A Brief Review
by Iain Murray, 250 pages.
Iain Murray is by far my favorite biographer/Church historian. The first "Christian" biography I read was his Life of A.W. Pink. What I appreciated about Murray's book was how he didn't write about Pink like a disconnected academic. He genuinely cared for the life of this man, and he made my theological hero come alive. He respected Pink's contribution to Christian theology, yet at the same time, he didn't hold back offering his editorial opinion regarding Pink's personal foibles. In fact, Murray's evangelical conviction he brought to all his books helped me frame the lives of his subjects with the perspective of God's providence.
After reading Pink's biography, I picked up Murray's works on Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, his two volumes on the life of M. Lloyd-Jones, and his fabulous study on American Christianity during the Second Great Awakening, Revival and Revivalism. All those books served to impact my thinking about Church History.
When I learned a couple of years ago that Murray was preparing to write a biography on my pastor, John MacArthur, I was excited. I knew he would bring his “evangelical commitment” to telling John’s personal life, as well as treat him as a faithful servant for the Lord. He would care for John in the same way he had all his previous subjects, and this care runs throughout this book.
Murray’s biography on John is an easy read. I was able to get through it quickly, within a few days spread over a week or so, and that was with being distracted by babies and tending to my wife. Though Murray’s work is short, coming in just at 250 pages including the index, he covers John’s life and ministry with precise attention to important details. Such things as his early life, his time in college and seminary, being called to Grace Community Church, and the background to subsequent ministries like Grace to You and the Master’s College and Seminary.
I particularly enjoyed learning of John’s parents and their involvement in his life as a kid. The memories he shares about the comforts his mother brought to the family home exhorted me to consider the comforts my wife and I bring to our own, and what my children will remember about growing up there. Also, Murray writes a bit on John’s ministry in the south during the Civil Rights era in the mid to late sixties. One of the more compelling stories from this period in John’s life is him ministering short ways from Memphis the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Just hours after the murder, John, and a car full of pastors, drove to the hotel were King had been staying and he was able to see that tragic moment in history firsthand.
The only criticism I would have with this book is its brevity, especially with the theological controversies that have swirled around John’s preaching over the years. Those controversies played a significant part in defining John’s commitment to biblical truth and the Gospel and they need to be fleshed out. Murray mentions a good number of them, and goes into some detail with a few of them, like the Kenneth Nally case, but I personally would have liked more discussion of those matters than what he offers. But, as Murray explains in the forward, he meant his book to be more of a “sketch” than to present a “full portrait” of John because his life and ministry is still in progress.
Out of all the biographies I have ever read, this one is probably the most unique - at for me. The main reason being is because I personally know the biographical subject and his family. Additionally, I also know many of the individuals mentioned throughout the book, and I have firsthand knowledge of a good many of the events in John’s life of which Murray writes. It made reading the book a bit surreal at times, but it caused me to step back and thank the Lord how he has allowed me to be apart of such a influential ministry.
In conjunction with this biography, the latest edition (spring, 2011) of The Master’s Seminary Journal is a festschrift in honor of John. Many of the men who have been influenced by him contribute articles highlighting those areas of John’s shepherding and preaching that have defined him. Things like commitment to biblical authority and expository preaching. Our librarian at Master’s also has a complete bibliography of John’s written work. For those interested, it would make a good supplement to Murray’s outstanding biography.