The Reformed Preacher Portraits are a series of portraits of Reformed Christian preachers, teachers and authors who have significantly influenced and shaped my faith. The desire behind this series is both to honour these men and also to share some of their materials with other Christians and creatives with the hopes that others may also benefit from their ministries. The first portrait was of Paul Washer.
This second Reformed Preacher Portrait is of John F. MacArthur.
John Fullerton MacArthur Jr. was born on June 19, 1939 and is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. He began his pastoral ministry there in 1969 and has faithfully preached, verse-by-verse through the entire New Testament. He is currently Chancellor Emeritus of The Master's University and College and Seminary in California. "JMac", as he is affectionately called by some people, is also the Bible teacher on the internationally broadcasted radio program, Grace to You. Dr. MacArthur is also a prolific author, with more than 150 individual books and monographs, and he has also contributed to more than 30 multi-author works.
John MacArthur is the son of a Baptist preacher and evangelist, Jack MacArthur. As a young man, he was a talented sportsman - passionate about American football, basketball, baseball and track. He was recruited to play football at Pacifc College, but ended up heeding the call to ministry and attended Talbot Theological Seminary. While there, he remembers, “I knew this was the course of my life, it all changed … Everything I studied came out of the Bible. And I just had an avaricious appetite … to dig into it because I loved it.” While still a seminary student, MacArthur preached about 35 times a month for nearly three years, working with Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade and Young Life. It was then that he developed his expository style of preaching the Bible verse-by-verse that would be the hallmark of his ministry.
After graduating from Talbot Theological Seminary in 1969, MacArthur began his ministry as pastor of Grace Community Church. He has faithfully served there, preaching verse-by-verse through the entire New Testament as he authored his MacArthur New Testament Commentary Set - quite the feat for any preacher. Even with his no nonsense and traditional worship style, the church's two morning worship services fill the 3,500-seat auditorium to capacity - and this in California of all places! This just goes to show that the simple exposition of God's Word is able to convert and draw many to Christ. The church's several thousand members participate in dozens of fellowship groups and training programs, most led by lay leaders who have been raised up. Dr. MacArthur's 3,300+ sermons spans over five decades of ministry and are listened to around the world. His MacArthur Study Bible is used by millions worldwide.
Impact on Me
John MacArthur was one of the first expositional Bible teachers that I cut my teeth on. His style of tracing verse-by-verse through a passage of Scripture was instructive for me in continuing to refine my skills in following the flow of argument in a Biblical text. This is a skill that is sorely needed today as many are woefully ill-equipped to rightly handle the Word and are carried off by various winds of teaching. The inability to rightly read and interpret the Bible leads people to believe all manners of errors. However, by sitting under the expository teaching of the Word, listeners are instructed not only in the meaning of the text, but also led by example of how to handle the Word in their own study.
Immovable in His Convictions
Perhaps one of the biggest things about MacArthur's ministry that has stood out to me is the strength of his resolve and convictions. It is said that you only have beliefs until there's a conflict, then it is shown if they are convictions - and JMac certainly has many convictions.
Carl Trueman has said of MacArthur,
"John MacArthur is that increasingly rare phenomenon: the pastor of a large church who does not appear to care particularly about what the wider world thinks of him. He is also a man who has pastored his church for many decades. Frankly, he is also the kind of man you want on your side in a fight: apparently fearless and utterly reliable. As such, he is surely a great role model for younger pastors. MacArthur is simply not one to be swayed by the spirit of the age."
This is indeed true. It's been said of MacArthur that he's not just dogmatic, he's bulldogmatic about truth! His courage often inspires boldness in many others to stand firm on the truths of the Gospel.
Once John MacArthur is convicted about something from the Bible, he will defend it relentlessly. Combined with his devotion to Biblical fidelity and exposition of Scripture, this has led him to hold to line on many controversies including the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the Charismatic gifts of the Spirit, the Prosperity Gospel, the Lordship salvation controversy and most recently the controversy surrounding Critical Social Justice. Due to his prominence and the respect he has gained within the Evangelical community, MacArthur has proven to be a great ally in many controversies and thwarting false teachings that have threatened the church. JMac has appeared on the Larry King Live show many times to defend the Biblical worldview and has even been invited on Ben Shapiro's show. MacArthur is one of those very visible Evangelical leaders who has not had any major scandals attached to his name and has tried to live above reproach (though there are some who would contest that). Thus, when MacArthur lends his support to a cause, it carries great weight.
Perhaps one of his most controversial stances was on the Charismatic movement from the Strange Fire Conference in 2013 which argued for a classical Cessationist view of the sign gifts. In the conference, MacArthur and several other well-known Bible teachers sought to speak against the abuses of the Word of Faith and Charismatic movements in their over-emphasis and errors in the gifts of the Spirit. They argued that the revelatory gifts (such as tongues and prophesy) have ceased with the close of the canon and that the Bible is sufficient for ministry today.
The conference sparked much outrage and many in the Evangelical world took issue with MacArthur's strong stance on the issue. However, this was nothing new - as he had written Charismatic Chaos a decade earlier. MacArthur was just continuing to do what he had always done in sticking to his convictions even through conflict. His books and the conference were helpful to me and many others in critically examining the issue afresh and engaging with some strong arguments for a Cessationist position.
There are however, some stances which I have disagreed with MacArthur in his theology - most significantly his Dispensationalism. He was a Classical Dispensationalist early in his ministry, but since then has seemed to move more towards Progressive Dispensationalism. I haven't heard if he has changed his views on that as yet, but given Dispensationalism's novelty and inconsistency to the Bible - this is an odd inconsistency in MacArthur. But, even with this, because of his committment to the Bible he remains a helpful teacher. It is rare that you will ever find a teacher that you agree with on 100% of issues, but MacArthur is one of those that will definitely edify and challenge you in healthy ways. His committment to the Word of God is something each of us can learn from. About entering the ministry he said,
“I wanted to follow what my dad did and my granddad did. I wanted to be in a church, and I wanted to exposit the Word of God … Not so much for the sake of the congregation; I wanted to know what the Bible taught. I had a—just a craving to understand the New Testament in particular. And so, the only way I knew I’d ever satisfy that hunger would be to get in a church and go through it systematically.”
May we all have a similar hunger and passion to rightly divide the Word of God!
Below are a few resources on/from John MacArthur that have blessed me...
I had the opportunity to produce this video with Tim Challies on John MacArthur's preaching ministry, verse-by-verse through the entire New Testament...
Below are a few other videos of some of John MacArthur's messages:
Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship - While many took issue with MacArthur's stance and the perceived "tone" of the conference, the book provides some thorough arguments of his position and is well worth considering for the Christian who wants to seriously wrestle with the issue of the charismatic gifts.
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