The Willis-Garrett Debate

By Larry Ray Hafley

During the week of April 16-20, Mike Willis met Mr. Eddie K. Garrett in a debate. Mr. Garrett is a Primitive Baptist. The debate concerned unconditional election and limited atonement.

The Disputants

Mike Willis, Editor of Truth Magazine, is a young gospel preacher. This was his first formal debate. Frankly, I was a little concerned about Mike’s lack of debate experience, but my fears were quickly dispelled. Mike was totally prepared. He had volumes of notes and charts which he used with devastating effect. Brother Willis is a sharp, incisive thinker on his feet. This is absolutely essential in debate. One might think that this is simply another “we whipped the sox off them” report and review, but if you think so, secure a copy of the debate tapes and see for yourself. Mike was fair and courteous, a gentleman at all times, as was Mr. Garrett.

Eddie K. Garrett is a wily veteran in debate. He has had approximately 25 debates. He is kind and gracious. However, his doctrine was no match for the truth of God. Garrett is unusual in that he generally attempts to give answers to questions that are put to him. He does not fulfill his ditty as a negative speaker. He ignored, by actual count, 80% of Brother Willis’s affirmative material. This is typical of denominational debaters.

The Audience

The Primitive Baptist building was packed nearly to capacity every night. Chairs had to be set out the last night. The audience was exceedingly well behaved. A good spirit prevailed. At least a dozen or more gospel preachers attended during the debate. Christians out numbered the Baptists three to one. Primitive Baptists came from as far away as Cincinnati and one Missionary Baptist preacher attended the last two nights. The old, worn out objection against debates because they “gender strife” was again put to rest. There were no ugly, unkind incidents.

The Debate

I will not attempt to debate the debate. There were several points of interest, though, that it might be well to discuss. Mr. Garrett is a Calvinist. He believes that God elected certain ones to salvation without regard or respect to conditions and that Christ died only for these elect ones. He says he does not believe in unconditional reprobation, but one of the high points of the debate was Brother Willis’s ability to show that this is precisely what Mr. Garrett must believe. In Rom. 9:13, Mr. Garrett argued that “Jacob have I loved” referred to God’s unconditional election of Jacob to salvation. Mike clearly showed that “Esau have I hated” must mean that God unconditionally damned Esau. Further in Romans 9, Mr. Garrett contended that “vessels of mercy . . . afore prepared unto glory” meant that God had unconditionally elected certain ones to salvation. Mike showed that the parallel expression, “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” must mean that Gc)d unconditionally elected certain ones to eternal damnation. If not, why not? Mr. Garrett made no attempt to escape the obvious force of this conclusion. He denied that he believed it, but all could see the consequence of his position.

In reply to a question, Garrett said, “God does not desire to save every one.” Willis charted the statement from 1 Tim. 2:4 and the one from 2 Pet. 3:9 to the effect that God “will have all men to be saved,” and that He (God) “is not willing that any should perish.” Mike pressed the point time after time. Garrett made no response. He simply continued to say that God does not will to save every one.

In response to a question, Mr. Garrett said that Primitive Baptists do not teach their children the song, “Jesus Loves Me.” We knew they could not and be consistent with their doctrine, so I wrote a parallel, Primitive Baptist version entitled, “Jesus Hates Me.” Below is the chart of the two songs:

How Do You Know Which Song You Should Be Teaching Your Children?

Jesus Loves Me

(To Be Sung To Elect Children)

Jesus Hates Me


(To Be Sung To Non-Elect Children)

Jesus loves me! This I know,


For the Bible tells me so;

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak, but He is strong.

Jesus hates me, this I fear


From the Calvinists, this I hear

Non-elect ones don’t belong,

They are weak, but He is strong.

Jesus loves me when I’m good,


When I do the things I should,

Jesus loves me when I’m bad,

But it makes him very sad.

Jesus hates me when I’m good,


When I do the things I should,

Jesus hates me when I’m bad,

But it makes him very glad.

Jesus loves me! He who died,


Heaven’s gates to open wide;

He will wash away my sin,

Let His little child come in.

Jesus hates me! He who died,


Hell’s gates are open wide;

He will damn me for Adam’s sin,

Let his non-elect come in.

Jesus loves me! Loves me still,


Tho I’m very weak and ill;

From the shining throne on high,

Comes to watch me where I lie.

Jesus hates me! Hates me still,


Tho I’m very weak and ill;

From His shining throne on high,

Comes to watch me while I die.

Yes, Jesus loves me,


Yes, Jesus loves me,

Yes, Jesus loves me,

The Bible tells me so.

Yes, Jesus hates me,


Yes, Jesus hates me,

Yes, Jesus hates me,

Eddie K. Garrett tells me so!


Now, if any Primitive Baptists want to use this in conjunction with their doctrine, that will be fine with me. I would like to have some royalty money from it, but I will waive that just so it can be included in Primitive Baptist songbooks.

Mr. Garrett said he could sing, “Amazing Grace.” He read the first verse of that great and grand old song: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” So, I went back into the song writing business for Primitive Baptist churches, and Mike read a parallel which is consistent with the doctrine of unconditional election: “Limited grace how sour the sound that ignored a wretch like me! I once was lost, and I still am, was blind, and still can’t see.”

Mr. Garrett called us “Campbellites,” “blind Pharisees,” and said we were “mixed up in the head.” He spoke of “hook-nosed, pot bellied Jews,” and used other equally complimentary terms. Some of our brethren who are a little squeamish about “indelicate” language ought to “write up” Mr. Garrett, Mike did not retaliate in this manner. He was strong and his scriptural arguments struck with great force. For this, some few might wish to condemn him, while they ignore the “sweet” words of Mr. Garrett.

Mr. Garrett appealed to prejudice. Again, this is par for the course with denominational debaters. He talked about how Mike’s position sent sweet, old Methodist grandmothers to hell. He said that Mike’s doctrine would condemn all Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, American Indians before Columbus, people during the dark ages, etc. He said that what Willis preached would “split hell wide open.” Mike’s response was to the Bible. He cited John 8:24, Hebrews 11:6, and Mark 16:16. Mr. Garrett said that idolaters would be saved because their worship indicated that they feared God. He said that infidel Jews and Indians who worshipped “black stumps” would be saved. Mike cited 1 Cor. 6:9, 10 and Gal. 5:19-21, along with the verses cited just above. Further, Mike showed that according to Calvinism, most of those people that Garrett was so worried about were probably not elected anyway. No matter how the Methodist grandmother lived, no matter how sweet she was, she would be lost because God hated her and did not elect her! It was not a pretty picture, but Brother Willis painted it in all its stark reality. It was a vivid contrast to the doctrine of the Lord to which Mike appealed.


Much more could be said, but enough. Ron Halbrook, Morris Hafley and Gary Kerr assisted in the debate. Gary was especially helpful with his handling of the charts. Even Mr. Garrett commended his splendid ability.

The debate exposed many to truth and error for the first time on a visible plane. Brother Willis was a living embodiment of 2 Cor. 10:3-5. More plain, pungent, penetrating preaching such as he did in the debate is needed. It is our prayerful hope that some will see, believe and obey the truth as a result of the teaching done in the debate.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 23, pp. 378-379
June 7, 1979