Disclaimer: I am only a student at TMU and therefore the opinions expressed in this article are my own. I do not represent the school in any official capacity.
I collected these thoughts rather quickly, and I want to know what you all think, too. Share your opinions in the comments.
In His sovereign wisdom, God saw fit to ordain that in 1927, a small institution called The Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary should come into existence under the leadership of a man named William A. Matthews. Its purpose was to train men for the ministry with a commitment to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:9). Over the years, enrollment steadily increased and a Bachelor of Arts program was added in 1946 to accommodate the returning WWII vets looking for a college education.
These years were not without problems, of course; from the time of the end of Dr. Matthews’ presidency to the inauguration of Carl M. Sweazy in 1955, there was no official president of the school. Even so, God blessed the institution with continued growth, such that their campus in the heart of LA could no longer accommodate them.
With Dr. Sweazy’s retirement from the college in 1959, a third president was chosen. His name was John R. Dunkin, and his presidency would be the longest so far. Under his leadership, the college would purchase what was then Happy Jack’s Dude Ranch in Placerita Canyon in Newhall, California. In 1974, the seminary division moved north to Tacoma, Washington, and was renamed as Northwest Baptist Seminary (later assumed into Corban University as its School of Ministry). Los Angeles Baptist College would remain to train up undergraduates.
Dr. Dunkin was a very personable man. He lived in a house that was built on campus specifically for him, and engaged with the students regularly. The school was small but mighty in spirit. Many important faculty members, such as Paul Plew, John Stead, and R.W. Mackey joined the college at this time. In the 1970s, Dr. Dunkin led the school through a lengthy accreditation process, and in 1975 LABC became fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
However, by the beginning of the 1980s, the school had fallen on hard times. With falling enrollment and little financial support left, Dr. Dunkin was forced to make a decision: there must be a new president, one who would draw in students, one with a wide reach and influence, and yet one with a continued commitment to the core values and principles embedded in the school’s statement of faith. The board of directors had only one candidate in mind, and after much back and forth, he accepted. His name was John MacArthur.
A New Era
1985 marked an incredible turning point for the school. Enrollment nearly doubled as soon as Dr. MacArthur was named president. The school was renamed The Master’s College, in order to draw in students from other denominations. Dr. Dunkin remained as chancellor of the school until his death. Initially, it was thought that Dr. MacArthur would be president for five years, only long enough to get the college back on its feet. But MacArthur stayed, and for the past 33 years, The Master’s College (renamed The Master’s University in 2016) has stood as a testimony to God’s faithfulness, training up generations of students to know Christ and serve Him effectively. Since at least the 1990s, the school has had a consistent enrollment of around 1000 full-time undergraduate students, with a few hundred more in the graduate programs and in online classes.
Now, the time has come for yet another institutional transition. Dr. MacArthur has announced that he is stepping down as president of TMU, following a lengthy report by WASC documenting several problems with the school. Here’s why I think it’ll be good for TMU in the long run.
As I mentioned before, one of the hallmarks of Dr. Dunkin’s presidency was his engagement with the student body. Since he lived on campus, he was always around. The students knew him, and he knew the students. There was no barrier to overcome if you wanted a chat with him. Dr. MacArthur, on the other hand, because of his intensely busy schedule, has always been a rather distant figure. He’s seen as this sort of untouchable man. He is rarely on campus, and when he is, it’s always in an official capacity; whether he’s preaching in chapel, presiding over a board meeting, or on the rare occasion that he’s actually in his office, he’s never just there.
This is for good reason, of course. Dr. MacArthur is not merely the president of The Master’s University. He’s also the pastor-teacher at Grace Community Church; the president of The Master’s Seminary; a highly sought-after conference speaker who travels constantly; and so on. The first of these is his first and greatest responsibility, to shepherd his flock and preach the word to them week in and week out.
It’s unusual in the world of Christian higher education to have a president as disconnected from the student body as MacArthur has been. A full-time president could be a tremendous blessing for this institution. To have someone who is able to serve as a leader on campus, not from afar, would greatly increase school spirit. Better yet, to have someone who is experienced in higher education, yet still young, would add a vitality and energy to this school that hasn’t been seen in years.
Furthermore, Dr. MacArthur will be the first to admit that he wasn’t hired for his experience; he was hired because he’s popular. His worldwide tape and radio ministry at the time provided the perfect opportunity for getting LABC’s name out there and increasing donor support and enrollment. Indeed, the reason I’m a student here is because of his online sermons and lectures. His reach is extensive. That’s not to say he hasn’t gained some measure of experience in the last 33 years; he most certainly has. But he was not trained in school for this, and its not his priority. As I said, his priority is Grace Church, as it should be.
Finally, Dr. MacArthur’s presidency seems to have inculcated an idea in many of the students and prospective students, namely, that this is his school. That could not be further from the truth. This school existed before MacArthur was born, and if the Lord wills it will continue to exist after he’s dead. John MacArthur is merely one in a series of presidents of this institution. The greatest, perhaps, but only one among many.
Think about other universities, for example. Often, their presidents are not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about them. But MacArthur’s name has been attached to this institution for so long that when The Master’s University is mentioned (if anyone has heard about it at all), the association with MacArthur is instantly known. Indeed, if they’ve never heard of the institution, mentioning MacArthur’s name is all that’s needed to tell someone about it, because they’ll probably have heard of MacArthur. Perhaps the worst part is, people come to this institution because of MacArthur, and not because of the Master. That’s a real shame.
John MacArthur has done great things for this school and for the advancement of the Kingdom through it. I thank God that he has been steadfast and unwavering in his devotion to Jesus Christ and the Word of God. His legacy will be felt for years to come at this institution. So I’m nervous for the future, yet hopeful. I know that the board of directors and Dr. MacArthur will choose as the new president someone who will remain faithful to the vision and mission of the school. I look forward to seeing what comes next.
WASC, apparently unhappy with the pace at which the board was conducting their search for a new president, has opted to keep the school in a probationary status for the time being. MacArthur, rather than becoming chancellor in June 2020, will now transition in June 2019 after 34 years as president.
It was time for this to happen. I mean, honestly, were we just waiting for MacArthur to croak? I doubt he had any plans to retire. I hate to see him forced out like this, but this school needs a full-time president. The current model has numerous weaknesses, which WASC has pointed out, and if we’re going to move forward as an institution, we have to adapt to new ways of doing things. The world is changing.
More updates will come, I’m sure. It will be interesting to see who the board chooses to be interim president while the search is conducted, or if they even opt for an interim president at all.