By Iain H. Murray
“Servant of the Word and Flock” is an apt subtitle for Iain Murray’s new biography of John MacArthur. The book leaves us convinced that no ministry is as important to MacArthur as serving his church by teaching and preaching God’s word. Murray points out that the one stipulation Dr. MacArthur made when accepting the call to Grace Community Church “was that he be allowed thirty hours a week for study.”
“Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text,” Murray writes. MacArthur would take this as a compliment. “When I started ministry,” he says, “I committed myself to expository preaching, just explaining the Bible, because I know that there was nothing I could say that was anywhere near as important as what God had to say.”
Though MacArthur has served Grace Community Church for over forty years, and attendance is in the thousands, if all that he did was preach, most of us wouldn’t know his name. But that’s not the case; MacArthur writes more books than most Christians read. Murray gives ample attention to these as well as the controversy that sometimes follows (as in the case of The Gospel According to Jesus, which sparked the so-called Lordship Controversy). Because these books, including MacArthur’s Study Bible and New Testament Commentaries, are translated in dozens of languages and shipped over the world, often at no cost to the recipient, MacArthur ministers to millions whom he has never met. That doesn’t count those who listen to his sermons, free of charge, compliments of Grace to You.
Murray’s book concentrates more on MacArthur’s work than on the man himself. Still, we read about MacArthur’s past, his childhood, and how he was shaped by his father and grandfather. We read of his humility—when the only rental car available was a Cadillac, he chose to walk the last several blocks to his appointment so as not to send the wrong message. We read about his love for others, especially his family: “The family is the one environment where your devotion, faithfulness, and consistency matter most,” wrote MacArthur. Murray even dedicates an entire chapter to MacArthur’s wife, Patricia, of whom MacArthur wrote: “For every grief I ever caused her, she has given me a thousand blessings in return.” Murray shows that, as one of MacArthur’s friends said, “His greatest sermon is his life.”
While Murray’s appreciation for his subject is obvious, the book is by no means an exercise in hero-worship. Murray addresses MacArthur’s failures and sometimes disagrees with his beliefs. One preacher from Brazil speaks for many when he wonders how MacArthur can be “soteriologically reformed and dispensational at the same time.” Though Murray doesn’t dwell long on his disagreement with MacArthur’s views regarding the end times, he does state them, and he observes that a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is inconsistent with the way the New Testament writers often interpreted Scripture.
Murray tells us twice that these 240 pages are “little more than a sketch; this is not the time, nor I the writer, to give a full portrait.” While it may not end up being the most complete biography, it is hard to imagine that there will be one as well-written and interesting. We do, however, have reason to agree that “this is not the time.” Though MacArthur turns 72 on the nineteenth day of this month (June 2011), he has no plans to retire:
“As the Lord permits, I hope to continue teaching God’s word and shepherding His flock until the day I go to be with Him.”
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Banner of Truth in exchange for an honest review.