Theologically Sound. Culturally Relevant.

John MacArthur

Why John MacArthur Is Not A False Teacher

Preface

Part of how this Discernment ministry operates is taking in reader questions about prevalent teachers. John MacArthur led in the number of requests. You can make a request here and see our answered verdicts here.

Scope

John MacArthur is one of the most prevalent teachers in the United States. Despite theological disagreements, his track record is not one of a false teacher. In the interest of not being clickbait but staying true to the “verdict” format, this research will address the reasons why people believe that MacArthur is a false teacher, and address concerns that Evangelical Dark Web has about MacArthur’s ministry.

Bio

John Fullerton MacArthur Jr. is an American pastor, author, and theologian known for his extensive ministry and influential teaching within Evangelical Christianity. Born on June 19, 1939, in Los Angeles, California, MacArthur has become a prominent figure in the Reformed and Baptist traditions.

John MacArthur was born into a family with a rich heritage in Christian ministry. His father, Dr. Jack MacArthur, was a prominent pastor, and the young John grew up surrounded by the influences of a devout Christian home. The family’s commitment to the Christian faith played a significant role in shaping MacArthur’s spiritual foundation.

MacArthur pursued his higher education at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. After completing his undergraduate studies, he continued his education at Talbot Theological Seminary (now part of Biola University) in La Mirada, California. He earned a Master of Divinity degree, and later, he pursued a Doctor of Ministry degree from Talbot Theological Seminary.

John MacArthur began his pastoral ministry at the age of 29 when he assumed leadership of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, in 1969. Under his guidance, the church grew significantly and became known for its commitment to expository preaching, a teaching style that emphasizes the thorough exposition of biblical texts.

In 1985, MacArthur founded The Master’s College (now The Master’s University) in Santa Clarita, California, to provide a biblically centered education. In 1986, The Master’s Seminary was established as an extension of the college, with a focus on training pastors and church leaders in the same doctrinal framework.

MacArthur is a prolific author, having written numerous books covering a wide range of theological and practical topics. Some of his well-known works include “The Gospel According to Jesus,” “Strange Fire,” and the “MacArthur Study Bible,” which provides commentary and notes on the biblical text.

John MacArthur’s ministry and teachings have had a significant impact on the evangelical community, particularly in the areas of biblical exposition, theological education, and doctrinal fidelity. His emphasis on the authority of Scripture and commitment to biblical truth has made him a respected and influential figure within conservative Christianity.

Lordship Salvation

The number one objection to John MacArthur that appears from websites that label him as such is the issue of Lordship Salvation. Lordship Salvation is a Protestant name for a theology that distinguishes itself from easy-believism, which proponents might call Free Grace. Easy-believism discounts the relationship between faith and works, perhaps as a polemic against the appearance of Roman Catholicism. Yet the Reformers understood that salvation comes from grace through faith and that this faith is made evident in works. Sola Fide is about the process of salvation, not about the role of works in the Christian life. Lordship Salvation asserts that obedience is necessary evidence of faith.

Easy-believism lends itself to the idea that mere acknowledgment of Christ’s work on the cross is salvific or perhaps that saying the Sinner’s Prayer once at a carnival is being saved. Lordship Salvation arose to combat this notion, arguing that repentance plays a role in salvation. Those of easy-believism would call repentance a work and therefore conclude it unnecessary for salvation. This is problematic as it leads to carnality.

Peter instructed the believers on Pentecost to “repent and be baptized” thus striking dead the notion of mere acknowledgment is salvific. These commands to repent and be baptized are evidence that the conviction of belief is real, although Lutherans would argue for baptismal regeneration. John MacArthur, being a Baptist, is not a party to that belief.

In conclusion, those who would label John MacArthur a heretic over Lordship Salvation take a stance against an orthodox position. So, therefore, this is by no means a basis to label MacArthur a false teacher.

Eschatology

In YouTube comments, the biggest objection against John MacArthur is his view on eschatology, in that he teaches that the elect may take the Mark of the Beast. Yet despite the perception of this teaching, John MacArthur’s famous commentary teaches on Matthew 24:24 “to mislead, if possible even the elect” that “This clearly implies that such deception is not possible.”

So where does this perception come from? Several years ago, there was a Q&A session where John MacArthur was asked if taking the Mark of the Beast was the Unforgivable Sin. MacArthur answered that it categorically was not the same as the Unforgivable Sin and therefore forgivable. Logically, this argument is sound even if the premises turn out to be incorrect. Phil Johnson concludes on the controversy:[1]

Taking the mark of the Beast is high treason against Christ and will be judged by God accordingly. Meanwhile, the Lord is “good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon [Him]” (Psalm 86:5).

The debate does not appear to be posited as to whether Christians can take the Mark of the Beast but that a pagan can take the mark and be saved afterward.

Perhaps, it’s a criticism of MacArthur’s dispensational eschatology. John MacArthur teaches that the elect will not be allowed to be fully deceived, citing Matthew 24. In his, he also teaches that although believers can be misled, there are limits such as the timing of the tribulation that Jesus places to protect believers. It may be logical to conclude that MacArthur teaches that it is impossible for Christians to take the Mark of the Beast given his teachings on Matthew 24. But this is not the argument that Phil Johnson makes in MacArthur’s defense.

All of this is a long digression to the overarching governing principle of Evangelical Dark Web does not label people false teachers according to their eschatological beliefs; however wrong they may be, unless they amount to a false gospel.[2]

Fake Scandal

One major classification of MacArthur’s detractors is those who believe Julie Roys is a credible journalist. Julie Roys has gone after John MacArthur for being a powerful man in ministry, which is the only consistent thread in her reporting. But since she set her eyes on MacArthur, there have been three main criticisms.

John MacArthur’s Wealth

John MacArthur has an incredibly prolific ministry including Grace Community Church, Grace To You, and The Master’s Seminary. Compounded with the rising expenses of Southern California over the last fifty years, and the assets of MacArthur easily make him a millionaire. The criticism was the topic of MacArthur’s teachings against the Prosperity Gospel against his lifestyle, yet this hypocrisy doesn’t actually materialize.

Unlike David Platt who recently bought his home from McLean Bible Church for $1.1 Million, MacArthur does not preach a poverty gospel in response to the Prosperity Gospel. It’s worth noting that Northern Virginia is also a high real estate value area while making this comparison. Moreover, MacArthur’s views on tithing do not line up with Prosperity preachers.

Consider this article on Grace To You that summarizes MacArthur’s teachings on tithing.

Today many conservative evangelical pastors are reviving and promoting the practice of tithing. They argue that this Old Testament pattern—giving one tenth of your income—is still a requirement for New Testament Christians.

Unlike the crass forms of indulgences we’ve encountered thus far, the modern tithe has an air of biblical credibility. Tithing actually precedes the Mosaic law and first appears in Genesis 14:20. Abraham returned from a victorious battle—rescuing his nephew Lot—and gave Melchizedek, the king of Salem, one tenth of his victory spoils (it’s worth noting that Abraham’s first tithe didn’t come out of his own personal wealth).

After comparing legalistic pastors who preach on tithing to those who sold indulgences, MacArthur’s views on tithing would be summarized as such:

In his book Whose Money Is It Anyway?, John MacArthur explains that tithing was an Old Testament form of taxation that supplied the necessary funds to operate Israel’s theocratic government. He concludes that the principle of Malachi 3 does not apply to believers under the New Covenant.

Compare this to what he says about giving in a 2013 article.[3]

Greedily storing up wealth and resources limits their usefulness to your own selfish purposes. It’s far better to surrender them to the purposes of God and reap the tremendous blessings of being part of what He’s accomplishing in the lives of His people.

Faithful, sacrificial giving also knits you into the life of your church. In one simple act you’re helping support your pastor and the rest of your church’s staff, meet the needs of missionaries supported by your church, provide for the maintenance of your church building and other facilities, fulfill physical and financial needs within your congregation, and much more. And on top of all that, the Lord uses your support of ministries like Grace to You to reach people in your part of the world and beyond with the truth of Scripture.

That doesn’t mean we should recklessly give away everything—God’s Word clearly advocates wise management of your money (cf. Matthew 25:14-30). But if we’re going to store up treasure, we ought to store it “in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys” (Luke12:33). Give generously, and count on the Lord to be generous with you.

The context of this article is that John MacArthur is using Scripture to articulate a transactional blessing upon giving, in an appeal to readers to give to Grace To You where MacArthur apparently makes six figures. Giving to the church indeed helps support the life of the church. It is also worth noting that there is no fixed amount specified to give. It’s clear that John MacArthur makes a distinction between his teachings on giving and tithing, but it’s also true, although unlikely, that a Prosperity preacher could have written everything MacArthur wrote in these posts.

We do not know enough about MacArthur’s personal giving to make an assessment of his character and therefore ministry.

Did MacArthur Cover Up Sex Abuse?

Julie Roys rehashed this supposed scandal, but the facts and timeline do not substantiate a claim that John MacArthur mishandled the situation. The timeline is as follows.[4]

1982: David and Eileen are married.

1994-1998: The couple adopts three children.

1998: David begins displaying abusive behavior in his discipline of the children.

1998-2001: David continues abusive treatment of children, including not being appropriately dressed when around the kids (walking around in his underwear).

June 2001: Children reportedly tell Eileen they think David was trying to kill them (due to one particularly abusive instance of “discipline”). Eileen files a restraining order against David. Church members house her and the kids until the order takes effect and they can return home without David there.

September 2001: Eileen and David begin marital counseling at the church with elder Carey Hardy. These sessions were taped, with the exact context of statements made during the sessions being disputed in statements from Eileen Gray and Carey Hardy.

November 2001: Eileen requests to be removed from the church’s membership. The church denies this request in accordance with their bylaws, reporting that they believe they are dealing with a marital reconciliation issue that is within the disciplinary purview of the church.

April 2002: The church continues to insist that Eileen reconcile with David, revealing their belief that there is no longer any biblical reason Eileen should continue to refuse reconciliation.

May 2002: Believing that they are dealing with Eileen’s unsubstantiated refusal to reconcile, pastor MacArthur brings the issue before the church in a communion service.

August 2002: The church elders reiterate their belief that it is Eileen who is refusing a proper reconciliation, and conclude that Eileen has no desire to reconcile the marriage.

September 2002: The family court grants Eileen sole custody of the children and legal separation, and she moves north with the kids to be closer to family, who were helping care for them as she fought cancer. David is still granted monitored visitation as Eileen still wants the kids to see their father and wants them to have more time with him.

February 2003: The children begin counseling with psychologist Melinda Adams.

February-May 2003: The children begin to demonstrate negative reactions to David during visitations, and reportedly begin describing to Eileen instances of David sexually abusing them. Eileen reports thinking they were mistaken at first, but upon believing them she ceases David’s visitations.

Late 2003: Eileen reports the children’s accusations to the police. She reportedly tells police that she recalls smelling semen on the children in 2001, but upon examination found nothing. There is no evidence that this was reported to anyone when it happened.

February 2004: Detectives arrest David Gray on suspicion of 10 felonies, including sexual abuse charges.

June 2005: David Gray is convicted on 6 out of 10 counts, and sentenced to multiple prison terms resulting in his incarceration for 21 years to life in prison. Gray had pleaded not guilty, insisting that Eileen had been more interested in “building a case” against him rather than reconciling. He testified that before December 2002, the kids reacted positively to him during visits, but that this changed in the following months. He denied all allegations of sexual abuse, insisting that Eileen planted these events in the minds of the kids to drive David out of their lives.

November 2006: David Gray’s appeal is denied. The appeal alleged that the court failed to provide a fair trial by not severing the abuse allegations (which had admission evidence) from the sexual abuse allegations (which were entirely based on the children’s statements), but the court found that connecting them was proper. Gray’s attorneys also argued that it was wrong to admit as evidence an unsubstantiated allegation against Gray of sexual contact from 22 years before the trial.

March 2022: David Gray is reportedly denied parole for another ten years, with the parole board reportedly describing Gray as a “sadistic predator who weaponized religion.” Roys celebrates the decision.

Knowing what he knew at the time, the church discipline against Eileen Gray was merited, even now Grace Community Church has nothing to apologize for in dealing with her. Nor were they informed of anything that would later materialize.

Opening His Church During Covid

Many of John MacArthur’s detractors accused MacArthur of murder for opening his church during lockdowns, in late July 2020. In this, MacArthur stood alone from his Big Eva contemporaries. Yet MacArthur was in sin for shutting down his church, not reopening his church during lockdowns. This criticism of MacArthur is rooted in opposition to Christianity.

Cessationism

John MacArthur is an adamant cessationist, meaning he rejects the continuation of the sign gifts. John MacArthur has gone to great lengths to advance this view, including books, conferences, and several sermons.

Yet the continuation of the sign gifts is a tertiary issue, it is not only well below the threshold of a “gospel issue” it is also an issue Christians can disagree and be fellowship within a denomination and even a local church. It is also one of the most difficult theological positions to argue from Scripture. So John MacArthur’s doctrine on this issue, if wrong, would not make him a false teacher. The fact that MacArthur is renowned for being, perhaps, mean-spirited towards those who hold to the continuationist position is a legitimate criticism of his ministry but does not amount to legitimizing a claim that he is a false teacher.

Legitimate Concerns

The aforementioned sections dealt with either illegitimate critiques or critiques that were not tantamount to a false teacher label. However, this is not to say that there are zero concerns with John MacArthur and his influence. Evangelical Dark Web will present these concerns here.

Radical Pietism

John MacArthur is and always has been a radical pietist. Pietism emphasizes personal holiness at the expense of the world around the individual Christian. It’s in a tight Venn Diagram with Radical 2 Kingdom theology and Anabaptism. So while John MacArthur is theologically sound on areas within the local church, his engagement with the civil sphere of governance has been problematic going back decades specifically when he used his platform to attack pro-life protestors.

Opposition To Pro-Life Activism

Operation Rescue was a pro-life activist organization that sought to forcibly stop abortions through protests. Indeed, this activism was so effective that combatting it became the number one priority for the pro-abortionists. Yet, John MacArthur in 1989 would go to the liberal media to denounce Christian activists.[5]

Others in the anti-abortion movement have a different view of God.

One recent Sunday at Grace Community Church, an independent fundamentalist church in Sun Valley, Pastor John MacArthur passed out a brochure to at least 7,000 churchgoers.

“In a sinful world, God has sovereignly given human government the authority to keep peace and order, not to institute Christian values,” it read. “He will ultimately judge all sinners, including those who murder their children . . .. The church has never been called to prevent sin by force or intrusion, but to proclaim the gospel to sinners.”

John MacArthur supported the arrest of Christians, holding the cloaks for the police in his area to do so. Any sort of pro-life credentials of John MacArthur are severely undermined by this history. Christians have always viewed the civil magistrate as a means to fight the proliferation of sin in society, going back to antiquity. The notion that churches do not to play a role in preventing sin is ridiculous on its face. John MacArthur’s actions were utilized by the liberal media to attack Christians. MacArthur’s friendly fire is a mark on his lifetime of ministry.

Promotion of Lockdowns

Although John MacArthur famously reopened his church in 2020, he not only shut his church down, but his influence led many churches to comply with lockdowns. Phil Johnson is John MacArthur’s consigliere, especially with online matters. During the time that Grace Community Church was locked down on its own volution, Phil Johnson was arguing about how Hebrews 10:25 did not apply to their situation.

JD Hall wrote of Phil Johnson’s argument at the time:

Phil’s argument is that ἐγκαταλείπω (technically ἐγκαταλείποντες) – or “forsake” – implies apostasy, not staying home from sacred Lord’s Day assemblies. I’ll first say that Phil’s textual argument here is 100% novel; I can find no commentary or scholarship to support his “point A” (the definition of “forsake”) leading to his “point B” (this verse doesn’t deal with the weekly assembly).

I can find evidence of a small, minority view among some that Hebrews 10:25 is not speaking of the weekly assembly, albeit this view is largely stricken from the major commentaries unless briefly mentioned and then rejected (as it is in Barnes’ Notes, who credits the view to Christian Gottlieb Kuhnol, an 18th Century German theologian). Most importantly to Phil Johnson, John MacArthur does not include this curious translation in his New Testament commentary of Hebrews 10:25, a fact I double-checked from my own copy of the volume personally signed by MacArthur himself. However, the minority view that Hebrews 10:25 is speaking to rank apostasy and not Lord’s Day abandonment is not tied anywhere or by anyone except Phil Johnson (that I can find) to the translation of ἐγκαταλείποντες. Rather, Kuhnol ties this belief to the translation of ἐπισυναγωγὴν “assembling,” claiming that this speaks of the Christian church as a whole and not the meetings of the church.

Hall concludes of MacArthur and Johnson by stating:

Even if they will not change their view, I would be far happier if the good brothers at Grace Community Church would admit that they struggle with the decision to “civilly disobey” because they are products of a certain Southern California Statism. It is not Scripture that leads them to ping-pong their decision to open their church, but is more than likely a Californication of their theology.

Truth be told, they are reading their own culture into Scripture far more than anyone who applies Romans 13 to the American form of government.

Hall attributed Southern California statism to MacArthur’s church complying with Gavin Newsom. Yet this is more accurately reflected in the MacArthur Bros being the spiritual successor to the Anabaptists. As the Anabaptists were unsuccessful in their attempts to manifest their eschatology during the Reformation, they decided to withdraw from the broader society. In America, we see this trend come in after the Civil War with the rise in premillennial eschatology and later dispensationalism. MacArthur’s theology, although not classically Reformed, is a mesh of Calvinism and what he calls a leaky Dispensationalism.

Yet it is this same line of thinking that led Todd Friel of Wretched Radio to make the absurd argument that you would be in sin for not complying with a government mandate to wear pinwheels on your head.

Association With False Teachers

John MacArthur has been vocal in the fight against Critical Race Theory and more broadly the Social Justice Gospel. Yet he would platform a wolf such as Ligon Duncan not only at The Master’s Seminary but also at conferences hosted at Grace Community Church.[6] The evidence was overwhelming at the time that Duncan was extremely woke.[7]

To a lesser extent, MacArthur also platforms John Piper who is also woke and has a history of obfuscating Critical Race Theory. It’s worth noting that Piper has not been found to be a false teacher yet by Evangelical Dark Web, but we give him a high warning.

Outstanding Resume

John MacArthur has been in ministry for many years and has been a theological heavyweight for decades. MacArthur was one of the original signers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, fighting for a key doctrine.[8] This was a major 20th-century theological battle that MacArthur faithfully served on the right side.

Echoing his participation in the Chicago Statement, MacArthur would also be one of the initial signatories of the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel in 2018.[9] Moreover, after reopening his church, MacArthur would be an initial signer of the Frankfurt Declaration in 2022.[10]

John MacArthur has faithfully fought on the right side of many key battles facing the church and mobilized his platform to do so.

Conclusion

John MacArthur’s ministry has been characterized by a strong commitment to the authority of the Bible. He is widely recognized for his expository preaching style, systematically going through passages of Scripture verse by verse. In addition to his pastoral role at Grace Community Church, he has been involved in various teaching ministries, including the Grace to You radio and television broadcasts.

One of the marks of a false teacher is decadence, in that they get worse over time. Christians are sanctified and therefore get better over time. John MacArthur’s ministry has gotten better over time which is the opposite of what was demonstrated by his contemporary, Tim Keller.

Although MacArthur’s theology is not without flaws, he is within the bounds of orthodoxy and therefore we would conclude that he is a biblically sound pastor.


[1] https://www.gty.org/library/blog/b131030

[2] See John Hagee for an example

[3] https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B130211

[4] https://protestia.com/2022/03/14/judge-julie-accusing-the-shepherd/

[5] https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-03-17-mn-1621-story.html

[6] https://evangelicaldarkweb.org/2022/09/19/will-john-macarthur-stop-platforming-woke-pastors-enforce-dallas-statement/

[7] https://evangelicaldarkweb.org/2020/12/10/ligon-duncans-racism-exposed/

[8] https://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1_typed.pdf

[9] https://statementonsocialjustice.com/

[10] https://frankfurtdeclaration.com/

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