Can Hank Hanegraaff continue to be the “Bible Answer Man,” daily answering questions about faith and practice posed by a largely evangelical Protestant audience of radio listeners after converting to the Greek Orthodox Church last spring?
Hanegraaff believes so, contending that in the spirit of “mere Christianity,” he remains a defender of the essentials of the faith.
But family members of the founder of the organization he leads, the Christian Research Institute, are calling on him to resign. They argue in a statement it is “fundamentally dishonest” for Hanegraaff on CRI’s call-in radio show to try to reconcile Protestant doctrinal principles such as “sola scriptura” — the Bible is the sole rule of faith and practice — with the Eastern Orthodox belief in the on-going, Spirit-led authority of church tradition.
Jill Martin Rische, a daughter of the late CRI founder — renowned cult expert Walter Martin — was one of five family members to sign a statement urging Hanegraaff to resign.
Hanegraaff has led CRI since 1989, when Martin, who founded the organization in 1960, died at the age of 60.
Rische told WND she’s in no position to judge Hanegraaff’s faith but contends he can no longer promote the mission established by her father with integrity.
“If Hank’s joined the Orthodox Church, that’s his decision. Fine, teach Orthodox theology. Go create an Orthodox ministry,” she said. “But don’t think that you can do that and still run an evangelical Christian ministry. It’s not right.”
Rische leads Walter Martin Ministries with her husband, Kevin Rische, who both signed the statement urging Hanegraaff to resign. They were joined by her stepmother, Darlene, and siblings Daniel, Elaine and Debbie Martin. Her sister, Cindee Martin Morgan, whose husband, Rick Morgan, is CRI’s webmaster, did not sign the statement. She told the Christian Post her father would argue the Eastern Orthodox Church holds the “core” doctrines of Christian faith.
WND reported in April Hanegraaff’s confirmation to his radio audience that he had gone through the conversion ceremony of chrismation (“the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”) on Palm Sunday at a Greek Orthodox Church near his home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
WND asked for an interview with Hanegraaff, but his spokesman, Stephen Ross, said he has been unable to respond due to his health. Hanegraaff revealed in May he has mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of cancer, and has been undergoing aggressive treatment.
Ross gave WND a previous statement by Hanegraaff addressing the question of whether or not his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy is in conflict with the mission of CRI.
“I am and have always championed ‘mere Christianity.’ Or as I publicly repeat again and again, ‘In essentials unity, non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity,'” Hanegraaff said.
He noted that CRI had spent the month of June promoting Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore’s book “Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel,” in which Moore states the body of Christ “is wide and broad and deep, and each tradition brings with it some aspects that bless the others, and the wider world, even when we disagree with much else.” Moore points to teachings that have benefited Christians of every tradition that come from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Pentecostal traditions, among others.
“CRI has always stood and will continue to stand fast on the essentials, and with love and charity discuss secondary matters of the faith while steadfastly encouraging unity in the midst of diversity when it comes to non-essentials,” Hanegraaff said.
‘I don’t know how you can blend the two’
Rische told WND any comparison of the beliefs of evangelical Christianity with Eastern Orthodoxy show substantial differences.
“So, I don’t know how you can blend the two in any way. We’ve been separate for centuries,” she 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.
Rische said the Eastern Orthodox Church would be the first to say “that we’re completely different.”
“So, I find it puzzling why Hank’s bishop is allowing him to take this strange doctrinal mix and teach it on the ‘Bible Answer Man’ program,” she said.
Rische said she has not heard Hanegraaff answer on the air specifically whether or not he supports “sola scriptura,” the authority of Scripture alone, and “sola fide,” salvation by faith alone.
She also pointed out that every CRI employee must sign a statement of faith based on evangelical doctrine.
Rische wrote an article featuring a chart comparing key doctrines and beliefs.
In the family members’ statement, they write that they “believe CRI’s founder, Dr. Walter Martin, would be appalled” by Hanegraaff’s conversion.
“In his teachings on Roman Catholicism, Walter Martin categorized Evangelical Christians who convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as ‘apostate’ — believing a different gospel,” they write.
“CRI was founded on the absolute authority of the Bible and salvation by faith alone, doctrines the Eastern Orthodox church denies.”
They call on Hanegraaff to “immediately cease teaching Eastern Orthodox doctrine on the Protestant Bible Answer Man program, and step down from the leadership of Christian Research Institute.”
“To do anything less, from a Biblical perspective, is unethical and profoundly dishonest,” they say.
Two Christian radio networks, totaling 120 stations, have dropped the show: the Truth Network and the Bott Radio Network, which has more than 100 stations in 15 states.
That exodus reduced the number of stations to 60, but CRI’s website currently shows only 40 stations carry the show.
After airing the show for more than 25 years, the Bott network’s president, Richard P. Bott II, told the Baptist Press he dropped it because “we want to make sure our listeners know that the programming that we have on Bott Radio Network is thoroughly biblical.”
Hanegraaff told the Observer he found that statement painful, revealing “an ignorance about Orthodoxy.”
The Web-based Orthodox Christian Network now carries the show and features a “partnership” with Hanegraaff that includes a podcast called “Hank Unplugged.”
The June 9 episode of the podcast is titled “How Orthodoxy Saved Me.”
Disillusioned with evangelicalism
When Hanegraaff disclosed his membership in the Eastern Orthodox Church, he said he and his wife, Kathy, and two of their 12 children had “found a church community that has greatly benefited from the work of the Christian Research Institute.” Hanegraaff observed that he and his wife had 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.”
In a feature by the Charlotte Observer in June, Hanegraaff talked about his journey to the Orthodox Church.
A few years ago, he found himself growing disillusioned with evangelicalism, pointing, the paper said, to its “megachurches, its star pastors and its devotion to branding.”
“We live in an age of ‘pastor-preneur,’ where the pastor is the entrepreneur,” Hanegraaff told the Observer. “And the church has become consumerist. Instead of Christ being the end, Christ becomes the means to an end. Instead of people coming to the master’s table because of the love of the master, they come to the master’s table because of what is on the master’s table.”
Via the Web, he discovered St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in southeast Charlotte.
“I opened the door of that big cathedral. And the moment I did, the sights, sounds and smells engaged me,” said Hanegraaff, referring to the icons, chants and incense. “I thought, ‘I’m here to worship God. This is not about what I’m going to get.’ ”
In April, when his conversion was announced, 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 other bloggers at the time expressed dismay, charging he had walked away from his faith.
Two Christian apologists who have been personally acquainted with Hanegraaff told WND in April they didn’t have any reason to think the Bible Answer Man had abandoned his faith, but they had concerns.
Michael Brown, Ph.D., who has served as a visiting professor for numerous evangelical seminaries, including Fuller and Gordon Conwell, said: “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.”
James White, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, an evangelical Reformed Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix, Arizona, was a contributor to the Christian Research Institute Journal when the organization was based in Southern California and was a guest on Hanegraaff’s show.
He 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.
In the CRI statement provided to WND, Hanegraaff said one of his organization’s “historic strengths has been its autonomy.”
“It doesn’t have to genuflect before any particular denominational doctrine and its ability to discern and critique from a position of independence is a great freedom clearly not available to all,” he said.
He said Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 is not “unity at all costs, but a unity focused on essentials that continues to remain a distant dream because of the theological tribalism and thinly veiled arrogance that continues to pit one branch of the church against another.”
Hanegraaff said that if the body of Christ “proves incapable of unifying around essentials and achieving the elusive maturity that would enable us to see diversity in non-essentials as something undeserving of contention and vilification, we may well deserve the pain that will most certainly be amplified on multiple social and cultural fronts.”