I Don’t Believe It

I love Dr. John MacArthur. Much of my spiritual and pastoral growth can be attributed directly to him as the human instrument. When I packed my Ford Probe and moved to Los Angeles in 1997 for seminary it was because I wanted to be a student fully trained with him as the teacher. There is no one else I would rather listen to preach. And thanks to Phil Johnson and other editors his body of published material is without modern day equal. He is one of God’s strongest and clearest messengers and I sit up straight when he speaks.

More than likely, most of the people who read this blog know and love Dr. MacArthur as well. So it’s no new revelation to say he’s the preacher who never met a passage that wasn’t his favorite. Each week, every next verse he unleashes is the most “rich” one. I really do admire his endless positivity, especially in light of everything I imagine he’s seen and heard. His sanguine perspective also spills over into a proclivity for hyping whatever he’s thinking/talking about in the now. I’m amazed how excited he is, or at least sounds, about anything he’s announcing.1 It’s more than admirable, it’s endearing.

That said, I don’t always believe everything he says. Sometimes sweet things are too good to be true and you get to a point where you can’t handle any more honey.

A good case in point would be the introduction of his recent chapel message, The Responsibility of a Christian College, in which he claimed that being at a Christian college is the most intense spiritual experience a believer could have.2 As president of The Master’s College I understand he’s obligated, and I think in his case genuinely excited, to promote the school. But this characterization of life at a Christian college is more like a caricature, and the exaggeration gives a dangerous and unhelpful impression.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with Christian colleges, or The Master’s College in particular. Just the opposite is true. For the last seven years I’ve promoted, organized, and driven students thousands of miles for Preview Weekends at TMC. Some of my favorite people are TMC students or graduates and I wish I could have gone there myself. Furthermore, I attended three different Christian colleges before finally graduating from one of them.

So I agree, as MacArthur opened his message, that Christian colleges should produce “distinctive Christians,” defined by him as those “who’s sanctification is evident.” That’s good if not self-evident. But I couldn’t believe what he said just a little under two minutes in:

Being a Christian in a Christian college should be the most formidable, the most aggressive, the most progressive, the most intense time of sanctification that a believer could ever know. …to be a true Christian, and to be put in this setting, with its level of spiritual intensity, biblical understanding, biblical literacy, theological clarity, ministry opportunity, is a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel. No youth pastor can produce this level of discipleship. No family can produce the breadth, height, length and depth of this level of discipleship coming from so many different directions, all singularly focused, all founded on the same convictions, all pursuing the same objective.3

For sake of full disclosure, it’s true that Pastor of Student Ministries is the title on my business card. Maybe I’m howling because one of the rocks he threw hit my head, but I don’t think that’s the only reason.

If he would have said something like, “Sadly it’s true for many Christians that the most intense time of spiritual growth is in college” I’d have no complaint. Certainly that is possible. My objection is that his statement makes it sound ideal.

But if Christian college is truly the ultimate place for spiritual growth and sanctification and discipleship then that’s awful for the majority of past and present believers who never went to a Christian college for whatever reason. We should make everyone enroll immediately for every semester and attend classes at some Christian college as long as they’re alive.4 Every family, and church, should organize themselves around the college schedule. Apparently the rest of us are really missing out.

Obviously that’s not biblical. God ordained the church and the family as His institutions for instruction, discipleship, worship, ministry, and personal obedience. Christian college may be a small brick in the wall, but to say it is “a level of intensity in spiritual experience that has no parallel” discourages almost everyone but donors and undermines MacArthur’s message and ministry for over 40 years.

Professors cannot take the place of preachers/pastors and parents. They’re not supposed to. College is also patently NOT discipleship, unless discipleship is defined in terms of classes and chapels, which I’ve argued against elsewhere. In addition, roommates and RAs cannot provide what older, and younger, and otherwise different parts of the Body can.

When I look back on my own Christian college experience, sanctification was indeed formidable. But I always attributed that more to the fact of living in close quarters of a thousand other selfish sinners. And we certainly had some spiritually intense discussions, but most of the intensity was due to our youthful arrogance, not our theological acumen. I’m very thankful for everything I learned and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m even more thankful that it’s done. In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.

My point is that no Christian college can provide the breadth, height, length and depth of spiritual experience. I don’t believe it. Dr. MacArthur himself has preached and published otherwise for a long time. I don’t think he believes it either.


  1. For instance, though he’s greeted new visitors thousands of times I’ve never heard his welcome sound stale, rote, or disinterested.
  2. He certainly meant being at a “good” Christian college, and presumably he would consider a “good” one to be like The Master’s College where Scripture is the authority and personal holiness is prized.
  3. I transcribed this quote from the podcast of Chapel @ TMC. At the moment there is no other way to access the message than by subscribing to the entire podcast. Note to the media department at TMC: if you’re going to make the audio available at all (for which we are very thankful), why not create a more inviting way to access the chapel messages than only through iTunes? Anyway, I suspect this quote is exactly the kind of material that might be published in a future edition of The Master’s Current, though I hope it gets buried or lost on the editor’s desk.
  4. We’re also going to have to do something about the hefty $120,000 price tag for this level of sanctification.

Comments (copied)

Chuck Weinberg said April 30, 2008 at 5:44 am:

Hey Hig, Thanks for your leadership and truth declaring on our behalf. Thanks for your willingness to disagree, when necessary, with someone you love. Our family has been through some “intense sanctification training” lately, and you’re exactly right, it’s the Body that brings all those things so sweetly together. Thanks again for your work at TMC and seminary to move you along in the process, but thank you even more for your continued growth in sanctification over the past years you have been involved in our ministry. You, and Mo, have growth significantly and so has our 128 staff and students. God is Good. Chuck

Clyde said April 30, 2008 at 8:58 am:

i agree with your disagreement. Jesus established the church. He never established LABC.

$ talks. This is a good example.

Jesse Martin said April 30, 2008 at 9:43 am:

Hmmm, I don’t think I care for his dogmatic declaration either. When I first considered colleges, there was almost nothing I wouldn’t have given to be able to attend that college as well – a few years removed from that decision and looking at the growth and intense discipleship I have received through the ministry here in One28 – I KNOW I have received more ministry opportunity and personalized exhortation from the Godly men in this church than I would ever have received from a teacher that is forced into the formality of the academic arena. My deepest gratitude to your “second best” efforts Sean!

bean said April 30, 2008 at 10:05 am:

@clyde – i agree with the disagreement too. and i agree that money talks. but i did want to jump in with a tiny (maybe weak) defense of the book you linked to. from what i understand, many of the “spin off” books are handled by the publisher and macarthur (or phil) has very little, if anything, to do with them. he obviously has very much to do with his message at chapel, though, so there is no getting out of that.

and yes, the next question is why you would let your publisher have that much control and influence…i did say it might be a weak defense.

Mijah said April 30, 2008 at 11:16 am:

Although I am about to graduate from said college in a little over a week and I did sit through that very chapel message, I do agree that he definitely exaggerated the point of the Christian college experience being unique. Honestly, as I listened to him, although what he was saying was superlative and declarative, it didn’t surprise me. The day he gave that message, it was a view weekend, so there were over a hundred prospective students and their parents visiting. We (TMC students) all know that view weekends is when the visitors see the full face of the college. It isn’t that they see anything fake or false, but all Master’s is and represents and stands for is showcased for the visitors. With that said, MacArthur is stepping into the pulpit in front of prospective customers and with enrollment down, it didn’t surprise any of us that he was saying the things that he was.

But that is no excuse for undermining the authority and priority of the local church. I could give plenty of testimony to how God has shaped my life here, but there is no chapter and verse on the necessity to attend Christ’s college.

When I have heard leaders around here say that the college has something that the church wishes it had, I have understood that to mean we live alongside the very people who are discipling us and who we are discipling. We don’t just meet two times a week, but day in and day out we see each other live and confront sin and forgive and love and encourage. Although I see those benefits, living around people that are primarily your own age is not exactly what Titus 2 speaks of.

By the way, you can access the podcast by just visiting the feed through the web browser, where then you can download individual files without subscribing. So, just plug this feed into a browser: http://www.masters.edu/podcast/chapel/chapel.xml

GP said April 30, 2008 at 3:10 pm:

This makes me embarrassed to say where I went to school. I agree with footnote # 4. What you said about husband, dad and shepherd was right.

Dave Crawford said May 1, 2008 at 5:11 pm:

“In fact, trying to be a loving husband, a diligent dad, and a faithful shepherd has no parallel in terms of intensity.”

No kidding.

I truly don’t understand, however, how the book The Extraordinary Mother, which was linked above in the comments, typifies the expression “money talks.” The phrase means a compromise on essential principles for the sake of money. Since the content is biblical, I don’t see how a spin-off book does this, regardless of whether it was initiated by the author or the publisher.

SKH said May 2, 2008 at 11:02 am:

Alright, first of all and to all who have commented thus far, thanks for the feedback and encouragement.

Second, I don’t want to jump into The Extraordinary Mother discussion too deep except to say, Dave, it’s okay, we promise not to tell Jen what’s coming for her Mother’s Day gift.

Leila Bowers said May 5, 2008 at 9:03 am:

Looking back on my schooling experience, I wish I could have mixed private and public university. I certainly would have loved the depth of Biblical insight and knowledge provided by a school like TMC, but the fight to be “in the world and not of it,” the opportunity to meet many diverse Non-Christians, what it means to battle for truth in a hostile environment, refining critical thinking with Biblical truth – that ‘training’ through the UW and UVa was also excellent.

However, Andy and I have often discussed that, if I (or he) had grown up at a church like Grace, we would have been far more equipped for a place like the UW. I didn’t fully understand discipleship, God’s sovereignty – so many things! And I know a good church would have been a more effective equipper than time at a private college.

Biblically, is the ideal mode of sanctification through something like a Church environment or a School environment? I agree with others, and SKH, that this is more a charge to bolster the depth and life-on-life elements of the Church than start investing in the Stock Market in the hopes of being able to send all our kids to TMC…