A Short History of The Master’s Seminary

The Master's Seminary opened its doors in Fall 1986 under the leadership and vision of Dr. John MacArthur, known worldwide as a master Bible expositor, church leader, and author. For a number of years, the elders of Grace Community Church, pastored by Dr. MacArthur, had envisioned a seminary program that would train men for ministry in the context of a local church. In 1977, Talbot Theological Seminary (La Mirada, CA) helped bring partial fruition to that vision by initiating an extension center offering seminary courses on the church campus.

Several years later, Dr. MacArthur became President of The Master's College (1985). The college had a history of involvement with seminary education, having originally begun in 1927 as the Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary. Building upon these foundations—the heritage at the college and the extension courses at the church—the time seemed right in 1986 for the birth of a new seminary. Begun for the purpose of building men of God, thoroughly equipped for Bible exposition and local church ministry, through emphasis on careful biblical scholarship, pastoral training, and personal spiritual growth, TMS initially offered a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree program.

The seminary launched its inaugural year with ninety-five students and four full-time faculty members on the campus of Grace Community Church. These included Drs. Irv Busenitz and Marc Mueller, both of whom had been full-time professors at the extension campus of Talbot Seminary. Dr. Charles R. Smith and Prof. Donald G. McDougall joined them that same year. Dr. Smith, appointed as Dean of the seminary, had completed sixteen years of teaching at Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana. Prof. McDougall, professor of New Testament, brought a rich background in missions and education, having served for five years at Nigeria's Igbaja Theological Seminary and thirteen years at Talbot Theological Seminary.

In 1987, four additional faculty members joined the seminary. Prof. David Deuel arrived from Cornell University where he had taught for four years in three different departments. Dr. James Rosscup came from Talbot Seminary where he had taught for twenty-two years in Bible Exposition and distinguished himself as a bibliographer of resources for studying Scripture. Prof. James Stitzinger brought his library building skills to the seminary as the Director of Library Services. Dr. Robert Thomas came not only with twenty-eight years of seminary teaching experience, but also with numerous books and articles to his credit, plus involvement in scholarly societies.

In 1988, Dr. George Zemek arrived from Grace Theological Seminary, providing significant contributions in a wide variety of disciplines, primarily Hebrew and Theology. Dr. Richard Mayhue joined The Master's Seminary in 1989 as Professor of Pastoral Ministries. His rich pastoral background included serving as Senior Pastor of the historic Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach, CA, directing Shepherds' Conferences at Grace Community Church from 1980-1984, plus authoring numerous books and articles.

Shortly before the death of Dr. Charles Smith in 1990, Dr. Mayhue was appointed as Dean of the seminary. Jim George became the Director of Admissions and Placement in 1990 while Prof. Alex Montoya and Prof. Ken Sarles joined the seminary faculty in 1991, serving in Pastoral Ministries and Theology, respectively. Prof. Montoya had pastored for twenty years, leading his Hispanic church from forty to more than seven hundred members and planting thirteen branch churches. Prof. Sarles taught Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary for twelve years prior to joining The Master's Seminary faculty.

Dr. Trevor Craigen and Prof. Keith Essex were welcomed to the faculty in 1994. Dr. Craigen brought a rich international background. Having been raised in South Africa and educated in America, he ministered for ten years in Western Europe, teaching in France, Belgium, Bulgaria, and Germany. Prof. Essex came equally prepared, serving as a pastor and Bible institute dean/professor for more than a decade and more recently doing mission work in Mongolia. Also in 1994, Mr. Dennis Swanson became the TMS Librarian after serving as a senior pastor and in an administrative and faculty position at The Master's College.

In 1995, Dr. Larry Pettegrew joined the TMS team bringing over 20 years of seminary classroom experience and a pastor's heart to the seminary. Bob White, Executive Assistant to the Senior Vice President and Dean, also joined TMS in 1995.

Three more professors, each of whom has had extensive pastoral experience and authored numerous publications, joined the seminary family in 1997. Dr. William Barrick arrived in early January to teach Old Testament, bringing a rich background of almost 25 years of seminary teaching and Bible translation work in Bangladesh. Drs. David Farnell and Michael Grisanti were welcomed in Fall 1997, teaching in New Testament and Old Testament respectively. Dr. Farnell came from Southeastern Bible College where he served as Academic Dean. For twelve years, Dr. Grisanti taught Old Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

After serving as a pastor, Bible institute dean and adjunct seminary professor for more than a decade, Professor Paul Felix joined the New Testament faculty in 1999. Mr. Richard Oliver, having pastored a church plant for ten years, assumed the office of Director of Admissions and Placement in 2000. Dr. Andrew Snider joined the faculty in Spring 2002 to teach in the area of theology. Mr. Ray Mehringer joined the faculty as the new Director of Admissions and Placement in Fall 2002.

In 2006, Dr. Greg Harris (Bible Exposition) and Dr. Mike Vlach (Theology) arrived from North Carolina (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Nebraska respectively. Dr. Kelly Osborne came to teach New Testament in 2007, having previously taught for many years at Hope College (Holland, MI). Following six years of ministry on the pastoral staff of Grace Church, Prof. Nathan Busenitz joined the faculty teaching Historical Theology in 2009. Two years later, Dr. Bryan Murphy (Old Testament) and Prof. Matthew Waymeyer (Bible and New Testament) began teaching full-time. After more than ten years of missionary service in Russia, Prof. Brad Klassen returned to his alma mater in 2013 to complete his doctoral studies and teach Bible.

From 1986-2009, the faculty has expanded to nineteen full-time members. At the same time the student population has increased from 95 to nearly 400. During this period of steady growth, the seminary has maintained its singular commitment to training men for a ministry of the Word. Almost 1000 graduates now minister on six continents of the world, with 85% ministering in a full-time capacity and 15% serving overseas.

Rediscovering Expository Preaching, the first faculty-written volume, which brings the seminary curriculum together at the confluence of Bible exposition, was published by Word Publishing in May 1992. A companion volume, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, released by Word Publishing in Spring 1995, was also authored by our faculty and addresses the practical issues of ministry. The MacArthur Study Bible (enriched by the TMS faculty) appeared in Fall 1997. Two anthologies of TMSJ articles, The Master's Perspective Series, were released by Kregel in Summer 1998 and two additional volumes followed in Summer 2002.

In Fall 1992, a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree program began, focusing on the effective use of advanced exegetical and theological skills, with Dr. Busenitz serving as Director. A Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) launched in Fall 2000 and builds upon the Th.M. degree. Its unique design combines the European model with the salient features of traditional American models and allows for a residency primarily consumed with researching, writing, and defending the dissertation. Dr. Barrick leads the program as Director of Th.D. Studies. Under the guidance of Dr. Rick Holland, the D.Min. degree program commenced in the summer of 2004 with a singular emphasis upon Expository Preaching.

The Master's Seminary first received regional accreditation in 1988. As a result of the next accreditation visit, the regional accrediting association (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) stated in their February 1992 report: "The seminary has been very intentional in its development of an M.Div. program with few analogies in the U.S., distinguished above all by its almost single-minded commitment to the preparation of ordained pastors for leadership in the local church....Given the fundamental focus of the seminary, the structure of the M.Div. program seems well-oriented to its goals. The model itself—combining church-based involvement, personal discipleship, and academic study--is worth applauding, and it is not insignificant that at the level of degree structure, the seminary is on the cutting-edge of reform in seminary education in this regard. In all three areas of the formal aspects of the academic curriculum—Bible, Theology, and Pastoral Ministries--a logical progression is detected, and discussions with the Faculty indicated a high degree of familiarity with how one aspect of the program integrates with other aspects. All of the interviewed alumni expressed high levels of satisfaction with the program, believing that the seminary prepared them well for the ministries in which they are currently involved" (pp. 23-24). The seminary’s fourth full accreditation cycle occurred in two parts – Capacity in 2007 and Educational Effectiveness in 2009. The Master’s College and Seminary’s accreditation was renewed by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges for ten years.

The growth and advance of TMS created a pressing need for a facility to house the seminary library and a projected faculty of twenty-two. The Equipping Center, including the 23,000 square foot Master's Grace Library, opened in March 1998, debt-free.

Since the beginning of the seminary in 1986, the library has grown from a church library of just 7,000 volumes to a major theological collection numbering over 315,000 volumes. This library serves as the major resource center for The Master's Seminary and the congregation of Grace Community Church. It is highly respected as an important resource center for biblical and theological studies in the West.

Ten major collections have been acquired and merged to provide a rich depth and breadth of holdings in a wide spectrum of theological thought. Additional important collections representing various disciplines have since been purchased for the purpose of reaching back and obtaining original scholarship in the critical areas of biblical and theological studies with a view toward building a comprehensive collection in these disciplines.

In recent years, the library has continued its collection development with strong annual expenditures for new materials and periodicals as well as an aggressive program to continually add important retrospective materials and special collections. This includes a collection of early biblical versions and facsimile copies of early manuscripts.

The Master's Grace Library offers students access to its own holdings as well as other strategic materials through the Voyager Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC). Students can simultaneously search the holdings of TMS as well as the over 150,000 volumes of The Master’s College and the more than 1.1 million records of the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) database. The library also enjoys reciprocal borrowing privileges with other theological schools in southern California.

The seminary's administration remains committed to building a strong library, one that balances traditional holdings with forward thinking and technical excellence. The library's efficient and knowledgeable staff provides commendable assistance in accessing its rich holdings and services. This state-of-the art facility offers a quiet place to use these resources in an effective and productive manner.

In February 2009, TMS joined Grace Community Church in celebrating Dr. MacArthur’s 40th anniversary at the church. The following note of congratulations from TMS to the President appeared in the February 1, 2009 Grace Today.