13 October 2006

Meeting John MacArthur

How I Got Drawn into the Lordship Debate—part 6
by Phil Johnson

uring the late '70s and early '80s, Moody Press was beginning to publish quite a lot of John MacArthur's material. By 1981, they had already published Kingdom Living and Jesus' Pattern for Prayer. The Family book and film series were already in the works.

In the summer of 1981, Jerry Jenkins (who was VP of Publishing at Moody Press in those days) phoned me unexpectedly. He said he wanted to fly me to Chicago to meet with John MacArthur and about 6 other free-lance editors. Moody was planning a ten-year project to publish a complete set of New Testament commentaries. (Today that ten-year project is now in its 25th year and is just beginning to near completion.)

Of course, I leapt at the opportunity to have a part in the commentary project. Meeting John MacArthur personally was an equally exciting prospect. I said yes immediately.

The original plan for the commentary series was to assign multiple editors to the task so several volumes could be worked on concurrently. The meeting would be a round-table discussion to explore the feasibility of the timetable and map out a plan for coordinating the different editors' efforts so that the commentaries would be as uniform as possible.

(Incidentally, the multiple-editors strategy turned out to be unworkable, because the series can progress no faster than John MacArthur himself can read and revise drafts. About two volumes per year proved to be the upper limit, so for the first decade or so only one editor was needed to edit the commentaries. That was Dave Douglass, my main mentor as a book editor. And he did a great job establishing the format and style of the whole series. He was the lone editor helping John MacArthur on the first fifteen volumes or so. To this day, I have never actually edited any of the commentaries. I've proofread a chapter here and there, but two men—Garry Knussman and Dave Enos—do the hands-on editorial work on them nowadays. My spare time is consumed editing other books for John besides the commentaries.)

Anyway, when some friends at Moody heard I was interested in the commentary project, they urged me to consider an alternative opportunity as well: Moody Press had an opening for an acquisitions editor. Several aspects of that job appealed to me. On the negative side, it meant leaving pastoral ministry. But on the positive side, it was an excellent opportunity to have significant influence in Moody Press's publishing decisions. And I was already very excited about what they were publishing—starting with the MacArthur New Testament Commentaries. So I agreed to interview for that position while I was in Chicago for the editors' round-table.

That editors' meeting was where I met John MacArthur for the first time. In the meeting, we talked about the commentaries, the proposed format, editorial schedules, potential problems, and other things related specifically to the commentaries. I don't think I had anything profound to add to the discussion, and I remember very little about the actual meeting.

I do recall that after the meeting was over, while the small group was standing around socializing, I ambled over to John and quietly suggested he ought to think about doing a book on the lordship of Christ and its relevance to the gospel call.

To my surprise, he brightened immediately and told me he already had plans for such a book. He said he even had an idea for a title: The Gospel According to Jesus.

I told him I thought the title could use some work, but he definitely ought to do the book. He had somehow heard that I was interviewing for the acquisitions-editor position, so he graciously said that if I came to work for Moody Press, he would look to Moody Press as a possible publisher, since I was the first editor who had expressed an interest in it.

I told him I would hold him to that promise. I also made a mental note to try to think of a better title for the book.

To abbreviate the story, I did go back to work for Moody Press, and my first official act as acquisitions editor was to ink the contract for a book by John MacArthur with the working title The Gospel According to Jesus.

During that second tour of duty at Moody Press, I got to know and appreciate MacArthur better. I spent several months of that first year editing The Ultimate Priority, the first MacArthur book I actually helped see from conception to completion. It was one of the most enjoyable editorial projects I had ever been involved in. John MacArthur was a pleasure to work with. And it struck me early on that he and I were like-minded on almost every important doctrinal and biblical issue.

He must have sensed that as well, because in 1983, he asked me to join the staff of Grace to You. He wanted someone with editorial skills to work more closely with him in his writing ministry.

It was not a difficult decision. If you had asked me to describe my idea of the perfect job for me, that would have been it. So in four weeks' time, Darlene and I packed up, made the move to Southern California, and joined Grace Church, where we have made our home for more than 23 wonderful years.

But when I left Moody Press, The Gospel According to Jesus was still just a working title on an open contract that didn't even have a deadline yet.

I figured the best part about working at Grace to You is that it would guarantee me the opportunity to help put that book together. The circumstances under which the book finally did come to fruition make one of the most exciting chapters of this whole tale.

Phil's signature


jerryb said...

Wow, oh the sweet providence of God

FX Turk said...

Listen: what is this? Charles Dickens? You can't stop there and expect us to sleep all weekend. The meat and potato episode here is "publishing the Gospel According to Jesus".

Just get it over with. Stop teasing me.

Carla Rolfe said...

This just keeps getting better and better. Poor Frank, he's just upset that he hasn't caught any fish this trip.


donsands said...

"he and I were like-minded on almost every important doctrinal and biblical issue"

What a blessing. God has a way of putting His people together like this.

Looking forward to part 7.

Tim Brown said...

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Moody Press eventually have a problem with the book for some reason after it was published? Early in my conversion someone was pooh-pooing John and said something about the book and Moody Press.

I agree with John on Lordship. I thank God for him. But I did hear this and some things I hear on Moody make me wonder about *them*.

Part of the non-lordship position that I've heard is that "Lord" just means "God". I've heard Mike Kellogg on "Music through the Night" say that if you "confess Jesus as God" you shall be saved.

So what's up with Lordship and moody and, as I already asked, John's book (Which I have copy of).

Steve said...

Phil said: "I told him I thought the title could use some work, but he definitely ought to do the book."

Spoken like a true editor. The title could have been better...but it certainly didn't hamper the message from getting out--a much-needed message at that.

Given I was hired at GTY just two weeks after Phil and had the office across the hall from him back then (Dawn M's old office), this brings back many memories. I remember when the very first commentary came off the press--the Hebrews volume--and how excited we were at what was to come.

James Scott Bell said...

Hey, I thought the title was perfect. It deliberately satirized all the warm fuzzies (The Gospel According to Peanuts, whatever); at the same time, it issued a challenge to those teaching a watered down gospel. I'm glad Phil got overruled on that one!

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Tim, what is sad is that some Free Grace advocates do not even think you have to believe that Jesus is God to be saved.

Brian @ voiceofthesheep said...

Okay, Phil...

I'm with centuri0n on this one. It is not very nice to leave us hanging through the weekend!!!

Tim Brown said...

I hadn't heard of that before, Jonathan!

Tim said...

Tim, what is sad is that some Free Grace advocates do not even think you have to believe that Jesus is God to be saved.

Jonathan, could you cite an example or two?

Craver Vii said...

I’m glad Dr. MacArthur has a Moody connection. I worked at Moody Publishers and there is a lot I like about them.

While working there, I recruited a coworker to pray for an evangelistic effort I was doing, and he asked how I came to faith. I told him, and his response to me was, “Oh, YOU decided??” And I thought, “Hmmm if you say it THAT way, it sounds like I’m making myself out to be sovereign instead of God.”

We had a series of water cooler conversations, and that year, I read through the Bible cover to cover. At the end of that year, there were at least two 5-point Calvinists at MP.

I wonder how many more there are who we don’t know about.

BeeCee said...

Am so enjoying the background of such an eye-opening book! Read TGATJ as a new believer, then went into an independent fundamental church where John MacArthur was considered a heretic. Talk about a confused new believer. TGATJ seemed so scriptural, and yet I would hear MacArthur denounced from the pulpit regularly.

So thankful to be out from under that bondage, and so grateful to God for the ministry of GTY and others.

MSC said...

A lot of people are wondering if you have a bio project for John in the works. Maybe you've answered this question before, but many would like to get an inside glimpse of the man and his message.

Unknown said...

Good narrative.

It's interesting to hear how one of the first major departures from the traditional Dispensational understanding of the way of salvation came about.

I'm thinking that John Montgomery Boice was first but am not sure.

Paul Doutell said...

The dispensational understanding of salvation was the departure, not The Gospel According to Jesus.

Paul Lamey said...

"It's interesting to hear how one of the first major departures from the traditional Dispensational understanding of the way of salvation came about."

Red herring for dinner anyone?

That's just wrong on so many levels. For example, S. Lewis Johnson was "keeping it real" (read Lordship salvation) at DTS before MacArthur was even out of seminary at Talbot. John has simply continued the historical position of soteriology which is first and foremost the biblical position. S. Lewis Johnson, MacArthur and others actually brought a needed corrective to certain dispensational outworkings of salvation that had gone unchecked for many years.

Secondly, James Boice, while a historic premill was never in the dispensational camp but don't let these facts get in the way of your damage control.

Andrew C said...

Great post on pt 6.

btw, who took your place at Moody?

GeneMBridges said...

"It's interesting to hear how one of the first major departures from the traditional Dispensational understanding of the way of salvation came about.

I do so love posts like these. They are soooo revealing. Thank you for your tacit admission that your version of dispensationalism overules and undermines your views on soteriology.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Tim, there are several posts over at the Moor that discuss this and other views of extreme Free Gracers (XFG). You could check 1 John 4:2 and “Free Grace” (In the comment thread, Mathew (dyspraxic fundamentalist) asks, “why is believing that Jesus is God essential to believing in His name for eternal life? If I believe that Jesus was a prophet or an angel, have I believed in a different Jesus? I would believe in the Jesus in the pages of the Bible, depsite having a grossly distorted understanding of His person . . . It is the name of Jesus that we believe on for eternal life through His work, not His deity.”), Is this “Free Grace”, Do All Christians “Have God”?, Addendum to “Do All Christians Have God: 1 John 5:11-13, John vs. the Synoptics: According to Free Grace, and my personal favorite: Quote of the Week: Zane Hodges.

FX Turk said...


Yeah, but can you name examples nobody has ever cited before? I mean, just because you have 5 or 6 examples that everyone has read before and nobody has ever refuted or revised before, does that mean that you're right and they deny that believing in the Son of God is foundational to the Gospel and the matter of salvation even though it was part of the Gospel Peter preached at Pentecost?


Listen: if you're not going to be serious, how do you expoect anyone to be serious about this.

Pheh. College boys.

Unknown said...

As I think the tentativeness of my language indicated I was not sure of myself on the matter. Thanks for the correction guys. Umm, Jonathan, I don't think my engaging in debate here is part of the plan, so... this may be a good opportunity to say whatever you want :)


Tim said...

Quoth Jonathan:
Tim, there are several posts over at the Moor that discuss this and other views of extreme Free Gracers (XFG).

Thanks. I'm a bit new to the particulars of this controversy, so although I appreciate Centuri0n's witty sarcasm, I really hadn't seen such specimens of XFG before.

MSC said...

H. A. Ironside was "keeping it real" when S. Lewis Johnson was teething. See his book, Unless You Repent

Unknown said...

I prefer “Caffeinated-Free-Grace” rather than Jonathan’s (so yesterday) XFG. Since we may have overshot GES and Hodges in our blogging on Head of the Moor, here's a link to Zane Hodges’ brief answer to the diety question raised after he spoke about evangelism at a GES event. It's from Solifidian’s blog:

What If They Deny the Deity of Christ?

You can see the rest of the questions over there too, like...

What Does it Mean to Believe that Jesus is the Christ?

What if a Person Believes in Christ for Justification Instead of Eternal Life?

Comments on the Passive Nature of Faith

Is Faith a Volitional Act?

Since the Gospel of John Includes the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Aren't They Necessary to be Understood for Saving Faith?

Should We Focus on What a Person Trusts Jesus For—Eternal Life?

How Much of a Sense of Sinfulness Does a Person Need?

Does a Person Believe in a Person apart from Propositions about that Person?

Is there a Minimum that People Must Understand about His Person?

What If They Deny the Deity of Christ?

Paul Doutell said...

Was the link to Hodges' answer meant to support the no-lordship position, or illustrate how ridiculous it is?

Unknown said...

If people want to talk or insult FG they may want to engage somewhere where I've been given permission to respond. Phil Johnson doesn't want these posts of his turning into a debate.

My posts:

How I "order" salvation and the
Diety/Lordship of Christ


Unknown said...

Ironside emphasizes repentance alongside the gospel but still insists on the distinction:

The gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of one’s ways, to make restitution for his past sins, or to promise to do better in the future. These things are all perfectly right and perfectly proper in their place, but they do not constitute the gospel; for the gospel is not good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed. Do not make the mistake then of thinking that the gospel is a call to duty or a call to reformation, a call to better your condition, to behave yourself in a more perfect way than you have been doing in the past.