For years, Hank Hanegraaff was one of the most respected voices of intellectual, evangelical theology in America. Every week his radio program, The Bible Answer Man, covered controversial topics, answered listener questions and attacked what Hanegraaff believed to be heretical sects of spiritual trends in American culture. Which is why Hanegraaff’s listeners were shocked to learn that The Bible Answer Man has joined the Eastern Orthodox Church, a section of Christianity seen by many evangelicals as existing outside acceptable beliefs.
“We have a specific point of view that we represent, and we try to make that as close to a biblical worldview—a literal interpretation of the Bible,” Michael Carbone, Chief Operating Officer for the Winston-Salem-based Truth Network, said in a recent interview. “The Eastern Orthodox faith has some positions that are antithetical to a traditional evangelical biblical position.”
This led the Truth Network as well as the Bott Radio Network to dump the Answer Man program from a total of 120 stations around the country. While Hanegraaff said he isn’t particularly bothered by the decrease in his show’s audience, he also claims his views have not changed from where they’ve always been.
Hanegraaff told Christianity Today his conversion began during a trip to China. “I saw Chinese Christians who were deeply in love with the Lord, and I learned that while they may not have had as much intellectual acumen or knowledge as I did, they had life,” he said.
This moment led him to study the writings of Watchman Nee—a man Hanegraaff at one point had branded heretical—and a realization that while his faith was deeply grounded intellectually, he felt an absence of faith on a more personal and experiential level.
“I have been typically more skewed toward truth and, quite frankly, [my wife, Kathy] more skewed toward life,” Hanegraaff said on his radio show. “But today we are on precisely the same page in life and in truth, and we’re loving it. Daily we thank God that he has saved us by grace alone through an active faith in our dear Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve been impacted by the whole idea of knowing Jesus Christ, experiencing Jesus Christ and partaking of the graces of Jesus Christ through the Eucharist or the Lord’s table,” he said.
Hanegraaff is no stranger to controversy. His book Counterfeit Revival attacked what he saw as a dangerous strand of Christianity that dated from the First Great Awakening to the various charismatic revivals in Brownsville and Toronto in the 1990s. Some critics claimed the book was not only broadly stereotypical in its depictions of the charismatic movement in America, but also dangerously divisive within evangelicalism. Three years ago he was criticized by Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham for not believing in a literal serpent who tempted Adam and Eve and for making concessions toward evolutionary theory. However, for the first time some evangelical voices are wondering whether Hanegraaff now falls in the realm of orthodox, evangelical faith at all.
“[Hanegraaff’s conversion] has raised a number of eyebrows, concerns and questions in the evangelical world,” said R. Philip Roberts, director for international theological education with the Global Ministries Foundation in Tennessee. “Of course, the roots of Eastern Orthodox theology go back centuries—even to the ancient creeds, councils and church theologians. The problem is what has happened since then in terms of revisions and interpretations in Eastern Orthodox thinking by eastern mystical thinkers involving the biblical doctrines of God, Adam, humankind, sin and salvation.”
From Hanegraaff’s point of view, though, joining the Eastern Orthodox church has not changed his theology in any significant way.
“People are posting this notion that somehow or other I’ve walked away from the faith and am no longer a Christian,” Hanegraaff said during his April 11 broadcast. “Look, my views have been codified in 20 books. In terms of sola Scriptura, I’ve always been committed to the Bible as the infallible guide for faith and practice. I think that’s what it means. It means that the Bible is infallible. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Nothing has changed in my faith.”