other gospels that you could list. As for the real gospel, isn’t the gospel actually there person of Jesus Christ instead of a series of propositions? When Paul reiterates his gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1-8, he speaks of Jesus and His death, burial, resurrection, and appearances. It is Jesus. Of course, we are to turn to Jesus and believe in Him, but I think that when the gospel becomes a series of propositions to be believed, we run the risk of inserting other things in that are not Jesus and have more to do with us.

    I really like this. Like the others, I would love for you to include the true gospel in the chart. I’d love to use this in my church as a discussion starter.

  12. Trevin Wax says:

    Alan,

    Reducing the gospel to propositions could indeed be a problem, but at the heart of news is the truth that something has happened. We don’t have a propositionless-gospel according to 1 Cor. 15. Of course, in believing the gospel, we are united to Christ, which brings about the restored relationship with God we yearn for and need. In a very real sense, the gospel announcement is JESUS.

  13. TS says:

    Trevor,

    With respect to your assumptions about “churchless” Christians …

    You are engaged in an arbitrary definition of terms when defining the gospel, something I’ve seen as a especially problem among sectarians. “If you don’t believe in what my group teaches, then you are teaching ANOTHER GOSPEL.” So, Calvinists accuse Arminians of teaching a DIFFERENT GOSPEL, or vice versa, etc. Quite frankly, it’s intellectually dishonest to try to control the terms of debate in such an arbitrary way.

    Paul defines the Gospel as the “message of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:17-18). Any doctrinal discussion, no matter how viable, which NOT a discussion of the atoning work of Christian for sin is NOT a discussion of the Gospel. Ecclesiology (like eschatology, etc.) is important, but it is NOT THE GOSPEL. The Church NOTHING to do with our atonement; it is the result of it. Nor is a discussion of what involvement Christian have in the society a discussion of the GOSPEL.

    Moreover, nowhere in the Bible is the Gospel is defined as allegiance to institutional Christianity. When the Lord “added to the church”, it was a SPIRITUAL ENTITY, not a Baptist congregation. In fact, we don’t even find denominations in the Bible, and it’s a good chance the Apostle Paul would have condemned them if they existed then (1 Cor. 1:13).

    I close with a quote by William Barclay about who the real “heretics” are:

    “The English word heresy is to all intents and purposes a transliteration of the Greek word Hairesis. In English, heresy is a word with a distinctively bad meaning; it denotes a belief which is contrary to orthodoxy and to true doctrine. But in Greek Hairesis is not necessarily a bad word for it means either an act of choosing or a choice. . . . It is the breaking up of the unity of the Church into cliques who shut their circle to all but their own number. . . . There is all the difference in the world between believing that we are right and believing that everyone else is wrong. Unshakable conviction is a Christian virtue; unyielding intolerance is a sin.”

    For a more in-depth critique of your position on ecclesiology, see http://www.the-examiner.org (this is not my website, but it does make some valid points against institutional Christianity).

  14. TS says:

    Correction to my last post. The link should be http://www.theexaminer.org.

  15. Erin says:

    Trevor,
    I was sad to see much of what you placed on your chart. Different viewpoints, I suppose. In an effort to love, you have correctly ascertained that there are elements of truth in each but labelled them all false in and of themselves. Yet this is seen through “our” lens. According to your chart, I am not a Christian. I’m a counterfeit. Yet God knows this to be untrue. I am an activist and what I read on your chart are things I do believe… in part. Yet you didn’t go far enough in describing a believer’s activism. I’m a termite eating away at the Gospel. Believers and non-believers alike reading this are getting a lopsided picture of what is truly what.

    If you’d like to dialogue about social justice and how it is an integral part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let’s do it! For now, I have to sincerely object to how you have portrayed and boxed these categories.

  16. Erin says:

    And please do receive my sincerest apologies for spelling your name wrong. That was my error and I apologize for it. As an “Erin” with an “E”, I know the frustration of having it spelled A-A-R-O-N all the time!

  17. Trevin Wax says:

    Erin,

    I think you may have misunderstood the counterfeits in this chart. These are all gradual drifts from the biblical gospel – not heresies that mean we are not Christian. I included these six, because they are all counterfeits that I find my heart drawn toward.

    I do hope you’ll take a look at the extended explanations of these counterfeits. The chart is a conversation-starter, not meant to shut down discussion. In the book, you’ll see that I don’t condemn activism, only an activism that is not a natural outworking of the gospel and that is not connected at all to verbal proclamation. In fact, in the Quietist chapter, I talk about Christians who – in their opposition to activism – go to the other extreme and sit on the sidelines when it comes to issues of justice.

    May we be grace-saturated, gospel-proclaiming activists driven by our love for God and neighbor!

  18. Trevor Littler says:

    Greetings Trevin,
    My brief assessment of you definition of the gospel is different to my understanding. I believe that Jesus’ death was representative and not as a substitute Romans 6:1-8, Galatians 2:20. I also believe that the principal aspect of the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom that Jesus will establish when he returns to set up his kingdom upon the earth and reign from Jerusalem Psalm 72, Isaiah 2:1-4, Daniel 2:35,44, Acts 3:19-21, 8:5,12.
    Kind regards
    Trevor

  19. Nat says:

    Are we not saved if we identify with one of these Gospel variations? For example, I am not attending a church at present due to difficulty finding a church that preaches the Word in my area (South Australia), and that doesn’t indulge in Charismania/hyper-Pentecostal extremism?

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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