Bleeding Hearts and Propaganda:
It was the tone that bothered me more than anything else. The tone brought me up short; stopped me dead. It was one of those moments marking a turning point in my life, something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I will always mark, with a certain sadness, the day I was forced to grow up a little more.
The picture I carry in my mind is one of driving my car along the freeway feeder going into downtown Boise on a warm spring afternoon in 1992. My radio is tuned to the local Christian radio station and I am listening to "The Bible Answer Man." As I listened, the hair stood up on my arms and my spirit was grieved.
I didnt listen to the show very often in those days. I had been a friend of the founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI)and the host of "The Bible Answer Man," the late Dr. Walter Martin. I had been a guest on the show when he was alive. I had met the man who replaced him as president of CRI and host of "The Bible Answer Man" program Hank Hanegraaff, who was nowas I listenedexcoriating a controversial evangelist, Benny Hinn.
Im tempted to try to explain what I mean when I say the tone of his remarks bothered me. However, I know reactions of that nature are subjective. I will try to avoid that. Nevertheless, the experience haunted me. I knew something was very wrong with Hanegraaffs approach.
Obviously, I am certainly not opposed to Christians disagreeing with other Christians. I have just spent several chapters in this book documenting why I think the some of the ideas of the Liberal Evangelicals are dangerous. But not for a minute do I think they are other than committed Christians who want the best for both man and God. I think they are wrongthats it!
However, I have tried to disagree with them without painting them as evil, false teachers, or people who are "in it for the money." I have not said they dont deserve to be ministers. In other words, I have tried to attack their teachings, not them. This is a basic perspective lacking among the Heresy Hunters.
It was actually a series of encounter like the CRI radio show which was troubling me that spring. Perhaps the best way to explain what I was feeling at that time is to quote from the newsletter I wrote on the heels of my encounter with the new Bible Answer Man on the freeway:
Three separate incidents in recent months have sensitized me to what I believe is a problem within the Christian community regarding how we deal with Christians who take unconventional positions:
Recently I listened to a well-known Christian talk show in which the host was discussing the work of evangelist Benny Hinn. I am aware of Hinns work because a year ago a friend asked me to read Hinns book, Good Morning, Holy Spirit! My friend had heard some people considered it heretical. I did not find it to be so. I did think Hinn was imprecise in some of his terminology, but his spirit and attitude were good and he made no statement which I could consider clear heresy. The talk show hosts pessimistic spirit troubled me. He seemed to have relegated Hinn almost to the position of Antichrist.
In another case, I followed with a sense of uneasiness a Christian magazines continued personal attack on Bob Larson, who is host of the nationally syndicated radio show Talk Back. Again the attack wasin my opinioncruel and unreasonable. One article was so sophomoric it embarrassed me. "How easily," I thought, "they lay hands on this brother."
A third, less clear, example occurred during a conference I spoke at recently. I was on a panel with several other apologists in which we took questions from the floor. One of the panel members, whom I had gotten to know and grown to love, fielded a question which should have been easy to answer. His hedging amazed me! Here was a man who for two days had glibly named other popular Christian ministers as examples of heretics. I couldnt figure out why he was suddenly being so careful. Then it dawned on methe simple, correct answer to the question from the floor would have offended a group of people with whom the apologist worked closely. His inability to judge equitably disappointed me.
I continued, in that newsletter, to discuss the problem of deciding when ministers of the Gospel cross the line into heresy. I said, "We must figure out how to distinguish between what is clear and important error, and what is allowable diversity." I said we needed to newly articulate a definition for heresy for our culture. I suggested that a teaching could be considered heretical if it met two criteria: 1) it must be clearly wrong; 2) it must be wrong about something which is clearly important.
For example, one of the charges made against Benny Hinn is that he had taught "Before the Fall (in the Garden of Eden), Adam could fly." In my opinion, that statement may be wrong, but it isnt heretical. In the first place, are we even certain the statement is wrong? Who can say what Adams abilities were in the Garden of Eden?
In saying that, I know eyebrows go up. But honestly, you do not know for sure that Adam could not fly. Now, I dont think he could, but I dont know. Benny Hinn might be a little flaky on this point, who knows? But he might be right.
As many times as Ive said that to people, I never thought anybody listened. Until one day not too long ago I was listening to a broadcast of the late Dr. J. Vernon McGees "Thru the Bible" radio show. Speaking of the Adamic condition he said:
When God says He gave the man dominion, He didnt make him sort of a first class gardener to set out rose bushes and prune the plum trees. Thats not what Adam did. Adam had dominion. And dominion has to do with rulership. All Creation was under him. I think that when he wanted it to rain, he called in the rain. I think that when he wanted the heat turned on, why, he turned it on. I think he controlled this earth.
Whether or not Adam could fly or "turn up the heat," is immaterial, it is not heresy to say those things, because nobody can prove for certain that they are wrong. Secondly, such statements are not heresy becauseeven if they are wrongthey are not important to the soul of man. They are not essentials of the Christian faith. We might be able to convict someone of teachings something which is wrong, but it is not so wrong as to be harmful.
Speaking of this matter, the great Bible scholar, Dr. Harold O. J. Brown has said "[True] Heresy not only undermines ones intellectual understanding of Christian doctrine, but threatens to sink the ark (the Church), and thus to make salvation impossible "
My point, in that first newsletter on the Heresy Hunters, was simply that we need to be careful before we go on witch hunts.
By the time I wrote the second newsletter in the series, "Heresy Hunters: A New Inquisition?" I had warmed to my subject considerably:
In my opinion, one of the foremost problems facing the body of Christ today is a rise in heresy hunting. It is almost a new Inquisition. Nit-pickers and bean-counters masquerade as scholars. Their vision is so narrowed to their own brand of Christian experience that they cannot find the dividing line between heretics and fellow ministers. Genuine apologists (ministers who provide reasonable answers to those who challenge orthodox Christian doctrine) are motivated by a sincere desire to protect the Church from error; heresy hunters divide the Church by defaming legitimate brothers and sisters in Christ.
Those who "accuse the brethren" engage in serious business. They strike at the central unity of the Body of Christ. God has said such activity is laden with grave implications:
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. (Prov. 6:16-19KJV)
READY FOR THE BOOK
By the time I had written the second newsletter, I knew I had to write a book. The subject was too big, and in my opinion too important, to confine to my small newsletter audience. I had already written five books, and I believed I could interest a publisher in this one. My friend, Ed Decker, suggested I call Huntington House, who ultimately published it.
As I approached the subject, I remained conscious of the dangerous ground I was treading. I knew I must be careful not to "become what I hate." I would open myself up to the charge that I was no different from the Heresy Hunters themselves. However, I believed I could disagree with the Heresy Hunters without falling into the trap of acting like them.
As I approached the book, I wanted to get as much input as possible. One of the men I contacted was Dr. Gordon Lewis, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Philosophy, at Denver Seminary. He is a friend, and he had kindly helped me by offering cogent suggestions on a previous book, Hard Case Witnessing: Winning "Impossibles" for Christ (Chosen Books, 1991). In September, I wrote Dr. Lewis, and asked him:
Would you mind reading my two "Heresy Hunter" newsletters with an eye to giving me a paragraph of criticism? I am reluctantly addressing what I think is a less than charitable attack on my (mostly) Charismatic colleagues. Of course, I know that will open me up [to false charges], however I feel compelled to defend what I perceive to be a genuine anointing of God which seems to rest on brothers who are not as discreet and disciplined as we would like them to be. Do you think it is appropriate to call for patience in the manner I have in these two articles?
On October 14th, Dr. Lewis graciously responded:
I appreciated very much your counsel in the first two parts of your series entitled "Heresy Hunters!" You are wise to distinguish apologists from faultfinders and nit-pickers. The emphases on different degrees of importance in doctrine is accurate. You must ask if the issue is clearly wrong, and be especially careful when addressing brothers in the faith. The goal of church discipline is restoration initially, and it ought to be the goal of apologetics
I think what you have done is very helpful and would urge you to continue.
Dr. Lewis asked me to do one other thing:
I hope also you might be in conversation with Hank Hanegraaff at CRI and that copies of your articles would be sent to him. They would be helpful there also. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for your encouragement with the Heresy Hunters venture. I want to walk circumspectly here. I certainly dont want to wind up doing what I am telling others not to do. I will send you Part III as soon as it is done. As a matter of fact, I have been contacted by a publisher who would like to see a book on this subject.
In addition, I will send them to Hank Hanegraaff at CRI.
On October 20th, I sent the documents to Hanegraaff, with the following letter:
I dont know if you remember me, but you sat next to me at the Saints Alive! meeting in Salt Lake City (the one in which you had to compete with the entire world population of Amway distributors and their Rock Bands).
Marianne Bodine called me a month or two ago and asked about my first installment of the Heresy Hunters series in my newsletter, Through the Maze. We talked for a few minutes and I asked her to send me whatever documentation or information CRI might have which might bear on this subject. I think she said she might not be able to do that.
At any rate, I am sending the first two articles to you. They are enclosed. I think they speak for themselves. I wont try to re-state my opinions here. I want you to know that I appreciate you and your work. I am most interested in any research you have that would bring balance to my work.
If you would desire to be in conversation or correspondence, I would be honored to enter into brotherly dialogue.
I never got a response to that letter. I talked to several people about it, and at least one of them told me I should not expect a response.
HERESY HUNTERS: CHARACTER ASSASSINATION IN THE CHURCH
In July of 1993, Heresy Hunters: Character Assassination in the Church was introduced at the Christian Booksellers Convention. I was not there, but I was told it created quite a stir. That was an understatement. A furor was unleashed in reaction to my book.
The book opened with a description of a very "emotional" church meeting with people writhing on the floor, while others jumped up and down with the "jerks." After describing the scene, I wrote:
The controversial church meeting did not take place in Tulsa or the Ozarks. It was not a Pentecostal tent meeting, nor was it orchestrated by a flashy televangelist. On the contrary, the extraordinary meeting took place within a stately, stained-glass windowed church in New England. It was one of numerous other meetings exactly like it which occurred throughout New England during the 1730s and 1740sthe period historians call The Great Awakening.
I then discussed what happened during the Great Awakeningthe prime example of Christian Revival in the New World. At that time, much of the main stream of the Body of Christ rejected the revival out of hand. Those who did so referred to Jonathan Edwards and the other leaders of the Great Awakening as "New Lights." Those who resisted the revival were called "Old Lights." The differences became bitter. I wrote that the modern Heresy Hunters reminded me of the "Old Lights."
In my book I documented what I thought were instances where Heresy Hunters used ungodly methods to attack fellow ministers. I constantly focused on the methods, not the people. Although I "named names," I didnt think I could do otherwise:
I have, of necessity used real examples, such a book as this could not be written theoretically. In using real examples to illustrate my actual targetthe error of heresy huntingI could not avoid "naming names." As I say within the pages of this book, I do not think naming names is the issue, rather it is how and why we name names.
The names I first named were those of the victims of the Heresy Hunters, men like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Bob Larson, and Mike Warnke. I made it clear that I was not defending the actions, the conduct, or the doctrine of any of these men. I was not dealing with whatever problems they might have had, I was dealing with the ways in which they had been unfairly and unjustly criticized.
I then named those who had used secular slash-and-burn-journalism tactics to bring down other Christian ministries. I thought I handled this delicate task with skill and sensitivity. Others agreed.
The initial response to my book from was very positive. The Bookstore Journal, a magazine which goes to thousands of Christian Bookstores, reviewed Heresy Hunters very positively, as did Ministries Today. I believe to understand the response the Heresy Hunters eventually made to the book, it is imperative to understand that objective reviewers got the point I was trying to make. In order to see that clearly, I am including the full text of two important reviews. I have added italics to highlight what I think are important considerations. Here is the Bookstore Journal review:
In the first line of his introduction, Spencer writes, "A heresy hunter, by the definition I use in this book, does not really hunt heresy; he hunts people."
Spencers purpose in writing this book is to attempt to put a stop to Christians discrediting one another to the extent that the body of Christ is divided and ministries are shut down. Hes especially concerned about attacks on charismatics such as Kenneth Copeland, Robert Tilton, and Benny Hinn and on "Satan fighters" such as Mike Warnke and Bob Larson.
Spencer himself is a charismatic converted from Mormonism, who continues to witness to Mormons. Hes also been a journalist. He writes with great clarity and persuasion, crafting his sentences, paragraphs, and even entire chapters with unusual skill and sensitivity. He also writes with a sense of restraint, so that he might not be accused of that which he writes against. Yet he speaks clearly, naming names and quoting articles and books that show how character assassination is going on within the church.
Perhaps the pivotal chapter of the book is the third, in which Spencer attempts to define the term "heresy" and differentiate between heresy and heretics. Under a section titled "Can a man Teach Heresy and Not Be a Heretic?" the author says, "A person who ignorantly reports heretical ideas is wrong, but he may not properly be called a heretic." Building on this idea throughout the book, Spencer shows how the men under investigation have made erroneous statements or even "stupid" ones, but they arent heretics in the true sense of the word. He also points out that men like Hinn have been quick to admit when theyve been wrong and have tried to correct certain statements.
The point that Spencer makes is one thats sorely neededi.e., attacking each other personally, rather than questioning certain doctrines, is very destructive in the body of Christ. However, he also raises several important questions regarding the need for media celebrities to make themselves accountable for their words and to be more hesitant to speak if they havent thought through a certain teaching. He also seems to be hesitant to call any teaching of other charismatics heresy.
Spencer believes that "our century has produced two periods of great revival which were as historically significant as the Great Awakening. The first was the Pentecostal Revival that began with the turn of this century. The second was the Charismatic Renewal that began in the 1950s and lasted until the early 1980s."
Further, he is concerned that "it is possible that history could mark the decline and eventual end of the charismatic movement with the end of the ministry of the Faith Teachers I hope they [the heresy hunters] are not guilty of resisting something God is promoting." This sounds very much like Gamaliels speech to the Jewish council in Acts 5, but Spencer stops short and doesnt repeat the heart of the speech"but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them" (Acts 5:39 NASB).
Spencers tone throughout is one of humility and conciliation. It appears he does desire that heresy be removed from the church without the destruction of people in the process. This book will be an excellent tool to be used for that end.
Ministries Today said:
Heresy Hunters documents the disastrous tendency among many evangelical anti-cult writers to turn on Christian brethren with excessive zeal and character assassination.
This book is especially noteworthy because its author, James Spencer, has written several anti-cult works that are widely respected among evangelicals. From his personal experience as a former Mormon, Spencer learned the essential distinction between heresy and the person believing in heresy. Those in the cults should be seen as victims of heresy, not merely heretics to be humiliated and destroyed. He would like to see anti-cult ministers mindful of this distinction.
Spencer shows that heresy hunters often err by labeling what are biblically acceptable positions as heretical because the targeted ministers do not conform to present evangelical thought. Furthermore, heresy hunters have surrendered to the "spirit of the age" by abandoning the biblical attempt at reconciliation and dialogue with those they believe are in error.
Spencer believes there is much need for biblical reproof and genuine discussion of issues. Unfortunately, heresy hunters go way beyond reproof and are more interested in destroying the ministry of the person in question than biblical discussion or attempted restoration.Spencer documents his serious charges against evangelical heresy hunters in four specific case studies of ministries injured or destroyed by them. These are the attacks on Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Bob Larson and Mike Warnke.
Spencer readily admits that all of these ministries were flawed and needed reproof. However, no Christian or non-Christian should be subject to the cruel way in which their faults and errors were exposed, and the exaggerated and distorted manner in which their beliefs have been presented. Of particular interest to pastors and lay leaders is Spencer's documentation of the distortion and malice with which Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland have been treated.
This book is theologically precise enough to satisfy pastors, yet easily understood by laymen. It is an ideal text for Sunday school classes.
LOWERING THE BOOM
Obviously I was pleased with those reviews. Reviewers heard and understood what I was trying to say. They took it in the spirit it was given.
Of course, I was sure that some people would disagree with me. I was prepared for a vigorous debate on the subject of Heresy Hunting. And I knew that those whom I had questioned would doubtless be stirred. However, nothing could have prepared me for what actually happened.
The response of the Heresy Hunters seemed incredible. Instead of debating the issues with me, they began to attack my character. This seemed ironic to me: in response to my charge that they engaged in character assassination, they promptly began to assassinate my character!
My life literally went on hold while I answered false and bitter accusations against my character; I experienced what amounted to a "shunning" from some of my apologist colleagues; eventually I decided it would be wise to have my home phone number unlisted. (This after ministering as a missionary to Mormons in Mormondom for fifteen years!)
Day after day I listened while my name was slandered and lies were told about me on national radio. I saw my book reviewed in the newsletters of the Heresy Hunters with disdain. Not only that, but they fed off each other. Every untrue accusation made against me was repeated over and over again. Some of the attacks were so vicious as to be almost ludicrous. I will document them in some detail in the next two chapters.
The book enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) a broad circulation. It has sold more than all my previous five books combined. In addition, it has brought my ministry to the attention to thousands of people who probably would not have heard of the book if it hadnt been so spitefully attacked. Finally, through radio and television, I was able to speak to this important issue to millions of people worldwide.
The most important spin-off of the books message was that I began to hear from other ministries which had been attacked by the Heresy Hunters. Their stories would make another book (and may yet do so). Their stories are repetitions of what I had already documentedstories of false charges, half-truth, innuendo, smear tactics, and lies. Some of them are heart-breaking.
In the remaining chapters, I will recount what happened to me "on the way to the bookstore" with Heresy Hunters: Character Assassination in the Church. I do so with reluctance. It will entail lifting the lid on some very unpleasant activities by the Heresy Hunters. I will be required to recount their lies about me and others to people who may never have heard them otherwise.
However, it is important to meet these people with a clear eye. Their deeds of darkness need to be brought into the light. We need a Christian "Sunshine Amendment." That is the only reason I take up the unpleasant task of documenting their activities here.
I will review several of the specific examples I used in the Heresy Hunters. Then I will detail the responses to that bookresponses which came from those I named as perpetrators of Heresy Hunting. Finally, I want to offer some guidelines which can help us avoid bloodletting in our doctrinal discussions.