Thursday, December 29, 2011

Revisiting Hank Hanegraaff and the Bible Answer Man

This entry may be of no interest to my readers who aren't "evangelical" Christians. Sorry.

I have been meaning for a while to write again about the Bible Answer Man radio program hosted by Hank Hanegraaff. I feel bad about not getting around to it until now. I have previously written about my thoughts and experiences regarding the Christian Research Institute, the Bible Answer Man program, and Hank Hanegraaff, and I want to be fair. Letting my previous statements stand without an update wouldn't be fair.

For well over a year I have been listening again to the Bible Answer Man podcasts, because I finally got into podcasts. (The show is currently off of terrestrial radio where I live.) The BAM is one of only three shows I consistently podcast, the others being Dr. Laura and Stand to Reason, though I am far behind on STR.  I listen to several other shows as they are broadcast. Happily, it seems like the BAM has gotten better than when I wrote this. I am finding the program more edifying again. There seems to be fewer editions that are entirely about selling the latest featured resource. Yes, there are shows that are partially or entirely about such resources, but it seems like those are fewer and further between than they had been and there are also shows that are partially or entirely about an article in the latest Christian Research Journal, but I appreciate those more than I used to because I'm no longer getting copies of the Journal and reading them cover to cover. It's a great magazine, but I'm a bit of an Obsessive-Compulsive information hoarder and I really don't need more magazines piling up in my man cave. Fortunately, older articles can be accessed online.

Speaking of the Journal, something that put my biggest concerns about Hank aside was this document written by Elliot Miller, editor of the Journal. I trust Miller; he has a lot of crediblity with me. He's a longtime fixture at CRI, used to be a regular co-host of the BAM, and worked extensively with CRI founder Walter Martin. I even met Miller once during a CRI open house. Miller has provided a thorough and satisfying defense of Hank against the claims of critics. Now, perhaps I'm missing something and I've misplaced my trust. Maybe Miller was lying up and down, and is either the evil mastermind behind Hank's nefarious reign or Hank has compromising pictures of Miller with a live boy or a dead girl and thus is able to use Miller for cover. How else do the critics explain why Miller is still there and offering such a thorough defense? Surely Miller's professional experience and connections would allow him to leave CRI if things were so awful and make a good living and continue his personal mission, either on his own or by joining an existing operation. Since critics didn’t start attacking Miller until he defended Hank, I doubt that Miller is involved in some sort of terrible conspiracy, or the critics would have gone after him at the same time or before they went after Hank.

One of the things that Miller explained that I want to highlight is that Hank doesn't make money off his books sold through the ministry. I mean yes, the money above cost funds the ministry, and Hank gets a salary from the ministry, but is isn't like he’s using the ministry's resources to sell his books for direct personal profit. He could tell listeners to go find his book on Amazon or their local bookstore (if they can still find one), which would benefit him more, and his mentions of his books no doubt prompt people to buy them from those other sources, but he does encourage people to get them through CRI.

As with Miller's ongoing involvement, I am reassured by the ongoing connections with Stand to Reason and Answers in Action, which are both ministries of old-school CRI/Walter Martin connections.

For more on these issues, see this over at Answers in Action: http://www.answers.org/newsletters/hankresp.html

Another thing that helped address my concerns is that there are members of Walter Martin's family who have backed Hank. See what Cindee Martin Morgan has to say at http://www.waltermartinjude3.com/criresources.html

Unfortunately, though, the family is divided. That’s a shame, as I have enjoyed the work of Jill Martin Rische and her husband, such as what you can find at WalterMartin.org. For their side of things, see http://www.waltermartin.com/cri.html

You can get more perspective here:
http://thewartburgwatch.com/2010/03/03/hank-hanegraaff-and-my-confusion/

And these links are decidedly anti-Hank:
http://www.dwaddle.com/focus/Pages/hank.html
http://focusonthefaulty.com/pdfs/MyResponsetoCRIAttack.pdf

Someone found my website by searching for "Hank Hanegraaff scumbag". Really? Now, I have to say I have never met Hank. I only know him through what he's written (or approved) and what he's said on the BAM and media appearances. I saw him in person at least once at a CRI event. I have no idea what Hank is like to work for, do business with, or live with. People who have done those things are going to have their own experiences that I can't argue against, nor do I have a good reason to completely accept them as reflecting reality. I'm mainly dealing with that less-than-five-hours-per-week that he's recorded in doing the BAM show. He could be a great guy, he could be a miserable tyrant. For all I know he kicks puppies before and after each broadcast. I don't know, but my guess is that people who have been fired from CRI or have been subject to scrutiny by CRI with unfavorable results are more likely to have negative things to say about Hank.

Hank insists on some things I'm not so sure about. I'm not in full agreement with everything Hank says, and that's okay. As he says, we can debate secondary issues as we have unity on the essentials. I will have to save more about my uncertainties and disagreements for another post, but I did want to note some examples of where he has firmly planted his flag on issues disputed within the Church.

Although he seems to dislike being labeled in some areas of theology and usually tries to present multiple views on matters disputed within the Body of Christ, from what Hank says on the show he appears to mostly be Arminian rather than Calvanist, believes that Christ is "the elect", believes in eternal security ("once saved, always saved"), is Covenant rather and Dispensationalist, is a Creationist ("don't blame God for evolution", "evolution is a low-grade hypthesis"), and an "Old Earth" one at that ("we need to study two books of revelation, the Bible and the Book of Nature"), believes in a local Flood of Noah (which he calls "worldwide", but not global, since he says "worldwide" can mean the Middle East/Mediterranean area), is a somewhat of Cessationist (much more than when he wrote Christianity in Crisis an Counterfeit Revival), and a Partial Preterist.

While I'm hard pressed to find a difference in his conclusions, he seems to bristle at the label of "Partial Preterist", claiming that they read with the Bible in one hand a history book in the other (while Premillennial Dispensationalists "read with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other"), claiming that his framework is "Exegetical Eschatology", which indicates that those who disagree with him aren't exegeting. As he says, we have to read Revelation with the “background music of the Old Testament", but don't those who believe differently about the future claim to be doing that, too? I could go on, but I would be going on too long of a tangent. The bottom line here is that I’ve been listening to Hank and I have read his book he keeps referring people to, The Apocalypse Code, but I am still undecided about end-of-the-world eschatology (other than being convinced Jesus Christ will return and reign over a resurrected universe). So, I live this way: I want to be spiritually ready for history to end (or my own demise to take place) today, and also brace for life to continue and for things to deteriorate (like the Premils predict), while working to make things better (like the Postmils predict).

As I have previously noted, a program like this, indeed the entire ministry, is unavoidably controversial. Hank is still skewering popular televangelists, authors, and Second Coming datesetters, and regularly explains where Word of Faith, Watchtower, LDS, and Muslim theology and practices differ from traditional Christianity, while making a case for traditional Christianity and giving critiques of atheism, abortion, euthanasia, homosexual behavior, and pornography.

While some of his monologues and answers might rile people up, he is extremely patient and compassionate with callers.

He is very good at making things memorable. That is, after all, his specialty. The show can get repetitive, not only because callers keep asking the same questions, but because Hank either refers to his own written materials or repeats back memorized answers. After all, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel and he has put much thought into producing concise and memorable answers. If you listen long enough, you may be able to give the answer word for word as Hank gives it.

The ministry relies on donations, but pleas for donations are usually fleeting except for the months of June and December. This is because the fiscal year ends with the end of June and many people, mindful of tax deductions make donation decisions in December before the end of the calendar year.

With podcasting, you can skip past the donation pleas, the advertising breaks that divide the show into three segments (when you podcast, all of the ads are CRI's), the answers you already know Hank will say or for which you otherwise have no interest, or the segments or whole editions plugging a resource for a Journal article in which you have no interest. The website pages for the podcasts are very helpful, listing the topics and any guests. When listening to the podcasts, as with other podcasts, you can pause and go back and listen to something again, which aides in taking mental or written notes. You can keep the podcasts and note at what time in the podcast something happens that you want someone else to hear. It is far superior to relying on a radio broadcast.

I do miss the days when others were the regular hosts of the show, such as Elliot Miller, Ron Rhodes, Paul Carden, and Ken Samples, probably in no small part to that being the time when I became aware of the broadcast. But back then, Rhodes used to write books with a focus on the nature and work of Jesus Christ and practical analysis and effective countering of Watchtower and LDS theology, rather than what he's doing lately, which is writing books on how oil and cyberterrorism will certainly be prominent in the any-day-now playing out of his Premil end-times scenario. I would now expect that I would be more likely to hear Rhodes on Coast to Coast AM rather than BAM.

Two more things I want to mention:

1. The Journal continues to cover important, relevant, and practical matters well.

2. I recently finished reading the entire Bible again, having purchased a used copy of Hank Hanegraaff's "Legacy Study Bible" and his reading plan, which intends to group books of the Bible by authors. It also includes "Hankronym" LEGACY introductions to each book, some suggested corresponding verse notes, and some of Hanegraaff’s other Hankronym summaries in the back. As some of have noted, it is rather light as study Bibles go, but I'm glad to have it. I needed an NKJV anyway.

So, what's my summation of the program and host right now, and by extension, CRI? Overall, I think things have gotten better since I expressed my earlier concerns. Is there room for improvement? Of course. However, I am much more confident in the ministry and more willing to support it. (Unfortunately for CRI, I'm out of cash these days.) The BAM program and CRI can never be as they were when Walter Martin was alive. Martin had his own personality, and his own beliefs, and times have changed. For good or bad, I think the Bible Answer Man is currently more palatable to the skeptic than in the day of Walter Martin. But that's like saying the top of the Empire State Building is closer to the Moon than the top of my house. From what I can tell the ministry is bearing good fruit by helping people to be followers of Jesus Christ, and that's what matters most.

UPDATE January 5, 2012: Someone found this entry by searching "hank hanegraaff bible answer man full of [censored]". Really, people?

4 comments:

  1. Interesting. Sounds like Bill Alnor has an axe to grind. All this business about "rightful successors" ... as if CRI was a monarchy.

    My concerns with Hank have never been of that kind. What I more dislike is the nasty tone he can take with positions he disagrees with. Though I'm not a dispensationalist, I don't think dispensationalism is the cause the suffering of some Palestinians at the hands of the state of Israel. He also seems to isolate those he disagrees with.

    He has never again had James White on his program since the White/Bryson debacle of 2003, and in fact I've never heard him mention his name again. (Though it's been a few years since I listened regularly.) His characterization of the Calvinist God as a "cosmic rapist" who "dooms [us] from before the womb" are hardly helpful.

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  2. Anonymous3:04 PM

    Can you point me to a good explanation of that "debacle"? I seem to recall some accusations about White's past, accusations about his personal life.

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  3. Anonymous11:35 AM

    I think the concern with hank is financial. He asks for money on his broadcast more than any others I've heard, often stating that the need is critical and the must have half a million by the end of the fiscal year, he gives away anecdotes about his "golf game", "running on his treadmill with tv remote in hand", having his "Starbucks" coffee close by. I'm willing to bet he lives in a luxury home with a big car and has great health insurance for himself and his 13 family members. So unless hank is doing real estate on the side or working another job, those luxuries all come from ministry money or donations of some sort. So you tell me how is he living so differently from those word of faith preachers he loves to run into the ground? Not much from what I see, I do read try to read the bible for all its worth or mine it for all its wealth as hank loves to say. And it speaks of the one we follow as "not having a place to lay his head", hmmmm,,,, I'm sure I must not be interpreting that verse right, better buy one of hankss expensive books to find out more. Not. I would never support him or his ministry.

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  4. Anon, I don't begrudge the head of a ministry a generous salary, nor do I think we are all called to live in near poverty, but there is much about what you wrote where "I feel ya." (BTW, I'm sure some of Hank's kids are now grown and he counts one who died before birth, so his home probably doesn't have 13 other people living there unless full-time help does.) I do chuckle when people call him to ask about contraception or otherwise avoiding conception and he points out how many children he's had and talks as though everyone should be willing to have large families. "God opens the womb and closes the womb" is a common saying I think I've heard him use (is it Biblical? I don't recall). God also gives some people holes in their hearts, too, but we don't tell them not to have surgery to repair that. I know there is much written about this topic back and forth and I'm not going to belabor it, but I wanted to note it - AND that he implies that, gee whiz, his family made having so many children work financially, so the caller should be able to as well. Well, YEAH, but we can't all be the heads of ministries bringing in a salary that is no doubt well into the six figures. And for most people, earning a high salary means little time for family. I haven't been listening lately, but at least when I did, I didn't hear him urge people to marry young, because that would just be the icing on the cake: 1) Marry young, which correlates to a higher divorce rate; 2) Crank out a lot of kids; 3) Now be sure to be a present parent, which means you won't be able to make a high salary.

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