Monday, January 24, 2011

Counterfeit Gospels

A guy named Tervin Wax wrote a book on Counterfeit Gospels. He says he did not want to write a gospel that points out what is wrong with everyone else. So he wrote about the "doubts and struggles of people in my own congregation." That still sounds like someone else.

IT has been said the definition of heresy is to take one Catholic truth and use it to reject another Catholic truth. I think that is what is going on here. These are not fake gospels. They are out of balance. They have truth that we need to embrace but we can go too far and make one aspect of the gospel the whole thing.

Then there is always the question of what gives Trevin Wax the authority to declare anything to be heresy? Who says what he teaches is closer to the true gospel than the movements he deems counterfeit? He seems to imply that he is immune to the issues that caused these movements to go astray. He is not. The truth is in the protestant world all gospels are counterfeit. Which one is least counterfeit? There is no good way to know. Nevertheless, I thought it might be useful to comment on the counterfeits he sees.
Therapeutic Gospel: Sin robs us of our sense of fullness. Christ’s death proves our worth as humans and gives us power to reach our potential. The church helps us find happiness.
This is all true. Healing is an important part of what Jesus is all about. Just count the healing stories in the gospels. Sickness is like sin in many ways. But one important difference is that sin involves our choice. So repentance involves a change in our behavior. We need to stop doing certain things and start doing other things. An over-use of the healing model can leave this fuzzy. The temptation is there because secular people respond much better to being told they are hurting than being told they are sinners.
Formalist Gospel: Sin is failing to keep church rules and regulations. Christ’s death gives me an agenda, so I can begin to follow the predescribed forms of Christianity.

This is a caricature. Nobody describes the sin or Christ's death this way. People do notice that certain behaviors lead people closer to God. Prayer, bible devotions, church attendance, confession, etc. But God is not a machine. It is not as simple as managing inputs to achieve outputs. Doing these things can become a substitute for the change God wants rather than a way of achieving it.

As a protestant I was probably too afraid of the dangers of formalized religion. I think most protestants are. There is a tendency to try and manufacture a life-transforming moment. You listen to enough testimonies and you start to think that is the way God works. But often God works most powerfully through long slow processes where we repeat the same things many times and the grace kind of slowly soaks down deep. Regular mass, rosaries, adoration, etc. are very powerful this way.
Moralist Gospel: Our big problem is sins (plural) and not sin (nature). The purpose for Christ’s death is to give us a second chance and make us better people. Redemption comes through the exercise of willpower with God’s help.
This is true as far as it goes except of course for the explicit denial of our sinful nature which is almost never done. Protestants would object to the tying of redemption and moral living but that part is actually right. What is often the danger here is the focus on the big sins and not enough on the inner heart transformation. We want to have a heart that does not even desire mortal sin because it is like God's heart.

Judgmentless Gospel: God’s forgiveness does not need to come through the sacrifice of His Son. Judgment is more about God’s goodness, not the need for human rebellion to be punished. Evangelism is not urgent.
This is where you need to go if you are not willing to formally exclude people who engage in publicly known sin. Modern secular people don't want to exclude anyone for sexual sins. They do feel there are some sins like racism and pollution but they don't look to scripture or the church to define morality.

Evangelism is not really lacking in urgency. It is just impossible. The church cannot call people to live up to a higher standard so the church only makes sense to those who have been raised with the idea of going to church. You don't have to get up on Sunday mornings to not be judged. You can just sleep in.

Social-Club Gospel: Salvation is all about finding fellowship and friendship at church. The gospel is reduced to Christian relationships that help us enjoy life.
I don't think this can be called a gospel. It is more of a symptom of a church where people don't actually believe. They tend not to close their doors. They just move on and become a society of niceness. It is like the emperor without clothes. You don't notice what is missing for quite a while. Nobody talks about God except in cliches. Nobody challenges anyone to grow closer to God, to turn from sin and embrace the gospel.

Activist Gospel: The kingdom is advanced through our efforts to build a just society. The gospel’s power is demonstrated through cultural transformation, and the church is united around political causes and social projects.
This is a real challenge. The truth is that the church has to be socially active. But how do you take on such a huge thing and not have it become the center of your ministry. Jesus is God. If we make him an agent of social justice that is good but not good enough. We must proclaim Him as God and nothing less. Pope Benedict has said if we do this we will not just fail at evangelization but at social justice as well.
Churchless Gospel: The focus of salvation is primarily on the individual, in a way that makes the community of faith peripheral to God’s purposes. The church is viewed as an option to personal spirituality, or even an obstacle to Christlikeness.
The proper name for this counterfeit is protestantism. This is what the reformation was all about. To deny the visible church. But they do sense the importance of a church-like organization. So much so that they think someone saying it is unimportant is teaching a counterfeit gospel. Yet somehow they excuse Luther of exactly the same thing.

Mystic Gospel: Salvation comes through an emotional experience with God. The church is there to help me feel close to God by helping me along in my pursuit of mystical union.
Not sure what the problem is here. Seems fine to me. You need to be more precise about exactly how the church helps. Maybe he is keying on the word "emotional" and the word "feel." But mystical does not mean emotional. Maybe to him it does.
Quietist Gospel: Salvation is about spiritual things, not secular matters. Christianity is only about individual life change and is not concerned with society and politics.
I think most don't even feel religion is about life change. If you change your life you will change society and change politics. But the "religion is a private matter just between you and God" people don't typically have any dramatic changes in their life from their faith.


  1. (begin humor)

    Trevin Wax's authority comes from the fact that he knows N.T. Wright, the one-man magisterium.

    (end humor)

  2. Actually the one-man magisterium is the most workable form of protestantism. The only problem is you need to pick good man. Then you have to deny you are treating him as something more than a man. But it sure beats voting on doctrine.

  3. "Churchless Gospel: The focus of salvation is primarily on the individual, in a way that makes the community of faith peripheral to God’s purposes. The church is viewed as an option to personal spirituality, or even an obstacle to Christlikeness.

    The proper name for this counterfeit is protestantism."