Between work and school, I have been too busy to write much. But Spring Break has afforded me some time to peck at the keyboard. As the Hankamess winds down for me, this story has taken a few new twists and turns that I think are worth informing my readers about. If all goes well, I should be done writing about the Hankamess very soon.
Before we get started though, readers need to keep one thought before their minds. Despite the fact that Hank has been the de facto head of CRI and pretty much the singular host of the BAM show for nearly thirty years, Hank’s background isn’t in apologetics, philosophy, history, the sciences or Biblical languages. He has no real competence beyond the lay level in any of those fields, at best. What is salient here though is that his real skill and background is in marketing. Hank knows how to diversify and promote products, which is what he was in part originally hired to do at CRI. Hank is quite adept at the art of schmoozing to boot.
II. The Form of Godliness
When this whole mess started for me back in March of 2017 when I found out that Hank was going to be received into the Church, I figured he would produce a conversion story book. This is because Hank has a long history of following money making trends. (He didn’t produce a book on Islam because he has a vast background of academic knowledge of Arabic, of the Arabian Peninsula or the Hadiths.) Such a book would be money maker both because fan girls would want to read it as well as detractors. So when Hank began talking about releasing such a book a number of months ago, I wasn’t surprised.
As I and my compatriots loosely monitored Hank’s speaking tours throughout the U.S. in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I noticed that he began to pivot away from his usual spiel about conversion, the Eucharist and Deification, and towards talking about the “authentic Christian life.” You can see this in the blurb for the retreat he conducted for the Archons as well as the National Herald’s article labeling Hank a “world renowned theologian.” (Cough. I think Jaroslav Pelikan just rolled over in his grave.) And then one day on the BAM show, he gave the title of his forthcoming conversion book, The Authentic Christian Life. I found this curious for a number of reasons.
The title seemed to me to be a rip off of Watchman Nee’s work, The Normal Christian Life. That was curious all by itself. This is because up until 2009, CRI had a long standing adversarial relationship with the heterodox sect that Nee’s book helped to create, namely Witness Lee’s The Local Church, aka, The Lord’s Recovery. In 2009, CRI did an about face, after much wining and dining of Hank by the Local Church as well, allegedly, as a seven figure payment by the Local Church to CRI as sources indicated to me. Around the same time, CRI’s chief operating officer, Paul Young, originally from CRI Canada, became an official member of the Local Church. (It seems that CRI Canada has now folded incidentally.)
As an aside, for readers who may not be familiar with them, the Local Church is a somewhat Sabellian or Modalistic sect that adheres to a form of deification, which they view as accomplishing some kind of merging or “mingling” with the divine “essence.” Located mainly in China the Local Church takes essentially a restorationist view of themselves and church history. That means that they view themselves as the only true church in a given locale. From their point of view, God appointed Lee to recover true Christianity after a general apostasy. The bad news for them is that the Mormons and a half a zillion other sects made the same claim long before them. Consequently, they view Rome, the Orthodox and practically everyone else not simply as wrong, but apostate. One has to wonder how they view Hank now.
I am not interested in quibbling about whether CRI’s “reassessment” was in fact correct or not. I don’t think it was but by Orthodox lights, it is irrelevant. Even if correct by CRI’s standards, the Local Church is heretical by Orthodox standards and the Orthodox Church certainly isn’t bound by what a private Protestant business such as CRI thinks of such things. The Local Church isn’t even a church, let alone the church by Orthodox standards. And by Orthodox lights, CRI isn’t the arbiter of what constitutes legitimate theological disagreement for anyone, and maybe not even themselves.
III. Spidey Sense
In any case, as Providence would have it, my Spidey sense kept bugging me. I began futzing around the internet, curious to see what I would find. I had this nagging sense that the tittle of the book was more than a rip off of Nee’s work. And lo and behold, I found this publisher’s mark up for a book under that tittle with Hank as the author. There are a number of things very curious about the book.
The first thing to notice is the “book hook” and the “content” description from the book, which reads,
Drawing from multiple experiences with persecuted Christians in China, Hanegraaff radically rethinks what it means to live the authentic Christian life. Inspired by Watchman Nee’s classic, multi-million bestseller, The Normal Christian Life (1957).
Simultaneously released in China and the United States, this revolutionary book brings into view a fresh expression of authentic New Testament Christianity, unencumbered by westernized cultural trappings. The Authentic Christian Life lovingly moves us from doctrine to intimacy with the living God.”
Notice that the book is self described as inspired by Nee’s previously mentioned book. The book was also set to be simultaneously released in the U.S. and China. Why China other than there are a billion people there? Have any of Hank’s other books been released in China? Not that I know of. The content description also appears quite consistent and in fact in line with a Local Church view of restoring true Christianity apart from western distortions. Hank is going to say what true Christianity is “unencumbered by westernized cultural trappings”, a favorite peeve of the Local Church. On its face, the book has all the markings of the Local Church coming out of the closet manifesto.
But if you notice the release date, it is August, 2015, and set to ship a month earlier. So the book never made it bookstores or perhaps even to publication. It seems to have been mulched. For some reason, it was yanked prior to being released. I don’t know why. You’d have to ask Hank to find that out. But something else that is curious is the fact that Hank has said on the BAM show repeatedly that he began “exploring” Orthodoxy about two years prior to his reception in April of 2017. That would put his “explorations” around 2015, just prior to the publication of the book.
I speculate that Hank was ready to join the Local Church but for some reason, the engagement was broken off. After all, he said in April of 2017 “He began to study the work of Watchman Nee and the idea of theosis (the Eastern Orthodox teaching on seeking union with God), which led him back to the early Christian church.” Of course, given their prior public relations Hank is still stuck with the Local Church, which explains why he has been promoting them on the BAM show with senior Local Church officials on the show. Granted, that this is speculation on my part, but it is speculation that is not without a footing. And of course, as I noted previously, given Paul Young’s position as a senior figure and board member, the Local Church is well positioned to take over CRI after Hanegraaff’s passing. They don’t really need his conversion now anyway.
IV. Do Harkonans Control the Spice?
So Hank is much closer to having his book out on the market than I originally supposed. I suspect he is currently reworking it to make it sufficiently acceptable to a wider audience, including an Orthodox audience. And this brings us to the Archon’s retreat and his other speaking engagements in the Greek archdiocese. If you read the retreat blurb above it should be clear what Hank is doing. He is laying the ground work for the publication and selling of that book to Orthodox members at the highest level. He is already promoting his book on Islam there and elsewhere. The Archons retreat is just a dry run of book content adapted for Orthodox audiences.
Sources indicate that the Archons are probably interested in using Hank to promote the well being of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to American audiences. “Black Bart” aside I am all for preserving that venerable See and I am certainly no fan of the Turkish government or its actions in persecuting Christians. That said, if the Archons think that Hank is going to help them achieve that goal, they have unrealistic picture of the situation. First, Hank has lost about 90% of his media presence. Out of 125 radio stations he is on about 22 and not all of those are are live. (Take KKLA in the Los Angelos market for example. The BAM show airs at 11p at night. Hardly drive time radio.) Hank’s attempt to replace those stations with podcasting and social media are not likely to be effective. When Reformed Baptist James White for example receives about 30k views on Youtube compared to Hank’s 10k, it becomes clear that Hank has lost far too much market share to promote the preservation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, let alone much of anything else. Second, the Archons need to further understand that to many popular evangelicals Hank is now theologically radioactive. Besides, it appears that they have more serious matters on their hands. Third, while they will likely get very little bang for their buck out of Hank, it is likely that Hank will receive plenty of bucks from his use of the Archons. As I noted previously such relations are about placing product and funneling cash from the Church to Hank’s bank account. After all, living in a 9200 sq ft mansion isn’t cheap. Sad to say, the Archons got snookered.
V. Byzantine Evangelicalism with Mint Frosting
God only knows what the content of that book was or is going to be. But there are other books to consider. If you read the National Herald piece or the Archons’ blurb, the other books under Hank’s name appear and most prominent among them is the Complete Bible Answer Book. It is pretty clear that both pieces, among others promote this and other works under Hank’s name. And of course the Orthodox Christian Network, an official media platform of the Orthodox Church also promotes these works.
The backstory of the Complete Bible Answer Book stretches back to the early 1990’s. When I worked at CRI, the radio department had developed these blurbs called, the CRI Perspective. They were short radio pieces written by different researchers. Eventually the researchers were compelled to put Hank’s name on them and Hank had them collected into a kind of catch all book, which is what the Complete Bible Answer Book is. This is why each chapter is relatively short, capable of being read on air in about a minute or two.
It goes without saying that the Complete Bible Answer Book is still under Hank’s name and was composed under that name while he was Protestant. So, the book denies the perpetual virginity of Mary for instance (chapter 74). It also teaches justification by faith alone (chapter 53). In fact the book denies a number of Orthodox doctrines and affirms a number of doctrines that the Orthodox formally reject as heretical. And yet, Orthodox media platforms such as those linked above are openly promoting them to Orthodox laity.
So here are some basic questions I have.
First, why are Orthodox representatives promoting the sale of Protestant books that explicitly deny Orthodox teaching and affirm Protestant distinctives to Orthodox laity?
Second, why is Hank openly promoting and selling books he knows explicitly teach Protestantism to Orthodox audiences, through Orthodox venues?
Third, where are all the other Orthodox bloggers and figures who touted Hank’s reception and tried to silence or censor me? Why haven’t they pointed out the complete unacceptability of selling and promoting Protestant materials to Orthodox laity, through Orthodox platforms?
The first question brings to the surface something that is so painfully obvious that I should not have had to ask it. It seems none of the clergy at his speaking engagements or the writers as the National Herald or the clergy that have oversight at OCN thought to even look at what Hank was promoting, let alone simply ask if these works were written while he was Protestant. Why are Orthodox figures promoting Protestantism within the Orthodox Church?
The second question of course speaks to Hank’s alleged Orthodoxy. When this whole mess blew up, some people pushed back against my criticisms, saying that if Hank were only concerned with money, why take this course if it cost him so much? I pointed out a number of salient points. First, that he didn’t seem to have any plan to make this public. He kept it secret until he got outed by a viral picture. Second, he certainly miscalculated if he thought there wasn’t going to be a Romaphobic backlash from his evangelical audience. Third, he is perfectly capable of being avaricious while also being convinced of certain doctrinal claims. The two are not incompatible. But more to the point now is the fact that if Hank is sincere, why is he selling and promoting books to Orthodox laity within the Church he knows teach heresy by Orthodox standards? Why doesn’t he care? (Note, this is not something he did in the past, but what he is doing now. )After all, if he is sincere he would at least publish a disclaimer noting where and how his views have changed. But he goes right on selling these and other Protestant materials to our laity and clergy. I supposed that is what he meant when he said ““Look, my views have been codified in 20 books, and my views have not changed.”
Third, take this post from Robert Arakaki over at Orthodox/Reformed Bridge. I commented there making some criticisms of Hanegraaff when it was originally posted. Initially the comment was let through moderation but then Robert removed it and said I needed to have my clergy’s permission to make such remarks. (Curious he didn’t seem to have his priest’s permission to endorse Hanegraaff without question.) Then we have Dn. Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson fame who accused me of “slandering” Hanegraaff and told me to be quiet. Along side him was Fr. Barnabas Powell who made similar remarks in public venues. And of course we have Frederica Matthews-Green and John Maddox of Ancient Faith Radio whom I also warned about Hanegraaff only to be ignored or rebuffed and who participated in promoting Hanegraaff. And we have Fr. Dalber, Hank’s priest who I have tried to dialog with numerous times to bring an end to all of these issues and who refuses to do so. The least bit of scriptural and traditional behavior on his part would have prevented this Hankamess. Now, matters are worse. And these and other problems are exactly what I said would happen and Hank has acted in exactly the way said he would, rushing to work himself into a position of influence to promote himself and his private Protestant business all to support his personal bottom line. The Gospel may be free but someone has to put in the seven bathrooms in Hank’s mansion.
Strangely none of these people or any others have said much as boo! about the fact that Hanegraaff in the space of less than a year has worked his way of the ladder of lay influence to its highest levels and is now selling and promoting Protestant heterodoxy within the Orthodox Church. Let me be very clear and say this now. I told you so. I tried to tell you, but you would not listen.
So for all of the above named people and any others, now is your chance to say that what Hank is doing is wrong. Now is your chance to say he should sit down and be quiet for a few years. Now is your chance to say he should apologize for past wrongs. Because if you don’t, then you really have no leg to stand on when you criticize Protestant theology and its adherents. What good are your criticisms of Protestantism when you lack the integrity and honesty to call it out in your own backyard? So what will you do now? Will you say something now or remain silent and complicit?
What is that I hear?