I hadn’t planned on posting more than two more posts on the Hankamess to finish things off. I had planned on writing a post chronicling how Hank got to the position he did and who among various apologetic celebrities had helped him get there and then a last one once we had the separate website up with all of the relevant documents. But a recent gaffe by Hanegraaff is, I believe, so very instructive that I decided to write about it. It is instructive not because it makes clear that Hank is theologically incompetent and so unfit for the position he holds, but because it reveals something of his true character and gives people a quick glimpse into the real Hank.
II. One Thing Leads to Another
To properly contextualize the material I will be presenting we need to take a go back to 1994. I have attached below a copy of a letter from a former employee whom I knew when I worked at CRI many years ago. His name is Mike Stephens. Mike was older than I was and much taller. At the time he was the head of the Broadcast Media department. Mike had come to CRI having worked in both secular and religious broadcasting for some time. Like many CRI employees, he had substantial personal experience witnessing to
Mormons, JW’s and others. To anyone who knew him, Mike was tall and a likable fellow, with a rather robust sense of humor. Mike was well practiced at deadpan humor. On not a few occasions he’d have me or someone else going along with some line with the look of complete seriousness on his face only to reveal it was all a prank. Mike was a good man and a lot of fun to be around.
Eventually Mike was terminated from CRI sometime after I was terminated and for some of the same reasons many other employees were. It didn’t take a Rocket scientist to see that Hank was not qualified for the position he held. And Mike along with others noticed not a few incongruities and irregularities in other areas. So I direct readers to take a few minutes to read Mike’s letter here.
In the letter to the CRI board, you’ll notice two fundamental points. First, the fact that Hank made all sorts of very basic errors and you’ll notice the steps that were taken to cover up those mistakes. The material there corresponds with the reports I have given previously. Second, you’ll see an account by Mike detailing the way Hanegraaff really behaved behind closed doors and how he mistreated employees. Hank doesn’t like being corrected and rather than accepting the fact that he made a mistake, he found ways of retaliating. It was all about personal destruction. This is true when Hank gets caught making a mistake or with his hand in the financial cookie jar. The mask slips and the real Hank comes out.[i] Mike Stephens’ letter is just one account among many others from former employees at every level of the organization.
III. Never Say Never Again.
Now in 2007, Hank did a debate, the only debate he has ever done to my knowledge with Hitchcock on the dating of the book of Revelation. Hanegraaff defends an early dating, which is essential to defend really any type of Preterism, and Hitchcock defending a late dating to defend a Dispensational Premillenial position. That either position is true or false is not relevant here. What is relevant is what Hank says.
“I will never accept baptismal regeneration. I will never accept the perpetual virginity of Mary. And I will never demonize Jews as the Fathers did.” @ 1:23:54 to 1:24:26.
Putting aside the other two issues of the perpetual virginity of Mary and the supposed demonization of Jews by the Fathers of the Church, here we note that Hanegraaff expressly says he will “never” accept baptismal regeneration. Readers of course will point out that this material is ten years old and really not relevant to what Hanegraaff professes today. If all things were equal, I would agree with them. But as it turns out, all things aren’t exactly equal.
In addition current documents on the CRI website under Hank’s name denote a non-Orthodox view of baptism. Here Hank writes,
“The Book of Titus provides additional compelling evidence against baptism being a condition for salvation. Paul made it clear that “rebirth and renewal” are not the result of “righteous things we had done,” but rather “because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). The “washing of rebirth” is not literal water baptism, but the cleansing of the Holy Spirit that “washes” away our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19: 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5).”
“Although baptism is not the means by which we are saved, it is the means by which we are set apart. By baptism, we testify that we are no longer our own — we have been bought by Christ’s blood and have been brought into the community of faith. This is the significance of Peters command in Acts 2:38. He was not telling them that they could not be saved without baptism. He was telling them that their genuine repentance, which by the grace of God accompanies salvation, would be evidenced by their baptism.”
Some might object that these are danglers or left overs prior to Hank’s conversion and that is probably right, but it is irrelevant. Here is why. First, as its president, Hank is responsible for what his Protestant business publishes. As I noted previously there is quite a bit of Protestant material on the CRI website and books with Hank’s name on them that still teach Protestant distinctives across theological topics, Protestant books which are promoted through the Orthodox Christian Network. Second, as a public figure and a public teacher, Hank bears a stricter judgment and this is especially true of him as an Orthodox Christian. All of this though is merely framing for what is to come.
IV. What the Water Gave Me
In Orthodox theology, baptism is the sacrament of entrance. Generally speaking, it is the sacrament of regeneration in Orthodox theology. It is no secret that the Orthodox hold to a form of baptismal regeneration. Like Rome, the Copts or any other church of antiquity, this belief is old and very widespread. In the patristic corpus, it goes without saying that baptismal regeneration is witnessed very early and is one of the most universally well attested beliefs of Christians in the pre-Nicene era. Some Reformation bodies also adhere to it or at least a form of it, such as the Lutherans.
It is a pretty basic belief that one learns when one converts from popular evangelicalism, as Hank did. It is not exactly a state secret. It usually goes along with the knowledge that the Orthodox hold to Christ’s real presence in the Eucharistic elements. The doctrine is expressly taught in any given catechism of the Orthodox Church, new or old.
This brings us to the January 29st, 2018 BAM show. Starting at 41:35 mark to 51:30 Hank takes a call from a caller named “Christine.” (Click on the link to hear it for yourself.) Now I have no idea who this person is. (Honest Abe, I don’t.) But she seems sincere, somewhat nervous and respectful. She asks him how he views salvation comes to a person, according to Scripture. He begins to answer. She chimes in and asks him if it is by grace alone through faith alone. He of course skirts this and refuses to give a direct answer, though he does give the typical Protestant answer that genuine faith merely produces or is accompanied by good works. Now pay special attention to 45:15ff. Here she asks him if one is born again in infant baptism. Hank’s answer is a very clear “No.” Christine points out that he has converted to Orthodoxy and that the Orthodox hold to baptismal regeneration. Hank goes on to say that the Lutherans deny baptismal regeneration as part of his explanation. He says that she needs to understand Orthodoxy because salvation is a process. He goes on to mention John 3 and Romans 6. He argues that if you were born again in baptism this would be somehow inconsistent with the Orthodox teaching that salvation is a continual process. It seems completely lost on him that these two concepts are not incompatible and both are taught by the Orthodox Church. He seems to be thinking of regeneration or being born again as some kind of completion of salvation. The irony being that he mentions John 3 in reference to baptism, which of course by Orthodox standards refers to being “born again” in baptism.
Now it is pretty clear Hank has no idea what he is talking about. On top of that there is the irony that he is telling other people that they need to understand Orthodoxy when he hasn’t even been Orthodox for a year. It is pretty clear that the caller has pointed out a clear inconsistency to him. And she is exactly right that the Orthodox hold to baptismal regeneration as well as noting that like other bodies (Lutherans included), that apostasy is possible. (Added to this, as an aside, on the Nov 1, 2017 show, Hank said, “Lutherans in no way hold to baptismal regeneration.”@ 31:40.)
V. Three Strange Days
On January 30th, 2018 on the BAM Facebook page a person by the name of Mike Andy pointed out to Hank the inconsistency in the previous day’s answer to Christine. Mike cites some of the requisite Orthodox sources on this point. Sometime later, some unknown CRI staff writer provides the following response.
“Thanks for sharing from the creed of Dositheus. What you shared will be passed on to Hank. Your point is duly noted, but will need some looking into, as other Orthodox theologians would parse things out differently than what you perceive. If you would like further details on this, please contact the CRI office.”
Now the first thing to notice is that this is exactly how I said things would go.
“All one has to do is listen to the BAM show on any given week to verify the truth of my claims. In any given week, Hank will make basic historical, philosophical or theological mistakes. The matter is compounded now by the fact that he is in theological territory that both he and his Biola trained staff are unfamiliar with. Really none of the existing CRI material can help him navigate the halls of Orthodox theology or construct Orthodox answers to theological questions.”
The few theologically trained individuals now working for Hank (CRI has only about 15-20 employees left and some of those are his kids.) wouldn’t be able to provide adequate responses consistent with Orthodoxy for Hank. Second, this is just a howler of a response. As if there are some other Orthodox sources that deny baptismal regeneration?! Who do they have in mind? Marcion?! This is just an obvious attempt by the staff to deflect from the fact that Hank screwed up and screwed up pretty badly. Baptismal regeneration after all is a pretty basic point in Orthodox theology. It seems Hank never understood this doctrine as presented by the churches of antiquity and that after thirty years of supposedly being a theological expert.
On the January 31st BAM show, Hank begins the show with a nearly 20 minute tirade against those trying to “lay traps” for him, being the Protestant “fundamentalist” Christine and the Orthodox “fundamentalist” Mike (or as the BAM webpage lists him, “the Mike.”) I am reminded of Alvin Plantinga’s remark that the term fundametnalist simply means “that son of a bitch over there that disagrees with me.” Hank says that Christine was “bent on exposing Orthodoxy as a crass system of works righteousness.” Well, if you listen to Christine, she certainly seems sincere and seems to trying to figure out what exactly Hank believes relative to Protestant standards. She doesn’t come across as trying “expose” Orthodoxy as Pelagian or anything else, as if that were possible. What is more, Hank apparently knows really nothing about her so calling her names like “fundamentalist” is entirely misplaced. Even if she were attempting to “trap” Hank and “expose” Orthodoxy, that is just part of the job description for Hank, namely to field questions and provide answers. Besides, a basic tactic in cult apologetics is pointing out inconsistencies. Here Christine and “the Mike” aren’t doing anything Martin didn’t do and Hank hasn’t done.
Hank says that her strategy was to “insinuate” that an infant is saved by baptismal regeneration. Well apart from his misuse of the term insinuate by Hank, she is exactly right that the Orthodox hold that an infant is saved by baptismal regeneration. Then Hank says that he referenced the Lutherans who hold to baptismal regeneration, but not in the sense that the ultimate salvation of the individual is accomplished in baptism. Well first, notice Hank’s two previous remarks. In November he says that the Lutherans in “no way” believe in baptismal regeneration. And two days prior he also denied that they believed in baptismal regeneration. Now he says they do, but qualifies it without any mention of his previous denials. It is pretty clear that the confusion on these matters is in Hank’s head and not with the caller or Facebook commenter’s remarks. Notice there is no mention of the fact that he has just contradicted himself and that in the space of three days.
As to his qualificaiton this is silly for the simple reason that the Orthodox, Rome, the Copts or the Lutherans do not think that being born again in baptism guarantees that an individual will continue in that divine life. If over thirty years Hank had bothered to read a single text on this in any of the above mentioned traditions he would have known this. He seemed to think that baptismal regeneration excludes any further growth or activity on our part, which is just to say that Hank didn’t know what he was talking about.
But instead of just admitting to making a mistake, Hank continues lambasting Christine and “the Mike.” He brings up various cults like the Boston Church of Christ and the Mormons on baptismal regeneration. His line here is that neither Christine nor “the Mike” seem to “understand” that the same phrase or term can mean something very different across different theological models. So instead of trying to trap him, like the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with trick questions, they should have understood this. Big dummies!
The problem for Hank is that Christine wasn’t asking about the Mormons or any other group. She was asking what Hank thought and what Hank believed. And she was asking about it in the context of Orthodox theology, since Hank is self confessedly Orthodox. So notice here, that he belittles both Christine and “the Mike” in a retaliatory way rather than just admitting a clear mistake.
What is more, Hank reframes the issue as being hung on one horn of a dilemma by Christine for believing in baptismal regeneration. But that is not how the call went. Remember, he denies the docrtine and then she points out to him that the Orthodox affirm it. She isn’t “hanging” him because he believes it but rather she is noting he is being inconsistent, and he was.
Hank continues to deflect noting that the Mormon view of baptismal regeneration is not the Orthodox view. That of course goes without saying and is entirely irrelevant. It is a red herring meant to distract you from the fact that Hank clearly had no idea what the basic Orthodox teaching on baptism in fact was and he actually and explicitly denied it on the air.
He castigates “the Mike” for not understanding that the Orthodox term can be used in an unOrthodox way. He then goes on to read from Pomezansky’s Dogmatic Orthodox Theology, implying that this is something that “the Mike” is ignorant of. He even reads sections of it without telling his audience that he is doing so, giving the impression that this is his own thinking. All you have to do is read the section on baptism while Hank is speaking to see he is cribbing dishonestly from the text. After this he castigates Protestant and Orthodox “fundamentalists” like Mike and Christine who simply do not understand Orthodox theology, when it is Hank who really doesn’t understand the basics, even after thirty years of doing this as his job.
Now all of this is quite funny to me. First, because while Hank doesn’t know “the Mike”, I do and I have known him for over 25 years. In fact, I have known “the Mike” going back to when I worked at CRI before either of us were Orthodox. “The Mike” has been Orthodox longer than me, converting in the mid 1990’s and I can assure you that he read Pomazansky’s book long ago. “The Mike” has served on parish councils as well has having broad experience across multiple Orthodox jurisdictions. It goes without saying that “the Mike” is far better informed as to Orthodoxy than Hank who hasn’t even been in the Church for a single year. And I can attest that “the Mike” has done his fair share of witnessing to cults and is well aware of how the same term can be used differently by different users. Of course he wasn’t aware of how the same term can be misunderstood by Hank within a few days’ time.
VI. The Mask Slips
If you listen to Hank’s tirade, the subtext should be clear. He is peeved that he got nailed and he is belittling both Christine and “the Mike” for pointing out his mistake, on a topic he should have down cold after thirty years. Notice that now he is attacking his own constituency for his mistakes. And remember what Mike Stephens relayed in his 1994 letter. Hank’s behavior here is entirely consistent with how he treats his employees which is even worse. So if you think his belittling of Christine and “the Mike” is bad, just think of how he treats those under him.
Of incidental interest is that Hank has a few upcoming speaking engagements. In June, he is, as irony would have it speaking at the Lutheran Issues, Etc. conference, with the primary speaker giving a lecture on Making the Case for The Centrality of Justification. I’d pay good money to see a Lutheran ask Hank about the “centrality of Justification.” This week, he is speaking at a Greek parish in Illinois, at a retreat put on by the Greek Metropolis of Chicago. And on or near the Sunday of Orthodoxy, I understand he is speaking to the clergy of Houston, Texas about his conversion. Lucky them.
Maybe between the Lutherans and the Greeks, they can get a straight answer out of Hank as to what he thinks the phrase “born again” means with respect to water in John 3. Just remember, Don’t drop “the Mike!”
[i] One can go search through the events leading up to the evisceration of CRI Canada to see accounts of Hank screaming at employees for example.