|Hendrik "Hank" Hanegraaff|
Bible Answer Man - Christian Research Institute
So let me tell you a little story about myself. Though I was baptised Lutheran, and raised an American Baptist, my family stopped going to church during my teens. This left me spiritually hungry. So at the age of 17, after the death of my grandmother, I began frantically searching for a spiritual tradition. I looked into Mormonism. I looked into the Jehovah's Witnesses. I looked into Christian Science, Armstrongism, Christian television networks, you name it I looked into it. By the age of 20, however, I settled down at a local Calvary Chapel (just six blocks away from my home in Southern California) and started listening to the Bible Answer Man broadcast on the radio. This was about the year 1990.
During that time, Hendrik "Hank" Hanegraaff ran the show with a partner, a fellow by the name of Ron Rhodes. The show was Evangelical in nature, but had a broad spectrum, recognising essential Christianity in a variety of different churches, including (believe it or not) the Roman Catholic Church. This is because the founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), and the Bible Answer Man (BAM) broadcast, was a fellow by the name of Dr. Walter Martin. Now Dr. Martin was raised in a Catholic school. Though an Evangelical himself, he was intimately familiar with the teachings of the Catholic Church. So he considered the Catholic Church as an errant church, which had gone astray, but still retained the essential elements of Christianity. Having died in the late 1980s, he left the ministry of CRI and BAM to Hanegraaff, who became the acting president. On Catholicism, Hanegraaff shared the same views as Martin. Rhodes did not. Rhodes eventually left the show, and went on to produce some anti-Catholic material and books. While Hanegraaff became the sole host of the BAM broadcast.
In the early years of my Christian re-awakening (early 1990s), I depended highly on Hank's radio show and the books he would recommend. I also began reading his books as well. I credit two people for taking my early Evangelical faith to a higher intellectual level. The first is Hendrik "Hank" Hanegraaff, and the second is Clive Staples Lewis, otherwise known as C.S. Lewis. Together, their books, combined with Hank's radio show, kicked up Evangelicalism to an intellectual level I desperately needed. I owe a debt of gratitude to both men for this.
By the late 1990s, long after I moved to the Ozarks, I followed the path of C.S. Lewis into Anglicanism, and spent a bit of time there, learning to distance myself from some anti-Catholic attitudes, as well as acquaint myself with liturgical worship and the sacraments. By the year 2000, my wife and I converted to the Roman Catholic Church, and we've remained Catholics ever since. When the Ordinariates for former Anglicans were created by Pope Benedict XVI between 2011-2012 we jumped on board and founded an Ordinariate community in Republic, Missouri -- St. George Catholic Church.
|Hank Receiving Chrismation with Two Others|
Hank is now experiencing, as an Orthodox Christian, what we Catholic Christians have endured in this country for centuries. He's getting a small taste of it now, and I've written him to express my solidarity with him as a brother in Christ. The BAM broadcast has been cancelled on hundreds of Evangelical radio stations. Hank had been derided as a heretic and apostate -- accusations I am well familiar with myself as they are regularly levelled at me too. Yet he takes it all in stride and with a smile, because he has discovered our Eucharistic Lord. We Catholics would do well to learn from him on this and mimic his unwavering joy.
Now some of my Catholic readers will criticise Hank on this, chiding him for not going fully Catholic and embracing the papacy. I've even heard some people say "from heretic to schismatic" in regards to Hank. I believe this attitude is unwarranted. Here's why. As a former Evangelical I know what it's like to be on that side of the fence. I know the pressures and prejudices of that world. I lived in them. It's hard enough for Evangelicals just to overcome prejudice against liturgy and sacraments. Veneration of the Saints is extremely difficult to overcome. Invocation of the Saints in prayer is nearly impossible. Veneration and invocation of Mary requires nothing short of divine intervention from the Holy Spirit. I can easily see how an Evangelical could get past all these things, with God's help, and then get hung up on the papacy. What are we to say in such circumstances? Are we to tell the Evangelical it's an "all or nothing" deal. Are we to say, either you accept the papacy or live without the sacraments? I say no! While I encourage Evangelicals to keep studying and try to overcome their fears of the papacy, I recognise that some will just never be able to do it. For those who can't, there is Orthodoxy, and if an Evangelical has already decided to go Orthodox, I absolutely WILL NOT stand in the way. Personally, I think Catholicism would have been better, but at least with Orthodoxy I know they're getting authentic sacraments, recognised as valid by Rome, and doctrinal teaching that is vastly superior to anything out there in the Evangelical world. Let not perfection become the enemy of good. Orthodox are essentially catholic (small "c"), as all of their sacraments are recognised by Rome, including holy orders, and their churches are real "churches" in an ecclesial sense as understood by Rome. So when Evangelicals convert to Orthodoxy; that is good. It may not be perfect, but it is good. Let us recognise good for what it is. I do.
When it comes to good, the proof is in the pudding. While Hank doesn't make a habit of pointing people toward Catholicism (few Orthodox do), he does recognise the authentic Christianity of the Catholic Church, and he's given great complements to Catholicism and those within Catholicism. Just recently, Hank was interviewed as a special guest on the Catholic Answers Focus program. You can listen to it by iTunes here, or by streaming audio on the Internet here. I highly recommend you do so.
The conversion of Hank Hanegraaff to Orthodoxy was a watershed event in the Evangelical world. Unless you've been an Evangelical, you have no idea just how popular Hank is, and how dependent American Evangelicalism itself has become on the ministry of CRI and the BAM broadcast. His conversion to Orthodoxy has left (and continues to leave) a powerful impression. Already, I personally know two Evangelicals here in the Ozarks who are converting to Orthodoxy because of Hank's ministry. I have heard of several more Evangelicals here in the Ozarks looking into Catholicism now for the same reason. This is the real deal, and it's a paradigm shift in American Evangelicalism. Hank has led by example, and that example is having an impact.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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