October 22, 2020

Review: Fool’s Gold

Fool\'s Gold?: Discerning Truth In An Age Of ErrorFool’s Gold, John Macarthur, general editor, 2005 Crossway Books, with chapters by Nathan Busenitz, Scott Lang, Phil Johnson, Daniel Gillespie, Rick Holland, Carey Hardy, Kurt Gebhards, Dan Dumas.

The following review by Dr. John Bombaro, (Ph.d, Edinburgh University) is reprinted in its entirety, with permission, from the most recent issue of Modern Reformation Magazine.

Fool’s Gold: Discerning Truth
in an Age of Error
by John MacArthur (General Editor)
Crossway Books, 2005
224 pages (paperback), $12.99
Reviewed by John Bombaro, Ph.d

Fool’s Gold is, for the most part, a compilation of brief articles and conference papers, largely written in a seminar format, aimed to pro-mote biblical discernment in what it perceives to be an age of blind evangelical acceptance. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church and president of Master’s College and Seminary, provides an editor’s introduction, as well as four of the twelve chapters (only one of which has not appeared in print elsewhere). The remaining portions of the book are supplied by various appointees within MacArthur’s numerous ministries.

The contributors believe that evangelical churches have been so overwhelmed by contemporary culture that the line of demarcation between sacred and secular communities has been altogether erased, thereby compromising the integrity of the gospel and Christian faith. What led evangelicals into this predicament is precisely what led liberalism into its protracted declension: lack of biblical discernment (and faithfulness). A dearth of God-granted wisdom has resulted in a modern evangelical scene in which it is being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, every gust of glitter. MacArthur and company put hand to pen to extol the place of Scripture and provide Bible-based pointers in the arbitrating processes of evangelicals, especially evangelical pastors.

Chapters 1 and 2 set forth a case for the need for biblical discernment. But then, instead of establishing the biblical modes for cultivating wisdom, it launches into an eight-chapter diatribe against (in order) Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life (3), N. T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said (4), John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart (5), Nelson’s The Revolve New Testament (6), contemporary worship music (7), invitations and altar calls (8), the American-Christian approach to politics (9), and Christian consumerism (10). The fifth and sixth chapters are the fullest and most profitable of this otherwise gaunt lot. Still, one grinds through ten chapters before the first applicable statements concerning the cultivation of wisdom are mentioned in chapters eleven and twelve. The logic and usefulness of the book would have been better served if the layout were reversed so that the reader may see how one pursues godly discernment in doctrine, ecclesial devotion, and daily life, rather than first having to endure the unwieldy polemical arms of MacArthur and company for over 175 pages.

Outside of this disobliging layout, the production is far from clean. There are spelling errors, grammatical infelicities, and format issues. And although Fool’s Gold aspires to be beneficial to seminarians and pastors, it is consistently elementary in terms of content and does little by way of suggesting or referencing additional bibliographical resources for the reader. What is more, the reviewer is not convinced that the piece on What Saint Paul Really Said accurately describes N. T. Wright’s version of the aberrant “New Perspective” on Paul. Nor is Dan Dumas’s piece (“Hills to Die On: A Doctrinal Framework for Developing Discernment”) trustworthy concerning his historical appraisement of Jonathan Edwards’s dismissal. Edwards was not removed from his Northampton charge simply because of his doctrinal disapprobation with the Half-Way Covenant. He did not see it as “a hill to die on”. In reality, Edwards was long embroiled in a host of controversies with his parish (e.g., the “Bad Book” affair; salary disputes; power struggles; congregation disenfranchisement with Edwards’s discourteous pastoral skills; etc.), which, in turn, latched onto the Half-Way Covenant issue as a focal point for formal dismissal proceedings within the Hampshire Association. At least in this case, Edwards turns out to be an unaccommodating example of “Pursuing Discernment in Your Daily Life”.

Fool’s Gold does not lend itself to Episcopalian or Lutheran readership either. It is distinctly Reformed Baptist in vision and composition (perhaps even to the exclusion of confessional Presbyterians). For example, MacArthur’s chapter on righting contemporary worship has nothing to say about liturgy. Even when referring to Martin Luther, the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ and justification by faith alone are “the classic Reformed doctrines”, never Reformation doctrines. Indeed, Luther himself is absorbed into the Reformed Baptist camp on at least two occasions, causing the reader to wonder whether the contributors need to be reminded that Wittenberg and Geneva (to say nothing of Zurich) were not twin cities. (Canterbury does not so much as make it on the map.) Unless Fool’s Gold is unabashed preaching to the choir, then others will find it partisan and insensitive to fellow Reformation confessional types in its attempt to promote truly transcendent biblical principles for godly discernment.

It is likely, however, that even MacArthur enthusiasts will find this publication disappointingly contrived. Besides, for all of the aforementioned issues, better, more sustained and substantiated arguments may be found in back issues of Modern Reformation or, alternatively, on a whole host of websites.

John J. Bombaro
Cambridge, England