Known as the “Bible Answer Man,” Hank Hanegraaff’s daily radio show aims to “equip Christians to pursue sound doctrine to discern truth and error.”
Faithful listeners have presumed that to mean the evangelical Protestant interpretation of the Scriptures and the church, which is why more than a few sat up when they heard Hanegraaff confirm to a caller Monday a rumor that he had gone through a formal rite, known as chrismation (“the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”), to become a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church on Palm Sunday, April 9.
Hanegraaff, president of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based countercult group Christian Research Institute, began his show Tuesday anticipating the questions about his conversion, noting a friend had emailed him expressing “concern that I had walked away from the faith.”
Hanegraaff said he replied: “My views have been codified in 20 books. So, my views have not changed.”
He said he and his wife, Kathy, and two of their 12 children have “found a church community that has greatly benefited from the work of the Christian Research Institute.” Hanegraaff observed that he and his wife have been “more in synch spiritually” over the past 10 years than at any other time in their marriage.
“I have been typically more skewed towards truth, and, quite frankly, Kathy more skewed towards life,” he said. “But today we are on precisely the same page, in life and in truth, and we’re loving it.”
“This is a very wonderful time in our life and ministry, and so daily we thank God that he has saved us by grace alone through an active faith in our dear Lord Jesus Christ who has done all that we might experience life now, and experience life in the age to come.”
The Christian Research Institute was founded in 1960 by renowned countercult expert Walter Martin, focusing on non-Christian religions, cults and heresies within Protestant Christianity. Hanegraaff became president of CRI after Martin died in 1989.
An Eastern Orthodox blogger, John Sanidopoulos, said he was “astounded” to hear the news of Hanegraaff’s membership in his church, adding it was “something I had always hoped for him, but never really expected.”
But Jeff Maples, who blogs for a Christian apologetics site Pulpit and Pen, echoed some of the unfavorable buzz on the Web, writing Hanegraaff “has left the biblical Christian faith for Greek Orthodox tradition.”
“The Orthodox Church is a false expression of Christianity, much like the Roman Catholic Church, that is highly driven by graven images and denies the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and instead, trusts in meritorious works and a sacramental system for salvation,” Maples wrote.
Authority of Scripture
Two prominent Christian apologists who have been personally acquainted with Hanegraaff don’t see any reason to think the Bible Answer Man has abandoned his faith, but they do have concerns.
Michael Brown, the author of 27 books, has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literature from New York University and has served as a visiting professor for numerous evangelical seminaries, including Fuller and Gordon Conwell.
Brown developed an unlikely friendship with Hanegraaff after the Bible Answer Man regularly criticized him on the show in the late 1990s as a leader in what became known as the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Florida.
“As far as I know he’s still affirming all of the fundamentals of the faith, but I look at it as more negative than positive, because it would put too much emphasis on church tradition that could then take us away from the authority of Scripture,” Brown told WND.
“While I’m sure Hank would say that is not the case, that is the concern that I have in terms of the direction things could go.”
Brown said he has “great appreciation for all the good he’s done in apologetics, in combating evolution, in confirming the resurrection and many good services to the body.”
“My concern is, for those who respect and follow him, that it could shift them in a way of greater allegiance to a particular church as opposed to God and Scripture,” he said.
The Eastern Orthodox Bible has an additional 17 books written during the time period between the Old and New Testaments that Protestants call the Apocrypha, believing they are not inspired and, therefore, have no authority.
Brown said that while he does not believe that accepting or not accepting the Apocrypha is an “essential” of the faith, “it does take us away from the absolute authority we hold as Scripture, because we’re now introducing other sacred texts, and it does open the door for other authoritative church teachings.”
He noted Protestants do not accept the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic belief that their traditions are authoritative.
The Eastern Orthodox Church claim to be the true church could be a problem for Hanegraaff as he communicates with an evangelical audience, said Brown.
“From my perspective as a Messianic Jewish believer, I can see God moving in different ways in different parts of the church and yet reject so many of the traditions that took us away from the New Testament Jewish roots of the faith,” he said.
“So I view church history a little differently than Hank would,” said Brown.
“My emphasis would be to believe for the best and to encourage our brother to keep exalting Jesus and the authority of Scripture and not make Eastern Orthodoxy any type of focus.”
Brown is the founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry in Concord, North Carolina, director of the Coalition of Conscience and host of the daily, nationally, syndicated talk radio show “The Line of Fire.” He also hosts the apologetics TV show “Answering Your Toughest Questions,” which airs on the NRB TV network.
Hanegraaff’s office did not reply Wednesday to a WND interview request.
‘Not business as usual’
James White, the author of more than 20 books, is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an evangelical Reformed Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix, Arizona.
He was a contributor to the Christian Research Institute Journal when the group was based in Southern California and was a guest on Hanegraaff’s show. The last time he was on the show was 2003, and he has spoken to Hanegraaff a couple of times since then.
White said it’s hard to see how Hanegraaff can continue with business as usual.
After hearing his broadcasts Monday and Tuesday, he said, it “sounded to me like what he’s going to do is just soldier on and act as if nothing has changed.”
“If you understand Eastern Orthodoxy, yes, it has changed, unless you’re going to come up with some way of redefining Eastern Orthodoxy in a Western way,” he said, noting many Western converts try to do just that.
White said Hanegraaff “needs to be up front about the fundamental differences that exist between the world that he was in and the one he is in now.”
“You need to come out to your audience and say, ‘Look, I’m not approaching this any longer as a Protestant. I’m not approaching it as an evangelical. I’m approaching it from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, and, yes, my views have changed,'” White said.
“If that means repudiating things he’s said in the past, repudiating things he’s written in the past, I can’t see how you can get around that,” White continued. “The confusion comes in if he tries to hold all of this together and just sort of whistles in the dark, saying, ‘Well, nothing has really changed.'”
White said it’s difficult for Westerners to understand Eastern Orthodoxy, because the respective worldviews are so different.
“From their perspective, we’re asking all the wrong questions about the wrong things and looking in the wrong places for the answers,” he said, noting it was a problem confronted by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325.
“Lots of people who don’t like Hank suddenly become experts on Eastern Orthodoxy and say, Well it teaches X, Y and Z,’ like there’s a systematic theology out there you can go to.”
It’s a complicated faith, White said, that “doesn’t boil down to articles on the Web real well.”
But he said the authority of church tradition clearly is an issue.
“That would mean changing the title of the program to the ‘Bible and Eastern Orthodox Tradition Answer Man,'” he said.
White acknowledged there have been a number of notable converts from evangelical Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy and also to the Roman Catholic Church. Among them is Franky Schaeffer, the son of famed evangelical theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer.
White observed that the simple Puritan form of worship that influenced modern evangelical culture relies on rich theology, which is missing in many churches today.
“When the theology is lacking, something else is going to rush in and take its place,” he said.
“If you have folks that are raised in a church that is less and less focused on truth and more concerned about just putting people in the seats and dumbing things down, don’t be shocked when people start looking for something else.”