Article ID: BTS2010-10 | By: Elliot Miller
Is Hank Hanegraaff the Rightful Successor of Walter Martin?
As we saw in chapter 8, Jill Martin Rische makes the following allegation regarding Hank Hanegraaff on her Walter Martin’s Religious InfoNet Web site:
Was Hank the man of integrity that my father believed him to be, or did he come to CRI under false pretenses? If Walter Martin had been presented with all the evidence, would he have hired Hank?…He was impressed with Hank’s memory and what he considered to be the excellent memory course Memory Dynamics Hank claimed he developed. He was also interested in Hank’s Personal Witness Training—again, something he thought Hank developed. He told me he liked Hank and his work, and would be hiring him for fund-raising purposes, i.e., marketing.
I have never in all of my thirty-two years at Christian Research Institute experienced anything quite like the nearly decade-long debate over whether Hank Hanegraaff legitimately assumed the presidency of CRI. What makes this such an odd debate is that my direct and unambiguous eye-witness account of the events in question is being disputed by people who had no proximity to those events and who must piece together their case by assembling assorted eye-witness testimonies and documents that, in and of themselves, are far from conclusive. They must then make inferential leaps from such data to their own negative conclusions about Hank.
Along with Rische, who was out of state and completely removed from the events in question as they occurred, the main proponent of the illegitimacy of Hank’s presidency is Jay Howard, who too was out of state and has never worked at CRI but who has worked closely with both Rische and Bill Alnor in public efforts to discredit Hank. Howard operates a Web site called Focus on the Faulty that features articles by him and other countercult/discernment ministry writers, including his article, “Is Hank Hanegraaff the Rightful President of CRI?” He also makes available his lecture by the same title in a two-CD set.
The case that Howard makes against Hank’s legitimacy basically consists of the following three points:
1. In the year 2000 Howard asked CRI for a letter or audio tape that would document Walter’s desire for Hank to become president of CRI upon his death. He says he received no response. He claims that in an interview with me in that same year I told him that no such documentation existed but that I heard Martin state this to the staff on one or two occasions. He cites interviews he also conducted with two former CRI researchers who were on staff during the period in question and neither of them recalled Walter stating that Hank was to become president of CRI. He concludes that it is my word against everyone else’s, and, since I would have much to lose by not supporting Hank, he asks why people should take my word for it.
In chapter eight, footnote fifty-one, I addressed the argument that my ongoing employment at CRI biases my position on Hank and I will not repeat myself here. As to Howard’s interview with me in the spring of 2000, I do not recall telling him that no such documentation existed. I do recall my feeling, after reading his published article, that his representation of my comments was not entirely accurate. If I did tell him that no such documentation existed it would have been regarding the narrow question of whether Walter had explicitly said that Hank would succeed him as president on the occasion of his death. At the time Howard interviewed me I was well aware of documentation that proved that Walter handed control of the ministry over to Hank while Walter was still alive, including my own handwritten notes from the staff meeting in December 1988 in which Walter announced this transition.
Although it was common knowledge to anyone who was employed by CRI at the time, and although one would expect researchers to uncover something like this before making public allegations that could be damaging to a ministry, both Howard and Rische seem to be completely unaware that Hank was indeed elevated to the position of CEO at CRI prior to Walter’s death. Thus many of Howard’s arguments are based on a faulty premise. When CRI board minutes from early 1989 describe Hank’s performance of important executive functions that are consistent with the authority and job description of a CEO, Howard completely disregards them, interpreting them merely as board functions that no other board member had the time to do besides Hank!
When Howard interviewed me in 2000 I also knew of the following statement Walter issued that was published in the Christian Research Newsletter:
Hank Hanegraaff personifies the next phase of development for CRI and is uniquely equipped through his dynamic leadership abilities, knowledge of God’s Word, and teaching ability to make sound, biblical apologetics a simple yet effective tool in the hands of the laity. His success as a businessman, strategic planner, author, and speaker have equipped him to lead the ministry of the Christian Research Institute aggressively into the future and to build on the work that I by God’s grace began.
The only matter left to be disputed then is whether Walter specifically stated that Hank would succeed him as president after he died. This is merely an academic and not a substantive debate because it should be self-evident that if Hank was already at the helm of CRI while Walter was still alive he would continue to be at CRI’s helm in the event of Walter’s death. However, for the benefit of any who would stubbornly refuse to concede this point, I am now presenting evidence that has recently surfaced in Walter’s own recorded voice. This additional evidence leaves no room for doubt that Hank was appointed to the executive vice-president position with succession to the presidency in view (see below).
2. Howard proceeds, “Since there is no empirical evidence that Hank Hanegraaff was ever asked by Walter Martin to take over the ministry, the question needs to be asked, is it possible that Walter Martin would promote a man like Hanegraaff?” The main reason Howard offers to prove that Walter would never hire a man like Hank is Hank’s lack of a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Howard points out that Walter was a firm believer in, and a great lover of, education: he often spoke of his own (prep school) education at the Stony Brook School for Boys in Long Island; he surrounded himself with highly educated researchers; he even told his son-in-law Kevin Rische that he could not work in CRI’s research department without a bachelor’s degree. If this was required even of research consultants, Howard concludes, Walter would never place a man who did not even possess a bachelor’s degree at the head of his scholarly research ministry.
Howard’s argument might seem plausible if we granted him his premises, but two of his premises are false. First, there is empirical evidence that Hank was asked by Walter Martin to take over the ministry (see both above and below). End of story. Whatever one might like to think Walter would or would not have done, if the facts speak otherwise, conjecture must give way to fact.
Second, Walter did hire people for important ministry-related positions who lacked formal theological training. What Walter told Kevin Rische was an ideal that we tried to operate by (I was involved with the hiring process in the 1980s, including setting the criteria for researchers), but there were many occasions when it was not followed. Sometimes exceptions were made out of desperation, but more often it was because a particular candidate’s skills transcended those of other applicants—even those with greater education.
Having worked full-time in this field since 1976 and involved in the hiring end of it since 1980, I can say that while formal education is a major asset, it is only one factor in assessing a candidate’s qualifications, and not necessarily the determinative one. When a person lacks the gifts and skill set necessary to work as a researcher/writer at CRI, no amount of formal education can overcome that deficit. Others who lack the formal education but possess the requisite gifts and skills can become eminently qualified through disciplined self-education and hands-on experience in evangelism and apologetics.
When Walter came across such people he did not let their lack of formal training prevent him from offering them a job. After moving CRI to California in 1974, the first people Walter brought on staff were Jerry and Marian Bodine and Gretchen Passantino. Walter placed the Bodines as high-profile missionaries to the Mormons, despite their lack of formal training, and he made Passantino head of his research department, despite her lack of formal theological training (she only possessed a bachelor’s degree in English). He offered Gretchen’s late husband Bob a research position at CRI (which Bob declined), despite his lack of a college degree. (Bob did not pursue formal training until late in his life and yet his grasp of the wide-ranging disciplines involved in apologetics was so strong that distinguished scholars with multiple graduate degrees routinely sent him their manuscripts for critique and sought his help in resolving their most difficult intellectual problems.) Walter also hired me and made me head of the research department and editor of CRI’s magazine before I had completed work on my B.A. in ministry or obtained my M.A in apologetics. Other researchers and missionaries to the cults were hired without having obtained undergraduate or graduate degrees, including Kurt Van Gorden, Paul Carden, and several lesser-known individuals. To maintain, therefore, that Walter would never hire someone who lacked formal training in theology to head CRI, even when he was otherwise thoroughly impressed with that person’s abilities and accomplishments, is to argue from personal conjecture (what one thinks Walter would or should do) untempered by historical fact (what Walter actually was known to do).
3. Having affirmed (mistakenly) that there is no evidence that Walter designated Hank as his successor, and that Walter never would have chosen someone without formal theological training as his successor, Howard finally affirms that “it is easily demonstrated that [Hank] was only brought on to the board at CRI to help raise financing for the ministry. When the board minutes of CRI are examined it is clear that he was only presenting financial-related information and he was never called upon to be involved in theological aspects of the ministry but reported almost exclusively on business issues.” Howard then proceeds to quote from board minutes dated from 1987 through 1989 to demonstrate this.
What Howard fails to recognize is that such documentation completely accords with CRI’s narrative of the events and thus does nothing to disprove it. No one is disputing that Hank was originally brought on to the CRI board because of the great contribution he could make to the business and development sides of the ministry. Especially prior to his appointment as executive vice-president in December 1988 there would be no reason for him to be reporting on the theological aspects of the ministry. The question is whether Walter, after being impressed with the magnitude of Hank’s gifts and contributions, began to consider Hank for something more than a mere board or even a mere managerial role.
To put this all in context it needs to be appreciated that beginning in the mid 1980s Walter was indeed engaged in a search for his successor. At various points in the years that followed he considered three men besides Hank that I know of for that position: Ron Carlson, John Stewart, and Robert Morey. All three of these men, like Walter, were trained in theology and apologetics. None of them, however, could contribute more than Walter could to the management and development needs of the ministry, which Walter and the board increasingly saw as critical attributes in the next president. Thus, after considering these men, Walter’s emphasis in his search shifted to finding someone who had the skills to bring CRI to the next level organizationally while also having the attributes necessary to lead it theologically and spiritually.
In Hank he saw someone who brought unparalleled assets to the table in terms of leadership skills, vision, wisdom, business sense and experience, and fund-raising skills. At the same time, Hank had the ability to fulfill Walter’s vision of transforming “top apologetics” into “pop apologetics” and equipping the Christian laity with it. He was an experienced and accomplished trainer in memory skills (something always of keen interest to Walter), evangelism, and apologetics. While not an expert on the cults at the time, Hank was well-versed as a layman on the subject and was a quick study. Hank therefore was already qualified to assume the CEO position at CRI and had the gifts and potential to grow quickly into the full-orbed leader the ministry needed. This he did after Walter died, to the extent that he assumed the role of the Bible Answer Man convincingly and effectively and the show went on to expand its audience exponentially. Howard is therefore wrong to argue that Hank’s lack of early participation in the Bible Answer Man program is evidence against Walter’s selection of Hank as his successor (although, contrary to Howard, Hank was featured on the program prior to Walter’s death).
What I have stated in the preceding paragraph provides a framework for understanding the data that Howard and Rische have unearthed from old CRI board minutes and other documentation. It is important to note that Howard himself recognizes that the position that Stewart and Carlson were being considered for was that of Walter’s successor. (Howard doesn’t mention Morey.) The question then simply becomes whether Hank was being considered for the same position. Note the use of the titles “associate director/assistant director” in Howard’s quotations from the CRI board minutes that immediately follow and then note Walter’s use of the titles “executive director/executive vice-president” in the extensive quotations from Walter’s Sunday School class that will follow the Howard quotation. It is quite clear that while a definite title had not yet been settled on for the position, the same position was being discussed in all these instances.
Howard proceeds in his recorded lecture:
In those early years that Hanegraaff was involved in the board there was actually a couple of men who were discussed as possible associate directors at CRI. The first was Ron Carlson, who is [sic] currently has a ministry called the Christian Ministries International. The other was John Stewart. These two were talked about during various board meetings as working directly with Walter Martin. In board meeting minutes dated October 17, 1985, there is this mention: “Ron Carlson is still interested in the position of associate director of CRI but has not sold his house and if he accepts the position it will not be available until some time in 1986.” In the board minutes dated September 12, 1986, there is this mention of John Stewart as a possible assistant director: “Stan [Tonnesen—a CRI board member at the time] has brought up John Stewart’s proposal and reiterated the board’s discussion earlier in the meeting to John. Walter stated his views on what he expected from an assistant director.” There is nothing in the minutes from those years in which there was ever a discussion about Hanegraaff as a possible associate director for CRI. This associate director position appears to be the position that was offered when Martin had special interest in a man. It will be incumbent for CRI at this date to show actual documents that would show Martin’s interest in Hanegraaff to be the next president.
Howard has thrown down the gauntlet. If CRI can provide documentation that will show Walter’s interest in Hank to be the “associate director”/”next president,” then in good faith we expect that Howard will publicly recant his position, take his article on Hank’s illegitimate presidency off of his Focus on the Faulty Web site, and stop selling his CDs on the same topic. If he refuses to do so once we have met the burden he has laid on us, then we must sadly conclude that Howard has an unremitting agenda to discredit Hank, and his inclusion in an appendix of a book on Bill Alnor is more fitting than we had hoped.
The documentation Howard demands could be provided from many sources. We have already seen the statement Walter issued upon Hank’s acceptance of the position of executive vice-president that was printed in the Christian Research Newsletter. For brevity’s sake I will limit myself here to one more source: Walter’s own recorded statements at his Sunday morning Newport-Mesa Christian Center (NMCC) Bible class. (By the sovereignty of God these tapes came into our hands just as this book was being completed. They were sent to Cindee Martin Morgan by someone who actually sides with Alnor against Hank!) The students at this class, which Walter taught since he came to California (originally at Melodyland Christian Center), held a special place in Walter’s heart. In certain respects he considered them his “flock” and he shared with them especially important or personal information and prayer requests that he did not freely announce to the general public.
On December 7, 1986, Walter stated that he hoped to have Hank teach a memory class at NMCC, noting that he (Walter) had been “promoting this [i.e., Hank’s mnemonics teachings] for better than five years” (emphasis added). He endorsed Hank as a “memory expert,” stated that Hank had worked with Jerry Lucas, author of The Memory Book (showing that Walter was not ignorant of the book that Hank supposedly plagiarized, as Rische implies), and affirmed that Hank would teach them “the tricks of the trade in remembering” because he was “very well up on the subject” (demonstrating that Walter himself was “up” enough on the subject of mnemonics to understand that Hank did not personally create the memory principles that he taught, nor was he claiming to have done so. Indeed, it was not Walter but Ferraiuolo and Alnor who demonstrated ignorance on the subject, and, if anyone was fooled, it was not Walter by Hank but Rische by them).
During his October 23, 1988 Bible class Walter presented for the second time in one month a specific prayer request for CRI to his students:
We need a man at CRI to come in and to actually be the general manager and to take over the general operation because I can’t be inside and outside at the same time. It cannot be done. Impossible. And the burden is too great for Leona, who is our office manager and actually business administrator. And so we’ve been praying for somebody—I’ve been praying for one man for two years, that God will put it on his heart. And God did put it on his heart, and he said, “I think I’ll be able to come.” And if he is able to come, I can’t afford him. I want you to know that going in: we can’t afford him even at a greatly reduced salary. But he can run the entire operation and is very, very good in the world of the cults and an excellent, very successful man in his own right. So I ask you to pray for this person, who would be the number two person in our structure at CRI. And he’s a godly man; the Lord has used him in a mighty way down south and in other parts of the country. And we’ve asked him to join us and he has said that he’s willing to, so now we’re in the praying stages and asking God to work out all the details of it. But that’s something to put in your prayer list; he’ll probably be a vice-president or executive director at CRI. And I badly need somebody like that, because I just can’t run the office and make decisions all the time. There’s got to be somebody there to help. We’ve got to have somebody that really knows what they’re doing. And we want the best we can get, and this gentleman we believe is the best on the horizon, so please be in prayer about that.
The claim that Hank was hired merely for his business acumen or marketing skills is refuted by Walter’s overall description of the need, the role that Hank would play, and his qualifications for the job. He already had an office manager/business administrator in Leona Ross and it was entirely clear that Hank’s position would be greater than that; Hank would “run the entire operation.” He also notes qualifications that go beyond what CRI has ever looked for in mere management and marketing personnel, such as Hank’s being “very, very good in the world of the cults.”
Of course Walter emphasizes his own continuing involvement with CRI, as the intention was for him to remain its public face; but a little inside history should prove insightful here. Every general or office manager that CRI had hired prior to Hank had complained that while Walter was not in the office enough to direct the ministry effectively, he always kept one hand on the reins and did not give free rein to the managers who were there on a daily basis. By the mid 1980s Walter came to terms with the fact that this pattern of leadership was hindering CRI’s effectiveness. It thus became extremely important to him to find a person trustworthy enough to be handed the reins to the ministry. When Walter presented Hank as executive vice-president to the CRI staff in December 1988, he specifically stressed that while he would continue to be CRI’s president, he was taking his hands off of the day-to-day direction of the ministry and handing it over to Hank. Thus the word “executive” was crucial in Hank’s title of “executive vice-president”; Hank was now the CEO and Walter’s official authority would only be exercised in his capacity as the president of the board, along with the other board members. (His spiritual authority, of course, would be retained and exercised mainly in his providing theological guidance to the staff.)
Finally, Walter made his intentions for Hank unmistakable when he presented Hank to his Bible class on December 4, 1988:
I have the joy to introduce to you a person that’s a joy to me. He’s going to have a unique role at Christian Research Institute.…I’ve needed for many years someone who could fill the role of a special assistant or of an executive vice-president to help at CRI; someone with the credentials and the ability; somebody that could teach, somebody that could preach, somebody that had the capacities to manage and has been very successful in his own operation for some time.…This is someone in whom I have implicit confidence. He’s young. I’ve surrounded myself with young people because I do not believe the myth of invulnerability or of immortality. I’ve seen too many Christian leaders think that they were never gonna die and wait ’til the last minute before they got anybody to help them, and then they had chaos. I have not made that mistake.
Walter’s comments prove both that he had been looking for more than a manager or marketing person (why else would it be important that he could preach and teach?) and that he did have a successor in mind: someone to whom he could not only hand over the direction of CRI while he was still alive, but in whose hands he could leave it if the Lord should take him home. Clearly, Hank Hanegraaff was prayerfully and carefully selected for both purposes. Contrary to what Rische would have the public believe, her father was extremely conscientious in selecting not only a special assistant but also a successor, and thus the ministry did not descend into chaos when its founder died but instead moved rapidly forward—a fact that was well noted at the time (see appendix D), with immense gratitude expressed for Walter and the board’s foresight.
 Since this appendix was written Howard has also self-published a book, Hard Questions for the Bible Answer Man: Hank Hanegraaff and His Takeover of the Christian Research Institute (Logan, OH: Religious Research Project, 2009). The book adds nothing to Howard’s previously published materials on Hank’s assumption of CRI’s presidency substantial enough to warrant a revision of this appendix.
 Christian Research Newsletter, vol.. 2, no. 5, 6.
 Jay Howard, Is Hank Hanegraaff the Rightful President of CRI? (Logan, OH: The Religious Research Project, 2008), CD 1 in a two-CD audio recording.
 All of Walter’s recorded Bible class statements concerning Hank spanning the years 1986–1988, including several not cited in this appendix, are accessible both in transcript and in audio clip forms by going to www.WalterMartinJude3.com
 Walter’s entire December 7, 1986 discussion of Hank’s memory class and expertise in mnemonics can be heard by going to http://www.waltermartinjude3.com/nmccbc19861207.html
 http://www.waltermartinjude3.com/nmccbc19881204bts.html. To hear Walter’s entire introduction of Hank to the class, including portions not included in this quotation, go to http://www.waltermartinjude3.com/nmccbc19881204p2.html.