Haven’t you heard? Hank Hanegraaff has become Orthodox! Well, yes I have heard. The noise produced by the collective freak out at one end of the theological spectrum from the Pauper and Pooper blog representing the bottom of the barrel of Protestantism and the unquestioning adulation of Orthodox fangirls and bloggers rushing headlong to his defense is rather difficult to miss. But I sit here poised to wish a pox on both houses, as it were. As most of you know, I am Orthodox and have been for about 17 years. And as a few of you may know, I worked for the Christian Research Institute (CRI) from 1990-1992. (That’s yours truly, bottom left, right next to Hank!) So I have a somewhat unique perspective to offer on the whole affair. In the posts that follow I explain why this is probably not a good thing for anyone, maybe not even Hank.
The first thing to understand is that I am attempting to be as dispassionate and fair in this matter as much as possible. Next, I have a decent command of Protestant theology having been Reformed, spending a number of years studying Reformation theology from the primary texts as well as secondary literature (which I haven’t really stopped doing). Being Orthodox and having done a good amount of reading in those sources as well I am in a position to discuss that side of the fracas. In short, I can translate across theological paradigms. (My Calvinist doesn’t even have an accent and my Lutheran is more than passable. My Baptist is a little rough, but workable. Don’t even ask me to speak Amish though, and Hutterite is straight out.)
And I taught philosophy for the better part of a decade covering courses such as Intro, Ethical Theory, Action Theory, & Metaphysics. I have decent competence in Philosophy of Religion and Epistemology. When I was younger, I spent years doing, for lack of a better term “field work” in apologetics talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, various Mind Science groups, Word Faith, the Local church, Boston church of Christ and just about every theologically whacked group in existence. I went to numerous Kingdom Halls, Mormon churches (and a temple) and the like to evangelize as a teenager and a young adult. That is how I spent my free time. While other high school kids were going to parties on Friday nights, I was going down to the local Kingdom Hall to sit through their meetings and then witness to them. Yeah, that’s the kind of hairpin I am.
On the one hand, I am sympathetic to the apologetic cause of Orthodoxy. (Why else would I be Orthodox if I didn’t think it was true?) On the other, I also recognize the right of Protestant media and organizations to police their own borders. As a former employee of CRI though, in this situation I sit between these Scylla and Charybdis. As things stand, each side is very busy defending its own doctrinal turf. I think they both miss what really needs to be discussed. To that end, I offer what follows.
The theological dispute taking place really is nothing new and is largely irrelevant. Here is why. Most of it is just rehashed Catholic-Protestant polemics. Very little of what is discussed is distinctive to Orthodoxy and the very little that is, seems to be articulated very poorly. The ensuing “discussions” generate a fair amount of heat and very little light. They amount to little more than trench warfare with none of the participants either competent enough to out flank their opponent or engage apologetic tanks to spearhead through enemy lines and advance the discussion. Round and round they go. Wash, rinse, repeat. Consequently there is little to be gained by engaging in them. For Protestant readers, if you aren’t familiar with Orthodox theology, the best thing to do would be to read some primary source material and some representative secondary literature from its best representatives. After all, that is how you would want others to learn about what you believe, rather than starting with or limiting yourself to critics. For Orthodox, if you have never spent time reading primary sources of the Reformation to understand their views and why they held them, then you really have no business talking about them.
And of course it is hardly shocking that Orthodoxy is not Protestantism. If you didn’t know that, then you need to take a step back and realize that any general survey of church history would have covered the Eastern church, you know, those churches founded in Asia minor and the middle east by Paul and the other Apostles? Yeah, those. So it would be wise to recognize that you need to do some significant reading in church history before you talk about such topics. Better to be thought a fool than open one’s mouth and dispel all doubt.
Wisdom! Let us be Attentive!
For Orthodox readers, the first thing to think about is prudence. So abstract away from this particular high profile convert. Ask yourself, what do you think would be prudential in receiving high profile converts? I mean, after all, whether we like it or not, they are going to be the public face of our Church for at least some period of time. What would be wise? St. Paul admonishes Timothy,
“Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man’s sins; keep yourself pure.” 1Tim 5:22
Whether we wish to take this as referring to ordination or something else like chrismation, the prudential principle is generally the same. It is not difficult to extract from this the maxim that one should not elevate a new convert. What if they lapse quickly? What if there is a scandal? What if they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing? These are all possibilities that Scripture and church history bear witness to actually happening. It would be wise to take a step back and reflect a bit. It is in nobody’s interest to build them up. A wise convert would certainly disavow and reject any celebrity treatment. A little caution goes a long way.
The Rise of the Hankadox
Another thing you wouldn’t do is promote, for lack of a better term, hero worship. For example, it would inappropriate to construct a group that was for the reception of a high profile convert alone where they can receive praise and adulation. That would be wrong and it would be wrong because everyone enters the church in need of divine grace. (That in part is what confession and renunciation of one’s former heresy is for.) No one is
better or more important than anyone else. And of course, such things only serve to alienate the least among us, including the poor. Yeah, you know, the poor Jesus talked about? And last I checked, Jesus had a dim view of those who caused them to stumble or who sought to make themselves great in the kingdom, particularly at the expense of the poor. If we aren’t going to do this for every convert, then we should not do it for any. 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 also comes to mind. It is not too strong to say that they are wrong and should be removed immediately.
Such things also smack of triumphalism. Now I am right there with everyone else when I think something is a win for the church. So I get that. But this kind of parading around celebrities is really inappropriate. Besides, we would need sufficient reason to think that in this case this is someone we should want to parade around. I don’t think that is true and more on that to follow. Again, this group should be dissolved immediately. My brothers and sisters, this is not the way of humility, wisdom and spiritual sobriety. This is not Orthodoxy, or at least it doesn’t seem so to me.
Shadow or Reality?
But Hanegraaff was a well known Protestant apologist who has been on the radio for nearly thirty years, right? Well, let’s talk about the Bible Answer Man show (BAM) and Hank for a while. The first thing to recognize is that it is a show. It is something manufactured to present a certain image. Now every good teacher puts on some kind of performance to draw in their students, to motivate them to engage. So I don’t fault anyone for crafting an elegant and refined presentation. That is certainly something worthwhile.
But what if the appearance is deceiving rather than refined? It is important to recognize that this is radio. You don’t see it, obviously. There are things that happen that are also off microphone that you don’t hear as well. Even if this were a visual show, this would likely be true. So it is very easy to give listeners a false impression. So if you were to sit in the BAM studio (as I did) you would see things that might make you question that Hank was qualified and deserving of the title “apologist.” For example, Hank receives help from people with actual degrees off microphone to answer questions. He has to be directed to answers in print or provided them on screen. That is why he has the built in computer screen in the BAM studio desk. And Hank in many cases simply reads off the works of others, passing it off as his own work without attribution, giving the impression that he is knowledgeable and has the expertise. (And that is not the only time Hank as run into plagiarism.) I never observed this to be the case with the research staff when they were on the air but it was common enough with Hank.
And he doesn’t have any expertise. Hank has no earned degrees in any relevant field (or any field that I know of for that matter.) And that is a great irony. Not only did Hank not have any experience or knowledge of dealing with cults and apologetics when he came to CRI, CRI required its research staff (when it had one) to have at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a masters degree to even be considered for hiring. This is not to say that academics don’t use notes or their own written work, but it is still their work. Even justices who have clerks have already done the academic work as well as the professional work that warrants them using clerks to compose legal documents. Such is not the case with Hank.
It is possible to be self taught, but there are two things to consider here. First, this requires one to read mountains of literature just as one would if one were formally educated. Having other people do it and boiling it down for you to crib from doesn’t count. Second, there are some intellectual virtues and insights that are much more difficult to acquire apart from experienced teachers and experts in a given field. If you have to write a 20 page paper to pass muster with a world class expert, you’re likely to learn things from critical interaction that you would likely never learn on your own. Hank displays no real proficiency in primary or secondary source material beyond memorizing specific quotations.
What is more, all the calls to the BAM show are screened. Hank gets those questions that he can answer and by and large those he can’t are screened out. This is why, if you listen to the BAM show long enough, you hear the same questions over and over again with little diversity. And this is why the show tends to stay at a very low level of apologetic sophistication. And even if calls sneak through with questions or arguments Hank can’t
handle, he has two tools at his disposal to nullify them. First, the show has about a ten second delay. Hank can simply cut off callers before they ever get on the air. (So if you want to sneak a hard question in, you have to ask two questions to get past the ten second delay/screener or draw out the conversation.) Second, Hank has a mute button, so he can mute callers and just talk over them, giving them the impression that he has answered their question before jumping to the next one (or a commercial). This usually involves Hank talking around the question for quite some time rather than answering it directly.
Something else to realize is that if you do apologetics for long enough, inevitably the bulk of the questions or objections are the same ones over and over again. It doesn’t take someone that smart to regurgitate the same material for thirty years, especially when you have people handing you the answers or you plagiarize others.
And then there is the black hole of editing. When I did a lot of field work with Jehovah’s Witnesses one of the problems I ran into was the editorial activities of the Watchtower. It was necessary to show the Witness at your door documents from the Watchtower where they made a doctrinal change, a false prophecy and so forth. Photocopies were indispensable. But the Watchtower takes its magazines for any given year and binds them together into a single volume for that year. These are then generally available in the local Kingdom Hall library. But what happens is that the Watchtower edits out any false predictions, doctrinal flubs or moral failures. So when the local JW takes your photocopy back to his local Kingdom Hall to check it, he will likely see a discrepancy between the copy you gave him and what he perceives to be the original. And guess who he is going to suspect of lying? Yeah, not the Watchtower. This is why it became necessary to actually own massive amounts of Watchtower literature. (There is actually a market for this literature throughout the country through a network of used bookstores.)
Something quite similar takes place with the BAM show. What you might hear on the radio doesn’t always make it into the BAM archives. It is edited out. So if Hank makes a theological error unknowingly spewing some heresy or gets the date of a major event off by say, oh five centuries, it gets edited out. If the mistake is bad enough, or if a former employee confronts him on air, the entire show will become mysteriously unavailable for listening or purchase. When I worked there, I quickly learned which days Hank had made a major mistake because the BAM show was unavailable. (And as an employee you certainly couldn’t push the issue.) This was generally not the case when actual trained researchers were on the show, such as Rob Bowman, Craig Hawkins or others.
And of course, Hank has no real field experience talking to cultic or aberrant groups on his own (let alone taking on university professors). When you have a JW at your door or you are taking on three JW elders and an overseer by yourself for four hours straight, you don’t get to screen out questions. (I once went over 9 hours with JW apologist Greg Stafford when I lived in Garden Grove, CA. My Lutheran neighbors used to sit out on their lawn chairs in the front yard to listen whenever the JW’s came around.) Nor can you hit the mute button. As Walter Martin used to say, there are two kinds of people. The quick and the dead. If you are not quick, you’re dead! And that is as true now as it was then. You have to know your stuff and think fast on your feet if you are going to do apologetics. You have to know how to construct an argument and that takes at least some training in logic. And this was field work that the research staff (and many other employees) had in large supply from their own personal past. And this is why generally Hank doesn’t do debates. He simply would not last in the cross examination with real academics. Once he is off his memorized spiel, its open season. Just ask yourself, do you really think Hank could answer questions and hold a sustained conversation about the Kalaam argument in relation to whether actual infinities are possible or not? How about the technical details of New Testament Greek? Or maybe questions on the communicatio idiomatum in Chalcedonian Christology compared with say Assyrian Christology? How about Gettier Counter examples or Contextualism in Epistemology? How about the principle of Double Effect? Uhuh, exactly. While I have my theological issues with Bill Craig, Hank is no Bill Craig.
Another point to reflect on is the fact that via the BAM show, you are being presented with a persona. Now everyone in acting or in sports has to get into character or put their game face on, as it were. I get that. But it would be foolish to simply assume that what is presented by them is the way they really are. (Patrick Stewart is not a captain of a spaceship, sorry.) And what you get with Hank is a persona, a presentation. When the microphone comes on, he turns it on like a light and off when it is off. (I watched this more times than I can remember.) And this includes the saccharine emotional language. When the microphone is off and no one is looking, at least no one who is perceived as likely to out him, the switch goes off. So you simply can’t take what you hear to be the real Hank. If you think so, how could you tell?
To Turn the Soul Around
And then of course there is the memorization. Hank tends to view apologetics as a matter of fact mining and memorization. He once remarked in my presence to the effect that “All the research has been done. We just need to package it.” Well, anyone who is in any field, let alone apologetics knows that this is not true. Any field moves along. New discoveries are made. New arguments are presented. Old ones are resurrected and given new life. In any given field the amount of literature produced in a given year is simply massive. Some of it is junk to be sure, but plenty of it is not. And in apologetics, critics of Christianity and cultic groups simply do not stay still. They develop and evolve. They get new arguments and become more sophisticated. They are like the Borg. They adapt. The research is never done. But more directly, education is not memorization. Education is understanding, to grasp and see the way things are. This is why Plato says that the goal of education is to turn the soul around, from shadows to reality.
This is why no memorized method will really help you that much in talking with JW’s Mormons, Atheists and the like. They are of limited value. This is because you are dealing with persons and not algorithms. You have to diagnose where they are and mentally move with them, walking them through arguments and adapting as you go. And of course, persons can always think of something outside of your formal structure or routine. Persons transcend rules and procedures.
But because Hank thinks of education as memorizing and arranging discrete facts, he tends to use language like an undergraduate to embellish the delivery. If you have ever graded undergraduate papers, you know of what I speak. Undergraduates do not understand that the purpose of technical language is not only precision, but to say more with less. This is part of good academic writing and speaking. Be direct and be clear. Undergraduates tend to overdo it with vocabulary because they think words with more syllables bulging out in a sentence is just what academic writing is supposed to look like. They just cram in as many words as they can! Part of the labor of love of editing undergraduate papers is getting them to cut out everything that is not absolutely necessary to express the ideas or construct the argument. (The problem is, they don’t know what an argument is and/or they don’t know how to construct one.) Hank expresses himself in a similar fashion with unnecessary vocabulary that is deployed to give the impression that he has expertise and is passionate. (I mean, seriously, how many times do you need to say “the only infallible repository of divine revelation” rather than just saying “the scriptures?” Lord, have mercy!) But this again is a false appearance. In philosophy, the technical term for this is bullshit, with the verb form being bullshitting.
Ghost in a Shell
But what about the nearly two dozen books that Hank has written? Well, if you work for a large “para-church” organization long enough, you learn about the magical practice of Ghostwriting. Ghost writing is really rather rampant. Many popular figures do not write their own material. When I worked at CRI, the research staff had a series of meetings with Benny Hinn. When they returned, they relayed to us that when confronted with major doctrinal errors Hinn replied that he didn’t write that section but rather his Ghost writers had. And the same is true for Hank. Hank has a history of propositioning other Protestant authors to ghost write for him, with figures no less than Michael Horton for
example. (Horton informed me of this personally back in the days of C.U.R.E. in the early 90’s and he rightly declined to his credit.) And there is sufficient evidence in the public domain where this charge against Hank has occurred more than once. In fact, senior research staff members were fired in the past precisely because they would not yield to Hank’s demands that he put his name on their work. (More on this to follow in subsequent posts but all you have to do is dig through Google to see a sufficient number of cases and red flags.)
Now in the past, the BAM show evolved over time to become more of a collaborative effort. The show was moving in that direction even when Walter Martin was alive. And this was because Martin knew that there simply too much for one man to do and to know. The work had to be divvied up. This is why in the first few years after Martin’s death, the show was very collaborative. The work on the show was divided up between senior researchers who had actual degrees and substantial experience in their particular area of expertise. They would tag team on the show. But as Hank inserted himself more and more on the show, it became less collaborative and more the Hank show. (The call in number didn’t become “Ask Hank” for nothing.) Not a few listeners detected the difference, not to mention Hank’s many egregious errors. I know this because one department I worked in was Correspondence Processing. I read hundreds of letters every day. At one point I was the only employee in that department and I practically read everything that came through. I can’t tell you how many letters I read with the expression, “I miss Walter.” They were beyond counting.
The reason why the show evolved in this way was because Hank had no education in any relevant field. So he needed time to crib from others. He is very good at memorizing material that he hears. Over those first few years he simply memorized material, phrases, and terms from others. Guest experts simply gave him more material to latch on to that he couldn’t get from the research staff.
So what you are getting with the BAM show and Hank’s books is a highly contrived facade. It isn’t what you think it is. It is mimicry. Now I understand if you listened and you received information that helped you in some way. But that doesn’t make this any less a case of deliberate orchestrated deception. When you expose it to light and look for the reflection, there is no reflection in the mirror. So if you have been thinking that Hank is this great big apologist, well you have been living in a Matrix of Hank’s devising. It is time to wake up.
Now with respect to Orthodoxy, I have no idea if Hank is sincere or not. I have no way of knowing. Really only Hank and God know. That isn’t up to me to assess. But what I do know is that this situation is a problem that is going to be a slow moving train wreck over time. Here are some reasons why with more to follow in later posts. Hank isn’t a radio personality like, say Vince Scully. He isn’t calling out game plays. It isn’t as if he comes on the air and says “And oh, by the way, all you Dodger baseball fans, I converted to Orthodoxy this weekend. It was great. We had lamb, with lemon! And we had a big party. Opa! And now back to Dodger baseball!” This isn’t a one time deal. Hank has to be on the air five days a week generally speaking. And what does Hank have to do on air, across the entire country, five days a week? Well, he has to talk about theology.
There are a number of things here to discuss. First, if you have been doing theology, church history, philosophy and apologetics for thirty years, you should already have a basic working knowledge regarding the major Christian theological traditions. You should know how say Catholics defend invocation to the saints or what a formal cause is in relation to the doctrine of Sola Fide. These should not be difficult teachings to explicate from the point of view of its advocates, after thirty years.
Second, if you are going to represent and advocate for one of them, you need to be ready to go on all the major points from day one. So Hank has to be ready from the word “Go!” to discuss these complicated concepts and doctrines in the Orthodox tradition, on national radio. There is no on the job training here. A learning curve is simply out of the question.
Hank’s position is therefore unlike that of other converts. And two years of sitting in the Church, with however much catechism he received is just not going to cut it. (Catechesis in the Greek Archdiocese tends to be quite lax anyway.) Reading Conciliar Press festival tracts, the pop material from Gilquist and Frederrica, and the like is simply not sufficient. Well read and informed Protestants (and Catholics) will blow through that like tissue paper. In some cases they have already.
What is more, CRI is a business. Don’t let the non-profit status fool you. Hank makes at least what the president of the United States does (probably more), to just put that in perspective for you. There is plenty of profit had there, whatever one thinks of the legitimacy of his wage. (And no, that is not gossip since it is publicly accessible information.) That said, Orthodox media outlets such as Ancient Faith Radio are under ecclesial control, however much that may be. But CRI is not and this presents a significant ecclesial problem. Is Hank authorized by the Church to represent its teachings nationally? What if Hank seriously misrepresents it? Is he as a CRI employee accountable to ecclesial authorities or not? If not, on what basis? This is a major brier patch if ever there was one.
While it is possible to explain Orthodox teaching succinctly and precisely, this takes work and the work takes time. And time is exactly what Hank does not have. What is more, Hank simply lacks the requisite education in the biblical languages, history and philosophical theology to do it. So, for example, Hank is starting to talk about the divine energies. Now regular readers of this blog know that that doctrine has been a big part of our bread and butter. It takes time and education to get your head around it. Like many doctrines, it is precisely and carefully formulated to express a very specific idea and it is integrated throughout Orthodox theology from top to bottom. And it makes a practical difference in the spiritual life. Do you really think Hank will be able to explicate this doctrine to people who call in and ask about it? Do you think that whatever protestant staff he has will be able to write this up for him so he can crib from a prepared document fed to him? Yeah, me neither.
And this means that Hank is going to make mistakes, lots and lots of theological mistakes, on the air…five days a week…representing the Orthodox church…whether you like it or not…to a largely Protestant audience. (I can just hear it now. “You believe X, Y and Z because I heard Hank Hanagraaff say so and he’s a member or your church!”) Now the reasonable thing to do would be for him to either go off air until such time as he actually had an education or refrain from talking about it or bring in experts to do the work. He just isn’t in a position to discuss these things. And I am not holding my breath that he will take any of the above options either.
What is more, it seems entirely inappropriate for a new member to hold such a position. Now I am not holding myself up as some catechetical paragon, but I studied Orthodox theology for three years prior to reception. And I had already read through about forty volumes of church fathers and I had a bachelors in philosophy, combined with my field experience in apologetics. And even then I don’t believe I wrote or spoke about the Church’s teaching beyond the basics for another three to four years after being received, and that was after having gone through a master’s program in philosophy and continuing in a doctoral program. (And I only have a blog.) So Hank’s doctrinal foul ups are going to be a gift that keeps on giving for years to come as long as he is on the radio.
Another problem is that Hank’s transforming the BAM show into the Hank show and CRI into an institution that revolves around him leaves him with no one there to tag team with. There is no one there really competent to help him. It is all on him. So his strategy to eliminate and subordinate any intellectual rivals has ironically backfired. He owns this. So it is entirely up to him to articulate Orthodox theology in a coherent and accurate manner. As far as I am concerned, he made his bed and now he should have to sleep in it. For these and many other reasons soon to be posted, I think Orthodox bloggers should let Hank defend himself. If he is truly an expert, this should not be difficult for him to do after thirty years, right?
Something else to reflect on is the fact that Hank is not a teacher in the Church. He is a layman and a newly illumined one at that. As far as I know he is not authorized to teach publicly the faith of the Church across the entire country. Whatever his experiences and positions were prior to his reception, they are entirely irrelevant. By Orthodox lights, Hank was never an ordained minister. So the question, why is Hank teaching Orthodox theology five days a week on national radio when he is not authorized to do so? What are his qualifications to do so? None.
And of course, there are going to be the local ramifications. Hank’s conversion just painted a big red bulls-eye on every parish with a festival. You can be sure that Protestant BAM listeners and others will start showing up to “evangelize” the Orthodox, with Hank’s parish being ground zero. The Orthodox have been virtually ignored in the ongoing Protestant-Catholic death match. Not anymore. Do you really think that most Orthodox, clergy or laity are adequately prepared to field Protestant objectors? I don’t. I say this based on my experience. When I lived in St. Louis, our parish had a very large festival. And St. Louis is home to a number of Protestant Seminaries such as Concordia Theological Seminary (Lutheran) and Covenant Theological Seminary. (Reformed) When I conducted the church tours there during the festival, which included a fair amount of Q&A, a number of Protestant seminarians would show up for a theological gun fight. It was amicable to be sure, but you had to be quick on the draw. And you had to show that you knew their system, their jargon and that you had a command of the scriptures. You had to know where they were going to go before they went there. I seriously doubt most parishes have persons sufficiently well informed to do that kind of work, but I could be wrong. To be honest, many Orthodox are quite nominal and know little about basic Christian doctrines. While the OCA and the Antiochians are substantially comprised of converts who tend to be biblically literate, and ROCOR rank and file tend to be above average, this is not so for GOARCH, which remains the largest jurisdiction in the US. In any case, Hank’s reception has essentially rung the dinner bell for every fruitcake with a Bible, with Pauper and Pooper being just the beginning. The Orthodox are now on the menu. Ready or not, here they come.
A Box of Chocolates
Most of the above is just framing work to help you see and understand what is happening and what will likely happen and eventually what has happened. But what is Hank actually doing? Well he is doing a few things, situating himself and his position in ways that I think are major mistakes. First, he is casting his position as that of “mere Christianity.” The idea is that he still holds to the “essentials of the historic Christian faith” and has only changed out accidental or non-essential doctrines. Hank is doing this because he has a very naive view of Christian theology. That is, Hank thinks of Christian doctrine in a compartmentalistic way. You have the “essentials” which are the big boxes on the bottom and then you have the non-essentials which are the small boxes on the top. And Hank is essentially arguing that he hasn’t changed his views because the “essentials” have remained the same. He’s only changed out “secondary” boxes. Did I just hear every Orthodox reader cough?
There are a number of problems here. The first is that it is a very naive view of Christian theology, let alone conceptual schemas in general. Christian theology just doesn’t function that way. Every part of the system is intrinsically connected in one way or another to every other part. This means that what one doctrine means depends in part on what other doctrines mean and so forth. It is a kind of web with interlocking parts. For example, what the Orthodox hold about baptism is just an extension of what we believe in Christology and to some extent, vice versa. Altering the doctrine of baptism will have ripple effects throughout the system even up to Christology. It is therefore not possible to change out a part, however seemingly insignificant without in some way changing the entire system. And this is so whether the person doing the changing recognizes this or not. And Hank has changed out a lot of rather large parts even though he doesn’t seem to think so. (There is that cough again.)
Second, Hank’s statement that his views have been codified in 20 books is irrelevant. It is so for a very simple reason. Those works are under his name while he was Protestant. So Protestant critics are exactly right to call him on the carpet on this point and Orthodox should notice this as well. If his views have not changed, he either never was Protestant or he isn’t Orthodox now. Between these two positions, there is no tertium quid. Besides are we seriously to believe that none of those books express a commitment to Sola Fide or Sola Scriptura? (All of you Protestant critics have your work cut out for you. Start digging.) Besides, Hank used to openly advocate for Protestant distinctives on the BAM show. So either his remarks reflect theological incompetence or dissemblance. Take your pick.
Third, Hank’s view depends on some form of across the board agreement as to what are the “essentials of the historic Christian faith.” Well, where are they to be found? The Nicene Creed? Hank seems to think so. That is going to include things like the Eternal Generation of the Son and baptismal regeneration just to name two. Now I am pretty sure plenty of Protestants don’t accept those doctrines. Either it is the case that they failed to adhere to the “essentials of the historic Christian faith”, in which case CRI has long since been negligent in calling them out, or those things don’t comprise the “essentials” and so the Creed doesn’t sufficiently pick out the essentials. For an Orthodox Christian the second lemma just isn’t a plausible option.
Moreover, if one is classically Protestant (Lutheran or Reformed) then certainly both the formal principle (Sola Scriptura) and the material principle (Sola Fide) of the Reformation are “essentials” (even though they aren’t in the Creed). That was the entire basis for that justified in the minds of Protestants separation from Rome. So Hank is simply begging the question against Protestantism. If he doesn’t come out and say, “Hey, I used to think these were ‘essentials’ but I don’t now for reasons A, B, C and D.” he is just begging the question since he doesn’t seem to have any principled reason on offer to exclude them. Why aren’t they “essentials” too? He certainly used to seem to think they were. Some current statements Hank has up seem to indicate that he still does. It looks as if all that ghost writing has backfired there a bit. Hank’s name is just on too much Protestant stuff.
But even if he comes out and precludes Reformation distinctives (which he has yet to do) from the “essentials” and wishes to ground the idea of “essentials” in say the Trinity and other doctrines, this really is not going to work either. You have to ask yourself, is there some common neutral concept of the Trinity to be had between theological systems? The answer is no. To see this you just need to think about whether say the Filioque (the F-word for the Orthodox) is an essential constituent of Trinitarianism or not. Catholics certainly seem to think so and not a few Protestants historically have also thought so. Of course the Orthodox don’t think so. How about whether the Father alone is autotheos? Is that essentially constituative of Trinitarianism? Calvin didn’t think so and plenty of other Reformed theologians followed him in that one way or another. And Catholics and Orthodox do think so, as expressly part of the Nicene faith.
It really doesn’t matter what doctrine you want to pick, the same point can be made over and over again. There is no more a common neutral theological ground to be had between theological systems anymore than there is a common neutral philosophical ground between Christian theism and metaphysical naturalism. This of course doesn’t imply that there is not any conceptual overlap between views, that is, a complete lack of common ground. Rather it means that whatever common ground there is, is not neutral ground. And the point is, Hank is trying to stake out territory that simply doesn’t exist. This is why the appeal to “mere Christianity” and the “essentials” simply doesn’t work. It can’t. “Mere Christianity” is at best a pragmatic abstraction with some rather arbitrary borders. And given the CRI doctrinal statement, those aren’t Orthodox borders either.
Hank has made other mistakes. Not long after he came out of the Orthodox closet, the materials on CRI’s website that were critical of Orthodoxy vanished without explanation. This is frankly not a smart move. First, if you change your views, you should say so, openly and with explanation. It just breeds suspicion and undermines credibility as well as making you look dishonest. What he should have done is left it up there. That is right. You read what I wrote correctly. The material wasn’t that good to begin with. It wasn’t that difficult to refute. Second, he should have simply added some Orthodox material to balance it out. And then add a blurb saying to the effect that CRI recognizes that Christians disagree on such and so issues so we present both sides for consideration. That would have allowed them to take a more impartial stance by taking a step back. It would signal that Hank was not trying to make CRI into the Orthodox Christian Research Institute. It certainly would have helped not to alienate his evangelical base quite so much. But that train has left the station.
And something similar should have been done on the BAM show, that is, if Hank had a hope in hell of making this work. Instead of Hank advocating for Orthodoxy, he should have taken a step back with callers. If a question comes up from someone, especially from a Protestant viewpoint, he should give the Protestant answer and sketch the reasons for it. He could then give his view and his reasons for disagreeing with it. Then he should indicate that as a matter of pragmatism, CRI has people who take different views and he takes a different one. That way everything is above board and everyone knows what they are getting. And of course, Hank should have diversified the work load by adding people to the BAM show so different theological views could give their perspective. But of course, there really isn’t anyone else left to do that. As I will demonstrate in coming posts, Hank eliminated them. Besides, Hank would have to change the call in number from ASK HANK to ASK OTHER PEOPLE THAN HANK. And I suppose that is not likely to work so well as a phone number.
But Hank has more direct problems. The CRI Doctrinal Statement is required for all employees. You have to sign it to work there. I know. I signed it when I was hired. Dissent from it can be grounds for termination. Now Hank can remove all kinds of material from the website without replacing it. But what he can’t do is remove the doctrinal statement without replacing it. But why would he need to replace it? Well just for starters look at section 6, which reads,
“(6) Jesus’ death on the cross provided a penal substitutionary atonement for the sins of humanity. In salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by His unmerited grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone.”
Now, I am pretty darn sure that that is not Orthodox teaching and it is not compatible with Orthodox teaching anymore than say, the decree on justification from Trent is compatible with it. It doesn’t matter if you think the doctrines the CRI doctrinal statement expresses are true or false. What matters is that it expresses them and it is binding on CRI employees, of which Hank is one. So there are some very hard questions Hank needs to address, directly and clearly. Why isn’t Hank bound by this doctrinal statement? Does he affirm the CRI doctrinal statement as it stands or not? If not, how can he work there when CRI advances doctrines that directly contradict the teaching of his church? To do so, gives tacit assent and support to those doctrines. If he does assent to it, how can he be in communion with the Orthodox church when at his chrismation he either explicitly or implicitly publicly swore before God and the church to uphold all the teachings and traditions of the Orthodox Church and those teachings are logically incompatible with the CRI doctrinal statement? What is more, why are his employees obligated by a doctrinal standard that he apparently is not? Why does Hank get a doctrinal pass? Why does he get to keep his job but others don’t if they dissent? For that matter, why doesn’t Hank just come out and say he doesn’t believe in Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura anymore and explain why? If you can’t figure that out, let me make it plain to you with one word. Money.
And of course, Hank is making all kinds of doctrinal and conceptual mistakes as well as other kinds of errors. Take for example his statement that the doctrine of Christ’s Real presence in the Eucharist is not an essential doctrine. It’s a “secondary issue” apparently. Somehow I think St. Ignatius of Antioch, as a disciple of Peter and Paul, would disagree.
“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace
of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.” “Letter to the Smyrnaeans”, sec. 6. 80-110 A.D.
And then of course Hank remarks that the Orthodox Church has “greatly benefited from the work of the Christian Research Institute.” There are a number of reasons why this strikes me as a misleading statement. I was in the Greek Archdiocese for over a decade in two different states. In my experience, you’d be hard pressed to find individuals that even listen to Protestant radio shows, let alone the BAM show. This is even more so for Greek priests and bishops. When they think of Protestants, they tend to think of TBN. The Greek archdiocese tends to be insular for a number of historical reasons. I seriously doubt they would permit a Protestant business to teach within their walls. But more directly, sources inside both Hank’s diocese and parish, have remarked “no one knew who he [Hank] was” and do not know of any activities of CRI within the diocese or the parish. So I find it very improbable that the Greek archdiocese or that parish “greatly benefited from the work of the Christian Research Institute.” This just strikes me as trying to make himself look more important than he is. It is possible that specific individuals in the parish benefited form the broadcast. So maybe I am wrong but this looks like another lie or at least self promotion on the BAM show.
And then Hank remarks (same link as above) that the parish affords him and his family the opportunity to learn NT Greek. This is rather funny. I knew this wasn’t true immediately. If you’re in a parish for two years or more, you’d think you’d know that the Greek school teaches conversational modern Greek and not Koine Greek. His parish website says the same thing regarding conversational Greek lessons. Even Protestant convert from Orthodoxy, Jim Stamoolis caught this over at Christianity Today. In fact, the Divine Liturgy is not in Koine Greek or modern Greek but Byzantine Greek, which is why most modern Greek speakers (especially those raised in America) can have some difficulty with it. So this just looks like bluster to me. But maybe I am wrong.
Then Hank makes a pretty basic factual blunder in speaking with a caller concerning the Reformation (Same link as above). He argues that it is better to take a 2nd century Greek speaker over a 16th century Latin speaker, and so the early Christians were in a better position to know the meaning of the Bible. Now there might be other reasons for thinking so or there might be a way to refine the remark so it doesn’t fall flat on its face. But the facts are that while Greek literacy wasn’t widespread during the Renaissance and Reformation periods in the West (no literacy was widespread at the time either by today’s standards), it was not unknown in the West. (Greek refugees from Constantinople did not hinder the expanding knowledge of the Greek language either.) And some of the Reformers had competence in Greek by the standards of their day. That was the entire point of the slogan, ad fontes, (back to the sources.) Of course, they weren’t just Latin speakers. Latin was just the lingua franca of the educated and the normative language of law, theology and other fields. The Reformers had their own regional languages (French, German, English) so that they were multilingual. What is more, there were Latin texts of the Bible in the early church, namely the Vetus Latina that Latin speaking Christians used prior to the Vulgate in the fourth century. What are we to say of those Latin speakers? That they couldn’t understand the Bible sufficiently well because they were reading it in Latin and not Greek even while they were within the borders of the apostolic ministry? That doesn’t seem reasonable. Any survey text of Reformation history would make these facts plain. In short, this is pretty basic Reformation history. How do you miss it after thirty years of doing this as your job? Besides, Origen much?
Then on another recent show, Hank is asked by an Orthodox inquirer calling for arguments against the Papacy (around 7-8 min mark). Now after thirty years, one should be able to give some actual arguments. I am not saying a treatise is necessary, but at least sketch one or two arguments that Orthodox have historically given against the Papacy and then perhaps recommend some secondary literature. But Hank never actually gives any arguments. He just talks around the question for almost seven minutes but he never really addresses it. Why can’t he just give an actual argument? He doesn’t. Now, why do you suppose that is?
We could also list Hanks theological errors and incompetence representing the Trinity, saintly invocation, the Branch Theory, and many other points. The above is just a small selection of the rudimentary mistakes that Hank has made in the last week or so. The fact of the matter is that Hank is academically and theologically incompetent to discusses these issues on air across the country. And lest Protestant readers feel a tad smug in all this, please remember that Hank was also theologically incompetent and these kinds of abuses and behaviors were pretty plain to see and take note of for thirty years. You’ll excuse me if I don’t recall Pauper and Pooper and the rest of the internet Protestant legions going after Hank for his incompetence, plagiarism and other abuses over the last thirty years to any substantial degree. This is your mess too.
By now it is common knowledge that Hank has lost a substantial number of the radio stations the BAM show was on. Two different networks dropped him. It is likely that more will follow suit. This at least seems like something CRI cannot financially recover from , at least not without Hank taking a massive pay cut. There is no Orthodox replacement and even if there were, the bishops are not going to give a new convert a national radio show. But more to the point, Hank doesn’t get to play the persecution card here and Orthodox should not fall for it. Here is why. If those networks had not dropped him, I would certainly take them less seriously, and probably straight out dishonest. It is part of their job as Protestant networks to promote, well, Protestantism. If we had an Orthodox radio host who became a baptist, do you think we would leave him untouched? Not a chance. They are just policing their own borders. I get that. On the other hand, they too were in a position to know plenty about Hank, and that for a very long time. As long as their customers were reasonably happy and the cash kept flowing, they were just happy as a claim to keep the status quo going.
The vast majority of the information I have presented is and has been public for a long time. All one had to do was use Google longer than five minutes to start seeing red flags and then chase down all the rabbit trails. Apparently, that is too much work to expect for either Protestant or Orthodox media to do. In any case, what I have said is not gossip nor is it slander or libel. It is based on the truthful beliefs of eyewitnesses like myself and publicly accessible documents over a thirty year period. And I am not holding Hank to a standard he and CRI have not held others to. What is more, Hank is a public figure, presenting himself as a teacher to the public at large and that for thirty years and teachers bear a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
All of this is preparation for the story that is yet to be told. For a long time, since Hank has taken over CRI, there has been every so many years, more or less, a steady stream of former employees making these and other charges. Group after group trickled out after being fired because they put truth above personal gain and human accolades. They put
their livelihoods on the line. They sacrificed the welfare of their families and friendships as well as their reputations. Some of them even sacrificed their faith. They were fired, intimidated, threatened and sued and yet they continued to tell the truth. In many cases they were separated by years, never knowing each other but all bearing witness to the same corruption and moral evil. And yet, they kept telling the truth. That story has only been told in bits and pieces. If I were to try and tell the whole story here, I would simply not have sufficient space. But their story deserves to be told and their voices must be heard. And we intend to tell it. In the posts that follow, I intend to provide a sketch of that story with documents that should have seen the light of day for many years. But make no mistake, everything will soon be revealed even if not here. It is time for the evil at CRI to end.
It is not too late to stand with us.