In this episode Kurt speaks with Rob Bowman on the conversion of Hank Hanegraaff to Eastern Orthodoxy. They discuss the theological aspects between Protestants and E.O. but also the practical implications of Hanegraaff’s relationship to his organization and radio ministry.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill. I’m excited to be with you yet again. Today we’re going to be talking about a controversy in evangelicalism regarding the conversion of Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Man, over to Eastern Orthodoxy. About a month or so ago, he formally joined the Eastern Orthodox Church and so this has a number of Evangelical Protestants concerned or worried what to make of his position at the Christian Research Institute and what that means for that organization, a historically Protestant organization. I’d love to get your thoughts on the matter. You can get in touch with me a number of ways of course. You can email me at Kurt@veracityhill.com. You can also give us a call and leave us a message any time you’d like. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483 and then, of course, you can follow us on social media, Facebook, and Twitter, and finally text in to me, just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888. It’s totally free. I’ll get your messages then as a neat way to interact with you. I hope that you like the shows that you’ve been hearing week after week and we look forward to continually bringing you good content, refreshing content, a way that sort of can be challenging to you as well, getting you to think about things that maybe we haven’t spent enough time thinking about so if you’ve got any topics that you’d like to have discussed on the show or a guest in mind, please go ahead and just let me know and we’ll try to make that happen. We’d love to serve you in that way. I’ll jump right in to it. We’re going to be joined here by Rob Bowman, the executive director of the Institute for Religious Research. Rob. Thanks for joining the show today. Before we get going here on our topic, tell us a little bit about IRR.
Rob: Yes. Thanks very much. Thanks for having me, Kurt. IRR stands for Institute for Religious Research. We have a website with a short main name, it’s very easy to remember. It’s irr.org and the website is a very significant part of our ministry because it provides hundreds of resources on apologetics topics that, especially Mormonism, but also Jehovah’s Witnesses, Biblical reliability, and more generally, Biblical studies and proper interpretation of Scripture, theological topics that come up in apologetics such as the doctrine of the Trinity, what’s the Biblical basis for it, and answering objections to that doctrine and so forth. We have a lot of resources on that website at irr.org. We also have ministry opportunities where people who have been in the Mormon religion and have come out of it and have become evangelical Christians can mentor people who are still in the Mormon religion or who are transitioning out who are struggling with that, who have come to realize that Mormonism isn’t true, but they’re not sure what to believe and they maybe a little burned on religion, maybe they’re having, very commonly they’re having family issues, family stresses, and problems because the family is still LDS and the individual is not or is at least not active and so we have a mentoring program where a former Mormon who is a sound evangelical Christian can mentor those who are in that process of transition. They’re not trying to pressure them into any decisions. They’re not trying to get them to join a particular denomination. They’re just listening to them, sometimes is all they’re doing. They’re a sounding board, somebody who is sympathetic, who’s been there, who understands what it’s like to have those kinds of problems and those questions. “Now I’m not sure what to believe” and “I don’t know how to deal with the situation at home”, because very often it’s a lady who has a Mormon husband and he’s still adamantly LDS. Occasionally, vice-versa, so we have that particular ministry that is a very personal ministry that goes on through our organization. We manage a group of mentors and connect them up with people who are interested in being mentored. We have discussion groups online where people can come and talk about our issues with a group of people. In most cases, we have sort of public groups, but we also have a private group where people can do that and they don’t have to worry about who’s looking over their shoulder. It’s not because they’re trying to deceive anybody, but because sometimes confidentiality is a real need because of what’s going on with the family. We also have, both of us, there’s two full-time staff members, and we go speak at conferences and things like that. My cohort, my colleague, Joel Groat, has spoken in most of the countries in Latin America. He’s traveled to Mexico multiple times and other countries in Latin America and spoken at major conferences training pastors from all over the country to understand issues of discernment and apologetics and so we have a lot going on for a very small organization as I said, just two full-time individuals. Our organization’s been around over thirty years in one form or another. I’ve been with IRR now almost nine years.
Kurt: Great. Again, thanks for coming on the show today. Our topic is discussing really Hank Hanegraaff and his, a lot of people use this term, conversion over to Eastern Orthodoxy. For someone like myself, and for long time listeners of this show, I actually am sympathetic to say just a couple of the views that I have found in my research where I would lean towards sort of even an Eastern Orthodox view of something, but I’ve never been really even tempted at all to become a convert for numerous reasons. For some Protestants, joining the Eastern Orthodox Church is almost like heresy. Not only just heresy but losing your salvation whereas for other Protestants, especially my generation, the hip and cool thing to do seems to be that they are attracted to a church with a longer tradition than just fifty years and so a lot of Protestants, at least just from my perception, is that Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy really appeals to them.
Rob: Yes. I think if all you’ve known, and I’m not picking on this group, but it’s a good example of what you’re talking about. If all you’ve known or the main thing you’ve known is the Calvary Chapel movement for example which literally is only about fifty years old. If that’s all you know then finding a form of Christianity that is obviously over 1,000 years old that has traditions that seem, and in some cases, are ancient, makes you feel like maybe you’ve been missing something so yes, I think there is that element to it. I think it might be helpful for people who are listening who may not be familiar with Hank Hanegraaff to say something about him first and to let people know why his conversion, and I think that’s a fair term, his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy is of interest. Hank Hanegraaff is the president of an apologetics discernment ministry called The Christian Research Institute. It was founded by the late Walter Martin, a famous polemicist apologist and author of Kingdom of the Cults, Jehovah of the Watchtower, The Maze of Mormonism, and many other books. Martin was a very popular figure in early Christian radio and on some Christian television programming. He debated atheists and pretty much anybody that would agree to debate him and Walter Martin was an evangelical Protestant Christian and CRI, the Christian Research Institute, the ministry that he founded, was always staunchly evangelical and Protestant in its theology, in its perspective, its approach to doctrinal issues, its approach to discernment issues. I would say that generally speaking, CRI would be described as evangelical but not fundamentalist, at least not in an extreme way. In other words, CRI took the position always that while the Protestant approach to Christian theology was the correct and sound approach, that they were not taking the position, let’s say, that all Catholics were lost or in the case of the topic today all Eastern Orthodox Christians were not really Christians or not saved. So CRI took a more nuanced position on such matters. It was Evangelical. It was committed to the distinctives of the Protestant Reformation, to Sola Scriptura, to justification by faith alone, Sola Fide, and so very much a Protestant organization. When Walter Martin passed away in 1989, I believe if I’m remembering correctly, Hank Hanegraaff took over as president of CRI. Now there’s a big controversy about that. I know more about that than we want to talk about.
Kurt: Than most maybe.
Rob: Than most. I know more than most about it because I was at CRI from 1984 until 1991, early 92 depending on how you date my departure. I was associated with CRI for almost eight years and I was not physically at the organization when Martin passed away. I was working on a degree at the time out of state, but I was still part of the organization and I returned to the location in 1990 and when Hank, after Hank Hanegraaff had already become the president of the organization and I saw the organization go through a transition in which he took from or control of it and became the Bible Answer Man which he didn’t start off as.
Kurt: Right. And a lot of people may know him as that, the Bible Answer Man, and that’s the name of his radio program too.
Rob: Right. And it was
called the Bible Answer Man with Walter Martin originally. He’s the one that
had that program for over twenty-five years and now Hank Hanegraaff has been
the Bible Answer Man since about 1992. That’s twenty-five years. Hank has put
his own stamp on the organization, but historically, until very recently,
nobody would have questioned that CRI was still an evangelical Protestant
organization. In the last two years, Hanegraaff has been essentially
transitioning into the Orthodox Church and on Palm Sunday of this year which
was April 9, 2017, Hanegraaff, his wife, and two of his children, he has twelve
children, two of his children joined officially formally joined the Orthodox Church
and it was specifically a Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC which is where
CRI is currently based. There was no prior announcement that this was
happening. There were some rumors that he was studying to become Orthodox. In
fact, there was an interesting blog the day before he joined where somebody
said, “Hey. It sure looks like Hanegraaff is becoming Orthodox. Look at
what he said here, here, and here” and then the very next day he actually…[NP1] Kudos to Jason Engwer
at Triablogue for picking up on this and noticing it and making a point about
it the day before Hanegraaff was actually officially inducted. The family
members that were inducted were inducted by a ceremony called Chrismation,
which is essentially an anointing ceremony. It’s not baptism. Their prior
baptism was accepted as good enough I guess. Typically what happens in the
Orthodox Church is if you’ve been a Christian denomination and you’re
converting to the Orthodox Church they have this ceremony called Chrismation where
you essentially make it clear that you’re now following the Orthodox path.
That’s what he and the other family members did on Palm Sunday. As I said there
was no prior announcement of this. The news started spreading on the internet
the very same day and so that week he was forced to discuss it on his radio
show, he was planning to do so anyway, but he didn’t do so prior to,
only afterwards. So anyway because Hanegraaff has been a significant radio
personality in evangelical Protestantism for the last twenty-five years and has
written a number of books and so forth, his conversion to the Orthodox Church
is certainly newsworthy and it’s also worthy of discussion because it raises
some questions about what is the Orthodox Church and how does it compare to Evangelical
Protestantism. I’m having trouble talking today. You noticed that?
Kurt: That’s alright.
Rob: The evangelical Protestant faith. That’s a little easier. What should we think about this conversion and what is it that explains why so many evangelicals in the last couple decades or so have converted to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. There has been a steady stream of it and in many cases these are individuals who’ve been pastors or professors or ministry leaders of some kind. In Hanegraaff’s case, he is leader of a noteworthy evangelical apologetics ministry and yet without formal theological training, I might mention, but nevertheless who have had formal theological training have also converted to one of these two churches and so the question is what’s going on? Is there something that we evangelical Protestants need to learn from this? Is there something that we’re missing? Maybe something we’re not doing as well as we could and how should we view the faith of people that convert to these churches or denominations and so those are some of the issues that are raised by the conversion of somebody like Hanegraaff to the Orthodox Church.
Kurt: Yeah. So it
seems like there are a lot of questions that we sort of could go here. Thank
you for that background. Some of that background I wasn’t aware of and I’m sure
a lot of people don’t know about. So for someone like Hanegraaff who has been
running this Protestant organization, my first thought is what’s going to
happen to CRI?
Rob: Indeed. Things are already happening to CRI. The Bible Answer Man has been dropped from two radio networks that were broadcasting the program. I don’t know exactly how many stations or what percentage of stations that he was on but are now lost because of this, but it’s a significant number. It could be half. I’m not sure the exact number, but he’s been dropped from two fairly significant networks, not just individual stations, but networks of stations. He still last I heard, he was still on Salem Broadcasting. If Salem drops him, CRI is pretty much dead in the water. The Bible Answer Man program would essentially cease to exist. You don’t really have a viable program at that point to sustain CRI in its present form if he’s dropped from Salem as well. I don’t know what this means long-term. I do think that there is a very strong case to be made that he should not be continuing as the president of an organization which for fifty plus years has been identified as an evangelical Protestant organization. He’s free to believe whatever he chooses to believe. He is free to be a member of whatever church that he chooses, but this is not comparable to a Protestant moving from one Protestant denomination to another, it’s not comparable to a Baptist becoming a Methodist or a Presbyterian. It’s not even comparable to a Methodist becoming an Anglican let’s say.
Kurt: Could you draw
out why that is? Why is it that there’s a starker contrast from going from a
Protestant denomination to say Catholicism or specifically Eastern Orthodoxy?
Rob: Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church make the claim that they and they alone are the one true church on the Earth. The Catholic Church maintains that the true church is defined really by, it’s essentially a network of churches that are loyal to the Bishop of Rome and so if you’re not part of that community of churches that accept the primacy of the Bishop of Rome you are not part of the true church. In the case of the Orthodox Church which rejects the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, the Orthodox Church maintains that they and they alone are the true church, that the Catholics separated themselves by asserting the primacy of the Bishop of Rome against church tradition and that the true church is the unchanged church. What makes Eastern Orthodoxy very distinctive and for some people very attractive is their, I don’t mean this in a crass way, but their pitch, their marketing message, and everybody has one including me, including us. Their marketing message is “We’re the same church that’s been around for 2,000 years. We haven’t changed. Everybody else has changed, but not us.” It’s historically naive. If I can, just to be fair here and illustrate the point, there are Baptists that make the same claim. I had a Baptist professor, this is not an ignoramus, I had a Baptist professor tell me that the Baptists had been around for throughout church history and I said “Who was the first Baptist?” and he said “John.” I’m not making that up. That’s a true story, but I’m going to be kind and not say who this person was who said this. It’s absurd, so Protestants are not above having an overly naive and simplistic view of church history, but this particular strain of Baptist tradition that this fellow held on to does make this claim, but there’s been this unchanging Baptist faith that’s been here for 2,000 years. We can chuckle at that, but the Orthodox Church has millions of people that accept this particular claim for them. They have a stronger case to be made because institutionally, they can trace their history all the way back to the second century if not the first and they certainly believe that they’re teaching the same thing that Christians have always held. In fact, Christian theology developed as Christians sorted out various theological questions and dealt with certain heresies that challenged them to define more carefully and more precisely what they believed. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a necessary thing for human beings to do in community as they realize that they have questions that haven’t been directly answered before, but it’s a little bit naive to think that there’s nothing that changes there. The core or the essence may be the same, but the expressions change and certain practices developed to accommodate changing cultural trends and situations and so forth so, nevertheless, this is really the big selling point of the Orthodox Church, is that they see themselves as maintaining a continuity or changelessness of the church in a way that none of the other forms of Christianity can claim, not even the Catholic Church, and that’s fair in the sense that the Catholic Church acknowledges that there’s been development and claim that it has the authority to develop in its doctrine and practices because of the infallible magisterium and so forth that it has. The Eastern Orthodox tradition denies that such development really is supposed to take place. It’s an interesting situation. Anyway, these claims that they and they alone are the one true church, and of course, they can’t both be the one true church, I mean exclusively in the institutional sense, they can’t be. That claims brings with it a lot of baggage that makes any conversion to one of those denominations much more of a big deal than changing from Baptist to Calvary Chapel or anything like that.
Kurt: And is that because, as sort of an entailment of that belief, that they are the one true church, one of the entailments of that belief is that other people doing church, like those Protestants, aren’t really doing the true church, and so they’re making a starker claim about, say, their own salvation versus that of other Christians?
Rob: It’s a very astute inference and it is basically correct. Historically, both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have maintained that the salvation of Protestants was in question at least. I did some quick checking on this online and went to several different websites and articles and books that I was able to find in the short order to see what were they saying about the Orthodox, saying about the salvation of Protestants, and basically their answer was typically, “Well we don’t know. We hope God saves some of them, but it is in question”, which frankly surprised me a little bit. I thought I would run into a lot more of the kind of theologically correct, kinder, gentler, kind of response that says, “Oh no. They can be saved. They’re just separated brethren,” which you get from some Catholics, but no, in the Orthodox Church apparently they would certainly never, I don’t think any of them would say, “Oh yes. Protestants are going to Hell. They’re lost,” but they would say they’re cut off from the true source of salvation which is mediated through the church and its sacraments. Historically the Catholic Church used to take the same position. They haven’t taken this position really since Vatican II which was in the 60’s and for those, I think it’s helpful to compare here even though we’re talking about the Orthodox Church, in the Catholic Church, at Vatican II, essentially a view of the salvation of non-Catholics won over that was extremely lax. It essentially said while they may be outside the true church, they’re not cut off from salvation and not only is this said of Protestants. You know what, I have not been able to say that word today. Isn’t that funny? But it’s also true of non-Christians.
Kurt: Especially Muslims.
Rob: Right. Catholics are taught today. I’m not just talking about folk Catholic beliefs or popular beliefs. Catholic theology now teaches that God saves millions potentially of non-Christians simply because they’re sincerely following the path that they know. Depending on how you shake that out and how you work it out, that could be a kind of loophole where we’re not saying everyone’s damned outside of Christianity, or it could be, well God’s gonna try to pretty much save as many as He can and very few people are going to be lost and you have to really be a bad nasty person to go to Hell and so in practice Catholics have become near universalists. There’s no longer perceived on the part of the vast majority of Catholics any need for evangelism. The work of the Church is essentially a social gospel. It’s helping people physically and materially. We want people to come into the church because they can experience more of God’s goodness and blessings in the church, but they don’t need to come into the church to be saved. I think the vast majority of Catholics do think this way and I think this comes from the top. This is basically what the Catholic Church itself teaches. Orthodoxy has remained much more conservative. They didn’t through these kinds of changes in the 60’s and so they tend to view the salvation of non-Orthodox Christians, whether it’s Catholic, Protestant, but especially Protestant, Pentecostal or whatever, as in serious doubt, but God is gracious and He…
Kurt: Sure. It’s a divine mystery.
Rob: They could be saved. Yeah. They’re willing to live with, and I mean there’s nothing wrong with this in theory. If this is what you’ve got, this is what you’ve got, but they’re willing to live with an uncertainty on this issue, but that uncertainty has that edge to it that you know your salvation is very much in doubt as long as you’re separated from the Orthodox Church, so now Hanegraaff’s salvation is assured in a way that it wasn’t from an Orthodox perspective. Funny enough, I would guess, I don’t know Hank’s heart obviously, but I would guess that Hanegraaff would say that he was sure of his salvation prior to joining the Orthodox Church. In fact, Hanegraaff has asserted in more than one way in the last few weeks since his chrismation, that his beliefs have not changed. That he still believes the same thing he’s always believed. This is rather difficult to buy.
Kurt: That almost, maybe this is too strong of a word, but that’s almost naive because there are obvious differences between Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. One of those, for example, is the mediation of grace.
Rob: In both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, salvation is very much mediated through, conveyed through the sacraments….
Kurt: Let’s just take a moment and flesh that out a little bit. For Protestants, we believe that we are saved by grace through faith and faith alone and there’s no necessary component to having to take the Eucharist or to have Communion in order to be saved. Of course, we Protestants still think that that sacrament is a good thing to do and we should participate in that, but it’s not a necessary condition in order to be saved.
Rob: And certainly not central to the Christian experience from a Protestant point of view, whereas Hanegraaff himself, when he was discussing his embracing of the Orthodox path, did state that he has come to the point where the Eucharist is now central to his own faith. Well that marks a definite shift from what in Evangelicalism is typically a word-centered or Gospel-centered experience to a sacrament-centered experience. That has theological ramifications that can’t be ignored. When he has explained his views on various issues that divide Protestants from Catholics or Protestants from Orthodox Christians, he has explained them in ways that are consistent with the Orthodox position. He no longer holds to Sola Scriptura for example, the idea that Scripture is alone the standard by which doctrine and practice is to be tested or judged.
Kurt: The final authority.
Rob: Right. He doesn’t hold to that anymore. He doesn’t hold to Sola Fide. He now, I think he used to hold to these things. In fact, I think it was the Sola Scriptura, I did find something that he had said, at some point, I may come out with this, but I haven’t done it yet, but he did say something in the past affirming Sola Scriptura. He can’t affirm it now, but the problem here is, I’m just going to be frank and give my own perhaps somewhat cynical perspective, but he has to tread a fine line here. On the one hand he has joined the Orthodox Church. On the other hand, he still the Bible Answer Man. He’s still the head of the evangelical Protestant organization CRI. He wants to assure his evangelical listeners that he still supports what they believe, but he wants to assure his Orthodox friends, that he accepts what they believe. Now we do have a lot in common. We believe in the same God. We believe in the triune God revealed in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in the same Lord Jesus Christ who is both God and man. We believe in the incarnation, that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man. We share a lot of beliefs that there are issues on which we are very much divided and to act as if there’s no problem, there’s no difference. I’m going to go further than saying it’s naive. I personally think it’s somewhat disingenuous, but I think he’s forced into it by his position at CRI.
Kurt: Yeah. I think that’s right. He can’t have his cake and eat it too. There are…
Rob: Well right now he’s trying to do it and as I said some of these radio networks have already dropped him, because they don’t think he can do it.
Kurt: Alright. We’ve got to take a short break so please stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us. I’m here with Rob Bowman and today we are discussing Hank Hanegraaff’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy and what that means for the Christian Research Institute and the radio program, the Bible Answer Man.
Rob: I want to be clear about that one thing here and that is dropping Hanegraaff, dropping his Bible Answer Man broadcast from evangelical radio networks does not necessarily constitute a judgment on his personal salvation. It’s simply acknowledging that his program no longer represents evangelicalism and so if you’re an evangelical radio network, and people that you’re trying to service…
Kurt: With a specific message that you yourself believe.
Rob: Right. If that’s your thing, if that’s your message, if your products are radio broadcasts from different radio personalities or programs that promote that message and you’ve got somebody who defects from that point of view, then it’s perfectly appropriate, in fact, it’s proper, for that network to drop that individual’s program so that’s what’s been happening here and we’ve had some extreme reactions from certain quarters of people saying that, “Well, Hanegraaff has abandoned the Christian faith.” I don’t think that’s appropriate. I don’t think that’s fair, but at the same time, he has abandoned the evangelical understanding of the Christian faith and that has some significance and some implications and it should have some impact in terms of associations. It’s only natural.
Kurt: So, to the idea that he’s lost his salvation, what gives Protestants concern, shall we say, maybe that’s putting it more politely, concern that something like that would happen.
Rob: Well. Of course, some of these evangelicals, I would refer to this particular segment of Protestants as fundamentalists, some of these fundamentalists would say that he never was saved, because they hold to eternal security or some version of that and so they would say obviously apparently he never was saved because he’s abandoned the evangelical or Protestant position. They may not be making judgments about his personal salvation. They may simply be saying, what he’s now publicly advocating is, from their point of view, no longer a publicly acceptable form of the Christian faith, so they may view him as a heretic and that may imply he’s not saved, but their main point is that he’s no longer advocating what they view as essentials of the Christian faith. Now, this is a tricky issue here, and I say tricky only to mean it’s very easy to see why they would say this and it seems sensible, but I’m going to argue that it’s a mistake and I’m gonna argue for a more nuanced or subtle position on this matter, because here’s how they figure it. Hanegraaff has joined the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church rejects sola fide. It rejects the doctrine of justification through faith alone. It teaches that we’re justified by faith and works. If you teach that you’re justified by faith and works, then you’re teaching essentially works-righteousness. You’re making salvation contingent on your own works and that’s the heresy that Paul rejected in his epistle to the Galatians and it’s contrary to the Gospel, so in joining the Orthodox Church, Hanegraaff or anybody else for that matter, is repudiating the Gospel and so therefore, he’s a heretic, as are all Orthodox Christians on this view, and as are all Catholics on this view. Now, the logic is fairly easy to follow. Right? I don’t think I’ve caricatured it. I think this is exactly what, for example, the blog…
Kurt: Pulpit and Pen?
Rob: Pulpit and Pen argued shortly after Hanegraaff’s conversion, pretty much after the news come out, they posted a blog piece saying that he had abandoned the biblical Christian faith and that what he was advocating was heresy. In fact, the title of the blog was “The Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraaff Leaves The Christian Faith? The only question as you read through was whether the report of his abandoning it for Orthodoxy was factual, because it was the day after or something, so they were saying “Well we’re not sure if this really happened, but if it did he has abandoned the Christian faith.” The logic that I set out I think is a fair summary of their point of view, but let me explain why I disagree with it. First of all, it leads to what I think ought to be for most of us a rather unsettling conclusion which is that there were no Christians prior to the Protestant Reformation because you will not be able to find, except perhaps a statement here or there out of context, you will not be able to find any Christian theologians, teachers, writers, in the first fourteen, fifteen centuries of Christianity clearly articulating what we would call justification by faith alone, or some people like to call it forensic justification. The idea that justification at it’s core is a legal act which God pardons sinners of all of their sins, past, present, and future, solely on the basis of Christ’s atoning work, incorporated simply by faith, by trusting in that gift. That way of understanding justification in a formal or explicit articulation doesn’t show up clearly until the Reformation. You won’t find any of the church fathers teaching it. You will find statements in the church fathers teaching salvation by grace alone and some statements that would seem to be at least pushing in the direction of a Sola Fide idea….
Kurt: And then also to, perhaps even Sola Scriptura, getting back to the Scriptures.
Rob: Oh yes. You have a better case to be made from Christians writers like Augustine and Aquinas for Sola Scriptura than you do for Sola Fide. The problem here is that it’s highly problematic theologically, biblically, to maintain that there was no sound or acceptable form of Christianity on Earth from the second century until the sixteenth century. That’s highly problematic. What you end up, I’ve had some fundamentalists tell me basically, so much for the worse for all those people. I don’t wish to be misunderstood. This is not me going soft because, “Oh. All those poor people. Those poor medieval Christians. You’re saying they’re all damned and how can you be so mean and cruel?” That’s not what this is, even though that would all be fair. That’s not what this is. What this is is it comes down to a biblically defective doctrine of the church because the New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus Christ established the church in the first century and that He promised to be with it and preserve it and advance it until His second coming. We see this in Jesus’s statements to Peter in Matthew 16. The Gates of Hades will not prevail against the church. Matthew 28:20. I am with you, that is you disciples, not just the eleven but all disciples, until the end of the age. Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5 about Christ preparing the bride for His return. There’s many statements in the New Testament that point in this direction. Jude 3, the faith once for all delivered to the saints. If you maintain that the faith was lost in the second century and not recovered until the sixteenth century, you have an unbiblical doctrine of the church. In fact, what you have is a form of restorationism, which is the same heretical, frankly, view or at least aberrant, depending on how it’s worked out, but at least implicitly heretical view of the church that the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses hold. The only difference is they think the church was restored in the nineteenth century instead of the sixteenth. I’m not drawing an equivalency here between the two movements or the three movements as wholes because fundamentalists have the same God and the same Christ. They have very critical, crucial important things right, that these heretical groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t, but ironically, they are implicitly buying into a kind of restorationist view of the church. They may not even realize they’re doing it because they may simply be ignorant of the fact that there were no Protestants holding to the same view of justification prior to the Reformation. Again, maybe like my Baptist friend who thought the first Baptist was John. That’s just historically not credible. My main objection to this view is that it entails a defective doctrine of the church. my other objection to it is, maybe equally of concern, is that, again I think unwittingly, these fundamentalists have compromised the very doctrine they’re trying to safeguard.
Kurt: I think I know where you’re heading here.
Rob: Yeah. What they are teaching is that you’re saved by faith alone plus having the right doctrine of salvation.
Kurt: Right. This is
the famous orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy discussion. When we die, will we have a
theological test we have to take in order to see if we’ve passed?
Rob: I have maintained for years that there is no theology exam that you have to pass. Now, theology matters and theology reflects where our hearts are, so theology can be indicative of the feel of a spiritual problem, but we’re not saved by passing a doctrinal exam. I could give you an analogy here. I’ve talked with people in the extreme faction of the Church of Christ movement, so this is not about everybody in the Churches of Christ, but the conservative wing of the Churches of Christ maintains that in order to be saved, you must hear the Gospel, repent, believe, be baptized, and persevere, and it has to be in that order, and when I’ve questioned people in this faction, you not only have to do all these things. You have to believe that all those things are essential in order to be saved. I say, “Well not let’s see. I’ve repented of my sins. I’ve heard the Gospel and repented of my sins. I believe in Jesus Christ and I’ve been baptized and I’m still going, I’m still persevering, but I don’t think my baptism was essential to my salvation. In your view, am I saved?” And their answer is no, because you don’t believe your baptism was essential so now they’re saying that not only do I have to hear the Gospel, repent, believe, be baptized, and persevere. I also have to have the right doctrine of baptism in order to be saved.
Rob: If you talk to somebody in the Church of Christ they want to try to argue with you that you have to be baptized to be saved and they’ve got their prooftext. Acts 2:38 is the usual first one, but they’ve got others. I stopped arguing with them about that years ago. I’ll talk about it at some point, but here’s what I’ll ask them. “So you’re saying I have to be baptized to be saved.” “Yup.” “Okay. I’ve been baptized. Am I saved?” “Nope.” “Well what am I missing?” Apparently I’m missing having the right doctrine of baptism. Okay. Where does the Bible say I have to have the right doctrine of baptism to be saved? Then they will be furiously thumbing through their Bible trying to find one and there isn’t one. That’s my analogy. Similarly, some fundamentalist Christians maintain that not only are people justified by faith alone, but you have to hold the right doctrine. You have to believe in justification by faith alone to get it. I don’t know where the Bible teaches that. Let’s say for example you have your typical Orthodox or Catholic Christian who defines in his mind, maybe not formally or systematically because they’re not necessarily theologians, but in their minds to them justification means God making us right with Him in a way that includes what Protestants would call justification and sanctification. This is in fact the Catholic and Orthodox position. That justification is not just the imputation of righteousness, but it’s the impartation of righteousness in what we would call sanctification. Obviously, if you’re going to have imparted righteousness, you’re going to have works and if you don’t have works it’s not then imparted. Right? You can’t grow in sanctification if you don’t obey. Right? Right. So when they say that we’re justified by faith and works, they very often mean that we are justified and sanctified by a process that includes both faith and works. Now I agree with them. That is in fact the Protestant position. It was taught by Luther. It was taught by Calvin. It’s in the Westminster Confession of Faith, but it’s in different words, because we have distinguished between justification and sanctification or justification and the growth in holiness that comes after you have come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We slice and dice the terminology differently and I’m not saying it’s all semantics, but a lot of it is semantics.
Kurt: So for someone in the Eastern Orthodox Church though, they might actually be less sure of their own salvation because for them salvation is a process, it’s something that’s not completed and so they’re more uncertain than even Protestants. Would that be accurate?
Rob: Well, yeah. In fact, many evangelicals and fundamentalists are absolutely certain of salvation, at least they say they are. I am one and I’m pretty confident about my salvation because I do hold to salvation by grace alone and I believe God’s grace has changed my life and brought me into relationship with God. I don’t base my sense of security or my assurance of salvation on my performance. That’s an important point and I think evangelicals have an important message for our Catholic and Orthodox brethren because I think you’re right, many of them are unsure about their status and will say, “I hope so and I think I’m doing okay right now, but you never know,” and those kinds of things, so I think that we have something helpful to say, but I don’t think that it’s helpful to tell them, “Well if you don’t have assurance of salvation, you don’t have salvation.” I don’t think that’s a biblical doctrine, but many fundamentalists do. In their minds, if you don’t have absolute assurance that you’re saved, then you’re not saved. I’ve had, I don’t want to go too far afield here, but I think this is important to understand that we have this problem within evangelical and protestant circles where people make these kind of claims and then end up backing themselves into a corner where it’s really untenable. For example, the day that a person first professes faith in Jesus Christ and puts his faith in Christ for salvation. If he doesn’t that very day experience a subjective assurance of salvation, did it really not happen at all? I think most Christians, most evangelical Christians, let me just talk about them, and fundamentalist Christians, go through a process where they come to faith in Christ, but it takes a little bit of time, I mean it might only be hours, but it might be weeks or months where they kind of sort out the significance of what they’ve done and come to an understanding that yeah, I’m secure in God’s love no matter what happens because God has promised to make sure that I persevere and that I make it to the end, but unfortunately what has now happened is that there was a strain of fundamentalist Christianity which has dropped perseverance from their doctrine of assurance and they’re essentially saying, “If you believed at any time in your life, if you genuinely believed in Christ at any time of your life, you’re saved no matter even if you stopped believing.” I’m going to refrain from mentioning a very popular Christian preacher who teaches this, and I was shocked when I read it in his own book, but there it was and I thought, “Wow.” I think this particular Protestant pastor was better than that. I think it was bad doctrine. It was a bad understanding based on an inference from our view of justification by faith alone, but I think it’s damaging because it’s essentially telling people it doesn’t matter how you live after you come to faith in Christ. That doesn’t really have anything to do with it. That gives credence to the Catholic and Orthodox perception that what we maintain is a kind of cheap grace that gets us justified, but leaves us unsanctified, that leaves us untouched spiritually, that leaves us still totally carnal and self-centered and if we do anything as a Christian, it’s just gravy, it’s just extra, whereas the Reformation leaders, Luther and Calvin and all the other guys, they maintained that we are justified through faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone. It always comes with regeneration or the new birth, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, sanctification, adoption, all of these spiritual blessings. As Paul says in Ephesians 1, every spiritual blessing in Christ. You can’t get justification without those things. It’s a package deal. This is the part that I’m afraid some conservative Christians on the Protestant side have not held very clearly or understood and in some cases have denied. If that was your understanding of the evangelical or fundamentalist Christian gospel and you saw the damaging effects of it and then you ran into Orthodox or Catholic Christians who said “That’s not what the church used to teach. Read the church fathers. They don’t believe any of that. If you’re going to be a Christian, you gotta live like one,” and you read the church fathers and by golly, that is their view, all of them, Augustine included. You’re hungry for a Christianity where people take their faith seriously and that’s going to be attractive. So what I’m getting at here is that there’s nothing wrong with the evangelical theology. It’s that so many of us aren’t well informed theologically. We don’t know our own tradition, our own position on these issues, the church the Protestant reformation has handed down to us. One reason why that’s true is because the late eighteenth into the nineteenth century and thereafter, there developed this strong anti-creedal, anti-traditional, independent minded kind of Protestant Christianity which said we’re going to reject all that stuff that’s not in the Bible. No creed but Christ. You know what one of the major religions that came out of that was? Mormonism. This is a restorationist impulse.
Kurt: Some of it might be well-intentioned, in terms of getting back to the Bible, getting back to the teachings of the Scripture and the early church, and that’s a good thing, but it’s done at the expense of learning from church history, learning even our own traditions.
Rob: That’s right. There’s nothing wrong with tradition, but tradition always must be subject to correction based on the Word of God. That is what the Protestant position on Scripture and tradition has historically been. What has happened is that many people have embraced the position that tradition is to be rejected unless it happens to coincide with something that you find explicitly in Scripture and that is very often whittled down to whatever a particular group of people find acceptable. We’re not required to reject tradition merely because they’re not spelled out explicitly in the Bible. That is a kind of naive Biblicism which is not to be confused with Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura means Scripture is the final sole authority for judging doctrinal controversies. Not…
Kurt: The only source of knowledge.
Rob: Everything you believe has to be articulated. Yeah. It’s not the only source of knowledge. It’s not the only source of the language we use to articulate our beliefs. If you hold to that kind of naive Biblicism, then you can’t hold for example to the doctrine of the Trinity, because the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible. Three persons isn’t spelled out that way in the Bible, so naturally when people imbibe this kind of naive Biblicism then they’re set up to wonder why I should believe in something like the doctrine of the Trinity or even Sola Scriptura, and this has been a serious trap for many people who thought they held to Sola Scriptura, and then were challenged by a Catholic or an Orthodox by saying “Where does the Bible teach Sola Scriptura?” Then they’re thumbing through the Bible that spells out Sola Scriptura in just that way. You can’t find it. Well, I guess that’s right. But Sola Scriptura is a theological way of articulating what is in Scripture but not spelled out in just those words.
Kurt: Rob. We’re running low on time here, but I wanted to ask you one want last question in getting back to the Hanegraaff issue here. For Protestants, as you previously mentioned, the gospel is very clear. The word, the message is central to our belief. For the Eastern Orthodox, that’s not so much the case. How is it that Eastern Orthodoxy sort of muddies the gospel message?
Rob: First of all, the facts of the gospel are the same. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that there’s one God who created the universe out of nothing, who created human beings in His image, that we have fallen into sin and need to be redeemed, that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the God-man who was incarnate as a human being uniting the divine nature and the human nature, that He lived a sinless life, that He died on the cross for our sins, rose bodily in the grave, ascended into heaven, and will return in glory. So we believe the same basic factual history or storyline of the gospel that they do. We have the same basic core beliefs in that regard. Where Orthodoxy muddies the gospel, is in its sacramentally centered and church mediated understanding of grace, that the grace by which God saves us in Christ is mediated through the church in the sacraments and if you are cut off from those means of grace, your salvation is in jeopardy or in serious question. Some Protestants can talk about the sacraments and the church as means of grace, but not in the sense of necessary vehicles through which grace is exclusively conveyed and that’s the big difference. Baptism and the Eucharist and the church itself and its teaching ministry office and all that are means by which the gospel is displayed to people and they are encouraged to believe, but it is not that exclusive channel through which it can only be securely obtained and that’s a huge, a huge difference and it’s one that’s not going away. This is a well-established understanding on the Orthodox side and against a well-established understanding on the Protestant side that that’s just not the way it works.
Kurt: Thank you so much for helping to clear up not only that concern but all these other issues pertaining to this recent event here of the Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraaff converting to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Rob Bowman, executive director of the Institute for Religious Research. Thanks for coming on the show today.
Rob: Thanks. I hope people will visit our website irr.org and I sure have enjoyed talking to you.
Kurt: Yeah. And we’ll go ahead and post a link at our website for people to go right over to you so thanks so much.
Rob: Awesome. Thanks.
Kurt: Well that does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Ratio Christi. Thank you to the tech team today and to our guest Rob Bowman. Thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]14:25. Kurt laughing and Rob slurring. Couldn’t make out.