Monday, June 22, 2015

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock

by Iain H. Murray

240 pages / 2011

Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 John MacArthur has been a help and a hero to me. The help has come from his insights on important issues like creation and evolution, psychology, Pentecostalism, gender roles, and the need for fruit in a Christian’s life. I really appreciated books like Charismatic Chaos (on Charismatics) and The Battle for the Beginning (on Creation vs. Evolution) which were educational and accessible.

But the reason I’m a MacArthur fan is due to his regular appearances on the Larry King Live show. This was an interview show on CNN and when the host wanted to talk about religious issues there would be MacArthur, alongside of Deepak Chopra, a full-on new age guru, and some forgettable weak-kneed Roman Catholic priest. The setting wasn’t exactly hostile – while Larry King is agnostic, he’s quite polite – but sitting there, in the midst of three fellows who not only had no idea what the truth was, but at points even denied there was a truth to be found, it was certainly a challenging position. MacArthur, as the sole voice for God’s Truth, had to not only present that truth, but in a winsome way that would give God his due. And he nailed it! It was just so encouraging to see him clean up, coming off as the only sane one on the panel. I think he even got me clapping, after a particularly good answer.

So, a help and a hero. And to top it off he’s Reformed. 

But he’s also Baptist. And he’s a Dispensationalist. He wrong about these major matters.

That’s why, when I found out Iain Murray had written a biography on him, I knew I’d have to check it out. On the matters where we differ with MacArthur, Murray does too, so his biography highlights the great good God is doing through this man, and takes gentle note of areas where both Murray and we too would differ.

Topics covered

What Murray offers us here is a more topical than chronological look (though it is that too) at MacArthur’s life. So, for example, a chapter is spent on his wife, both on her influence, and a major car accident that nearly killed her. Another chapter is spent on the spiritual state of Russians after the Berlin Wall fell when MacArthur was invited to preach and teach there. We also learn about the role MacArthur had in fighting the “easy-believism” that was found in many evangelical churches. Pastors were teaching that not only is salvation not due to our works, after we are saved we still don’t have to do good works! MacArthur’s book The Gospel according to Jesus was a response to this error. 

Of course, Murray does also give un a look at the man himself. One little factoid that I found of interest was that one condition he set on accepting the call to Grace Community Church, the church he has served these last 40+ years, is that they allow him 30 hours a week for Bible study. He said that if he was going to teach the Word he needed time to be in the Word. I’m sure he works more than 30 hours a week, but even if he was at his task 10 hours a day six days a week, this still amounts to half of all his time. How much time, I wonder, do we give our ministers to simply study God’s Word?

Murray clearly admires his subject, but that doesn’t stop him from, when needed, rebutting him. For example, Murray takes up the issue of Dispensationalism in a chapter titled “Objections and Corrections.” There is no better example of loving criticism to be found than in this chapter in how Murray corrects MacArthur!


While I loved this book – I liked it so much I took the luxury of reading through it slowly – it is not the sort of biography that everyone will enjoy. The battles MacArthur has fought have been of a spiritual nature, which doesn’t make for quite the same gripping nature as, say, a biography about a shot down World War II pilot who had to contend with actual bullets and bombs. But spiritual battles should be of interest too – after all, we’re all in one.

And for anyone who has read or heard MacArthur and wanted to know more about the man this will be a wonderful treat. Here is a man who sought the Lord first and foremost.

You can purchase it at by clicking here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Seven Laws of Teaching

by John Milton Gregory
originally published 1886 / republished 2014
147 pages

How do you teach a teacher? By going back to the basics! Even though John Gregory's book was published more than 100 years ago, his look at the basics of teaching is just as relevant today as it ever was. The chances are that it is even more relevant, given the reality of a culture that is often hostile to learning.

In the first chapter, Gregory justifies his list of seven elements present in every learning situation, each with a corresponding general rule: the teacher, the learner, the language, the lesson, the teaching process, the learning process, and the review. Each of the seven succeeding chapters discusses one of those general rules stated as a law, starting with the philosophy of the law; listing more specific rules for teachers arising out of that law; and describing mistakes and violations of the laws.

What makes this a great study aid for a teacher (like myself) even in the middle of the school year is that each chapter is followed by a set of quotations from the chapter with blanks to fill in. In the midst of a busy morning, I need no more than, say, five minutes to read another two-page spread from the book and fill in the blanks (mentally) from the quotations in the chapter up to that point. What's more, Gregory's ideas that I've worked with on a given day are immediately applicable as well as food for thought in the longer term. I will be giving at least one of my courses a major reorganization as a result of what I've read about the Law of the Learner and the Law of the Language in particular.

Of course, it's not as if I didn't know any of this already, but Gregory's systematic restatement of the basics is, as I said earlier, vital when the students that teachers work with every day seem to be actively unwilling to learn. Sometimes they are, but just as often, teachers need to know the other elements of teaching as well or better than they know their content, and Gregory reminds us of that.

A bonus in this edition is Douglas Wilson's foreword, "The Seven Disciplines of Highly Effective Teachers," which ably clarifies some of the basic attitudes that Christians should bring to their teaching... which brings me to one caution. There seems to be no doubt that Gregory wants us to be able to teach both secular and sacred truth, but at least one of his examples of great teaching (explained in the Endnotes) may strike the Christian reader as strange: for example, Thomas Huxley (also known as "Darwin's bulldog"). Gregory does not distinguish whether this particular example of the popularization of science was telling the truth or not. It is worth noting that, though Huxley was wrong, he "taught" his wrong views compellingly enough to help make them dominant even today.

If you think that this slim volume, complete with Wilson's wisdom, Gregory's grand organizing principles, and edifying endnotes, could make you or someone you know an even better teacher, you can buy this excellent edition here.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Chris Van Dusen and Mr. Magee

A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee
36 pages / 2003

Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee
36 pages / 2006

Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee
36 pages / 2010

by Chris Van Dusen

Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee
love camping, skiing and sailing the sea
They meet moose and birds and milkman and whales.
These are certainly extraordinary tales!

Preschool through Grade 1 will have such fun reading about the adventures of Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee. In all three tales the story is told entirely in rhyme, making these a fun early exposure to how, when properly done, poetry can sometimes be better than prose.

I began this with my best imitation of author Chris Van Dusen, but should really include some of the real deal. Here are a few "stanzas" from Down to the Sea:

MAGEE was downhearted. Just what could he do?
They seemed hopelessly stuck, but little DEE knew.
The secret to get the boat safely unpinned
Was to rock back and forth and wait for the wind.

So they rocked and they rocked for an hour or so.
But the boat didn't budge 'cause the wind didn't blow.
Just when they thought they'd be stuck there all night
They spotted, far off, a spectacular sight.

I won't let you know what the spectacular sight is - for that you'll have to dig up the book youself at your local library.

All three are charming, very fun to read aloud, and beautifully illustrated (see the example picture below). My only criticisms would be that there are just three - my daughters would have loved to read much more about the adventurous (and prone to peril) Mr. Magee.

If you want to buy a copy you can get one here at

MAGEE and DEE stuck in a tree