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Who was J. Vernon McGee?

J. Vernon McGee
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John Vernon McGee (1904—1988) was an American pastor and radio Bible teacher, best known for his Thru the Bible radio program. McGee was distinctive for his “country” accent, down-to-earth Bible teaching, and homespun delivery.

Born in Hillsboro, Texas, McGee’s impoverished family moved many times before his alcoholic father was killed in an accident when John was 13. His family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where McGee attended a Presbyterian church and there received Christ as Savior. He wanted to attend college, but he instead took a job as a bank teller to support his mother. Later, the bank manager helped him raise funds for college. McGee attended Southwestern University in Memphis. There, he made friends who exerted a worldly influence on him. He was convicted of this, repented, and experienced renewed zeal to serve the Lord.

After finishing his bachelor’s degree during the Great Depression, J. Vernon McGee wanted to attend seminary but had no funds to do so. However, the Lord led two widows to support him, and he attended Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, where he earned a bachelor of divinity degree. During this time, he also served as student pastor of a Presbyterian church. After finishing his studies, he served as a Presbyterian pastor in Nashville. About three years later, he began working on his master’s and then doctoral degrees at Dallas Theological Seminary. Upon finishing his degrees, the newly married McGee was called to pastor in Pasadena, California, where he served for eight years. In 1949 McGee became the pastor of the non-denominational Church of the Open Door in downtown Los Angeles. He pastored there for twenty-one years until he retired in 1970.

J. Vernon McGee had begun teaching the Bible on the radio in 1941, and he launched the Thru the Bible program in 1967. Thru the Bible was a daily radio broadcast that took listeners through the whole Bible in five years. When one five-year cycle was finished, the same messages were played again. Dr. McGee was a down-home country storyteller who enjoyed relating the Bible and pointing people to Jesus. His radio program was a running commentary on Scripture, filled with easy-to-understand theology, application, and humor. His program was unofficially known as “The Bible Bus,” and it picked up new riders with increasing frequency. Each broadcast also included letters from listeners who were touched by the show.

When Dr. McGee died in 1988, his radio program was broadcast in 35 different languages. McGee instructed the board of directors to keep the broadcast going as long as there was money and then to shut it down. Today, Thru the Bible is broadcast in 100 languages in 160 countries, and the Bible Bus shows no sign of slowing down. Besides radio, McGee’s messages are distributed through podcasts, YouTube, and MP3 downloads. In places where there is no electricity, Thru the Bible provides solar-powered players. Producers and follow-up teams correspond with listeners and provide materials for spiritual growth. The content of the program is also available in book form. People continue to come to Christ, and Christians are encouraged through these broadcasts, even though they were recorded decades ago. McGee’s focus on simple explanation and application of God’s Word feels fresh and up to date. Each broadcast includes new letters from listeners all over the world.

McGee wrote in his series on Romans, “In my opinion, the greatest sin in the church of Jesus Christ in this generation is ignorance of the Word of God. Many times I have heard a church officer say, ‘Well I don't know much about the Bible, but . . .’ and then he gives his opinion, which often actually contradicts the Word of God! Why doesn’t he know much about the Bible? These things were written aforetime for our learning. God wants you to know His Word.”

Here are some examples of J. Vernon McGee’s wisdom:

“This is God’s universe, and He does things His way. You may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.”

“The Bible. Know it in your head. Stow it in your heart. Show it in your life. Sow it in the world.”

“What is in the well of the heart will come up through the bucket of the mouth.”

“I believe in the eternal security of the believer and in the insecurity of the make-believer.”

“An expert is an ordinary fellow from another town.”

“Righteousness is innocence that has been maintained in the presence of temptation.”

Dr. McGee always said the greatest compliment he ever received was early in his ministry, as he pastored in Georgia: “It was from a country boy wearing high buttoned, yellow shoes. After a morning service he came to speak to me. He groped for words, then blurted out, ‘I never knew Jesus was so wonderful!’ He started to say more but choked up and hurried out of the church. As I watched him stride across the field, I prayed, ‘Oh, God, help me to always preach so that it can be said, I never knew Jesus was so wonderful’” (https://ttb.org, accessed 10/3/22).

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This page last updated: October 5, 2022