Before I launch into Iain Murray’s latest biographical offering, I should disclose that I have a deep love and affection for Dr. John MacArthur and his ministry. I came to The Master’s College in 2001 and was deeply impacted there as a student and later as an employee for three years. Dr. MacArthur has had a profound impact on my understanding of the Bible, and his commitment to the exposition of Scripture in my opinion is unparalleled today.
Iain Murray lays out the expectation of what the book is and isn’t in the foreword: “This is still little more than a ‘sketch’: a full portrait must await a later date and come from another hand.” Indeed, Murray has given the reader a broad overview of John’s life, while leaving the door open for someone else to come along and chronicle his life and times.
Murray works with ease detailing MacArthur’s life from birth to the present. Summary details of MacArthur’s life, ministry, and colleagues are all given due attention. Fuller reviews of each chapter and movement can be found in numerous other reviews (here, here and here). Murray also graciously and straightforwardly handles some “Objections and Questions” in chapter 14. Needless to say, the trajectory of MacArthur’s life has been one of a single-minded focus to building up the church of Christ through the preaching of the word of God.
John MacArthur & Kenneth Nally
Of interest for the biblical counselor is the case of Kenneth Nally. Nally was a student at an extension site of Talbot Theological Seminary in Sun Valley. While attending, Nally had received pastoral counseling at Grace Community. Murray writes that Nally unsuccessfully attempted to take his own life at which point Pastor MacArthur became more involved, visiting him in the hospital and offering to let him stay at his home.
While away on a trip, MacArthur would receive the devastating news that Kenneth had taken his life. Murray writes, “This was a very heavy blow to MacArthur, who thought highly of Ken and took seriously the young man’s believe that he was called to the gospel ministry. Inevitably the death caused more media attention, with the congregation investigated for information on any other suicides that had occurred under MacArthur’s ministry.”
Kenneth’s father would launch a clergy malpractice suit against John MacArthur and would seek $1 million in damages. Over a period of eight years MacArthur and the church would be forced to defend themselves in court, finally appealing to the Supreme Court of California where the case was eventually dismissed. The original court concluded that “the First Amendment to the US Constitution forbids imposing duties on clergy for church counseling. The court also found that the pastors of Grace Church had acted properly in the way they sought to help Ken.”
As one might imagine, the case is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the preservation of the pastor’s ability to serve as a spiritual counselor. On that topic, Dr. Bob Kellemen has a 6-part blog series on The Law and Church Counseling which every counselor should read.
John MacArthur & Biblical Counseling
While not documented extensively in the book, MacArthur’s impact on the world of biblical counseling is significant, particularly in nouthetic circles. When MacArthur came to The Master’s College in 1985, he helped them in developing a biblical counseling undergraduate program. Noted pastors and counselors like Wayne Mack, Bob Smith, John Street and Stuart Scott helped establish the program. To this day, the undergraduate major in biblical counseling is one of the most popular undergraduate emphases to major in. By God’s grace, Dr. MacArthur’s life and ministry has had a profound impact on modern day evangelicalism.