John MacArthur Tape Series

"The Fulfilled Family"

This series was originally preached and recorded by John MacArthur in early-1979 (eight audio cassette tapes), and broadcast on Grace To You (GTY) Radio on seven different occasions between 1981 and 1995, each time unedited from the original. Though claiming to be against the integration of psychology and the Bible, MacArthur's eight original messages taught many psychological concepts and quoted favorably from numerous psychological sources.1 [Study Guide (SG) pages referenced below are from the 1989 edition of The Fulfilled Family Study Guide.]

Psychological References (1979, 8-tape series):

(1)  Assumes the validity of psychological testing (GC#1944/SG31), when, in fact, there is none;

(2)  Quotes in a favorable light New Ager Alvin Toffler from Toffler's book Future Shock (GC#1947);

(3)  Quotes as authoritative psychologist Carl Rogers (from Becoming Partners: Marriage and Its Alternatives)/"Unconditional love" (GC#1947/SG73), as if Christians are to gain insight from such unregenerate people (cf. Col. 2:8);

(4)  Quotes as authoritative psychiatric research from the Menninger Clinic (psychiatric mental facility) (GC#1948/SG95), rather than finding the answer in the Word of God;

(5)  Quotes as helpful two articles from the 2/79 issue of Psychology Today (GC#1948/SG96;100), as if this is a good source of information for the Christian (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17);

(6)  Quotes as authoritative a psychiatrist from Topeka State (mental) Hospital (GC#1948/SG96), as if a psychiatrist has something to offer the Christian.

(7)  Quotes in a favorable light pop psychologist Dr. James C. Dobson (from Dare to Discipline) (GC#1949/SG110);

(8)  Quotes at length psychological platitudes from Freudian psychiatrist Paul Meier ("the psychiatrist and Christian") on human behavior and child development (from Christian Child-Rearing and Personality Development) (GC#1950/SG128-132;136;143), rather than expounding from the Word of God concerning child-rearing;

(9)  Quotes authoritatively sociologists (Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck) as being able to identify juvenile delinquents via psychological testing (from Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency) (GC#1950/SG135), as if this were valid truth for the Christian;

(10) Cites the example of a "catatonic schizophrenic" who committed suicide, who was (according to MacArthur) induced by the parents who "provoked their child to anger" (GC#1950) -- from this quote it is apparent MacArthur has been taken in by the wisdom of the world (cf. Col. 2:8);

(11) Quotes deterministic psychologist Dorothy Law Nolte on how a child's environment determines his feelings about everything and everybody, including himself (GC#1950). (See Charles Swindoll's "Growing Wise in Family Life" study guide, p. 28, for a copy of the list from which MacArthur read.) The material in this quote is pure humanistic psychology, yet MacArthur quotes it as if it is truth for today.

Note: The series was re-preached in 1996 and aired on GTY radio in 20 segments in early-1999 (2/8/99-3/5/99), and scheduled to be broadcast again in 2001 (1/22/01-2/16/01). Although not nearly as psychologically-oriented as the original series, MacArthur still teaches a number of psychological concepts in the "new" The Fulfilled Family (see below). The above notes from the original series are still pertinent, however, because GTY still quotes from the original series in other currently promoted tapes (see the "Shade for Our Children" sub-report), and MacArthur still refers to the 1979-series as "the biblical model for family life," claiming the new series "includes principles from the original plus new information and insight-some gained through the successes and failures of a whole generation of American families since then" (4/18/96, GTY ministry letter).

Psychological References (1996, 9-tape series):

Tape#1 (#1943) -- A Plan For Your Family: God's vs. the World's (Eph. 5:18-6:2)

MacArthur gives credence to the concept of "mental illness." He also refers to a statement by a professor with an earned Ph.D. degree from the University of Southern California (who teaches at MacArthur's The Master's College [most likely: Gregory J. Behle, Professor of Christian Education: BA, Biola; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary; Ph.D., USC]) who claims that "all of the existing literature today done on the study of children indicates that there is a period of time between the ages of 6 and 12 when everything foundational is either put down or not put down, and those are determinative years in what that child will become."

This teaching comes from godless deterministic psychology, not the Bible. What about God's sovereign grace in a life? Is God in a box after the child turns 12, so that He cannot save or transform? The only difference between this Master's College professor's deterministic statement and that of Sigmund Freud is that Freud's determinism was set by age 6. However, both Freud and this professor are equally wrong. Freud's theories of early life determinism (0-6 years) have never been proved; and the Master's College professor's early life determinism (6-12 years) has never been proved either, even though the professor claims it is in the "literature."

MacArthur continues, "... can predict almost perfectly if they [children] will be anti-social or socialize in a normal way. We can see all of the roots of criminal behavior in that period of time in the life of a child." This makes sense, MacArthur contends, because, as in the example of Jesus, "when a Jewish child reached 12, he was ready on his own to be a son of the Law." First, the phrases "can predict almost perfectly" and can "see all of the roots" are not only untrue, but irresponsible. How does this square with the hope presented throughout the Bible?2 Doubly irresponsible is MacArthur's support of this professor's remarks and, particularly, for eisegetically relating this determinism as an example of Jesus "when a Jewish child reached 12."

Later in this message, MacArthur says we don't need psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. -- "we have the Word of God." Yet, he had earlier espoused the wisdom of "deterministic psychology," and the rest of the series is full of psychological solutions to problems encountered in family life.

Tape#2 (1944) -- God's Pattern for Wives, Pt.1 (Eph. 5:22-24)


Tape#3 (#1945) -- God's Pattern for Wives, Pt.2 (Eph. 5:22-24)

Referring to Titus 2:3-5, concerning older women "'teaching' what is good," MacArthur says that the "teaching" is not the formal instruction, classes, seminars, books -- but modeling. He then says that the popular term for modeling is mentoring, with the Biblical term being "discipleship." But mentoring and discipleship are not synonymous. The concept of mentoring is based on the belief that every man must have an older mentor to whom he can be held accountable for his decisions and actions in life. Mentoring has been applied in the church through the shepherding movement, which has gained prominence within the charismatic movement.

Shepherdship is an oppressive system in which a person who often perceives himself as an immature Christian submits himself to the leading of an "elder." The elders (shepherds) are appointed in much the same way as in other hierarchies, with one submitting to the next higher in a chain of command. Total discipline is imposed on those who submit themselves to an elder. His leadership is total, even extending over the person's family life. Failure to obey the shepherd can lead to disapproval, verbal condemnation, and ultimately being put out of the fellowship. The most significant aspect of the shepherding system is that one person submits his will completely to another individual, the shepherd or elder.

Is this the role MacArthur wants the older women to play in their "mentoring" of the younger women? Moreover, if an older woman actually "mentors" a younger woman, she may usurp the husband's Biblical authority and leadership. At any rate, why use a popular term such as "mentor" that has so much baggage? Why not talk about the woman teaching through example as well as through words?

Tape#4 (#1946) -- God's Pattern for Husbands, Pt.1 (Eph. 5:18-6:4)

MacArthur greatly overemphasizes the husband meeting the wife's supposed "needs" (much like Larry Crabb's need theology emphasis on "felt needs" -- psychological desires) versus the Bible's approach of minimum needs (Matt. 6) -- the true physical and spiritual needs as presented in Ephesians 5.

Tape#5 (#1947) -- God's Pattern for Husbands, Pt.2 (Eph. 5:25,29)

MacArthur reads a long letter from a woman who claims that her husband totally neglects her, as well as ignores the children. The woman laments the fact that their sons are less accomplished in sports than would be the case if their dad would play catch with them; and their daughter focuses more on young boys for attention than would be the case if dad only hugged her more often. The woman closes the letter with the statement that her husband's problem is that his father treated him the same way. Incredibly, MacArthur agreed with the woman's interpretation!

The husband's problem is NOT that "his father treated him the same way." The husband's problem is that he was born in sin, raised in a sinful world, and sins like the rest of us, including the wife who is complaining about her husband. The solution is not to point out his errors, but rather to point to the only true way to deal with sin and to transform a human life. MacArthur is playing amateur psychologist at least and avoiding the Scripture at worst in even discussing this woman's letter. He should have stayed with Scripture regarding the sins of the father being passed on to the children, and proclaimed that Jesus provides the only way to cancel sin and to enable the parents to live as they should live. On the other hand, the woman is blaming everything on the husband. (Has MacArthur heard both "sides"?) Unfortunately, instead of looking to the Scriptures, these answers sound as if MacArthur has been listening to Jim Dobson.

Tape#6 (#1948) -- God's Pattern for Children, Pt.1 (Eph. 6:1-3)

MacArthur develops the psychological concept of the "hurried child" -- learning too many ways of the world and too soon; i.e., instead of the "controlled exposure" of yesteryear ("controlled" by parents and teachers), the electronic/technological age has led to a "hurried exposure" to evil. MacArthur quotes from Psychology Today to proclaim that puberty is being pushed down 2-5 years as the result. This concept, that generational depravity of the soul (a spiritual matter) is the cause of generational physiological change (a physical phenomena), is questionable at best.

The reason for alleged earlier physiological change may be as simple as additives to food or as complex as self-indulgence and affluence permitting earlier life activities and experiences not found in former generations. Regardless, sin exists in every age and at every age level. It is not necessary to "psych" out the reasons, but rather to deal with the consequences of living in sinful bodies in a sinful world where the flesh and Satan's legions are so ready to usher mankind down the broad way that leads to destruction. Rather than pursuing the man-made wisdom of "controlled exposure" and "hurried exposure," MacArthur should take confidence in applying the Word that he claims to know so well.

Tape#7 (1949) -- God's Pattern for Children, Pt.2 (Eph. 6:3)


Tape#8 (#1950) -- God's Pattern for Parents (Eph. 6:3)

Just as in the 1979 series (see #s 8 and 10 above), MacArthur expounds on how you can "provoke your child into tragedy ... into anger ... get a bitter, sullen, anti-social delinquent." MacArthur speaks for over six minutes using numerous psychological euphemisms to explain how not to "provoke your children. ..." In this "new" Fulfilled Family message, however, MacArthur doesn't reveal the source of the material (other than to say it is from "a typical book on child-raising about on how to raise a delinquent").

We looked up the source, and the material comes from that old MacArthur favorite, "Christian" psychiatrist Paul Meier ("ten steps on how to raise a delinquent"), from Meier's book Christian Child-Rearing and Personality Development. One of MacArthur's psychological platitudes is, "If you want an accident-prone child, fight with each other, ignore the child, and the child will hurt himself to get your attention." One has to ask, "Where in the Bible is MacArthur finding this psychological nonsense?" Rather than go to the Bible for God's wisdom, MacArthur apparently continues to prefer the philosophy of men who have derived their wisdom from godless psychologists.

MacArthur then goes into his own 10-step list of how Christian parents can provoke, frustrate, and exasperate their children to anger. He again cites the example first cited in a May 1990 message, "Shade for Our Children" (and still promoted and distributed by Grace To You) -- a girl kills herself to get back at her parents for the pain they had supposedly caused her by setting achievement goals too high. MacArthur then closes with a favorable quote from another old favorite -- the Minnesota Crime Commission.

But the Bible teaches that we are not stuck with our early upbringing if it happened to be bad; and no one can guarantee that someone with good upbringing will turn out well. However, MacArthur has apparently been convinced by the psychological fallacies that certain kinds of early training fix abnormal behavior in adults. Thus, if an adult is poorly adjusted, people like MacArthur mistakenly assume that he had poor early parenting.3

A person does not need to remain trapped in early negative patterns of behavior, because the Bible offers a new way of life, whereby one puts off the old man and puts on the new. Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again." Elsewhere He said that new wine could not be put into old wineskins. Jesus offers new life and new beginnings. One who is born again has the spiritual capacity to overcome old ways and to develop new ones by means of the Holy Spirit and according to the Word of God. One wonders why MacArthur often substitutes the hopelessness of psychic determinism for the hope of Christianity.

Tape#9 (90-108) -- The Fulfilled Family: The Key to Maintaining Family Unity


1 It is one thing to quote a psychological source when critiquing psychology itself, and to show what one psychologist says might be refuted by what another psychologist says, but quite another thing to quote as authoritative the musings of psychologists on how to live our lives and raise our children. MacArthur frequently slips into this error.  [Back to Text]

2 It doesn't even square with the so-called "social sciences." Social psychologist Dr. Carol Tavris cites the work of Dr. Orville Brim of the Foundation for Child Development in New York and says, "Most of Brim's career has been devoted to charting the course of child development and its relation to adult personality." She declares that Brim is convinced that "people are virtually reprogrammable throughout life." She quotes him as saying, "Hundreds and hundreds of studies now document the fact of personality change in adulthood." She also quotes Brim as saying: "Social scientists are unable to predict adult personality from childhood or even from adolescence in any important way. We can't blame the methods anymore, and we can't say that people who don't fit the predictions are deviant, unhealthy or strange. They are the norm." [See p. 295 of Prophets of PsychoHeresy I.]  [Back to Text]

3 Victor and Mildred Goertzel investigated this fallacy, and in their book CRADLES OF EMINENCE, they described the early environments of over 400 eminent men and women of the 20th century who had experienced a wide variety of trials and tribulations during their childhood. It is surprising, and even shocking, to discover the environmental handicaps that have been overcome by individuals who should have been "psychically-determined" failures according to psychological formulas like the ones MacArthur endorses. Instead of being harmed by unfortunate early circumstances, they became outstanding in many different fields of endeavor and contributed much to mankind. What might have been environmental curses seemed to act, rather, as catalysts to spawn genius and creativity. This study is not an argument for poor upbringing; it is an argument against psychic determinism.  [Back to Text]

In summary, MacArthur's "new" Fulfilled Family series is the same old siren song of psychology. It seems that regardless of how much John MacArthur wants to be thought of as a psychology fighter, twenty years after the original Fulfilled Family series, he is still buying into and teaching many of the same psychological concepts.

Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 6/99