A Response and Refutation of Joel McDurmon on 1 Corinthians 13- #1
Noted evangelical scholar John MacArthur recently ignited a firestorm of controversy by assailing the entire charismatic community as devilish and heretical. Needless to say, the responses from the charismatic community have been “energetic” and enthusiastic, to say the least.
Joel McDurmon, Head of Research at American Vision, in Powder Springs, GA, wrote a response, of sorts, to MacArthur in which he admitted that there is a great deal of abuse in the charismatic world, to which he once belonged, but, he defended the movement as a whole.
Then, in a follow-up article, on 1 Corinthians 13, McDurmon wrote (re-published) an article in which he denies that Paul anticipated the objective cessation of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.
In fact, McDurmon rejects 1 Corinthians 13 as eschatological: “I think that the whole endeavor to see 1 Corinthians 13:9ff as an indicator of any major eschatological, doctrinal, covenantal, or revelatory shift is to miss the point of the passage entirely.”
This is an amazing statement. McDurmon acknowledges that “many pastors and Christians in general” see 1 Corinthians 13 as predictive of the end of the charismatic gifts. McDurmon rejects this. What he fails to tell his audience is that his view is a “voice in the wilderness.” Very, very few commentators have failed to see 1 Corinthians 13 as not predictive of the time when gifts would cease.
Frankly, the lack of clarity, the faulty logic and exegetical failure of McDurmon’s article is, in my estimation, quite stunning and revealing. I will address and respond to McDurmon’s claims, and demonstrate the fallacy of them. I begin with McDurmon’s claim that the arrival of “that which is perfect” is not an eschatological referent at all.
I did a Google search on this issue, and, while I certainly did not read every article on the identity of “that which is perfect” I did peruse several (over 30 articles). I did not find even one that denied the eschatological– or covenantal– application of 1 Corinthians 13. Not one. Not one article denied that 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of the time of the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Not one. Every article claimed that 1 Corinthians 13 speaks either of covenantal transformation (the completed New Covenant canon) or the arrival of the New Creation– and the end of the miraculous gifts.
Does the fact that McDurmon holds to a massively minority view falsify his claim? No, not at all, but, it is interesting that McDurmon comes from the Dominionist camp that likes to reject preterism because the paradigm cannot be found in the commentators or in church history. And yet, here is McDurmon setting forth an idea that has sparse, extremely limited attestation in the historical sources– by his own admission.
It likewise raises an interesting point of logical inconsistency. McDurmon and many in his camp like to condemn the preterist movement by claiming that there are so few people who believe in it. He has repeatedly disparaged and ridiculed the movement based on his comments about how few preterist there are. And yet, while on the one hand he disparages Covenant Eschatology because “no one believes it” so to speak, he now promotes a few that is hardly attested in the literature! Have some espoused it? Yes. Is it, by any means a popular, widespread view? Not at all. So, based on McDurmon’s “logic” that the number of advocates of a view– or lack thereof– indicates its validity, then one has the perfect right to reject his position on the charismata outright. After all, hardly anyone believes what McDurmon has written! This would be improper, however, but it shows the logical inconsistency of the enemies of Covenant Eschatology.
The real issue however, is not how many people accept or reject a given view. This is what McDurmon himself would argue when not attacking Covenant Eschatology and seeking to find something, anything, to find fault.
The only real test is, “What says the Scripture?” The real question therefore, is whether Paul’s prediction that, “where there is prophecy it shall fail, where there is knowledge it shall pass, where there are tongues, they shall cease” has a covenantal or eschatological connection, or, whether he was essentially saying: “When any given person who possess the gifts arrives at a point of spiritual maturity, then the gifts will cease for that person.”
The question, put another way, is whether the bestowal of the gifts was primarily focused on the benefit of the individual, i.e .to bring individuals to maturity, as proposed by McDurmon, or, whether the impartation of the gifts had a corporate goal, a collective function and an objective temporal goal.
On this note, let me make a few preliminary observations.
Paul, as admitted by McDurmon, clearly posits the possession and function of the gifts as a sign of the “immature” state or condition. Now, in McDurmon’s view, this has to mean that the gifts were a sign of the spiritual immaturity of the individual, not the corporate body of Christ. This has some logical implications that are simply unavoidable.
First of all, if one equates, as Paul does, the presence and possession of the charismata as a sign of immaturity– at least in some way– and if that state of immaturity has to do with the individual, as claimed by McDurmon, then, of necessity, those in possession of the gifts would have to be looked upon as the most immature in any given congregation.
Second, consider the following troubling scenario: The gifts– including tongues, prophecy, inspired knowledge– were indicative of a state of spiritual immaturity– Paul. However, Paul said, “I speak in tongues more than them all” (1 Corinthians 14:1f). Therefore, Paul must have been “more immature” then them all.
As a direct corollary, consider that the apostles, based on the testimony that we have, possessed the gifts in “super abundance.” What I mean is that the individual apostles could not only speak in tongues, prophesy, have inspired revelation, perform healing, etc.. In other words, each apostle, as part of the chosen twelve, possessed all of the gifts. In stark contrast, Paul posed the question: “Do all prophesy?” “Do all speak in tongues?” These were, of course, rhetorical questions meaning that each member of the Corinthian church did not– in contrast to the apostles– possess all of the gifts.
So, once again, per McDurmon’s proposed scenario, here is what we have:
1.) The possession of the charismatic gifts was a sign of a state of spiritual immaturity according to Paul.
2.) That state of immaturity had (and seemingly, has) to do with the individual’s state of maturity or lack thereof– per McDurmon.
3.) The apostles possessed more spiritual gifts than the rest of the members of the church.
4.) Of logical necessity therefore, the apostles, as possessors of more gifts than the rest of the membership, were, by the possession of an abundance of the gifts, identified as the more immature members of the church.
Notice the conundrum here for McDurmon in regard to Paul himself. Remember that Paul said he spoke in tongues more than the rest of the members of the church at Corinth. Those charismata were, according to McDurmon, for the purpose of bringing those who possessed the gifts, to a state of spiritual maturity. When those who possessed the gifts arrived at the “to telion” the state of spiritual “maturity” the gifts would cease.
Well, take note that Paul said he (and others) was personally “telion”, i.e. “spiritually mature”, per McDurmon’s definition of “that which is perfect.” Read Philippians 3:15 where Paul emphatically spoke of himself and others in the church there as “telion,” mature. So, Paul said he was perfect: “Let those of us, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” (He uses the plural form of telios here, to show that not only he, but others were likewise mature). And yet, although he was telion (mature) he still said that he spoke in tongues more than others.
According to McDurmon’s “individualistic” application in regard to the charismata, this should have indicated that Paul had not, in any way, actually arrived at “that which is perfect” i.e. a state of spiritual maturity. It is simply illogical, and inconsistent to say, as McDurmon does, that the “that which is perfect” refers to the individual state of spiritual maturity, without thereby creating insurmountable problems in regard to Paul and the apostles.
Consider also that in 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul acknowledged that there were some members who were mature– telion. In other words, per McDurmon’s view, they had arrived at “that which is perfect”. This would demand therefore, that in those mature ones to whom Paul was writing, the gifts had ceased to function. Yet, Paul says not one word to this effect.
If there were those who had arrived at “that which is perfect” and the gifts had ceased in their lives, why did Paul not tell those who were still performing the gifts and emphasizing them, to rather look to those in whom the gifts had ceased because of their arrival to “that which is perfect” i.e. spiritual maturity? There is not a word in Corinthians, or in any of Paul’s epistles that suggests such a thing.
All of these facts raise a logical question, so let’s look at them again:
Paul undeniably identified the active function of the charismata as indicative of a state of spiritual immaturity.
If the possession of the charismatic gifts was focused on the individual, in regard to purpose and goal, then of logical necessity, the possession of the gifts was prima facie demonstration of the spiritual immaturity of the individuals possessing the gifts.
How could Paul identify “that which is perfect” as a state of individual spiritual maturity, and at the same time declare that he was not only “telios” (personally spiritually mature) yet, he possessed the charismatic gifts– indicative of spiritual immaturity– more than anyone? In McDurmon’s proposed schema, these are two diametrically opposed ideas.
I believe the following scenario is far more logical and accounts for the text in a more contextual manner:
The gifts, while given to individuals, had a collective purpose, a corporate goal and an objective temporal terminus in sight.
This would allow for Paul to say that he was personally “mature” and yet still possessed the gifts, because the gifts were not to bring individuals to personal, subjective maturity and to then cease. Rather, they were to bring the corporate body of Christ to “the perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-16).
As we will demonstrate later, this corporate and objective aspect of the charismatic gifts is clearly set forth in other texts which are parallel to 1 Corinthians, and thus, determinative for the interpretation of Corinthians. Further, the scriptures are clear the cessation of the gifts was patently posited at a given temporal junction, and is never related to, or tied to, the personal spiritual maturation of individuals.
Thus, McDurmon’s emphasis on the centrality of the individual in regard to the charismata is misplaced. More to come, so stay tuned.