Tag Archives: John MacArthur

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.

Picard and the Podcast

2 Jan

I must admit, I am a Star Trek fan. I am not dressing up like a Klingon and going to conventions, but I have liked most of the movies and various spin-off series of the show. One movie most true fans do not like is the movie Generations. This movie was an attempt in the mid 1990’s to merge some of the cast from the original series with the cast of the Next Generation series. Of course, such an attempt made for a convoluted story line and the various plot holes were what drew most of the ire from devoted fans. Nevertheless, there are many excellent individual scenes and one of those is the one I link below.

If you haven’t seen this movie (spoiler alert) an energy ribbon called the Nexus destroys everything in its path while transporting people into a kind of problem free alternate reality. This ribbon is threatening two ships and Captain Kirk attempts to save the ships. He saves many people but is lost in an accident and presumed dead. One of those saved, a man named Soran, desperately wanted to stay in the Nexus and after being saved devoted himself to returning to the Nexus. The movie flashes forward to the time of Picard, where Soran is still working on getting back into the Nexus. Picard tries to stop him, only to be drawn into the Nexus himself. This clip is what Picard experiences in the Nexus.

Now what does this have to do with anything? Well, in recent years we have experienced the phenomenon of the podcast. You can listen to any great preacher in the world at any time of the day. You can listen to a 1978 John MacArthur message one day and to the best of the Passion conference another day. You can hear John Piper’s voice change from the early 80’s to today. You can hear such great teaching all the time, great worship music, just a click away. Great books are everywhere, many free to read online.

It’s like the Nexus, a problem-free alternate reality. A rich reality but not real. You can put in your earbuds listen and, as Guinan says, “It’s as real as you want it to be.” None of the effort of really reading your Bible with a meditative heart. None of the messiness of listening to a flesh and blood preacher with all his flaws and being in a church with all its flaws. None of the struggle of walking with a people of God through the years in the joys and trials of life together. “Time has no meaning here.” You can listen to MacArthur and Piper and others without regard to the struggles their own church fellowships have endured.

It is not wrong to listen to podcasts and take advantage of the great resources online. Like Picard marveling at his children, we can be blessed by the truths we hear and read online. But we can’t live in the Nexus. There comes a time when we, like Captain Picard, have to say, “This isn’t real. This can’t be right.” Every day, we have to say to the online world, at least for a good portion of our day, “Go on without me.” We have to leave the Nexus and live in the real world. It will be more complicated and difficult but there are real battles to be fought and real lives to be influenced and real joys to be found.

In the new year, will you and I live with people in church and out with all the uncomfortable unpredictability of life in God’s hands, or will we live with headphones on and screens in hand, ignoring all but the Nexus of our own creation, helpful to no one but oh so assured of our spirituality?

Earthly Influences

13 Dec

In each of our lives, God uses other people to shape us. Our immediate relations probably shape us most profoundly but others, sometimes people we don’t even know, also shape us because of their example or their teaching or some quality of their life. In life and ministry, I am thankful for the many influences in my life. Those outside of family and friends and teachers and pastors who have most profoundly influenced me are listed below. I don’t agree with everything each of them has written, but each one has marked me deeply by their writings and by their lives.

1. John Piper. I first heard him at a conference in Texas in 1999. I began after that time to read many of his books. His influence on me is hard to overestimate. His passion for God is so evident and makes me want to pursue God all the more. His concern for God’s glory has influenced a life-altering shift in my thinking and living. John Piper has taught me the most about God and my relationship with Him.

2. Mark Dever. A relatively recent influence, I became familiar with Dever first through online articles and blog posts but then in 2008 I visited Capitol Hill Baptist Church, where Dever pastors. The service was so solid, so joyfully reverent that I was deeply moved. The thing was, on this particular Sunday, Dever wasn’t even preaching. He was sitting in the back in a button down shirt just being part of the fellowship of believers. After returning home I began to devour everything I could find from Dever on the church and his writings have been deeply influential. Mark Dever has taught me the most about the church and its incredible importance to God and its inestimable value to the believer.

3. John MacArthur. Let me be frank. In my early years as a Christian, I thought John MacArthur was somewhat arrogant and legalistic. I, of course, was judging him without knowing much about him but that was my first reaction. When I began to listen to his sermons and hear him on secular TV interviews and actually observe him in action, I realized it wasn’t mainly arrogance, but courage. It wasn’t legalism, but commitment to God’s Word. What has influenced me most of all about MacArthur is his preaching. He taught me to stick to the text. To dig deep. To give the church a rich diet of spiritual meat, the result of real study and meditation over the Word. He taught me that you don’t have to have gimmicks or funny stories or great outlines to be an effective preacher. John MacArthur has taught me the most about preaching and the power of the preached Word.

Those are surely my top three earthly influences in my Christian life, apart from the deeper, more subtle influence of family, friends, fellow church leaders, teachers and others.

Honorable mentions would have to be made for C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, N.T. Wright and Millard Erickson. Though I wouldn’t agree with everything they say, each of these men has shaped me in deep ways.

Those are my earthly influences, who are yours? Who has impacted your life deeply through their teaching or preaching or writing or example?

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23 Mar

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An Interesting Fact About the King Assassination

13 Jul

“Like anybody I would like to live . . . a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land!  So I’m happy tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man!  My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

These words were spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  The assassination was one of many tragic events in a tumultuous year, 1968.  The iconic image of King’s associates on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, pointing toward where the shots came, with King lying at their feet, is immediately recognizable to many Americans.

What I never knew was that a future evangelical leader arrived on the scene in Memphis that night.  Driving up from Mississippi where he had been working in a serious of revival meetings with black evangelical leader John Perkins, John MacArthur came with a group of friends to the Lorraine Motel on the evening of April 4, 1968.  As related in Iain Murray’s new biography of MacArthur, the man who has been Pastor at Grace Community Church in California for the last 41 years, was in 1968 in a series of evangelistic meetings with Perkins.  When Perkins and his associates heard of King’s slaying, MacArthur joined them on the trip to Memphis.  Perkins and his friends were careful to protect MacArthur, a white man, from potential threats from the outrage over King’s death.

When they arrived late on the evening of the 4th, they found the Lorraine Motel unguarded.  Amazingly, by today’s standards, there was no police guard, no crime scene tape.  The men went right up to the balcony where they saw the blood stains where King had fallen.  MacArthur even says he went across the street to the boarding house from which James Earl Ray had fired the shots.  John MacArthur, future evangelical leader, stood where Ray had stood on April 4, 1968 and looked out to the balcony where one of the pivotal moments in American history took place.

I never knew about MacArthur’s involvement with John Perkins but I was not surprised.  When we read the Scriptures honestly it is clear that the scourge of racism is unthinkable and if there is anything MacArthur is known for it is the honest reading of Scripture.  So MacArthur followed his biblical convictions, as he so consistently has throughout his ministry, in spite of what others think or do.

A Recipe for Disaster: Pursue Mediocrity

14 Jun

Clint Archer, a pastor from South Africa, wrote a powerful paragraph in a recent blog post . . .

A lesson learned: If your checklist for success is as mundane as “Big house, small wife, two cars parked outside a two-car garage full of junk, and a couple of kids” you set yourself up for midlife crisis. Either you attain your underwhelming goal and think, like the preacher in Ecclesiastes, “Is this it?” resulting in the purchase of a Harley Davidson, hair transplants, or home renovation. Or you fail to attain your dream of mainstream mediocrity and find solace in the company of new friends like Prozac or Jack Daniels.

Archer is encouraging us in his article to dream big.  By this he does not mean a mansion and four cars.  He means, dream big dreams relating to the things of God and the kingdom of God.  Spend your life for something eternal.

This is right in line with the words of Christ.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In our day, the pastor most noted for this message of living for the eternal is probably John Piper.  He’s even written a book called Don’t Waste Your Life.  As I see men like Piper and John MacArthur pressing on in ministry past retirement age, as I see people in my own fellowship who are 80 or 90 years old and are still eager to grow, my heart is warmed.

Maybe you are at a place where you can step back and evaluate your life.  To live for the eternal does not mean you must be a preacher or missionary.  Some of the most earthly-minded people in the world are preachers and missionaries who are just trying to protect their little ministry kingdoms.  I can as easily fall into that earthly mindset as anyone.  Living for eternity simply means that your life is turned away from building your own earthly kingdom and toward seeking the kingdom of God.  What patterns in your life need to continue to see that shift from earthly to eternal take place?  What needs to change?

2Corinthians 4:16  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  17  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  18  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

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