Is John MacArthur a Good Preacher?

9 Jan

JohnMacArthurFor those of you who know who he is, you would probably answer the question in my title, “Of course!” But really, have you ever listened to him?

As I listen to John MacArthur I realize that he breaks almost every so-called “rule” of good preaching. He very rarely uses an introduction apart from jumping right into the story of the passage he is covering. His sermons are subject to rabbit trails, as he often goes from subject to subject as he has different insights in the text. His rabbit trails are mostly linked to the text, but he doesn’t stick very closely to an outline. He doesn’t move around much in the pulpit. He basically stays behind the pulpit and speaks. His voice is clear and strong but there is not a lot of variation in volume or tone. He goes right through books of the Bible, covering each verse in depth, so that sometimes his sermons resemble a commentary or lecture on the text with appropriate application. There are often in his sermons very few illustrations apart from parallel Scripture passages. He doesn’t tell jokes or use humor very much. Finally, his sermons are long. MacArthur sermons are routinely 45 minutes or more.

With all this said, many people still look at MacArthur as one of the preeminent preachers of our generation. For over forty years he has preached at Grace Community Church in California with great spiritual impact. So how can this man cut against the grain of conventional preaching wisdom to be so effective? I believe there are several reasons . . .

1. Conventional preaching wisdom is not all it is cracked up to be. We put way too much stock in communication methods and oratory skill and way too little emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. I am not saying we should be intentionally obtuse. We should make sure we can be heard and that we communicate in a way that we can be understood. I am not against different styles of preaching. The problem is that so often style triumphs over substance and we become smooth talkers who spout cliches to no effect.

2. MacArthur is effective because he sticks to the text. The power is found not in the preacher but in the Word of God. As MacArthur brings the Word, the message is not MacArthur’s wisdom but God’s. As we preach, we need to stick to the text.

3. MacArthur is effective because he works hard. John MacArthur routinely spends many hours on a sermon. He doesn’t pull things together on Saturday night. He doesn’t steal sermons off the internet. He doesn’t try to get by on charm. MarArthur studies diligently and this is a key to his effectiveness.

4. MacArthur is effective because he depends on God. I have often heard MacArthur talk about praying through the text as he is preparing. He is praying for those who will hear the message. He is depending on the Holy Spirit to work through him.

5. MacArthur is effective because he is passionate about God and God’s Word.
He doesn’t gyrate or run around the platform, but MacArthur’s passion for God and the Scriptures is evident in the intensity with which he brings the Word.

What can we learn from this preacher who breaks so many of the conventional rules of preaching?
If we are preachers, we can learn to depend on God, to work hard, to grow in passion for God which will overflow into our preaching, and to care more about what God has said than about how we say it.

If we are listeners, we can ask God to open our hearts to the message. We can appreciate pastors who labor in preaching and teaching. We can grow in passion for God so that we will appreciate good, Scripture-focused preaching. We can gather with God’s people as a worshiper and not a critic. We should not expect our preachers to be as good as John MacArthur. His gifting and experience are unusual. But we should look for preachers who pursue the same principles as MacArthur.

Hughes Oliphant Old, in a book about preaching, speaks of MacArthur in this way:
“Why do so many people listen to MacArthur, this product of all the wrong schools? How can he pack out a church on Sunday morning in an age in which church attendance has seriously lagged. Here is a preacher who has nothing in the way of a winning personality, good looks or charm. What he seems to have is a witness to true authority. He recognizes in Scripture the Word of God, and when he preaches, it is Scripture that one hears. It is not that the words of John MacArthur are so interesting as it is that the Word of God is of surpassing interest. That is why one listens.”

There is much more to the Christian life besides coming to church to hear preaching. But this regular practice of sitting under the teaching of the elders is an essential part of life as a believer. So may those who preach and those who hear be faithful.

2 Responses to “Is John MacArthur a Good Preacher?”

  1. seekeroftruth May 19, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Interesting observation. You kind of resonate with me on MacAruthur’s style of preaching. He would get a D in his preaching class if were to take a standard homiletics course. It has always baffled how he breaks away from the standard preaching methods and still continues to be very effective.

  2. Julie February 7, 2015 at 12:25 am #

    You almost had me for a moment! John MacArthur is one of the best preacher/teachers in the whole wide world. And it’s not really about Johnny Mac, it is God being revealed through his obedience and dedication to delivering the truth of scripture day after day.

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