As discussed in my previous post here, on April 9 Hank Hanegraaff, the host of the Bible Answer Man radio program and president of the evangelical parachurch ministry Christian Research Institute (CRI), formally joined the Orthodox Church.
In a forthcoming post I hope to delve more deeply into the story of Hanegraaff’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy and its implications for CRI and for evangelicalism. Right now, however, I want to explore some of the initial reactions we are seeing to this story and then point to some resources for those who want to learn more about evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
The Fundamentalist Reaction: “Hanegraaff…Has Left the Biblical Christian Faith”
Some fundamentalists (and I use that term to distinguish them from mainstream evangelicals) have been quick to judge that in leaving Protestantism, Hanegraaff has left the Christian faith. This is precisely what one blogger, Jeff Maples, claimed at the Pulpit and Pen blog. His post was entitled “The Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff, Leaves the Christian Faith?” The question mark does not imply that Maples thinks Orthodoxy might be Christian. The only question in his mind at the time was whether the story of Hanegraaff defecting to the Orthodox Church was true. According to Maples,
There are numerous reports that Hank Hanegraaff, the well-known talk show host, and evangelical apologist known as “The Bible Answer Man,” 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.
For Maples and other fundamentalists, it’s as simple as that: Catholics and Orthodox are not Christians because they don’t understand salvation in the same way that evangelical Protestants do. They are supposedly trusting in their works and religious rituals for salvation. Read the rest of this entry »
On Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017, Hank Hanegraaff formally joined the Orthodox Church. Since 1989 Hanegraaff has been the President of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and (since ca. 1992) the host of CRI’s Bible Answer Man radio program. Hank, his wife Kathy, and two of their twelve children were inducted by a sacramental rite called chrismation into the Orthodox faith at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, near where CRI is based. In chrismation, a baptized individual is anointed with oil in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There was no prior announcement of Hanegraaff’s conversion, although there were rumors he was a catechumen (someone in a formal process leading to conversion). Ironically, the day before his chrismation an evangelical blogger, Jason Engwar at Triablogue, documented evidence from Hanegraaff’s radio broadcasts over the past year that suggested he was moving toward Eastern Orthodoxy. Father Thomas Soroka, an Orthodox priest, first broke the news of Hanegraaff’s chrismation on Facebook.
Although Hanegraaff’s conversion to Orthodoxy is a dramatic development, in a way his theology and religiosity has been in almost constant movement throughout his nearly three decades at CRI. Hanegraaff’s family background was Dutch Reformed and his ministry experience prior to CRI included working with Calvinist pastor and broadcaster D. James Kennedy. When he arrived at CRI he was also a staunch young-earth creationist. Over the years Hanegraaff transitioned to old-earth creationism (which happens to be my position as well) but also passed through two or three forms of eschatology, eventually becoming an advocate for the controversial view known as preterism (which views almost all NT prophecy as fulfilled in the first century). Presumably now that he has become Orthodox he will need to support its traditional eschatology, which is amillennial.
Hanegraaff’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy should not be viewed as a mere isolated occurrence. There has been a definite trend for the past few decades of a growing number of American evangelical Protestants converting to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. As long ago as 1992, the trend of conversions of evangelical clergy to Orthodoxy was noted in a book. I want to suggest some lessons (by no means exhaustive) that need to be learned from this recent turn of events.
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Daniel C. Peterson, a leading LDS scholar and apologist, has written an article entitled, “When the criticisms of the Book of Mormon can’t be taken seriously.” In his article he suggests that some criticisms of the Book of Mormon are so silly that they should be dismissed with laughter. “Sometimes, an efficient response to certain criticisms is simply a good laugh.”
Well, some criticisms might well be so implausible as to deserve ridicule. Often, however, what is really happening is that Mormon representations of the criticisms are caricatures. Take, for instance, Peterson’s description of a supposedly laughable criticism of the Book of Abraham (apparently he didn’t have enough for just the Book of Mormon):
More than 20 years ago, two critics suggested that the cosmological ideas in the Book of Abraham derive from a 1728 entry in Benjamin Franklin’s unpublished personal papers and from an obscure 1755 work by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant that was barely noticed in Germany and wasn’t published in English until 1900.
Read the rest of this entry »
I’d like to share a brief thought on an issue that comes up with surprising frequency. Very often, when discussing the Bible’s teachings with others, I am told that I am going about it the wrong way by trying to understand what the Bible says using my reasoning. There are many variations on this theme:
- You can’t understand the Bible with your intellect because the Bible is spiritual.
- You can’t understand the Bible using reason because God is beyond reason.
- You can’t understand the Bible on your own because you need ______________ (our church, our bishops, the magisterium, a living prophet, additional scripture, the priesthood, a burning in the bosom, revelation from the Holy Spirit, our organization, our literature, etc.).
You get the idea. Suffice it to say, I’m doing it all wrong. Or so I’m told. We’re talking about the Bible, I make some point about what it’s saying in context or some such thing, and all of a sudden a penalty flag is on the field. The ref announces “Offside!” and the ball is taken by the other team. (I almost never use football analogies, so that one’s for my friends in Alabama.) Read the rest of this entry »
Was Isaac Newton a real person of history? If we adopt the historical method of skeptics who question the historical existence of Jesus by constructing lists of parallels between Jesus and such mythical figures as Horus and Mithra, the answer would seem to be no. The table below presents 16 parallels between Jesus Christ and Isaac Newton—and unlike nearly all of the alleged parallels between Jesus and mythical figures, all of these parallels are completely accurate.
|His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 6.
||His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 4.
|His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Christmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 6 has been called “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
||His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Newtonmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 4 has been called “The Ten Days of Newtonmas.”
|His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Joshua).
||His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Isaac).
|John described him as “the true light that comes into the world.”
||He is described as bringing light to the world: “God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light” (Alexander Pope).
|He was circumcised on the eighth day.
||He was baptized on the eighth day.
|According to tradition, his grandmother’s name was Hannah (usually Anglicized as Anne.)
||His mother’s name was Hannah.
|According to tradition, his mother’s husband died when he was young.
||His mother’s husband died before he was born.
|He never married.
||He never married.
|He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures.
||He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures.
|He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic.
||He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic.
|Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “this gospel of the kingdom must first be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
||Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “the Gospel must first be preached in all nations before the great tribulation, and end of the world.”
|He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world.
||He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world.
|He is regarded by many as one of the greatest men ever to live on earth.
||He is regarded by many, in the words of Richard Dawkins, as “one of the truly great men ever to walk the earth.”
|He was honored by the use of the Greek title kurios, which can be translated “Sir.”
||He was honored by the use of the title “Sir.”
|Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances.
||Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances.
|Marty McFly used his name in vain in the film Back to the Future.
||Doc Emmet Brown used his name in vain in the film Back to the Future II.
Perhaps we need a better historical method.
The apologetic testimonies of Hank Hanegraaff, Gretchen Passantino Coburn, and Fuller Theological Seminary in defense of the Local Churches are highly problematic. As I explained in my previous post, they lack serious argument to justify the about-face of those who (in the case of Hanegraaff and Passantino Coburn) for years deemed the Local Churches, at the very least, theologically unsound. But there is something else that makes these testimonies problematic and even troublesome. There is something oddly familiar about them. Specifically, what general and unsubstantiated claims that these evangelicals make about the Local Churches eerily parallel claims that some evangelicals have also been making about the Mormon religion—as well as some claims that Mormon apologists have made. Indeed, in one instance it is the same evangelical making these claims in both cases. Read the rest of this entry »
According to an article posted online two days ago at Christianity Today, “Two notable critics have changed their minds on the controversial ‘local churches’ movement that follow the teachings of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.” The two critics are Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), and Gretchen Passantino Coburn, director of Answers in Action (AIA). The article refers to a booklet to which Hanegraaff and Passantino Coburn contributed and that the Defense and Confirmation Project, a pro-Local Churches group, published in November 2007. Entitled The Local Churches: “Genuine Believers and Fellow Members of the Body of Christ”, the booklet includes “Testimonies” (as the title page quite correctly calls them) from Hanegraaff, Passantino Coburn, and Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller’s contribution is a statement representing the assessment of Richard Mouw, the school’s president, and two other Fuller professors.
I have been quite reluctant to enter the fray of this debate, which has actually been going on for several years, but have decided now to say something. Read the rest of this entry »
After a bit of a hiatus during which those of us at the Institute for Religious Research have been reflecting on the direction our organization is headed, I wish to resume this blog with some thoughts on the notion of being an apologist. Although some of us actually consider the role of a Christian apologist to be an honorable vocation and ministry, the term apologist is now largely used as a pejorative.
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Books have an enormous power to shape the way we think and in turn the way we live. Obviously, as a Christian, the books of the Bible are for me both foundational and transformative. Other books, though not inspired or authoritative, have helped me to think about the Bible, its teachings, and its truth claims. I present here a list of books by fifteen different authors. I make no claims here about these being the greatest or most important books of their kind, although in some cases I think this assessment might apply. They happen to have been especially formative for me, either in kindling interest in a certain subject or in reorienting my way of thinking about a subject. I have listed them in roughly the order in which I read them, though my recollection in this regard may not always be correct. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday—December 18, 2008—the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a new study confirming what they had reported last year: most Americans, including about half of American evangelical Christians, believe that many religions can lead people to eternal life. Read the rest of this entry »