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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Book Review

Fool's Gold by John MacArthur

Sunday of BNYC, I hopped in a car with a friend and slipped off to Grace Community Church. Clearly an act of divine intervention, traffic was relatively clear and we arrived at the church early. We walked through the bookstore to kill some time. It was such a wonderful experience to walk through a Chrisitan bookstore that wasn't filled with cheap, non-creative knock off t-shirts, bizarre anointing oils or "Christian candy," but of course...best of all was the lack of 20 foot displays encouraging me to find purpose or live my best life.

As I was cruising the aisles, I noticed Fool's Gold sitting on the shelf. I've heard much about this book (including a good friend who told me it cemented his negative attitude toward MacArthur's ministry), so I decided to pick it up.

Fool's Gold isn't really a book by MacArthur (he only contributes a few chapters), but rather by the Grace Community staff. The book basically calls for discernment in areas that are popular in Christian circles. Since it's more a compilation, I figured I'd break down what I thought of every chapter (If you don't want to read chapter breakdowns, just scroll down to "Overall Review"):
    All that Glitters...A Call of Biblical Discernment John MacArthur
John walks the reader through the need to be discerning though some may consider it divisive. He establishes that the believer is in fact called to be discerning. Of course, he establishes all of this with Scripture, stating our need to seperate good from bad.
    Plexiglass Preaching: The Devastating Consequences of a Watered Down Message John MacArthur
MacArthur states that "proper biblical preaching should be systematic, expositional, theological and God-centered." He then lists fifteen reasons that superficial preaching is bad (which could probably have been expanded to a list of fifty).
    A Sense of Purpose: Evaluating the Claims of "The Purpose Driven Life" Nathan Busenitz
This is probably the chapter that hornks the most people off. How dare Nathan challenge a best seller that so many people claim has changed their life? I was actually surprised by the amount of grace that Nathan extends. He actually lists several strenths of the book and is careful not to attack Warren's motive. However, he is also not afraid to point out a few of the glaring errors (Casual approach to Scripture, Incomplete approach to Theology, Inflated Position of Prominence, Pragmatism associated with seeker sensitive models). A good chapter for people to read who don't understand why everyone isn't on the Saddleback bandwagon.
    The Old Perspective of Paul: A Critical Introduction to What Paul Really Said Phil Johnson
I love reading Phil, and this chapter doesn't disappoint. He quickly explains the "new perspective," and then exposes the arrogance that says we now know what Paul was saying better than the last 18 Centuries. A good explanation of the "new perspective," if you're wondering what it is.
    Roaming Wild: Investigating the Message of "Wild at Heart" Daniel Gillespie
Gillespie is thankful that a man saw the need to write a book about masculinity, however, he wishes Eldredge would have consulted Scripture more than movies. Gillespie reminds us of the bizarre circumstances regarding "a conversation" Eldredge had with God as well as many doctrines he forgot to mention when describing Jesus. Eldredge noticed a problem in men, he just didn't answer it Scripturally.
    When Truth Becomes a Tabloid: A Closer Look at "The Revolve New Testament" Rick Holland
The New Testament repackaged like a teen magazine might sound like a great way to get the Bible in more hands. But Holland exposes some concerns that emmerge from the style and the "additional information" the editors decided to include. Again, the publishers may have had pure motives, but the product seems to be tainted.
    Solid Rock? What the Bible Says About Contemporary Worship Music John MacArthur
I cringed when I saw this topic in the book. It's no secret that I don't like PDL or Wild at Heart, so I knew those chapters wouldn't bother me. However, I expected to be troubled by this one and thought it will give a good opportunity to know what others, who like those books, feel like while reading. Actually, I thought the chapter was great. MacArthur breaks down hymns and songs, not by style, but by content. I thought it was a very well written chapter that helps people separate preference from Scripture.
    Just as I Am: A Closer Look at Invitations and Altar Calls Carey Hardy
Many people think that altar calls are a sign that a pastor cares about the lost. However, altar calls can often confuse who are the lost. Hardy doesn't state that altar calls are evil, but just asks people to exercise more discretion.
    Let Your Light So Shine: Examining the American-Christian Approach to Politics Phil Johnson
Many people feel the frustration that so many equate being a disciple with voting on the right. However, Phil first questions if God desires to reach the world through our politics, but then calls us to influence the way Christ desires.
    Choking on Choices: Combating Consumerism with a Biblical Mind-set Kurt Gebhards
A good follow up chapter if someone still isn't sure why the pragmatism of PDL is probably not wisest.
    Hills to Die On: A Doctrinal Framework for Developing Discernment Dan Dumas
Dumas breaks essential discernment into three categories: 1) A high view of God's Word, 2) A high view of God's person, and 3) A high view of God's salvation and gospel. It helps us realize that just a slight alteration in these areas creates a critical heresy.
    Keeping the Faith: A Practical Plan for Personal Discernment John MacArthur
MacArthur closes the book with a biblical guide to developing discerment in your own life.

Overall Review

MacArthurs book is neither mean spirited nor opinion laden. Each author seems to carefully write with gracious words and through a biblical grid. They're not afraid to address contemporary issues, which also means they cover significant topics. I think many people feel their toes are stepped on simply because of the title. But I don't think MacArthur, or any other writer, was calling anyone a fool. He was simply speaking of "pyrite," also known as "fool's gold." MacArthur begins the book talking about the gold rush in California. He was not calling anyone a fool, but rather speaking of how we can think something is pure gold, and yet it isn't.

"Fool's Gold" exists, and we can all be tricked by it if we aren't careful.


  • At 10:04 PM, Anonymous mcgriff said…

    I love that book too. The chapter on contempory worship was great also. I personally love the traditional hymns, but my argument with other people has always been that the theology matters more than style.

  • At 12:44 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    Welcome back, Danny. The blogsphere is simply not the same when you're away.

    Yeah, some of my fondest memories of GCC are of spending time (and more money than I should have) in the bookstore. It's a great place.

    I agree with JM that the modern church needs to beef up in the discernment department. I'm not entirely able, however, to rid myself of the impression that the book represents a habit (not particular to GCC)of taking shots at popular movements simply becasue they're popular and didn't originate in our own camp.

    I'm sure I agree with most of the books conclusions (expository preaching and new perspective excepted), but I'm not so sure that the church needs to be in the business of writing a new book everytime a new movement manifests an "incomplete approach to theology"

    Imagine if I wrote a book called "Grumpy Old Men" that discussed GCC,and said that they needed to be regarded with caution because of JM's incomplete theology (like never teaching from the Old Testament)and their abberent eschatology (which with just a little tweaking amounts to a serious heresy).

    Wouldn't they have the right to be a little upset? Would it matter if I claimed that I didn't really mean that they were grumpy old men?
    Would it make any difference if I also pointed out their good motives and the multitude of good things about the church (which I heartily believe are there)?

    But shouldn't I, in the name of discernment, write such a book if I really believe these errors exist there? After all, look how popular that church has become.

  • At 8:45 PM, Anonymous DJL said…

    I regret that this will be my first interaction with Brad. Nothing like starting off a relationship or a dialogue in disagreement...and I do trust that, in the name of Christ, my words are not taken as a personal attack, but merely a response to your words.

    You (Brad) make a serious statement in accusing MacArthur of having incomplete theology and then back it up with an easily unproven statement that he "never" teaches from the Old Testament. I don't even know how to respond to your off hand remark on abberent eschatology that could be tweaked into "serious" heresy. What this says is "change a few words here and there and JM is a heretic." I believe Jesus is the Son of God. Tweak this to read I believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Danny Wright and you made me a heretic, too (even though I never said that). It is almost as if you are guilty of the same thing you accuse JM of doing. He's popular (and certainly outspoken)so you take a shot at him based on your "impression" that he's just grumpy. JM bases the opinions in his book on scripture, your accusatings of him, so far, are based on your reading of his heart and motive without providing a scriptural refute to his argument.

    I do not deny you the right to disagree or even to dislike JM, but I am saddened that your words seem to attack his character with unproven claims and impressions.

    This man has had a profound impact on my walk with the Lord. And while that is irrelevant to the issues you raise, it may help you to understand why I have been offended by your remarks. Forgive me if I have over-reacted or misread your thoughts.

  • At 9:37 PM, Blogger Brad said…


    My most sincere apologies for offending you. I do believe I've failed to make my meaning clear.

    Let me first say that I can't think of a single individual who has had a more significant effect on my theological foundations than John MacArthur. It was his ministry that first encouraged me to treat the Christian faith and the scriptures seriously. The time I spent at GCC and TMC was very valuable to me. Forgive me for failing to so qualify in my first comment.

    The point I was trying to make is how IMPROPER it would be if I WERE to write an article saying those sorts of things about GCC.

    The issues I've mentioned are actual points of disagreement I have with JM's theology. (At T4G, he openly admitted to preaching exclusively from the New Testament, and he does hold to a modified dispensational framework, which I heartily believe is erroneous)

    However, the point I was trying to emphasize (but apparently failed miserably to communicate) is that even though I do disagree with him on these points, it would seem to me to be somewhat mean spirited to launch the kind of hypothetical critque I was describing.

    The conclusion I was shooting for was that if it would be offensive for me to say those sorts of things about GCC (which is the one thing I apparently did communicate) why isn't it equally offensive for the staff of GCC to do the same thing to other fellow believers?

    Again, allow me to apologize for the clumsiness of my comments. The only real point of criticism I intended was directed toward what appear to me at times to be GCC's over-zealous critiques of other Christian brothers.

    P.S. The title of the book probably irritated me the most (Matt 5:22).

  • At 9:39 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    P.S.S. Sorry I got you initials jumbled.

  • At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have noticed a thread of a "critical spirit" weaving its way throughout several of the Christain blogs that I visit frequently. I have noticed this for quite some time, and with this post thought maybe this is a good time to mention it. I think we should all be very careful of critisising our brothers and sisters in Christ. Keep the main thing, (Salvation thru Christ alone) the main thing. Don't major on the minors! I KNOW, I KNOW!! There ARE issues that need to be looked at, but.....just my thoughts! :) lg

  • At 3:22 PM, Blogger Charity said…

    The book sounds really interesting and informative; I'd love to read the chapters on worship and the New Perspective. I'm not much for calling out individuals just for the sake of pointing out error; however, I do think any time you publish a book (such as PDL, or whatever), you open yourself up for published responses/reactions to what you've written. So I don't necessarily agree that the staff of GCC were out of line for what they wrote. But then I haven't actually read any of it!

  • At 8:34 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    i'm confused. are you saying you agree with the new perspective and that you don't see the need for expository preaching?

  • At 1:37 AM, Blogger Brad said…


    I am sympathetic to what (very) little I've been able to study of the new perspective so far. I was at Auburn Avenue in '03 when some of the ideas began to make a bigger splash in presby circles, and though it's sometimes difficult for me to sort through all the issues, I tend to agree with a good deal of Wright's ideas (some of the majorly frustrating exceptions being those expressed in Mohler's article on which you commented a while back). I'm reading (very slowly) through Wright's commentary on Romans right now, and I have to say that I find his overall thesis very convincing.

    As far as expository preaching goes, the only problem I have is with the often dogmatic assertion that verse-by-verse exposition is the only vaild means of preaching. We have in the scriptures multiple upon multiple instances of preaching, and the expository method is exemplified in precisely none of them. Now that's no evidence that expository preaching is wrong, but it certainly suggests a weakness in the position that this is the only way to preach.

    I have some more ideas on this subject, but it would probably be better for me to save them for MY VERY OWN BRAND NEW BLOG. I have no idea how to turn little words into links yet, but I guess you can access it through the name at the head of my comments, right?

  • At 2:13 AM, Blogger Brad said…


    You mean you're supposed to read books before you criticize them? Man!

    O.K. I'll admit my comments may have been slightly premature. I was blindly relying on the accuracy of your wonderful husband's wonderful summary. Maybe these guys do deserve the criticism they got. I have a copy of the book now and intend to read it, and if I need to recant, I shall recant.


    I really appreciated your challenge. I hope we're not finished with our conversation.

  • At 1:33 PM, Anonymous djl said…

    Ok, I’ll add to our conversation, Brad (and in a lengthy way unfortunately). First, let me say how much I appreciated the humility of your response. I did not want there to be any hard feelings, and I honestly would love to hear more about your experiences with TMC and GCC.

    JM’s ministry came along at the perfect time in my life. I was trying to figure out what I believed and his exposition of the Word (and trust me I do not worship JM, I am merely appreciating how the Spirit of God used his ministry to help teach me) spoke to me in a way that I had never experienced. I grew up in a church that rarely had us crack open our bibles. A hunger for the Word and the power of the Word changed my life. I am passionate about the need for expository preaching within the church because I was in a church that used a few good stories and a sprinkle of scripture as the basis of its teaching. Sure, the leaders believed the bible was essential and I believe they intended well, but I was starving spiritually. I knew no better because I knew no better (partly my responsibility as well…nobody was stopping me from opening my bible). I would agree with your assertion that verse by verse teaching may not be the only way to preach, but I do believe it needs to be the basis for our teaching and preaching. I think it is the most effective way to learn God’s Word.

    But, back to our earlier discussion...

    I had originally penned a response to your response, and then decided not to post it because I think the point you were trying to make was different than what I was trying to respond to. As I have gotten older, I am beginning to learn that sometimes I have a nasty (and sinful) desire to “win” a discussion (defined as the other person completely agreeing with my assertions). I didn’t want for us to have one of those “you’re missing my point…no, you are missing my point” kind of exchanges.

    I understand you to feel that we should be S-L-O-W to criticize other believers and their ministry, and that you feel GCC is often over zealous in the criticism of others. I agree with Charity in that I’m not for the calling out of a person just for the sake of it (especially publicly without first approaching that person privately), but I do think published works, recordings, or even “conversations” deserve our attention and discernment. Truth NEVER fears examination, and incorrect teaching will ultimately turn to character attacks to defend itself. We need to speak the truth in love (what is more loving than correcting error?) and our motives should be for the edification of the other, building them up in Christ instead of tearing them down. I think we are best served by listening to criticisms and responding to them biblically before we go into the area of questioning motives or the character of the messenger.

    Your conclusion, paraphrased, is that if it would be offensive to write a book about GCC, then why is it not offensive for GCC to write about other minstries? I believe Grandma L. used to say it this way, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” And while there is great truth in that, in that we should live by the golden rule, it tends to breakdown in this area of attention/discernment to me. The issues should be the issues regardless of emotion or motives. If GCC’s motive is they are jealous then that is sinful, but we should, like the noble Bereans, search the scriptures to see if their words are true before we dismiss their arguments based on our assumptions (true or not) of their motives.

    In your analogy, and I appreciate your openness, you mentioned 2 points of disagreement with JM. To the first, I would say that while JM may admit to preaching exclusively from the NT, his own bodies of published and recorded works and his treatment of the OT (woven throughout his NT preaching) does not support the claim of incomplete theology. A preference to preach from the NT is not the same as incomplete theology. As to JM’s stance on eschatology, I will have to admit to you, my friend, that I do not remember what a “modified dispensationalist” is. I will have to go back to some old notes and learnings to refresh exactly what that means in regards to “dispensationalist” vs. “classic” views on Israel and the rapture, etc. (In a general sense, I am probably classified as a dispensationalist, but I do not know what you mean by “modified” or at what point do you see hearty error.) However, when it comes to eschatology, I am beginning to believe that we serve others better when we take ourselves off of the planning committee and put ourselves back on the welcoming committee (stolen quote from Charles Swindoll who would be classified as a dispensationalist but ? modified???). You may disagree with JM about your understanding of what is to come, but that is a far cry from claiming heresy (defined by me here as denying that salvation comes by grace through faith alone in Christ, apart from works.) Eschatological differences would not affect salvation or discipleship of the flock in the same way that the issues addressed in Fool’s Gold would (although incomplete theology certainly would have a major impact).

    Next time, you’ll think twice about inviting me to a discussion (if you are still awake that is). And I do apologize for the lengthy response. Honestly, I understand what you are saying (I think). You question the sincerity of their motives (and perhaps even the presumed piety…such as the title that you object to). Part of discernment is considering motive and source, and I am not taking you to task for this. I am only asking that you consider the validity of the claims before you dismiss them.

  • At 1:39 PM, Anonymous djl said…

    I just re-read my last paragraph and I thought it sounded funny when I said that you would think twice before you would invite me to another discussion. To clarify, I meant that my reponse was long...and maybe it missed the mark, and it was probably boring, etc. I did not mean for it to sound anything remotely egotistical. On the contrary, I am humbled by the opportunity to discuss this with you.

  • At 2:49 PM, Blogger Brad said…


    As I look back at my original post, I realize that I was at the very least implying that some of the motives behind the book may not have been pure. For that I apologize. It was not right. I had no reason to believe that GCC had anything in heart or mind other than the purity of Christ's church.

    It sounds like your "awakening" under JM's ministry was very similar to mine and to dozens of other people with whom I've spoken.

    If you didn't understand my original point, it's probably because I'm only now beginning to understand it myself.

    Some background. For the past couple of years I've been eavesdropping from the sidelines of a theological discussion that's been occupying a great deal of energy in various presbyterian-reformed camps. Frequently appearing in this debate has been the following line of reasoning: "Theologian X teaches A, which reminds us of heresy B. Now even though X claims not to teach B, even though he emphatically denies B, and even though we must say he doesn't actually teach B, he does not say -B enough to our liking; therefore, beware of X, because his ideas lead to B. (I hope that makes at least a little bit of sense)

    The more I have reflected on this discussion of Fool's Gold, the more I think I have been reacting to what seems to me to be this same kind of critique. Look, if someone is openly and unrepentently teaching heresy, I say blast 'em. But I question the wisdom of coming out with a new book everytime someone says something with which we do not fully agree. Geesh, think of how busy we'd all be.

    So, I guess I'm objecting less to the practice of writing critical books and more to the writing of nit-picky critiques. I don't know. Maybe Fool's Gold is not so nit-picky. But just for example, one of Johnson's criticisms of Wright's theology is that it doesn't really square with the Westminster Confession of Faith. What? Hello? Since when has Johnson been concerned with subscribing to the WCC?

    As far as JM's eschatology is concerned, he refers to himself as a "leaky" dispensationalist (don't try looking it up in a theological dictionary). However, my disagreement is not with his leaks (or his modifications) but with the dispensationalism itself.

    I vigourously (I already used "heartily") believe that dispensationalism is an error. It is an error that has frequently lead to a heresy of two paths of salvation (by works in the OT, by faith in the NT). But now I'm being thoroughly hypocritical and don't quite know how to extract myself.

    O.K. Maye this is what I'm saying: I COULD say that SOME of JM's teaching, for example, his lack of emphasis on the OT and his eschatology, strike me as either incomplete or closely related to certain heresies- BUT, BUT,BUT,BUT, I STILL don't know if It would be gracious for me to publish a book saying so. (even though I've just said so on a public blog). Again, please try to look past my inconsistencies.

    By the way, I'm Brad Peppo. I live in Dayton and grew up at Community GB in West Milton. I'd love to know who you are. If you're reluctant to post it, I'd be happy to hear from you via e-mail: peppobrm@gmail.com

  • At 2:50 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    I understood your meaning DJL, but mayber after my last post, you're the one who's sorry.

  • At 3:57 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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