This issue is an emotional one for me. I became a Christian during an episode of Star Trek at the age of 17. This rather unorthodox conversion was followed by a period of intensive reading as well as active involvement in excellent churches. I learned about how to share my faith, the history of the faith, basic apologetics, missions, quiet times, etc. I actively participated in Bible studies. Due to my interest in history, I became well versed on the issues of the Reformation and the church in the Middle Ages. My former pastor, Pete Briscoe, asked me to teach a course on the Reformation while I was a member of his church.
During that time, I invited a well-respected theologian, Dr. Daniel Wallace from Dallas Theological Seminary, to address our class on Bible translations. He was on the translation team for the ESV Bible. He talked about the importance of the early manuscripts that are used in Biblical translation and how, as earlier transcripts are discovered, some changes are made to the text. He used the example of the woman caught in adultery. As readers will note, most Bibles now state that this story is not found in the earliest manuscripts. And at that moment, I had a crisis of faith.
I began to question how much of the faith that I professed was based on faulty manuscripts. Some readers will also note that this is the same passage that caused Bart Ehrman to lose his Christian faith. Ehrman is one of the most famous critics of Christianity and is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Unlike Ehrman, however, I believed there were others who had pondered these questions and had answers to my questions. So, I began a journey that led to a deep and abiding faith in Christianity. I vowed to find every contradiction in the Bible and get answers. I was determined to understand how we got our Canon. I read books that criticized Christianity and then sought to find answers.
One night twelve years ago, I turned on the radio and heard a man taking live calls and answering questions about the Bible. He went by the rather dorky name of the Bible Answer Man. But, his answers were far from dorky. He had answers to hard passages, he critiqued the prosperity gospel crowd, and he knew so much about other faiths like Mormonism.
His name is Hank Hanegraaff and he runs an organization called the Christian Research Institute (equip.org). He runs a five day a week radio program, is a published author, and his organization produces a rather heady Christian Research Journal.
What impressed me the most is the proof that he offered for his criticism. For example, if he called Benny Hinn a false prophet, he would play recordings so the listener could hear his exact words. And on just about every program he would say something like, “Don’t believe me, research it for yourself,” and so I did.
But it was Hank’s radio program that intrigued me. Although he often has various pastors, writers, and professors on his program, I particularly love the ones in which he takes cold calls from the listeners.
I podcast Hank Hanegraaff, and the following is a list of issues he discussed in two of the random Question and Answer shows I selected to listen to for this post.
- Should the Apostles Creed include the statement “He descended into hell”?
- What is the difference between Hell and Hades?
- Does Luke 13:11 indicate that a believer can be possessed?
- Why does God allow a child to be born with ambiguous sexual characteristics and is it wrong for the parents to select one sexual identity for the child?
- Does the recently discovered stone tablet called Gabriel’s Revelation disprove Christ’s death and resurrection?
- Is Bart Ehrman correct when he says that, if the Gospel of Judas had been included in the canon, the Holocaust would have been prevented?
- He went through the reasons why a caller should go to church instead of staying home and “listen only to the Holy Spirit”.
- He called one of the prosperity preachers a false prophet when a caller told him that he attended said prosperity preacher’s church.
- He outlined the three different groups that one would find with Seventh Day Adventism.
It became a goal of my life to be able to answer questions as quickly and thoroughly as Hank does. I am far from being there, but I have come a very long way. Hanegraaff and his organization helped me to get on a very firm footing in my faith. In fact, I have often told various Christian friends that if I can’t find an answer to their questions, then I will treat them to dinner. This dinner offer does not extend to our readers, but we are happy to take questions and answer them.We have one pending on a passage in Revelation. (We will get to it , Mortal).
Now for the bad news…. Here are the problems with Hanegraaff’s ministry. If I have forgotten any, I know our dear readers who have a gripe with Hank Hanegraaff will let us know.
1. There was an accusation by Walter Martin’s family that Hank Hanegraaff (now to be called by HH for convenience) was not to take over the ministry after Martin’s untimely death of a heart attack at age 60. His family believed that Martin wanted them to run the ministry and have set up a competing web site called Jude 3.
However, there are a number of quotes from Martin himself that seem to be in conflict with their account. “Hank Hanegraaff personifies the next phase of development for CRI and is uniquely equipped through his dynamic leadership abilities, knowledge of God’s Word, and teaching ability to make sound, biblical apologetics a simple yet effective tool in the hands of the laity. His success as a businessman, strategic planner, author, and speaker have equipped him to lead the ministry of the Christian Research Institute aggressively into the future and to build on the work that I by God’s grace began.” This quote may be found online in an ASCII text file version of a CRI Newsletter.
I don’t know what the truth is with regard to this issue, but the last quote certainly casts some doubt on the claims of Walter Martin’s family.
2. There have been accusations of financial mismanagement. For a period of time around 2003, CRI lost the approval of the ECFA. During this time it appears that a number of employees confronted HH with their concerns of financial mismanagement. Here is what I have been able to find about this issue. There have been accusations of extreme salaries on some sites in excess of $750,000. However, most documentation puts the salary amounts lower. There is a good blog post from 2005 at Free Good News. Please read the entire article and comments. I have included a relevant comment.
“According to the tax return, he is paid $280K per year (almost twice what I would call reasonable). Hank is an ordained minister by Calvary Chapel (a very fine organization), and he receives a minister’s “housing allowance” by CRI.
Ministry Watch includes some relevant data. They give the organization, as it stands now, a “B”. These issues came to light in 2003.
“The most recent controversy to trouble CRI is the finding of the ECFA. Recent questions about spending habits at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) came about as a result of several employees of the California-based ministry contacting the ECFA in late 2002 and news stories that followed. Ultimately, by mid-2003, the ECFA announced that it had discovered that CRI had “breached” three of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship – #2 (Board Governance), #4 (Use of Resources) and #6 (Conflicts of Interest)”.
In a “Christianity Today article published in July, 2003, correspondent Marshall Allen reported the particular concerns of the individual who instigated the investigation included the following: (1) $66,000 of CRI money went to the purchase of a blue Lexus for Hanegraaff’s use; (2) receipts showing that thousands of dollars of CRI money went towards Hanegraaff’s and his wife Kathy’s personal expenses; (3) Hanegraaff’s rapidly escalating salary ($250,000+ in 2001 at an increase of 26.5% over the previous year). The ECFA report does not address the issue of Hanegraaff’s salary, but it does state that CRI has provided “significant reimbursement” for the suspect expenditures.”
Shortly thereafter, CRI made necessary changes and once again received the approval of the ECFA. I sent a letter to CRI asking them to be fiscally accountable and find ways to show the organization was moving in the right fiscal direction.
In 2005, CRI moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in order to reduce ministry expenses and to exercise prudence in managing CRI.
3. HH has no formal training in theology or philosophy.
This is absolutely true. I wish that Hanegraaff had subjected himself to the rigorous training of seminary or any other higher learning degree. This would have added reams to his credibility. He does encourage people to become educated and talks frequently about his children and their education, so he is not opposed to formal education.
4. HH has been accused of plagiarizing two of his books. Here is a YouTube video link that makes this point.
This is a difficult one to assess since the full information has not been tested in an objective arena such as court.
5. Shortly before leaving California, CRI made a fundraising appeal claiming that the United States Postal Service had apparently not delivered or lost mail that was intended for CRI. A former employee criticized his for this.
“Hanegraaff filed a defamation suit against a longtime critic William Alnor for statements made in a fundraising letter alleging mail fraud. The lawsuit was thrown out, the court finding that Hanegraaff did not prove “actual malice.”
This one is quite confusing. Surely those who sent checks would know if their checks had been cashed, and therefore, would know if the mail was lost or not. At Alnor’s site, he alleges that HH is under investigation but other sources claim that the U.S. Postal Service has closed the case. So, did HH lie about lost mail? There is no proof that he did. Alnor claimed that there was something “fishy” about all of this and HH sued him and lost. But, he lost on grounds on not being able to prove malice. Therefore, the lawsuit dismissal does not prove anything about the actual mail debacle. So, I wish he hadn’t sued Alnor but beyond that, the jury is out.
6. There are allegations that HH believes that The Local Church is not a cult. Here is a link to the full explanation of CRI’s position. The major criticism comes from the Apologetics Index. I still have not had time to digest all of this information since I just discovered it last evening. However, HH is not known for equivocation when he believes an organization is anti-Scriptural. In fact, many Pentecostals and charismatics criticize him for his harsh condemnation of excesses in their movements. I would suggest that readers read both sides of this issue.
7. I contacted CRI today and asked them to respond to the above allegations, primarily the financial concerns. The gentleman I spoke was engaging and understanding and carefully wrote down my questions and contact information. He said, “What you are asking for sound reasonable.” Let’s see if I get a response. If, and when I do, I will publish the response in its entirety.
If there are other areas of concern about CRI that I have not discussed, please let me know. I am happy to address further concerns.
So, where does this leave me? I’ll admit it – straight out – I am biased. CRI changed me as a Christian. When people tell me that I sound as if I know a lot about the faith, I always give HH the credit. As I have pondered this for the past week, I have struggled. There is a doctor whom I know. He is the very best in his surgical specialty. Famous people come from all over the world for his expertise. But, he has had problems in his personal life, and some would even say he lives an immoral lifestyle. But, if I needed a particular surgery in which he specializes, I would go to him. However, unlike HH, he does not profess to be a Christian.
I would urge our readers to go to the CRI web site and ponder the overwhelming amount of information available there. Listen to Hank Hanegraaff’s broadcasts and challenge yourself. Can you answer as well and as quickly as Hank? I once wrote CRI with a question on demons and possession. Six weeks later, I received a three-page response to my question. Some of it was personal and so it took time for the staff member to write the response. Heck, I couldn’t get some of the pastors or secretaries to return phone calls at my last church. Once, after writing a thoughtful e-mail that took me quite awhile to compose, I received a response a few days later stating, “Thank you for your concern.” And this from a church with a plethora of pastors for a relatively modest membership.
To my knowledge, there is nothing at all out there quite like CRI. I wish there were. Then I would have some options. When I heard of Franklin Graham’s salary from two full-time positions, I sent the money I had used to support Samaritan’s Purse to another Christian organization. There is not another organization as extensive as CRI. Also, Franklin Graham is now only receiving one of his salaries in response to the overwhelming criticism. Is this a beginning? So, should I now consider sending money to Graham again?
Even though I am so grateful to CRI, would I really stop listening to HH? I don’t think so. There is a saying that goes like this: “If confusion is the first step to knowledge, then I must be a genius”. Larry Leissner
That seems to be an appropriate way to end today’s post. I think we should all ponder Leissner’s brilliant statement.