Original opening statement by Matt Slick in a debate with Jesse Morrell

by Matt Slick
8/23/2016
Jesse Morrel Page

In a standard debate there is an opening statement where you make your case. So, amidst my busy schedule I prepared an opening statement and then later found out that the debate format necessitated that I modify this opening which I did here and presented it.

A lot of what is in this original opening statement and the one I actually used overlaps. Nevertheless, since I wrote it I figured I might as well present it here. 

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First of all, thank you to all of you who have made this debate and this meeting on evangelism possible. I hope that all of our efforts will bring glory to God.

Our debate topic is whether or not salvation is by God’s election or by man’s free will. As a reformed Christian who holds to the doctrines of grace and who also holds an extremely high view of Scripture, my position is that God has elected people to salvation from before the foundation of the world, and that unbelievers possess a sinful free will and will not freely choose God.

Both Mr. Morel and myself, though opposing each other in this soteriological issue, seek to rightly understand God’s word. But, in my opinion, Mr. Morel has assumed a theologically unjustifiable assumption about free will and as a result has failed to accurately represent God’s word.

In his book The Natural Ability of Man, which Mr. Morrell graciously sent me a copy, he said,

  1. “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)
  2. “Free will, as the ability to obey or disobey the law of God, is the ability to originate selfish intentions or benevolent intentions.” (p. 5)
  3. “Free will is also the ability to obey or disobey the gospel.” (p. 5)

So Mr. Morel asserts that free will is defined as the ability to “create one’s own moral character,” to have the “power of contrary choice,” and be able to disobey or obey both God’s Law and the Gospel.

Unfortunately, his definition is insufficient because it excludes God. You see, God has free will, but he cannot “create his own moral character,” nor does he have the “power of contrary choice,” since he cannot sin. And, God cannot disobey his own Law. Therefore, Mr. Morrell’s arguments that are based on his faulty, man-centered assumption about free will are necessarily suspect.

Since God has made us in his image (Genesis 1:26), then our free will reflects his free will. Therefore, we must find a definition that includes God as well as ourselves. I propose the following.

“Free will is the ability to make unforced choices that are consistent with one’s nature.”

You see, God is holy and he cannot sin (1 Peter 1:16). But God is also free (Psalm 135:6). Therefore, God’s choices are consistent with his holy nature.  God’s will exists as a part of his holy nature. That is why, “Free will is the ability to make unforced choices that are consistent with one’s nature” is a better definition than Mr. Morrell’s.

With this definition, both God and man are included and we have a biblically-based, God centered starting point, not the man-centered one that Mr. Morrell provides.

Now, since we are discussing God’s election verses man’s free will in regard to salvation, we must now turn our attention to what the Scripture says about the free will ability of the unbeliever. 

So, what does the Bible say about the nature of man and the unbeliever in particular?

It is man who is deceitful (Jer. 17:9), full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), cannot come to God on his own (John 6:44, 65), does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12), is helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6), is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20; John 8:34), cannot receive spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), is dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1), is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), and is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15).

Let’s examine three of the verses mentioned.

  1. John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day."
  2. John 6:65, "And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”"
  3. 1 Corinthians 2:14, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."
     

If, as Mr. Morel states, that “Free will is the ability to self-originate or create your own moral character” and from that character the sinner freely chooses to trust in Christ, then why does the Bible say that such a person ‘cannot come to him unless the Father draws him’, and that he ‘cannot come to Christ unless it has been granted to him by God the Father’, and that he ‘cannot receive or understand spiritual things’?  If the sinner’s free will is that he is perfectly capable of choosing Christ out of his own “self-originated moral character”, then why do we have these verses that speak of his inability to come to Christ on his own?  The answer is because he cannot, and Mr. Morrell’s position is wrong.

God’s word tells us that the unregenerate are helpless, slaves of sin, and cannot come to Christ unless it has been granted to him by God the Father.  That is why we find scripture that teaches the following.

It is God who appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48), grants the act of believing (Phi1:29), works faith in the believer (John 6:28-29), grants us repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-25), causes us to be born again (1 Pet. 1:3), grants that we come to Jesus (John 6:65), and predestines us to salvation (Rom. 8:29-30).

These verses do not need be in the Bible if the act of “choosing Jesus for salvation” is up to the sinful individual’s free will. But, they are there because of the unregenerate’s sinful nature and sinful free will.

In fact, we are born again not of our own will.

  • John 1:12-13, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 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 dealing with those who are saved, with those who are Children of God and it is these who born again not of their own wills.  God sovereignly saves according to his will, not man’s.

Now, Mr. Morel has clearly stated in his book that this work of God, this choosing, this election of God is never of individuals, but is always groups of people.

On page 382 of his Book, he says,

“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.”

Mr. Morel tells us that election is national, never individual. But, Mr. Morrell is wrong.

We know that Paul the apostle, before he was regenerated, persecuted the followers of Christ. As he was traveling to murder more Christians, he was approaching 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.”  Paul was blinded and told to go see Ananias. But Ananias was afraid of Pau In a vision, Jesus 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). 

Do we see Paul exercising his free will in coming to Christ?  No. What we do see is a man who was motivated out of his murderous, sinful, depraved heart and he exercised his free will in the persecution of Christ himself. Yet, Jesus intervened and chose Paul, in the midst of his incredible sin, to be a minister to the Gentiles. In order for this to happen, Paul had to be saved. So, Jesus chose to save the individual Paul, so he could be a minister to the Gentiles.  Again, Mr. Morrell is wrong.

Now, Mr. Morrell’s faulty view of free will has led him to teach other false doctrines regarding God’s actions with people.

  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)
  2. “It is also possible that the free will of John the Baptist was temporarily suspended for the sake of the nation of Israel and the ministry of the Messiah, until John was in jail and God gave Him the liberty to make the free choice of salvation for himself (Matt. 11:11; L1:15; L7:20).” (p. 10)
  3. “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)

Is Mr. Morrell correct?  Does God temporarily suspend a person’s free will in order to make the person do what God wants him to do? If so, then God is violating the person by removing his free will and forcing the person to do something he wouldn’t normally do. This is spiritual rape.

Now if you think my words are a little harsh, I only include them because of what Mr. Morrell has said in his book regarding Calvinism. He said that it "makes God insincere in his commandments," (page 54); makes the God of Calvinism a sinner and a worker of iniquity, (page 60), “the cause of sin," (page 64) and he said on page 73, "If Calvinism were true, when we pray “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10; 26:42), we would be praying for children to be raped!."

I would propose to you that it is actually Mr. Morrell, by teaching that God suspends someone’s free will and then makes him do what God wants him to do, is actually advocating a form of spiritual rap

I suspect that Mr. Morel’s deficient theology is a result of his man-centered theology. In light of that, please consider the following Scripture.

Acts 4:27–28, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."

All the sinful actions of Herod, Pilate, and the Gentiles were predestined by God, yet Peter said it was the godless men who put him to death (Acts 2:23).  They are the ones who receive the blame, not God, just as we Calvinists also say. 

Conclusion

After going through much of his book, I can say that Mr. Morrell’s first error is based on his faulty understanding of free will, which is man-centered, not God-centered. Then, based upon his faulty understanding, he then submits the entirety of Scripture, regarding man’s salvation, to his interpretation.  In addition, he has failed to recognize that God does choose individuals for salvation as we saw in Paul the apostle.  We are born again, not of our own wills (John 1:13).  Also, Mr. Morrell badly misrepresents Calvinism. Finally, he advocates a kind of spiritual rape which God himself perpetrates upon unwilling subjects when God forces them to do what he wants them to do, against their will.

Mr. Morrell, with respect sir, you need to abandon your man-centered perspective and shift to a God-centered one.

 

 
 

About The Author

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