December 19, 2012

The 12 Best-selling MacArthur works

by Jesse Johnson

John MacArthurThe newest John MacArthur book, Twelve Unlikely Heroes hit the shelves this year. It is the third (and as far as I know, final) installment in his series on the personalities and backgrounds of Biblical people. You may not know this, but Twelve Ordinary Men is probably Pastor MacArthur’s best selling stand-alone book. That got me thinking: what are MacArthur’s best selling works? He has written hundreds of books, so in terms of sales, which ones are the most popular?

So, in honor of the release of Twelve Unlikely Heroes, here is a list of John MacArthur’s 12 best selling works. Publishers keep their sales figures pretty close to their chest, so this list was somewhat tricky to put together (I contacted some friends at the major publishers who worked with me on this list “off the record”). Plus, keep in mind that different publishers track their numbers differently, so this is not an exact science. The goal here is to inspire your last minute Christmas shopping, and to assuage your curiosity:

12Originally titled Anxiety AttackedAnxious for Nothing looks at how Christians should deal with worry. On the one hand, MacArthur demonstrates the insufficiency of pop psychology to alleviate stress. But more than that, this book teaches the sufficiency of Scripture, and shows how trusting in the sovereignty of God is the antidote to worry.

11Called to Lead is a look at Paul’s leadership style. What Twelve Ordinary Men does for each of the Apostles, this book does for Paul. The first half examines how he led while a prisoner, and how became the most influential person on his transport ship (even taking charge of soldiers when their commanding officer was around). But the second half is where the book’s implications come alive. There MacArthur looks at 2 Corinthians, and how Paul led a church that had turned against him. This is when leadership matters. So many pastors are tempted to run from opposition and controversy, but this book shows how Paul led through it. It was initially released as The Book on Leadership.


By far MacArthur’s bestselling-devotional, Truth for Today is a collection of excerpts from his commentaries, tailored and edited into a devotional format. The result is a devotional with doctrinal depth developed out of particular passages.

9The Truth War examines Jude’s challenge to “contend earnestly for the faith,” and how that mandate should play out today. It specifically deals with the challenges of absolute truth in the context of the Emerging Church and post-modernism.

8Hard to Believe is perhaps MacArthur’s most stringent critique of easy believeism. It really is an affront to the idea that a person’s salvation is seen in a decision, and that the decision can be made without resulting in a changed life. In a sense, this is The Gospel According to Jesus for those who are not familiar with the Lordship debate.

7For decades, Grace Community Church used The Fundamentals of the Faith as their new believer’s class curriculum. Eventually the material left the walls of Grace Church, and today over 15,000 copies are distributed annually inside US and Mexican prisons. Translated into over 20 languages, this curriculum is a basics in theology class used world wide. The 13 lessons go through the essentials of the Christian faith, and are designed to be used in a Sunday School/Bible study setting. Each lesson is connected to a MacArthur sermon on the topic, and the sermon is integrated into the curriculum. Grace To You has a page that lists the lessons, links to the sermons (free), and allows you buy the student workbook or the teacher’s guide.


The Gospel According to Jesus is the book that really put John’s ministry on the map. As the concept of ‘no-lordship’ salvation began to gain popularity in the US, there was growing concern among many evangelical leaders about this teaching. This book is where those critiques coalesced. I think this book is largely responsible for ending that movement’s growth. With extensive footnotes, this book names names, and brings the Bible’s teaching on salvation into clear focus. While not his best selling book, this is probably MacArthur’s most famous and influential work.

5found-gods-will-john-macarthur-jr-paperback-cover-artHow do you know what God’s will is for your life? It’s not as hard as you think. Found: God’s Will gives people some basic principles to help in decisions like what school to go to, what job to take, where to move, etc. I love this book because not only is it immensely helpful and freeing, but it is an extremely practical version of Piper’s Christian hedonism. In my own life, this book has made my understanding of how choosing according to your greatest desire not only glorifies God, but it is his way of leading us. This is also the shortest book on this list.

4Twelve Extraordinary Women is a collection of mini-biographies of some of the most well known women in Scripture. It is also the only book on this list I have not personally read. I will say this though: At a Q&A at Grace Church, MacArthur was asked why he called this book “Extraordinary Women” while the other book in the series is “Ordinary men.” His answer: “Because I’m no dummy.” This is the second of the three books in the series (Twelve Ordinary Men, Twelve Extraordinary Women, and Twelve Unlikely Heroes). 

3Twelve Ordinary Men is Pastor John’s best-selling book. It is a collection of mini-biographies on the 12 disciples. The book makes the point that these were very ordinary men, and that makes God’s use of them almost inexplicable–except that by choosing them, the only explanation for the gospel’s advance is supernatural. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Peter, this book is still very worthwhile. John shows the connections between the 12, and paints a full picture of each of them. I’ve read this book multiple times, and I’m always amazed at how much the Gospels do actually reveal about the 12. As a side note, John wrote his Th.M thesis on the life of Judas Isscariat. That chapter in this book is certainly gripping and sobering.

2MacComty_SetLGLargely developed from his preaching, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series is one of the best selling commentary sets in church history (with well over one million copies sold in the US alone). The simple act of writing a commentary series this detailed, based on preaching, and covering the entire NT, is almost unheard of in church history. My favorite feature of this set is how the biblical text is bolded in the flow of the commentary. This really brings out how every word hinges on its context and adds to the whole. The synoptics avoid redundancy because Matthew is extremely detailed (in four vols.), Luke is story oriented, and Mark (when it comes out) will reflect Mark’s “immediate” pace. The commentary on Titus in particular is certainly one of the best commentaries on that often neglected book, and the volumes on Revelation should be read devotionaly. This series will form a large part of MacArthur’s legacy.

001The MacArthur Study Bible has been translated into seven languages (including Arabic; Chinese is in the works), and is available in NAS, ESV, NKJV, and soon in the NIV. Unlike most study Bibles, the MacArthur Study Bible stakes clear positions on theologically challenging verses. It is the only study Bible I know of that is baptistic in ecclesiology, calvinistic in soteriology, and premillenial in eschatology. It is rightly pastor John’s best-selling work.    

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
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  • Fred Butler

    And I bet your figures don’t even count the stuff GTY gives away regularly through their radio ministry.

    • That’s why it is hard to compare figures from different publishing companies. Some put the GTY purchase in with their totals, and some don’t. And its also not clear if the same publisher even counts the GTY books the same on each of their own books. That’s why this is not an exact science.

  • Larry Bouligny

    Should be Twelve Extraordinary Women (not Woman). Thanks. Interesting to see what was most popular!

  • kevin2184

    Wow, I would have thought that “The Gospel According to Jesus” would have been #1, or #2. Thanks Jesse for posting this.

  • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

    Thank you, Jesse; this is interesting. I also thought that “The Gospel According to
    Jesus” would have been #1.

    I just heard a comment by John MacArthur that he thinks “The Gospel According to Jesus” is the best book ever written by him.

    • Well, it certainly is his most influential. Sometimes I think whatever book he wrote last is his favorite one…

  • Thanks a lot Jesse! I’m surprised “Charismatic Chaos” didn’t make the cut… Quick question: do you think that “Found: God’s Will” would be appropriate for a group of 10th graders to read?

    • yes it would be. I am a student pastor and just used it with my HS students. My staff read the chapter with them present, asked questions about it and it seemed to go well. The chapters are like 2- 8 1/2 x 11 pages long. This is a topic that is clearly on their minds right now.

      The only down side to the book is some of the KJV language.

      But, it is super simple and super clear.

      • Thanks, guys. It looks like I may be giving my students a late Christmas gift….

    • I agree with Andrew. Also, I try to teach high school and college seniors in my ministry (and when I was at GCC) the content of that every year. I usually title my message: Found: God’s Will. Stolen: A MacArthur sermon.

  • Thanks for the insight Jesse. I never knew J mac did a dissertation on Judas. Good to know about Titus Commentary too.

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  • Jack Murphy

    Thanks Jesse, I am going through my books by John to see if I am missing any.

  • Wes

    I’m surprised that “Ashamed of the Gospel” didn’t make the list.

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