Is John MacArthur Reformed? [Calvinist?]

Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church is known for his straightforward expository preaching style. Members of his church, readers of his books, and those who watch him online appreciate his commitment to Scripture, yet many people want to know whether or not he is Reformed.

John MacArthur is Reformed when the term is defined using the five points of Calvinism expressed in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. However, some Reformed Christians don’t define the term according to T.U.L.I.P., but according to the Westminster Confession of Faith, to which MacArthur isn’t thoroughly committed.

Why do some Reformed people dislike that MacArthur describes himself as Reformed? What does MacArthur disagree with within the Westminster Confession of Faith? Keep reading to learn more about what one of the most well-known Bible teachers of his generation believes and teaches.

How do John MacArthur’s Bible commentaries compare to other popular series? See Best Bible Commentary Series: The Top 50 to see for yourself.

Please see the video I made on MacArthur’s commentaries below

Is John MacArthur a Five-Point Calvinist?

MacArthur believes and teaches the five points of Calvinism, which are expressed in the acronym T.U.L.I.P. However, MacArthur’s church doesn’t belong to a Calvinist denomination, meaning it’s not part of a Reformed network of churches and is not Presbyterian.

The terms “Reformed” and “Calvinist” are often used interchangeably. The word “reformed” comes from the Protestant Reformation. The French pastor, John Calvin, popularly articulated the theology in his classic work The Institutes of the Christian Religion (link goes to Amazon).

MacArthur is called a “five-point Calvinist” because he believes each point of the T.U.L.I.P. acronym. Some people disagree with one part of it, and they are sometimes called four-point Calvinists. Others disagree with two parts and are sometimes called three-point Calvinists. MacArthur believes all five tenets:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints

Some Reformed Christians argue that the T.U.L.I.P. acronym isn’t a complete or perfect summary of Reformed theology. Contrary to popular belief, Calvin didn’t articulate the five-point mnemonic. Rather, the five points, articulated at the Canons of Dort, responded to a five-point Arminian confession of faith in the 17th century.

The word “canons” refers to principles that express views on a particular topic, while Dort (or Dordtrecht, the full name of the town where the Council of Dort was held) is in The Netherlands. These meetings of Reformed leaders at Dort, which occurred in 1618-19, partly articulated a response to a five-point Arminian confession of faith.

To some Reformed Christians, Reformed theology can’t be reduced to T.U.L.I.P., so even a “five-point Calvinist” like MacArthur isn’t the proper way to determine if a person is genuinely Reformed.

In this view, the Westminster Confession of Faith best summarizes Reformed beliefs and convictions. They further argue that a person can’t be partially Reformed because it’s an integrated theological paradigm. To deny one facet of the system creates inconsistencies and breakdowns in other areas.

Also, see Why Did J. Vernon McGee Leave the Presbyterian Church? to learn more.

Is MacArthur Baptist?

John MacArthur is a Baptist. In summary, he holds to a set of theological beliefs and principles that align with Baptist theology. These beliefs include the authority of Scripture, the importance of personal faith and conversion, the priesthood of believers, and the practice of believer’s baptism.

One of the distinguishing features of Baptist theology is the practice of believer’s baptism, which involves baptizing individuals who have made a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. MacArthur adheres to this belief and sees it as a biblical mandate for the church.

Baptists emphasize the local church’s autonomy, meaning that each church is self-governing and independent. MacArthur’s ministry at Grace Community Church reflects this principle, as the church operates independently without being affiliated with a larger denominational structure.

Baptists, including MacArthur, generally place a strong emphasis on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. They believe in the primacy of Scripture and prioritize its teachings in matters of faith and practice.

Baptists historically have had a strong emphasis on evangelism and the sharing of the gospel message. MacArthur is known for his evangelistic ministry and commitment to spreading the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

What Is a Reformed Baptist?

A Reformed Baptist is someone that combines Reformed theology with Baptist principles and practices. Reformed Baptists hold to the core doctrines of the Reformed tradition, like the sovereignty of God, the authority of Scripture, the total depravity of humanity, and salvation by grace alone through faith.

At the same time, they maintain Baptist distinctives, such as believer’s baptism (as opposed to infant baptism) and congregational church governance. Reformed Baptists can vary in their specific beliefs and practices, as individual congregations may slightly differ in their interpretation and applications.

Many broadly Reformed Christians attend Baptist churches. Why is this the case? Many Baptist churches permit their members to have Calvinist or Arminian convictions. Historically, Baptists emphasize “believer’s baptism,” the separation of Church and State, and the local church’s autonomy.

In other words, a person can be a Baptist and be firmly committed to T.U.L.I.P. or vehemently opposed to it. Because of specific issues like believer’s baptism, a person can’t be a Baptist and be thoroughly committed to the Westminster Confession, however.

What about other denominations? There are no broadly Reformed Christians in the Methodist or Assemblies of God denomination, for example, because they have Arminian theological convictions. There are, however, some non-denominational churches that are broadly Reformed.

Historically, Reformed Baptists include men like John Bunyan, William Carey, and Charles Spurgeon. Modern, well-known Reformed Baptists include D.A. Carson, Matt Dever, David Platt, Matt Chandler, John Piper, and Alistair Begg.

What are MacArthur’s favorite books on preaching? See John MacArthur’s Recommended Books on Preaching to learn more.

What Denomination is MacArthur?

Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, is a non-denominational church. Although MacArthur identifies as a Baptist, the church does not formally align with a specific denomination. It operates independently and is not officially affiliated with any particular denominational organization.

Non-denominational churches are characterized by their autonomy and often emphasize a strong focus on biblical teaching and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, while not being bound by the specific doctrines or structures of a particular denomination.

Broadly Reformed and Classically Reformed

Some people use the terms “broadly Reformed” and “classically Reformed” to describe a person’s commitment to (or their lack of commitment to) the Westminster Confession of Faith.

  • Someone who is broadly Reformed often subscribes to T.U.L.I.P. but not the Confession as a whole.
  • Someone who is classically Reformed is committed to the Confession in its entirety, which includes the tenets that T.U.L.I.P. summarizes.

Generally, many so-called “classically Reformed” Christians don’t like to make this distinction because, to them, there is only “classically Reformed,” which is to say there is only “Reformed.” “Broadly reformed” isn’t Reformed, according to this view.

It’s important to note that the so-called classically Reformed don’t argue that MacArthur and other so-called broadly Reformed aren’t Christians.

MacArthur’s Disagreement with the Westminster Confession

In what ways does MacArthur disagree with classic Reformed theology? Four examples are provided below; the list isn’t intended to be exhaustive.

  • Paedo-baptism or infant baptism: MacArthur strongly advocates believer’s baptism, which states that a person must be a professing Christian to be baptized.
  • Amillennialism: MacArthur strongly advocates dispensational premillennialism, which holds to a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on Earth following the Second Coming. It also holds that the Church has replaced Israel in the present dispensation.
  • Covenant Theology: This term partly describes the belief that the Church is the new Israel. Infant baptism, therefore, signifies an inclusion into the covenant community.
  • The Regulatory Principle of Worship: This tenet states that the only true form of worship is what is explicitly stated in the Bible. The Confession says: “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men…” (Ch. 21)

To Reformed Christians committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith in its entirety, a person can’t be Reformed and deny these four doctrines. MacArthur may agree with the Regulatory Principle but strongly disagrees with the others.

MacArthur has written many well-reviewed Bible commentaries. See John MacArthur’s Bible Commentaries to learn more.

What is Reformed Theology?

How a person answers whether or not MacArthur is Reformed depends on whether the term is defined according to the Westminster Confession of Faith or in some other way.

Some may call him “broadly Reformed” or state that he is Reformed concerning his soteriology (i.e., his views on salvation) but not concerning his ecclesiology (i.e., his views on the church).

Many so-called classically Reformed pastors and theologians have embraced MacArthur and his ministry, though they disagree with him on certain doctrines.

For example, MacArthur regularly participated in Ligonier ministry conferences, which is the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul, who was committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith in its entirety.

MacArthur and Sproul disagreed publicly and cordially regarding issues like believer’s baptism and infant baptism. In fact, they publicly debated the issue on one occasion.

Nevertheless, the men found many areas of agreement because, despite the differences, there is significant overlap between the so-called “broadly Reformed” and the “classically Reformed” positions.

Also see:

Best Romans commentaries

Best Matthew commentaries

Best Genesis commentaries

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[2] Source

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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