I have dealt with a lot of Evangelical Christians in my life and have been blessed to have such opportunities. To set the terms, an Evangelical is an individual who adheres to a transdenominational movement within Protestantism which emphasizes salvation in Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone, usually with some type of a “born-again” experience. Likewise, a belief in the sufficiency and authority of scripture (The Bible) as God’s inspired and revealed Word and in preaching the Gospel to others (evangelizing) is also included. Evangelicals -like peoples of any other faith group- come in a variety of types, traditions and distinct styles. Most of my personal interactions have consisted with your standard Mainstream varieties: that is Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed and self-titled non-denominational Christians.
My first time in interacting with an Evangelical apologist though (not including typical pastors or church leaders), was last October at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah. This took place at a breakout session titled Evangelicals and Mormons Overcoming Hate Speech which was presided over by Robert Millet, Thomas Jay Oord, and Mark Maddix, including questions asked by individuals in the crowd such as Bill McKeever of the Mormonism Research Ministry. Unfortunately I was initially late to the session only to be made more so due to the following occurrence:
As I approached the door to gain access to the session, I was promptly stopped by a well-dressed man, with a friendly smile, and short greying hair.
To myself, he asked “Excuse me sir, but are you a Mormon?”
Kindly, I responded “Why yes, yes I am.”
Thinking that I was about to engage in a pleasant interfaith discussion (as we were currently at the international hub of interfaith dialogue and cooperation), I hadn’t the slightest notion of what would occur next. The man asked me as to why I was a Mormon, to which I succinctly stated that it was due out of my belief in the Book of Mormon as an inspired and historically authentic book of sacred scripture. I told him I felt that there was a substantial amount of rational evidence which supported it, the truth of it then being confirmed spiritually to me on many occasions by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“Well, do you also believe in the Bible?” he asked, prodding the question along further. At this point his smile turned to more of a smirk and I felt the tone of the conversation change ever so slightly.
I replied with the fullest confidence that a 17 year-old could muster.
To which he inquired, “Are you sure about that?”
Though now intrigued, I responded with the selfsame confidence as before, certain that I knew what I happened to believe in.
What occurred next is no surprise in retrospect. I had essentially prepared the table upon which a theological feast of my beliefs where being held. As the man entered into what was surely a memorized and oft-used soliloquy of several paragraphs worth of information, I stood and listened to him rattle off a plethora of theological statements and Bible verses as to how I did not actually believe the Bible as a Mormon, how I was not a true Christian, how I believed in a false Christ and a false prophet no less. Not surprisingly, nothing he said was new to me, I had previously heard it many times before. Something though struck me as odd about the manner of his monologue. I felt as if I had certainly heard it before. The tone, the pattern and particular use of Bible verses felt all too familiar. So, upon letting him finish I asked him if he had ever been on a particular Evangelical Christian website by the name of CARM or the Christian Apologetic Research Ministry. The reason I even asked is because I could have sworn his argument was essentially copied straight from there.
An issue though is instead of just asking, I also acted in accordance with my gut-instinct and launched a preemptive strike of sorts. I told him that if this was the case then he should beware of some of its information regarding Mormonism as a number of the arguments there made were filled with what I described as, “half-truths, distorted perceptions, slanted quotes, fallacious reasoning and unsupported claims.”. Today, I can say that I generally carry a *slightly* less critical view of CARM, still disagreeing with the manner in which much of its information regarding my faith is presented.
Having issued such a statement, I was confused when he did not immediately respond. He stood there almost aghast and asked in a perplexed and near dumbfounded manner, “CARM? Are you kidding me? Do you even know who I am?”
Then it hit me.
I paused to read his name-card and much to my surprise I blurted out, “Matt Slick! Oh my gosh! You are the founder of CARM!” and it was true; the very man himself stood before me. In a display of total irony, I had unwittingly insulted his website before realizing his identity!
CARM is (in)famous, depends on whose talking, for being one of the larger and more successful Evangelical apologetic websites out there. Its materials are utilized and distributed among many non-denominational Christian pastors, ministries and congregations. In fact, the first time I had encountered some of its media was while attending a sermon on Mormonism at Sun Valley Community Church, the campus my mother and I attended for years. Matt Slick has extensively produced many videos of him debating and engaging not only Mormons, but also atheists, Muslims and individuals of other faiths. Often he participates outside of Temple Square and various church pageants spearheading such events. Through carefully packaged arguments, he approaches unwitting members, (such as he attempted with myself), confronting them with a shotgun blast of Bible verses and supposed historical and theological inconsistencies within Mormonism, so as to incite doubt, anger and confusion and then lead them out of the Church to a new-life in the real saving Jesus.
Though I could care less about the showing of such conversations, many a time have these videos displayed only the most dim-witted and unprepared responses on the Mormons part, eliciting laughter and mockery from those watching and only perpetuating the sense of the “other” and separating the two groups further which I do not view as accurate, beneficial or positive apologetics. Part of my faith-crisis years included engaging with his website and its arguments. As such, I have needed to find answers to them as part of my coming to a sound testimony of the Restored Gospel. Not an issue raised on his behalf had I not heard nor internally answered and now here I was face-to-face with Mr. Slick himself.
Though he tried to further his attempts to sway me and continue the conversation, I told him how I had already been familiar with his website to the point of no longer being troubled by its arguments. I then asked him why he was doing this here, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions no less, where to even register one had to swear to adhere to a strict code of tolerance, respectful dialogue and non-proselytization. (I have since inquired of him further on the issue to which his response was that he couldn’t remember/ didn’t realized he had agreed to such. To this I will extend to him the benefit of the doubt.) I asked if he was aware of the session that lay on the other side of the door.
He replied “Oh yeah, I know what’s going on in there. I listened for a while but just had to leave because I was so disgusted by what’s going on in there. It just sickens me.”
As soon as he said that I quickly told him how out of all places he could possibly be doing this, participating in such at the Parliament was the most inappropriate. I told him I would not take part in this further or suffer to listen to him as it betrayed the very spirit of why all those here were gathered. I told him I respect his views as they were his own but again that it was blatantly inappropriate and wrong within the current circumstances. I then turned tail and entered the session, being more late and more astonished than I had anticipated. I had been confronted with a prominent American Evangelical Apologist, and walked away unscathed.