J. Vernon McGee was an evangelical Christian and Bible teacher who hosted the radio program “Thru the Bible” from 1961 through 1988. He was one of the most popular and prolific preachers of his era, reaching millions of listeners through his teaching ministry.
McGee was born in 1905 in Oklahoma. His father died when he was only 3 years old, leaving him to be raised by his mother, who instilled in him a love for God and for reading the Bible.
J. Vernon McGee
|Dr. J. Vernon McGee|
|Born||John Vernon McGee|
June 17, 1904
Hillsboro, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 1, 1988 (aged 84)|
Templeton, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum Altadena, California|
|Education||B.Div. from Columbia Theological SeminaryTh.M. and Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary|
|Occupation||Minister; Bible TeacherFounder and teacher of the “Thru the Bible” radio program|
|Known for||Worldwide evangelistic radio|
|Spouse(s)||Ruth Inez Jordan McGee|
Childhood, education, and early ministry
McGee was born in Hillsboro, Texas, to itinerant parents, John McGee and Carrie McGee (née Lingner). His father held many jobs, his last one being an engineer at a cotton mill in Oklahoma, where he died in 1918 when Vernon was 14 years old, as Vernon sometimes mentioned in his sermons. After his father’s death, Vernon’s family relocated to Tennessee. Before entering the ministry, Vernon worked as a bank teller.
After attending Southwestern at Memphis, he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary and Master of Theology and Doctor of Theology degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary. The bank manager for whom McGee had earlier worked paid for his education through seminary. McGee’s ordination into the ministry occurred on June 18, 1933, at the Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
McGee’s first church was located on a red-clay hill in Midway, Georgia. He served Presbyterian churches in Decatur, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Cleburne, Texas, where he met and later married Ruth Inez Jordan. McGee and his wife moved to Pasadena, California, where he accepted the pastorate at the Lincoln Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1941. The McGees’ first child, a daughter named Ruth Margaret McGee, was born prematurely and died when she was a few hours old, which McGee recounted in his sermon “Death of a Little Child”. The McGees later had another daughter, Lynda Karah McGee, in 1946.
At the Lincoln Avenue Church, McGee started the Open Bible Hour radio program, which aired once per week. In 1949, the program was expanded to a half-hour daily schedule and renamed the High Noon Bible Class.
McGee became the pastor of the Church of the Open Door in downtown Los Angeles in 1949, succeeding Louis T. Talbot (1889–1976). That same year, McGee gave one of the daily invocations at Billy Graham‘s two-month-long Christ for Greater Los Angeles Campaign. In 1952, McGee was asked by evangelist and university president John Brown, owner of KGER radio station (now KLTX) in Long Beach, California, to take over a radio program (started in 1950 by young-Earth creationist Harry Rimmer, whom McGee admired) to which listeners could send in questions that were answered on the air. By 1955, McGee had a well-publicized break with the Presbyterian Church, in which he claimed that the church’s “liberal leadership [had] taken over the machinery of the presbytery with a boldness and ruthlessness that is appalling.” This Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy within the Presbyterian church had been growing since the 1920s. It was during this time that a large number of nondenominational evangelical Protestant churches, such as the Moody Church in Chicago, had begun to appear across the U.S. After retiring from the pastorate at the Church of the Open Door in 1970, McGee devoted his remaining years to the Thru the Bible Radio Network. He also served as chairman of the Bible department at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and as a visiting lecturer at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Through an ancestor from Scotland, Thomas McGehee (1645-1717), McGee was the sixth cousin of John R. Rice, a fellow fundamentalist and Baptist evangelist and pastor.
Thru the Bible
In 1967, he began broadcasting the Thru the Bible radio program (TTB). In a systematic study of each book of the Bible, McGee took his listeners from Genesis to Revelation in a two-and-a-half-year “Bible Bus trip”, as he called it. He had earlier preached a “Through the Bible in a Year” series of sermons, each devoted to one chapter of the Bible, at the Church of the Open Door. After retiring from the pastorate in January 1970, and realizing that two and a half years was not enough time to teach the whole Bible, McGee completed another study of the entire Bible in a five-year period. At the time of McGee’s death, the Thru the Bible program aired in 34 languages, but has since been translated into over 100 languages. It is broadcast on Trans World Radio throughout the world every weekday.
Although he expressed support in his broadcasts and printed materials for the idea of an ancient Earth, McGee, as a Christian fundamentalist, advocated creationism and upheld the literal interpretation of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, constraining the six “days of creation” to six 24-hour periods of time. Recurring themes in the TTB broadcasts were the Protestant doctrines of Sola fide (salvation through faith alone) and [absolute] assurance of salvation, or eternal security, which proclaims that once a person sincerely accepts Christ as personal savior, there is nothing they can do, no sin they can commit, that will forfeit their salvation. He often spoke of the days of societal apostasy in Christianity and secularism that he believed he was witnessing during his lifetime, warning that spiritual apostasy was always the first of the three stages leading to the fall of nations, commonly observed throughout the Bible, the second and third being, respectively, immorality and political anarchy.
Frequently in TTB broadcasts, McGee would tell anecdotes, many from personal recollection, about prominent evangelical Christian ministers from the past century, such as G. Campbell Morgan, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Mel Trotter, and Dwight L. Moody and some of his successors at the Chicago Moody Church, such as R. A. Torrey and Harry A. Ironside. McGee also frequently referenced favorite Bible passages in his sermons, such as Galatians 6:7 (Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap). The continued success of the long-running TTB program has been attributed to McGee’s oratorical abilities, folksy manner, and distinctive accent, as well as his insistence on maintaining the original mission, which was to spread the Scriptures with consistency of message.
Beliefs, teachings, and writings
Having received his advanced degrees from the Dispensationalist Dallas Theological Seminary, McGee was a Christian fundamentalist. Many Bible colleges were modeled after the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Dwight L. Moody, whom McGee often spoke of in his sermons, was influential in preaching the imminence of the Kingdom of God, which is important to Dispensationalism. In his preaching, McGee readily voiced his personal convictions regarding many controversial subjects. He held the belief that Premillennialism is the proper interpretation of Revelation 20:1–3, 7–8, regarding the end times prior to the final judgment. McGee expressed his disbelief in any validity to the view of Amillennialism, which was the dominant view of the Protestant Reformers and is still held by the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches and many Protestant denominations, including Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans, and Methodists. McGee opposed the viewpoints of Fatalism and Absolute Predestination in Calvinism. McGee, like the majority of Protestants, vehemently rejected the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine that Saint Peter went to and founded the Church in Rome, asserting, rather, in many sermons that the Church in Rome was founded by Paul. McGee often argued for the distinction to be made between the Catholic Church and the Early Church, particularly in regard to the latter’s role in developing the New Testament of the Bible.
McGee continued many speaking engagements after he retired, including throughout a bout of cancer from which he fully recovered. However, a heart problem surgically corrected in 1965 resurfaced, and he died in his chair in 1988. Since his death, the five-year program of Thru the Bible has continued to air on over 800 radio stations in North America, is heard in more than 130 languages, and is broadcast worldwide via radio, shortwave, and the Internet.
An obituary distributed by the Associated Press reported that McGee died of heart failure at a nursing home in Templeton, California, at age 84. His wife, Ruth, died in 1997 after suffering from dementia for nearly a decade.