No Jeff Maples, Hank Hanegraaff did not Leave the Christian Faith.
For those of you who don’t know, Hank Hanegraaff, known as the Bible Answer Man and the president of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy as reported by Father Thomas Soroka.
Well, some in the world of Evangelical Christianity have not taken too kindly to his conversion. Jeff Maples of Pulpit & Pen has claimed that Hank Hanegraaff has in effect left Christendom. So, what arguments has Maples given? He claims it’s because Eastern Orthodoxy is,
highly driven by graven images and denies the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and instead, trusts in meritorious works and a sacramental system for salvation.
The first objection from graven images takes no account of scripture. God himself commands the engraving of images,
You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat. You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel — Exodus 25:17–22
Of course, there will be someone who will inventively bring up the third commandment concerning not making and worshiping graven images. However, those concern idols meant for adoration, not images meant to give honor to the saints. Jesus is exempt because after the incarnation his gaining a physical body entails we could worship the corporal. Or, as Saint Thomas Aquinas phrases it, in a more forceful manner,
This commandment does not forbid the making of any graven thing or likeness, but the making thereof for the purpose of adoration, wherefore it is added: “Thou shalt not adore them nor serve them.” And because, as stated above, the movement towards the image is the same as the movement towards the thing, adoration thereof is forbidden in the same way as adoration of the thing whose image it is. Wherefore in the passage quoted we are to understand the prohibition to adore those images which the Gentiles made for the purpose of venerating their own gods, i.e. the demons, and so it is premised: “Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.” But no corporeal image could be raised to the true God Himself, since He is incorporeal; because, as Damascene observes (De Fide Orth. iv, 16): “It is the highest absurdity and impiety to fashion a figure of what is Divine.” But because in the New Testament God was made man, He can be adored in His corporeal image.
Maples’ second objection concerning salvation by ‘faith alone’ is not substantiated, considering that nowhere in scripture does it say we are saved only by faith. The only time faith is followed by alone the word ‘not’ proceeds it (James 2:24). This is not to say faith does not save (it’s a necessity), it’s just not sufficient. As to being saved by grace alone, the Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that grace is salvation, it is the process of theosis where we become like God through the mysteries (sacraments). Or, as Fr. Michael Shanbour puts it,
simply put, it is to become like God; to be saturated with the uncreated grace of God in a permanent and abiding way so that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). This is the condition of the Saints, theosis or deification.
The Fathers use the analogy of iron and fire. When a rod of iron is placed in fire for a time, it takes on the properties of the fire, i.e. it becomes red hot. It doesn’t become fire itself, nor does it cease to be iron; rather, the iron participates in the properties of fire. In a similar way, our humanity can participate in God’s grace (not His essence) because of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. This is the ultimate “good news” of the Gospel and the goal of Orthodox Christianity. This is the purpose for which we were created.
So, what else does Maples have to say against the Orthodox faith. He cites Ephesians 2:8–9,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
However, the verse does not say faith was alone used, it only says that we cannot boast because salvation is a gift from God. The Eastern Orthodox Church says nothing contrary to this. The rest of the piece merely attacks Hanegraaff’s character. Maples claims,
There is a sure lack of biblical truth and doctrinal stability to which many can be left wandering. Hanegraaff, through his numerous resources, speaking engagements, and conference connections, is in a prime spot to lead people away from the truth. Because of him, people will be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Another way of looking at it is Hanegraaff has 20 years of experience and his own words and testimony should be taken seriously and Maples is just sore about the whole thing. The article ends with Ken Ham’s rebuke of Hanegraaff denying the existence a literal snake in the Garden of Eden (Hanegraaf sees it as an image of the devil instead). Even if one were to disagree, I fail to see how it’s much of an abuse considering Revelation 20:2 seems to be giving the same interpretation,
And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years
How one wishes to interpret the passage is up to them, but it’s not an extravagant reading of scripture.
I will end the article by welcoming Hank to the apostolic faith, it’s a pleasure to have you. I only hope you’ll be convinced of a Pope sometime down the road ;)