In the mid-1800s, thousands of miners headed west in search of gold and all that it promised. As these men set about digging, they learned that not everything that looked like gold was real gold. Those miners with the most experience could tell the difference between real gold and iron pyrite rather easily, with just a look. But sometimes, it wasn’t always easy. To distinguish the false from the true, several tests were developed. The miners relied on these tests because their livelihoods depended on them! Believers are in a similar situation today. Go to your local Christian book store and you’ll find one title after another promising you steps to riches, health, purpose, sweet spots, personal growth, church growth, new ministries, and new philosophies that will work better than anything you’ve ever tried. MacArthur says, “just because it glitters doesn’t mean it’s good. Christians need to be equally wary of ‘fool’s gold.’ We must not accept new trends (or old traditions) without first testing them to see if they meet with God’s approval. If they fail the test, we should discard them and warn others also. But if they pass the test, in keeping with the truth of God’s Word, we can embrace and endorse them wholeheartedly.” This book is divided into four parts:
- Promoting Discernment in an Age of Blind Acceptance
- Practicing Discernment in Your Local Bookstore
- Practicing Discernment in Your Local Church
- Pursuing Discernment in Your Daily Life
MacArthur says that discernment begins with learning to discriminate. “‘Discrimination’ signifie[s] a positive ability to draw the line between good and evil, true and false, right and wrong…Discernment is black and white thinking–the conscious refusal to color every issue in shades of gray. No one can be truly discerning without developing skills in separating divine truth from error.” MacArthur continues by explaining a believer’s scriptural mandate to discern, i.e., pass judgement, between right and wrong, good and bad, truth and error. The next chapter, also written by MacArthur, lists fifteen reasons watered-down preaching is dangerous to the church. After having spent a couple of years under the kind of seeker-friendly preaching he describes, I can attest to every danger.
Practicing Discernment in Your Local Bookstore
The chapters that follow illustrate how to apply the rules of discernment in your local Christian bookstore. You can find these books, and others like them, in any major bookstore in America:
- The Purpose-Driven Life
- The New Perspectives on Paul (an attack on justification by faith alone)
- Wild at Heart
- The Revolve New Testament (and other Biblezines)
The authors of these chapters use scripture to systematically dismantle these popular teachings and prove they are not genuine. This portion of the book illustrates specific ways discernment must be used when reading a book.
Practicing Discernment in Your Local Church
The third section concerns exercising discernment in the church. The authors confront several popular church methodologies, hold them against scripture, and find them lacking. They are: contemporary worship music, invitations and altar calls, the church in politics, and the church and consumerism.
The final section addresses the development of discernment in one’s every daily life. I found these final chapters to be most instructive. Using the example of Jonathan Edwards, they illustrate the discernment framework for the previous sections of the book. According to the author, the development of discernment involves a knowledge and deep appreciation for the scriptures and doctrine (what it teaches), a high view of God, His Son, and His Spirit, and a high view of the Gospel. “In discerning truth from error, we must ask ourselves, ‘Does a particular teaching accurately depict the God of the Bible? Does it correctly represent His character, essence, and being?’ Refuse to accept any teaching where the answer is other than ‘yes.'”
Finally, MacArthur gives the steps for a practical plan for discernment.
- Desire wisdom.
- Pray for discernment.
- Obey the truth.
- Follow discerning leaders.
- Depend on the Holy Spirit.
- Study the Scriptures.
On that last point, he says,
“No one can be truly discerning apart from mastery of the Word of God. All the desire in the world cannot make you discerning if you don’t study Scripture. Prayer for discernment is not enough. Obedience alone will not suffice. Good role models won’t do it either. Even the Holy Spirit will not give you discernment apart from His Word. If you really want to be discerning, you must diligently study the Word of God.”
I enjoyed reading this book and I’m sure I will go back to it again and again to remind me of the most important things to remember in discerning truth from error. I highly recommend this book to you.
Fool’s Gold: Discerning Truth in an Age of Error is the first John MacArthur book I’ve had the privilege of reading. For someone who fancies herself well-read when it comes to Christian books, and considering he has authored nearly 100 books, this is a shame. I’ve heard his program, Grace to You, on the radio several times, and, I should add, he is generally considered one of the best expository preachers occupying the planet right now. He has been the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California since 1969 and is president of The Master’s College and Seminary.
Fool’s Gold is a compilation written by eight different men: Nathan Busenitz, Dan Dumas, Kurt Gebhards, Daniel Gillespie, Carey Hardy, Rick Holland, Phil Johnson, and John MacArthur. MacArthur served as the general editor of this work and he authored four of its chapters.