Biography of John F. MacArthur, American Pastor and Radio Teacher

John F. MacArthur

Image Courtesy of Grace to You

John F. MacArthur is one of the best-known radio preachers in the United States, featured on the internationally broadcast program Grace to You, which went on air in 1977. He has served as senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, since 1969. As an outspoken leader and author, MacArthur has riled both Charismatics and fellow Evangelicals at times and sparked heated debates among Christians.    

Fast Facts: John F. MacArthur

  • Full Name: John Fullerton MacArthur Jr.
  • Known For: American pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California; prolific author, Bible commentator, conference speaker, and teacher of the internationally broadcast radio program Grace to You.
  • Born: June 19, 1939, in Los Angeles, California
  • Parents: Jack MacArthur and Irene Dockendorf
  • Spouse: Patricia MacArthur
  • Children: Matt, Marcy, Mark, and Melinda MacArthur
  • Selected Works:  The Gospel According to Jesus (2008); Our Sufficiency in Christ (1998); Strange Fire (2013); Ashamed of the Gospel (2010); The Murder of Jesus (2004); The Prodigal Son (2008); Twelve Ordinary Men (2002); The Truth War (2007); The Jesus You Can’t Ignore (2009); One Perfect Life (2013); The Gospel According to Paul (2017); One Faithful Life (2019); Only Jesus (2020); The MacArthur Study Bible (2006); and The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (2015).
  • Notable Quote: “If I could simplify the Christian life to one thing, it would be obedience.”

Early Life

John Fullerton MacArthur Jr. was born in 1939 to Baptist preacher and evangelist Jack MacArthur and Irene Dockendorf in Los Angeles, California. In school, young MacArthur was passionate about football, basketball, baseball, and track, and was offered multiple college sports scholarships. But, at his father’s request, MacArthur put aside his dream of playing professional sports to attend Bob Jones University, an unaccredited evangelical Christian college with no athletic programs at the time.

Billy Graham meets Jack MacArthur
Billy Graham meets ministers at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, 1951, including Jack MacArthur (pastor of Fountain Avenue Baptist Church from 1948-1952). Los Angeles, California. University of Southern California / Contributor / Getty Images 

After two years at Bob Jones, MacArthur was recruited to play football at Pacific College. While there, God confirmed MacArthur’s call to the ministry. He decided to attend Talbot Theological Seminary and, in his own words, “never looked back.”

Of his time at seminary, MacArthur reminisced: “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 began traveling and preaching in the expository style (verse by verse through the Bible) that would become the hallmark of his ministry. He recalled, “I was at Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade, Young Life – every camp, every youth convention, churches, colleges, universities. I preached about 35 times a month for nearly three years, and that was great; that was like cramming ten years’ experience into three.”

During his second year at Talbot, MacArthur met and married his wife, Patricia. They are still together today and have four married children and fifteen grandchildren who all live in southern California.

After graduating from Talbot in 1969, MacArthur began his ministry as pastor of Grace Community Church and started the Grace to You radio program.

No Stranger to Controversy

In his 50-plus-year ministry, MacArthur has sparked controversy many times. His criticism of the Charismatic movement in his 2013 book, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, resulted in a firestorm of denunciation and several books in response. In addition, MacArthur has been critical of the prosperity gospel, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.

MacArthur also spurred heated debate with his 1988 book The Gospel According to Jesus, in which he said the gospel calls people to “surrender to the lordship of Christ in humble, repentant faith.” Evangelicals attacked this “lordship theology,” claiming it mixed works with grace and made repentance a “false addition” to the gospel. Today, MacArthur says he has not changed his views on “lordship salvation.”    

Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California
Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. Public Domain

MacArthur’s Positions

MacArthur’s theology is Calvinist and his sermons take an expository approach to Scripture, often parsing the original Greek or Hebrew text. Here are his positions on major issues:

The Bible: The Bible is God’s Word: infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient. “The Bible is the source of everything you need to know about life on earth and the life to come. You can trust the Bible. It is God’s living Word.”

The Church: The Church began on Pentecost, MacArthur teaches, and is comprised of born-again people who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Christ is the one supreme authority of the Church. Local churches should be autonomous, self-governing, and not controlled by any external hierarchy or organization.    

Evolution: He opposes evolutionism, teaching young-earth creationism. 

Eternal Security: MacArthur teaches eternal security, based “not on our ability to stay saved, but on God’s ability to keep His promise.” However, he notes that Scripture forbids using Christian liberty to sin and engage in carnal behavior.

Healing: Miraculous gifts, such as healing and revelation, were temporary during the New Testament period to establish the apostles’ authority. No one has the gift of healing today, he says, but God still heals the sick in answer to prayer.     

Holy Spirit: MacArthur calls the Holy Spirit the “essence of truth” and the One who guides people into the truth. The Holy Spirit’s role is to be a Teacher. Further, the Holy Spirit inspired the gospel writers so that they recorded Jesus’ words fully and accurately.

Jesus Christ: Jesus is God, and every person must face the question of Christ’s deity, MacArthur says. Jesus revealed himself as God to his disciples. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us as God today. “Christianity is all about believing.”

Salvation: Salvation is wholly of God by grace on the basis of the redemption of Jesus Christ, the merit of His shed blood, and not on the basis of human merit or works.”

Expository Teacher, Pastor, and Author

MacArthur became president of The Master’s College, formerly Los Angeles Baptist College, in 1985. A year later, he founded The Master’s Seminary, a graduate school to train men as ministers and missionaries.

John F. MacArthur
Image Courtesy of Grace to You

Most people are familiar with John F. MacArthur through the radio and television ministry Grace to You, which airs 1,000 times a day throughout the world. The Spanish version reaches 23 countries in Europe and Latin America. A few years ago, MacArthur posted more than 3,000 of his sermons on the Grace to You website for free listening and downloads.

MacArthur said that from the time he felt called to ministry, he wanted to be a pastor: “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.”

The prolific MacArthur has authored some 400 books and study guides, including The MacArthur Study Bible, which is available in nine languages and has sold over 1 million copies.

In 2015, MacArthur completed his 34-volume New Testament commentary, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, which takes readers book by book, verse by verse, and word by word through the entire New Testament.

In more than five decades of teaching and training, Grace to You radio broadcasts, online videos, podcasts, books, and other print media, John F. MacArthur has expanded his reach from a single congregation in southern California to millions of people worldwide each day. While not without controversy, MacArthur’s highly visible ministry has never been tarnished by public scandal or moral failure.

Source

  • “John MacArthur’s Life Testimony.” https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-33/John-MacArthurs-Life-Testimony