Matt Slick and Jesse Morrell debate on free will and election

by Matt Slick
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On August 20, 2016, I debated Jesse Morrell on whether or not our salvation is by God's election or man's free will (see it at It took place in Kalispell Montana amidst the beautiful green mountains, winding rivers, and blue sky. The venue was a converted barn behind a church. There was about 100 people in attendance.  Following is my impression of the debate.  Also, quotes from Jesse are in brown.

No Cross Examination, No Winner

As far as who won the debate, that would depend on your perspective. We tend to find what were looking for in the debater we are supporting and we find the failures in the debater we disagree with.  I don't think there was a clear winner and the reason is because there was no cross examination period.  In my opinion, that is where a winner appears.  Unfortunately, I had been so busy with traveling, that I didn't realize there was no cross examination until the day of the debate. In fact, It was the cross-examination that I was looking forward to the most. In preparation for it, I had many questions at the ready. If you want to read the questions, go here. Of course, it doesn't mean I would've used all of them but I like to go prepared.

Nevertheless, I thought I would bring up a few issues that, in my opinion, were remiss on Jesse's part and which I would have brought up in the cross-examination.

John 1:12-13

John 1:12–13, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."  

The context is speaking of being a Christian, receiving Christ. Therefore in verse 13 when he talks about being born, is talking about being born again and John clearly tells us that this is not by the will of man.  Jesse says in his book, The Natural Ability of Man...

“John 1:13 is not saying that our will is not involved in our salvation, which would contradict so many other passages, but is simply saying that the decision of our parents did not give us a relationship with God or produce in us that which occurs at the second birth.” (p 349)

Jesse has misunderstood the text.  It is obviously not about our parents giving us a relationship with God. It's about being born again which is accomplished not by her own will.

John 6:38

I forgot exactly where in a debate that this topic came up but is worth mentioning that Jesse Morrell clearly says we can lose our salvation.

  • “Salvation is attained by turning from sin and turning to Christ, and salvation is maintained by staying away from sin and abiding in Christ.” (p. 353)
  • “While I was on the University of West Florida in Pensacola open air preaching, a student in the crowd said that God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ was literally a license to sin and that we can sin every day without fear of hell. I responded by saying, “You lose your salvation every time that you sin.” This is why you must repent every time that you sin.” (p. 366, underline added)

So, It's obvious he teaches a person can lose his salvation. I brought up what Jesus said in John 6:38 and, if I remember correctly, this was ignored by Jesse. Consider Christ's words.

John 6:38, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day." "

Jesus is the one who tells us he will not lose any. Therefore, it would've been worth the conversation to see how Jesse would've handled the words of Christ who can never fail to do the will of the Father (John 8:29). Since the will of the Father is that Jesus not lose any that are given to him by the Father, then how is it possible for a person to lose his salvation?

Election is never of individuals

In Jesse's book, the natural ability of man, he stated the following.

“In Ephesians, Paul continually uses the words “us” and “we” in relation to being chosen by God. He never uses the words “I” or “you.” That is because election is national, not individual. The Jews and Gentiles were both chosen people, but God did not decide which individual Jews or which individual Gentiles would choose to be saved and become part of His elect or precious people.” (p. 382, underline added) 

During the debate I demonstrated that this was not the case. I brought up the fact that Paul the apostle, before he was regenerated, persecuted Christians. On the road to Damascus, a light from above flashed and he fell to the ground (Acts 9:3). The Lord said to him, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”  Jesus later said to Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen [ekloge Strongs 1589] instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel,” (Acts 9:15). 

In order for Paul to be used by Jesus, he had to be born again. Paul is not exercising his sinful free will to follow Christ. Quite the contrary. He was using his sinful free will and the persecution of Christ. It was Jesus who chose him to be a vessel for honorable use. Jesus chose Paul. Paul did not choose Jesus.  Paul was elected for salvation.

Wrong definition of free will

Jesse Morrell defines free will to the exclusion of God. He says this.

  1. “There may be many influences upon the will, such as nature or motive, but these are not causations. The will itself is a cause. Free will gives man the power of self-causation in the realm of morality. (p. 4, underline added)
  2. “Free will is the ability to self-originate or create your own moral character. Free will is the power of contrary choice.  The freedom of the will includes the ability to obey or disobey the law of God. (p. 4, underline added)

If free will means that you have to be able to have the ability to obey or disobey the law of God, then God himself does not have free will because God cannot disobey his own law. The point is here that Jesse Morrell uses man as the standard of truth when it comes to defining free will. He does not start with God. When someone starts with man as the standard and not God, then the conclusions are suspect.

Suspension of free will

In our debate I brought up the issue of the idea of the suspension of human free will so that God can do to a person what he wants to be done. Consider these quotes from Jesse.

  1. “In His providence, God may even temporarily suspend the free will of a being and use him as an instrument in order to accomplish His will or a very important providential plan.” (p. 9, underline added)
  2. God also set aside the free will of King Nebuchadnezzar, even changing his nature, when he turned his mind into that of a beast (Dan. 4:32-33; 5:21).” (p. 10, underline added)

My point in the debate was at this is a kind of spiritual rape because it means that God is forcing someone to do something by suspending his will.  This is problematic. 

Rejecting the imputed righteousness of Christ

One of the most disturbing things I found in my research of what Jesse Morrell teaches, is his open rejection of the imputed righteousness of Christ.

"We are not justified by works or by merit, either from ourselves or from Christ. Christ died for us but He did not obey for us. To say that Christ needed to obey the law for our justification is to say that His suffering and death was insufficient to justify us. We do not need His obedience imputed to our account because His atonement is sufficient for our justification. We are pardoned by God’s grace through the atonement so we do not need Christ’s works of the law transferred to us in order to be justified. We are imputed righteous through Christ, but we do not receive the imputed righteousness of Christ." (pp. 430-431, underline added)

Without going into long dissertation on the work of Christ's life in keeping the law, something we call the passive obedience of Christ, the Scriptures clearly speak against Jesse's position. We do have imputed righteousness.

  • Romans 3:21–22, "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;"
  • 1 Corinthians 1:30, "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption."
  • Philippians 3:9, "and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,"  

Paul the apostle tells us that we have a righteousness that is not our own (Phil. 3:9). So what righteousness is it that we have that is not derived from our obedience to the Law?  If we keep the law perfectly, then we are justified.  But we can't keep the Law perfectly. We need help.  Now, justification is a legal standing of righteousness according to the law. Romans 5:19 says that "...the many will be made righteous".  And, notice that 1 Cor. 1:30 says that Christ is our righteousness.  So, the righteousness that we have is Christ who is our righteousness since he is the one who fulfilled the law perfectly (1 Peter 2:22).

God could be a tyrant

One of the things that surprised me in our debate was a statement that Jesse made. To the best of my recollection he said that, "God could be a tyrant if he wanted to, but he chooses not to be."  His statement is absolutely false and heretical.  God cannot be a tyrant.  God is holy. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2).  But, for Jessie to make such a statement tells me that he doesn't understand the immutably perfect and holy nature of God. It is like saying that God could lie if he wants to but he just chooses not to. No, God cannot lie.  No, God cannot be a tyrant.  This kind of thing is problematic and, in my opinion, is a result of his faulty understanding of God and his sovereignty combined with the faulty understanding of man and his alleged sovereignty.

One last thing

I've been in a lot of public debates and sometimes the audiences can be a little "involved" in supporting their favorite debater. I've been in two debates where the atheists in the audience were not very cordial. However, during my debate with Jesse Morrell, that some of the people in the audience, which was comprised of people who were overwhelmingly sympathetic to his point of view, were rude, aggressive, mocking, and condemning. I can honestly say that of all the debates I've been in, the audience in Kalispell, Montana was the worst.  I find this interesting because they generally held the view that they don't sin anymore. I thought that was a bit arrogant.

After the debate there was a question and answer period and the line immediately lengthened. The great majority of questions were aimed at me. During those questions the some people in the audience would react negatively to things I said, as they sometimes did during the debate. I found myself engaged with people in the audience who were attacking me verbally.  At one point I asked a woman who was sitting near the back, if she kept the law perfectly and she quickly said "Yes!"  What I found interesting was that no one turned around in amazement. The entire audience kept looking at me as if her response was perfectly acceptable.  Wow....




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.