Recently, I was able to have the opportunity to interact with a one, Matt Slick, of the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry during a live Q&A held on March 29th, 2017. While I wasn’t necessarily looking to make any apologetic arguments, I was pleased to pick his brain a bit on various random questions. If interested in hearing the backstory of my history with Matt Slick, make sure to read My First Face-to-face with an Evangelical Apologist. In total I was able to ask him the following questions to which he responded live. I will be providing commentary and the approximate time such occurred for the reader’s pleasure.
Q: How does the Reformed view of the Total Sovereignty of God square with conditional covenants or promises by God made towards humans throughout the Bible? I am referring to if/then statements in which it appears that God is giving man a choice between to options which will in turn predicate set consequences two come to pass? Example Exodus 19:5 or Deuteronomy 7:12 -Time: 19:47-25:42
My Thoughts: Matt replies that it essentially squares seamlessly with the Reformed view of Total Sovereignty, whether or not the if/then statement by God is describing an actual or potential possibility in which case, he argues, that the Reformed doctrine of foreordination is only compatible with the former. As such I find that according to Matt’s logic, the following two statements are technically identical in meaning:
A) If you choose this, then this shall be the consequence.
B) If God foreordains you to this choice, then God will foreordain this consequence.
Matt then moves to explain that God, when referring to actual possibilities represented in conditional if/then statements, is really doing nothing more than leveling with humanity by speaking in understandable anthropomorphisms. He compares such instances to the pericope of Genesis 3:8-9 in which case God calls out to Adam, “Where art thou?”. Now I will readily agree with Matt that God did indeed know where Adam was and what had previously transpired with the partaking of the Forbidden Fruit. Personally, I believe God was asking Adam a rhetorical question in order to cause him to reflect on his current state and transgression, however I can hardly see this to be relatable to the conditional if/then statements throughout the Bible. Depending on which exact translation one is using, the Bible contains the word “if” around 1,500 times!
Notable examples include:
“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”
“After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time – if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed.”
“And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
“If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers.”
“If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.”
“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.”
“If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow – to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him – then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you.”
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.”
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
“If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the LORD, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.”
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land…”
“If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” Isaiah 48:18
Jesus said: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Jesus said: “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus said: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Jesus said: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
Jesus said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”
Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Jesus said: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus said: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
Jesus said: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
Jesus said: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
Jesus said: “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
“…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:2
“If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him.”
1 Corinthians 16:22
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
2 Corinthians 5:17
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
as well as many others. Now if according to Matt’s interpretation, all of these verses contain an unstated deeper connotation of foreordination, then “if” could readily just be replaced with “if God foreordains x“. I will leave such to the reader to decide if such makes sense. In my mind, if God is really foreordaining all actions, than there really exists only the possibilities that God foreordains. Although God might be saying that there are several potential courses of actualities that could take place based upon man’s choices, there is really only one that can actually occur; the one He foreordains. Functionally then, the true consequences of any and all potential conditional statements are really conditional on one attribute: whether or not God foreordains it. All other conditions are then made meaningless and irrelevant as they will never come into actuality without God’s previous foreordination.
For Matt, God doesn’t force anyone to make any choice per se; however, he does foreordain and cause to come to pass certain conditions which when combined will make his foreordained choice for them, inevitably come to pass. Whether God directly infringes upon one’s own freewill or, by causing certain variables and conditions to occur which in turn necessitates a sole response from an individual, the same thing takes place; the individual acts in a manner that God causes, directly or not. Despite differences in terminology, both have the same functional consequence. Freewill then, is an illusion. One is only free to act in a foreordained manner.
In moving on to John 3:16 and commenting that the participle “whosoever” (ὁσ) is more accurately translated as “all the believing ones” (πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων)- thus reading “For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that all the believing one’s might not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This reading is one that I do not disagree with, nor do I feel that it is a solid point towards Matt’s case. I see this as another conditional statement which doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove Limited Atonement of itself. If one believes, they can be described as being included among the “believing ones” and as a result of such, they will be saved. If one is not a believer, they cannot attain to everlasting life. Thus it rests upon the individual to either believe or disbelieve, incurring a set consequence with both. Such can be seen in verses 14-15 right before this passage in which John casts a type of Christ with the brazen serpent in the wilderness, which the Israelites had to choose to look towards in order to be healed.
Bill Vallicella, from the blog Maverick Philosopher, lays out the following logical formula in respect to the Reformed doctrine of freewill:
1. If determinism is true, then all our actions and thoughts are consequences of events and laws of nature in the remote past before we were born.
2. We have no control over circumstances that existed in the remote past before we were born, nor do we have any control over the laws of nature.
3. If A causes B, and we have no control over A, and A is sufficient for B, then we have no control over B.
4. If determinism is true, then we have no control over our own actions and thoughts.
Therefore, assuming that responsibility requires control,
5. If determinism is true, then we are not responsible for anything we do or think.
Therefore, assuming that freedom entails responsibility,
6. If determinism is true, then we are not free, which is to say that every form of compatibilism is false.
Matt, if you don’t accept this argument, which premise will you reject?
Q: BTW, do you remember Jaxon from the Parliament of the World’s Religions? Time: 25:42-26:54
My Thoughts: The response by Matt here was both surprising and amusing to here, especially when contrasted with my retelling of the event found again here. Essentially he retold the same story, though with a few embellishments and cast in a different perspective. I was happy and somewhat flattered upon hearing his initial response of “Is he the Mormon dude?!?”, followed by the later, “he walks like a Mormon, looks like a Mormon, really nice guy!” He also describes me as being “actually, seriously very polite.” as well as again, “a nice guy.” If I had such a favorable impression upon Matt as a recently turned 17 year-old, then perhaps my personal decorum was not too unpolished. As of this point, I can now add this to my growing list of name-drops by notable Christian apologists including James White who warned, “Beware of Mormons Wearing Bowties.”
Some interesting differences in our narratives though can be seen as,
Myself having “recommended CARM” as opposed to “critiqued CARM”
Our discussion being “5-10 minutes” as opposed to “2-3 minutes”
Me advising him to “check out CARM” as opposed to “avoiding CARM due to its misinformation, fallacious reasoning, and polemic nature”
Matt saying “Yeah I would enjoy CARM, because I am the guy who wrote it.” with myself being taken aback, as opposed to him saying “CARM? Do you even know who I am?” with me realizing then of his actual identity.
Matt openly admits in the video that prior to attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions, he failed to read the strict codes of non-proselytization; despite having to sign off on such during registration. Thus it naturally followed that evangelizing and proselyting was an activity he was readily engaged in throughout the whole event. Which leads us to our interaction which transpired outside the doors to the session “Evangelicals and Mormons: Overcoming Hate Speech”- ironic given the often caustic nature of the Matt’s evangelizing towards those he is witnessing to.
Perhaps next time Matt will consider reading what he signs in order to avoid disrupting a set environment for open, understanding, and respectful interfaith discussions.
Q: I would like to ask Matt if his perspective or understanding of his own initial born-again experience when he first came to Christ has changed over time? If now, looking back, he sees various events that were taking place in a different light? If he can see the Hand of the Lord more holistically now? Time: 1:00:20-1:13:11
My Thoughts: I personally love and completely validate Matt Slick’s conversion story as a real experience with God. I believe that Matt Slick is a disciple of Christ, despite our denominational and theological differences. I affirm his testimony and can parallel it in so many ways myself. This validation though will go completely one-sided as the same will not be occurring on Matt’s end towards my own spiritual experiences. If you listen to my question in the video, Matt’s beginning response will be in confirming his recognition of the Lord’s Hand in his conversion, quickly followed by an addendum in which he emphasizes the lie and deception that is Mormonism.
Matt guarantees that “if he had had the same experience that I had, he would have never, ever, EVER, become a Mormon.” to which I would readily reply that if he had completely walked in my own shoes as well, in what I have experienced, there would be no way for him NOT to be a Mormon. Such is the nature of our individual and unique lives, rationalities, spiritualities, and experiences in life; they make us who we are. Without any one of them combined in the same way, we would be different individuals altogether. It is as if Matt doesn’t fully understand this and presupposes that he, himself has a monopoly on Truth.
If interested, Matt’s conversion experience can be reached here at Matt Slick’s Testimony. (and yes, I will readily link to his website)
Matt recalls the event on his website “… I felt His presence dawning like a sunrise. This person was making Himself known to me in my heart. I somehow knew it was God. It was the Holy Spirit. He came to me slowly, gently, and then in a sudden movement, His Holiness overshadowed me with greatness and I became incapacitated. It was indescribable. He permeated my heart, mind, and soul. He washed over me in a burst of holiness and I was utterly undone. His incredibly deep purity shone upon my soul and I was instantaneously made aware of my utter sinfulness before a Holy and Righteous God. It was a supernatural experience of profound and utter depth. It wasn’t emotionalism. It wasn’t being psyched-out. It was God. I was in the presence of God Himself. I was in the presence of Perfect Holiness….and I knew it!!!”
I find this easily comparable to the testimonies given of many Latter-day Saint’s as well, most of all in that of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (which Slick denounces as a lie).
Such is accounted in the Joseph Smith-History, “just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!… So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me… I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”
Matt in his experience and testimony often uses terms to describe how he just “knew”, he “felt”, he “experienced” and he “couldn’t deny”; terms that would frequent the typical Mormon testimony as well? So what is the difference? What is the difference between Matt’s experience, and the experience of millions of Mormons and other assorted Christians. I would argue that there isn’t a difference, that both are real, and that both occurred. However, we will see that it is the later introduction to polemic literature on Mormonism which will quickly cause Matt to dismiss them as being a cult, unbiblical, false, deceived, and not Christians themselves. Matt can be quoted as saying that if one is a Muslim, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Mormon or a Roman Catholic, they cannot have a true experience with God like he has had.
Two years after that even, Matt explains how he was attending a Bible Study when he was introduced to the following quotation:
“God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil–all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet…” (Joseph Smith from the Mormon book, History of the Church Vol. 6, pp. 408-409)
Upon hearing such, he was dramatically infuriated and lunged to crumple the piece of paper containing what he felt was such blasphemy out of the hand who read it to him. Angrily he asked “Who said this?” to which was answered Joseph Smith, upon which followed a lengthy introduction into regular Christian counter-cult polemic against Mormonism. From then on, Matt has regularly debated, argued, denounced, and berated any Mormon who likely crossed his path, determined to bring them to read faith in Christ and away from their false-faith.
Matt explains his anger against the quote as “I knew that anyone who had actually encountered Jesus would never, EVER, say anything like that! You just don’t do that!” and such is where I will offer my take.
There are several issues that exist with this quote, neither of which I assume that Matt was familiar with upon first hearing it and then being moved to dedicate his life in taking souls out of Mormonism.
The first issue lies in accuracy and the second in context, both of which Matt never considers when he cites the quote from memory. To read more about both issues, I would suggest examining the following answer given to this oft called-upon criticism by FairMormon below:
In essence, both the reliability and overall context of the quote are questionable as 1) The History of the Church is based upon a synopsis of Smith’s remarks by Thomas Bullock who often captured more of the direction and larger narrative of Smith’s statements, rather than the exact phraseology and attention to details. And 2) there is no context readily available surrounding the quote which leave the reader to wonder the difficult-to-answer questions of what was Joseph’s purpose in saying this? and if true, why did he choose this approach?
Finally, worst-case scenario let’s say the quote is completely accurate, we can either take this a a brief instance of Joseph experiencing a personal failing of pride, or was appealing to rhetorical hyperbole in order to make a specific impression for the sake of his argument, albeit in less than a necessarily favorable manner. Nonetheless, with all of these questions, I am saddened to hear that it was this particular criticism which began Matt’s life of opposing Mormonism. It is somewhat marginal at best, and outright unreliable at worst, but such is his own sandy foundation on which to build.
Following this, Matt launches into a lengthy exposition against Mormonism that lasts the remainder of this segment on the topic. In it he widely trivializes, mitigates, denounces, or distorts many Mormon teachings, likewise making many errors in doing so as towards what Mormonism actually teaches. He says that he wishes to destroy Mormon’s testimonies, which he simplifies as mere feelings. He calls the God of Mormonism a demonic manifestation. Gods and planets, the occult, secret underwear, masonic influences, celestial sex, and false prophets all frequent his exposition; making all the more sense considering that Matt studied with close-friends of Walter Martin himself. Slick finally ends his exposition calling all Mormons to repent and come unto Christ, which I find ironic considering that such would espouse a synergistic viewpoint that Matt would not support. In reply to Matt’s call and hypothetically assuming that he is right, unfortunately I must say that I have no choice in the matter unless I was foreordained to and moved by Christ’s Grace to reject Mormonism. Ultimately I say to Matt, and more specifically to God, if what Matt is saying is true “God, its your move. I am ready anytime to have my heart change.”
Nevertheless if it is not foreordained, Matt’s preaching to me is in vain and I remain destined for damnation all due to the foreordination and Sovereign Will of God.
As to Matt’s challenge regarding the veil of the temple, multiple Mormons such as the ever-valuable Robert Boylan have answered this and I have provided a link below:
As to Matt’s challenge regarding the First Vision and 1 Timothy 6:16, my friend James Stutz has answered such directly towards Matt Slick himself below:
Q: What were your thoughts on the Parliament of the World’s Religions? Any high/low points? -Time: 1:18:00-1:26:50
My Thoughts: As this post is long enough, I will just briefly summarize and say that here Matt describes the Parliament of World Religions on par with an amusement park, or as he coins it “The Heresy Hall of Fame”. Using exaggerated gestures, he mocks and mimics much of what he saw there, continuing for some time in acting just baffled by the demonstration, presence, and explanation of various beliefs. Such is somewhat tragic, and I pray his heart will soften as he understands that such behavior and scorn is not at all reminiscent of Christ.
As for myself, I cannot name another interfaith experience that can compare to the Parliament of the World’s Religions. With 10,000 people, from 80 nations, and 50 faiths gathering together to focus on shared values, build bridges, and promote mutual respect and understanding, I can say that it was truly an experience of a lifetime and gave me tangible hope in humanity. The Spirit there was strong and permeable, and it saddens me that Matt spend such a time involved in discourse and attitude completely antithetical to the mission of the great event.
Conclusion: Overall it was interesting to pick Matt’s brain a bit and see more in depth both his theological but also emotional responses to the questions I asked. I would like to return his compliments and say that I see Matt Slick as an overall nice guy. Sure, he can be more course than many would like sometimes, but such stems from his own very fundamentalist Christian mindset. Does this give him a pass to be an outright jerk? Not completely, but I consider him to be an extremely educated and bright individual. Since the close of the Q&A, Matt has asked permission to participate in my upcoming webinar through Apologetics Academy titled “Why I am a Mormon: A Conversation with Jaxon Washburn” Initially, I felt a pang of worry in response. I will outright say that Matt Slick is a far more prepared, experienced, and quick debater than I am. His quick reference of many Bible verses, rapid fire tempo, and memorized historical quotations allows him to barrage any inexperienced Mormon listener with an onslaught of polemic arguments. I understand his approach though, and at this point, I am confident that I can control it throughout the course of our conversation. The key is in corralling the conversation and not chasing after every red-herring that he throws, keeping matters relative, and of course: being prepared to respond with the real answers Mormons actually possess that he rarely acknowledges. (straw-man)