Sanctification

The Heart of the Hanegraaff Hubbub: Dethroning the God of Your Personal Experiences

Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man. If you hadn’t heard of him before, you probably have by now. President of the Christian Research Institute, author of over twenty books, and host of the popular Bible Answer Man radio call in show, Hanegraaff has been highly regarded in the field of apologetics for years.

Until recently, that is, when he publicly announced that he had been chrismated into the Greek Orthodox church he had been attending for about two years.

Why? Because the Greek Orthodox church holds many beliefs which conflict with Scripture in much the same way, and on some of the same issues, the Roman Catholic church’s beliefs conflict with Scripture.

Much ink and airtime has been dedicated to specific, unbiblical Greek Orthodox doctrines, and you can learn about those in the Additional Resources section at the end of this article, but I’d like to take a look at a statement Hank made during an interview about his decision to join Greek Orthodoxy:

His journey to Orthodoxy began with a trip to China, when “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.

On the flight back, Hanegraaff wondered if he was even a Christian. “I was comparing my ability to communicate truth with their deep and abiding love for the Lord Jesus Christ.”¹

There are two telling points in these remarks that I think we, as Christian women, would do well to examine and learn from:

Your feelings and experiences aren’t the biblical basis for decision-making.
Just taking Hank’s own words at face value, his feelings about salvation and what the Christian life “should” be like, and his experience with the Chinese Christians – not Scripture – were, at the very least, his first step away from a doctrinally sound church.

The Bible – which is what this whole Christianity thing we’re doing is based on – makes very clear that we can’t trust our feelings. We can’t trust that they’re real, rational, or biblically appropriate. And our experiences are notoriously unreliable as well. How many times have you acted, spoken, or made an assumption based on what you thought was happening right in front of you, only to find out later that your assessment of the situation was wrong, you had misunderstood, or you had jumped to the wrong conclusion?

That’s why God tells us that His written word – not our feelings and experiences – is the standard by which we live our lives and the basis for every decision we make. Our hearts and minds are sinful and fallible. God’s word is not. It can be trusted. It proves true every time it’s tried. God’s word is sufficient, and it – not our feelings and experiences – is our authority.

Most of us have heard the scenario of the woman who cheats on her husband and then says things like, “I think God is calling me to divorce my husband so I can be with my lover. I just feel like God would want me to be happy.” And most of us could point her to Scriptures that clearly refute her feelings- that God is not calling her to get divorced because He intended marriage to be for life, and that adultery is sin that needs to be repented of, despite how “happy” it makes her.

If we would give Scripture the preeminence over feelings in that kind of situation, why would we not give Scripture the preeminence over feelings when it comes to something as important as what we believe about God and the kind of worship He finds acceptable? One woman’s adultery is paltry in comparison to the nature of God and the doctrine and practices of Christ’s church. Yet, so often, we bow the knee to the god of what we think and feel and prefer rather than what the God of the Bible commands.

“Head” versus “heart” is a false dichotomy.
Their “love for the Lord” and “life” versus his “intellectual acumen or knowledge.” Their “deep and abiding love” for Christ versus his “ability to communicate truth.” And what hangs in the balance? Hank’s salvation.

During His earthly ministry, it was plain to see that no one had a greater intellectual grasp of Scripture and ability to communicate its truth than Christ. Yet, at the same time, no one had a greater love for God or a more vibrant relationship with Him.

Being a serious student of God’s word and loving Him with your whole being aren’t mutually exclusive. Jesus did not say, “Love the Lord with all your heart or all your mind.” He said:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30

Notice that this verse doesn’t pit knowledge against love, it says that knowledge is one of the ways we love God. God calls us to multi-task when it comes to loving Him. And the great thing about this multi-tasking is that each “task” feeds off the others. The more you love God with your emotions, the more you want to love Him by learning about Him, which leads you to study His word. And the more you love Him through the study of His word, the greater your emotional love for Him.

One thing Hank didn’t mention about these particular Chinese Christians that’s often noted by missionaries in places where God’s word is prohibited or scarce is that the very Christians you see worshiping joyfully and tearfully crying out to the Lord for hours at a time are the same Christians who will do anything to get a copy of God’s word to study. These are not people who draw a line of distinction between loving the Lord with their hearts and knowing Him with their minds.

If you consistently, long-term, have zero desire to read, hear preached, or be taught God’s word, or your heart is never stirred with love and affection for God, there’s some kind of spiritual problem there. You do need to examine yourself to discover whether or not you’re truly born again. But you need to examine yourself against Scripture, not against your feelings and your observations of others. Maybe you even need to change churches, but, again, you need to measure your current church and potential new churches against Scripture, not against what you perceive to be their emotional or intellectual love, or lack of love, for the Lord.

The bulk of the hubbub over Hank Hanegraaff has been focused on the false teachings of Greek Orthodoxy. But how does a person eventually get to that point of ignoring biblical doctrine in hopes of what he thinks is a more fulfilling worship experience? It starts at the throne of the heart. And the only only One who has a right to occupy that throne and issue edicts from it is the God revealed in Scripture, not the god of personal experiences.


¹Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff. “‘Bible Answer Man’ Converts to Orthodoxy,” Christianity Today, April 12, 2017,
http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2017/april/bible-answer-man-hank-hanegraaff-orthodoxy-cri-watchman-nee.html.


Additional Resources

What Do We Do with Hank Hanegraaff? Todd Friel on Wretched TV

The Bible Answer Man Is No Longer Biblical? Gabe Hughes on When We Understand the Text

Can a Consistent Eastern Orthodox Believer Be the Bible Answer Man? James White on The Dividing Line

Basic Training, Bible

Basic Training: The Bible Is Our Authority

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.bible-authority

The Bible. Scripture. The Good Book. It used to be so blatantly self-evident that God’s written Word was the foundation and standard for the Christian faith that it was assumed. A given. You learned, “I stand alone on the word of God- the B-I-B-L-E,” when you were three or four years old, you believed it, and you moved on.

But take a look at the Westernized version of Christianity these days. The fruit of abandoning the authority of Scripture is chilling. From the demonic tremoring and barking antics of New Apostolic Reformation “churches” to the rebellion of female “pastors” to the “gay Christian” movement to “Christian” abortion doctors, it’s clear that an astounding number of self-professed Christians and churches don’t submit to Scripture’s mandates for their beliefs and practices.

“Whew,” you might be thinking, “my church and I must be OK. We call homosexuality sin. We’re pro-life. Our pastor is male. And the wildest our congregation gets is when Brother Joe bellows a good, hearty ‘Amen!’ during the sermon.”

Those are all good, biblical things and I don’t want to minimize them. But is it good enough? Are there other, more subtle ways you or your church aren’t submitting to the authority of Scripture? And what does it mean that the Bible is our authority, anyway?

Have you ever played Monopoly? If you have, you know that you’re supposed to use a Monopoly board, two dice, the and the game pieces and Chance and Community Chest cards that come with the game. You also know that there is a standard set of Monopoly rules that are supposed to be followed.

monopoly-1356307_640Suppose a friend invited you to play Monopoly but wanted to use a checker board instead of a Monopoly board. Or wanted to create a new rule that you would get $500 for passing Go instead of $200. Or that you could get out of jail without rolling doubles.

Monopoly was created in 1903 by a lady named Elizabeth J. Magie Phillips. Magie created the game to teach people the consequences of having large or valuable tracts of land controlled by private monopolies¹. Each piece of the game and each rule was created with that teaching goal in mind. To alter the rules of the game is to, at best, be out of alignment with Magie’s intentions and purposes, and, at worst, to not be playing Monopoly at all. If you want to truly play Monopoly, learn the fullest extent of the lesson Magie was trying to teach, and respect Magie as the creator of the game, you’ve got to play by her rules. All of them. Even the ones you don’t like or particularly understand.

Many of the same principles apply to Christianity. God set Christianity up a certain way with His own intentions and purposes. If we alter His rules, we’re, at best, not lined up with those intentions and purposes, and, at worst, not practicing Christianity at all. If we really want to honor God, grow in Christ to the greatest extent and truly be practicing biblical Christianity, we’ve got to play by His rules. All of them. Even the ones we don’t particularly like or understand.

But what many Christians are doing today is taking their “Monopoly game” of Christianity and assuming it’s for their own entertainment, better quality of life, or positive feelings. And because they’re largely ignorant of the Creator of the “game” and His purposes and intentions behind said game, the players start tossing out His rules whenever those rules don’t fit the purposes and intentions of the players.

God created you and me and the world and Christianity and the church for His glory. He gets to make the rules. We follow the rule book (the Bible), not because those rules will make us personally happy or successful, but – simply and ultimately – because they are given by God and glorify Him. What He says goes, and we honor Him by our obedience. We need to remember that our role in the game is player, not Creator. Players submit to the authority of the Creator.

When the Creator says…
I created the world in six literal days and here’s how I did it, we don’t dishonor His word by trying to cram evolution in there and make it fit. We believe Him, and we teach what His word says.

When the Creator says…
Ladies, I don’t want you to preach, teach Scripture to men, or hold authority over men in the church, we don’t search for loopholes. We search for ways we can humble ourselves and serve God in ways that please Him, not ourselves.

When the Creator says…
Here’s how I want you to pray, we repent of using unbiblical prayer methods such as private prayer languages and contemplative prayer, and we pray the way God wants us to pray.

When the Creator says…
Pastor, I want you to preach the Word, that means pastors preach rightly handled, in context Scripture- not a stand up comedy routine, not the storyline of the latest blockbuster movie, not a half hour of jokes and personal anecdotes, not their own opinions and self-styled doctrines.

When the Creator says…
I want you to stay away from people who teach false doctrine, it doesn’t matter how much we like that teacher, how good she makes us feel, how much we think she’s helping us in our walk with the Lord, or that we’d rather “chew up the meat and spit out the bones.” We reject her, and her teaching, and listen to those who teach sound biblical doctrine instead.

We bow the knee to what God’s word says. Period.

Ladies, if you don’t want to cripple your growth in Christ, one of the worst phrases you can utter about Christian beliefs and practices is, “Well, I just think…” followed by your own personal feelings or opinions. You don’t write the rules.

The Bible says:

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. 
1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a

…you…have become slaves of God…
Romans 6:22

If you’re a genuinely regenerated believer, you are the slave of Christ. That means you don’t get to hold, or live by, your own feelings or opinions any more. That’s what lost people do. You are only entitled to God’s opinions as set down in His written Word. Your opinions don’t matter.

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When it comes to Christian beliefs and practices, your experiences don’t matter either. It doesn’t matter what kind of so-called supernatural experience you had where you babbled incoherently or “heard God speak” or saw a “vision” or whatever. If your interpretation of your experience conflicts with the written word of God, your interpretation of your experience is wrong. Something may have happened, but it wasn’t God. (And if something supernatural happened and the Bible says God doesn’t work that way, there’s only one other option.)

When you decide what you’re going to believe and do based on your own opinions, feelings, and subjective personal experiences rather than the written word of God, what you’re doing is saying, “I know better than the almighty, all-knowing God of the universe.” You’re setting yourself up as judge over Scripture. You’re in charge, not God. Doesn’t sound much like a slave, does it?

That’s because Scripture says those who truly belong to Christ will have a heart to keep His word. We will stumble and fall along the way. We will sometimes mistakenly believe things we shouldn’t. But one of the hallmarks of a Christian is that she loves and strives to obey God’s word. Because, as Christians, the Bible is our authority.

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Additional Resources

What does it mean that the Bible should be our sole authority for faith and practice? at Got Questions

For the Authority of Scripture by Dr. John MacArthur

Divine Authorship and Authority at Ligonier

The Authority of the Bible by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Bad Fruit, Diseased Trees, and the Authority of God’s Word


¹Monopoly (game), Early History, Wikipedia, February 16, 2017
²Amadeus photo and quote courtesy of Orion Pictures, Amadeus1984.