Well, could he? This question presented itself to me more as a shocked reaction to something the Bible Answer Man did than as a real curiosity about what his final abode in eternity might be. I hope it will be heaven.
I will speak more about what he did later, but first I must say that when this question occurred to me, I realized it is a legitimate question, one that the Bible Answer Man himself would entertain without rancor toward the questioner.
For those not familiar with him, I should explain that he is the host of the Christian Research Institute radio program that plays on Christian stations across the nation. It airs daily, and I sometimes catch it in my car when I am coming home late from work in Northern Virginia. Actually there are two hosts, Hank Hanegraaff and Ron Rhodes, successors to the late founder of CRI, Walter Martin, but in keeping with the title of the show, I shall refer to them as if they were a single individual called the “the Bible Answer Man.” The mission of the Bible Answer Man is to equip Christians to answer for their faith “with gentleness and with respect,” when debating with people representing the cults, aberrant Christian theologies, and New Age religions. In this context, the Bible Answer Man is willing to answer all biblical questions called in on the air. So, one really could call in and ask; “Is it possible that the you, the Bible Answer Man, could end up in hell?”
He could answer that it is not possible for him to lose his salvation because it is assured to him by the power of God. He might support this supposition with Philippians 1:5, which says, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus,” or with John 10, which says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them out of my hand,” but never with Paul’s admonition, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil. 2:12) or with his “I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
This is how the show works, and one can listen and learn a lot about Protestant theologies and Protestant interpretations of Scripture. On the surface, the show is straightforward. It is an attempt to unify Christians in the face of the cults and heresies so common these days. But there is a down side to the Bible Answer Man in that he is an anti-Catholic of the most appealing, but insidious kind. He is appealing because he seems to include the Catholic Church within his definition of Christian churches. He is insidious, because, while claiming that Catholics are Christian, in practice he does not consider true Catholics to be Christian at all.
He maintains this contradictory balance, by differing with Catholic doctrines, while claiming that the Catholic Church is truly Christian. One can tune in to his show and hear him defending Catholicism against hard-line anti-Catholics who call Catholic teachings b.asphemous. I once heard him terminate a call from someone who was suggesting that a certain Catholic saint was a witch. He tells his audience that there was a time when the Catholic Church was the only show in town, something many Protestants are loath to admit. He also says that when one looks at what Catholic doctrines actually say, one finds that, no matter how far they wander from the straight and narrow path of biblical Christianity, they never go so far as to cross the line into apostasy. Thus, the Catholic Church may embrace doctrines that are unessential and hinder rather facilitate the believer’s understanding of salvation, but in the final analysis the Catholic Church is a Christian Church and not a cult.
It was in listening to what happened to one Catholic who called the show that I came to wonder, almost aloud, whether or not the Bible Answer Man could be taking a path that might end up in hell.
As I have already mentioned, this was an emotional response, not an actual curiosity. The Church teaches us that, just as we can be saved at any time until the moment we die, so we can turn away from that salvation until that same moment. It is not within our ability to look at anyone’s life at any point in time and know what his final state of grace will be.
Still, we can recognize acts that lead in one direction or another, and the Bible Answer Man’s act that day seemed to be leading in a direction that C. S. Lewis would have described as very much appreciated by “Our Father Below.” What he did, knowingly or in ignorance, was to plant a seed for violence in the heart of a Catholic family. It was a devil’s hat trick, in that one set of circumstances could endanger the souls of at least three people; the Catholic caller and his mother through bitter divisiveness, and the Bible Answer Man for being the willing instrument of that divisiveness without due caution. This is what happened:
A listener called in stating that he was a Catholic. He said he had been away from the Church, but had returned in an attempt to start living a Christian life. He wanted advice as to how to further his desire to live that Christian life and how to educated his children. He stated that he had returned to the Catholic Church simply because he was raised a Catholic. He wondered what the Bible Answer Man thought about this and also what he thought about the idea of putting his children in a Catholic school.
Now this sounds very much like a Catholic who was educated since Vatican II, and so he really was a lamb of sorts, pleading for the shepherd’s hook. Since the Bible Answer Man knows that no sound Catholic would be asking his advice this way, he recognized immediately that he had a prospect, not a suspect, on his hook. So, we cannot really blame the Bible Answer Man for being tempted to reel him in, which is precisely what he attempted to do.
His advice was that there were too many problems to overcome in the Catholic Church. He implied that it would be better to look elsewhere. With respect to putting the kids in a Catholic school, he said he would have serious problems with that. It would be better to find some other Christian school in the area, particularly one that he would recommend if the caller would stay on the line after finishing the call.
Thus far, I was disappointed, but not greatly surprised, at the Bible Answer Man’s behavior. More than anything, it simply revealed his true colors. If the Bible Answer Man really believed that the Catholic Church was a Christian Church, then he should have acknowledged that the caller already had a pastor. I am guessing, but I believe that if the caller had been a Protestant returning to the denomination of his childhood, he would have been advised to go see his pastor, and look at the congregation to see if Christ was present in that church before running off to join some other church. But there was no such recommendation for the Catholic, because the Bible Answer Man is loath to send someone to a Catholic priest to inquire about the presence of Christ in the Church.
The fact that there was no recommendation to observe the congregation, proves that, contrary to what he says, the Bible Answer Man does not really believe that Christ can be present in a Catholic parish. If he did, he would say, “go and see.” Instead, he said in effect, “Forget the Catholic parish; go elsewhere and see.”
None of this surprised me. It is sad, but not surprising, that a Catholic could get himself into these straits. He did not seem to know much about his faith, or perhaps he had a problem with some Catholic teaching. Perhaps he was seeking confirmation for something he already wanted to do, which was to escape Catholicism. If he was truly seeking Christ, though, it was sad that he would be headed off just as he was returning to the Church. And, it was sad, but not surprising, that the Bible Answer Man would lay traps for him. What was surprising was what happened next.
Toward the end of the conversation the caller raised the possibility that his Catholic mother may view his departure from the Catholic faith as a betrayal, and he wanted to know what the Bible Answer Man thought. The response was quick. The caller should share a “Christ-centered” Christianity with his mother, but if she required him to be Catholic, then he would know that his mother was not really Christ-centered.
This was the statement that shocked me, because it was an attempt to set a son against a mother on the basis of something the mother would almost certainly do if she were truly Catholic. If we believe the Bible Answer Man when he says he has studied Catholicism in detail, then we must assume he knows that a truly Catholic mother will do everything in her power to keep her son Catholic. He knows this because he knows Catholics believe Scripture when it tells them that Christ founded a visible Church, not an invisible association of people who believe approximately the same things.
When Christ said, “This is my body,” Catholics take him at his word. The are no mental gymnastics in the Catholic Church to get around the brutal fact that his body is present under the appearance of bread. To depart from the Catholic Church is viewed as a departure from the very Church Jesus founded, and the place where his very body and blood reside. There are many ways to deny Christ. The atheist denies that Christ rose from the dead. The disciples who departed from Christ denied that he could give them his body to eat. Christians who depart from the Catholic Church deny the Christ founded a real Church with an apostolic teaching authority that reaches back to Pentecost. This is why Catholics consider it a betrayal when family members leave the Church.
Somewhere sits a Catholic mother, whose son may soon walk in and say, “Mom, I am leaving the Catholic Church for the little church down the way.” When she says that he must not do that, that he must remain Catholic, he will reply that she is not Christ centered, which, if you have not figured it out by now, means she is not Christian.
This is a neat trick by the Bible Answer Man. He anticipates what a truly Catholic mother will do, uses it to make his point, and turns her son against her. Without knowing the family, or anything of the shared sorrow and joy that hold that family together, he plants seeds of division and heartbreak in its midst and does it quickly, without reservation. To me this is treachery.
Perhaps I overreact. Perhaps there will be no turmoil. But the bare possibility of it means the Bible Answer Man should have touched on the subject with great reticence and caution. If I overreact, it is only because I have seen the heartbreak that comes when a member of a Catholic family denies the faith. I know it can divide husband against wife, parent against child. It can lead to divorce or the permanent severing of parental ties. It can become a divisiveness that travels down to grandchildren. No one who has seen it up close would seek to be the instrument of its initiation. The only thing that can match it for long-term impact is infidelity, precisely because it is a type of infidelity.
That is why the caller said his mother would view his departure as a betrayal. Religious division is devastating for families where faith in God is not something newly discovered by each individual, but rather is a living thing that stretches through centuries and is inextricably woven into the fabric of culture and family history.
There is a parallel in Jewish families. When the philosopher Edith Stein converted to Catholicism, her greatest concern, other than seeking truth, was to mitigate heartache for her mother. The account of her tenderness and humility regarding her mother is worth reading to see just how such a conversion can be suffered through and why no one outside the family should be directing the action. It was through love and humility that Edith Stein, after becoming Catholic, was able to attend synagogue with her mother and pray the psalms of the service out of a Roman breviary. There was much suffering and many tears for mother and daughter during the conversion, but they survived it because there was modesty and respect.
I believe it is God’s grace that makes us families, that the family is divinely ordained, much as the Church is. It is no accident that we are our parents’ children or that we are joined as husbands and wives. God intrudes on this sacred ground often, but with perfect wisdom. The man who would attempt it, should do it with great trepidation. The Christian who takes this path should do so as if passing, on the way to the sea, a sign that reads, “Caution, millstones and ropes lie this way.”
Here is the contradiction of the Bible Answer Man. It was in his total absence of caution that he failed his own mission to answer for his faith “with gentleness and respect,” because he failed to respect the institution of the family. I am sure he could find some Scriptural basis for his intrusion into the family, perhaps Luke 12:53, “Father will be split against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.”
Christ said, “I have come for division,” not, “I will send the Bible Answer Man to sow division.” I think that anyone who seeks to be the vehicle of the division mentioned in Luke does so at great peril to himself, which brings me back to my original question, “Could the Bible Answer Man go to hell?”
The answer is “Yes, of course,” but for a much greater reason than what has been mentioned in this article. It has to do with the whole nature of the gift of our salvation. The Church has come to understand this gift as one that can be turned away from at any time during life. Christ by his death on the cross has redeemed us and freed us to follow him. If we do, it is God’s will, not our own, that we are doing. We get no credit.
But we can turn away and not follow, even though we have been freed to follow. If we do this, then it is our own will, not Gods, that we follow. Here we get full credit, since God’s grace is sufficient for us to follow him. This is the nature of free will, that it can and sometimes does turn away from Christ. This turning away can be abrupt, but it is more often a process of small turnings, “baby steps,” to borrow a term from the modern self-help industry. Sometimes these steps are well intended. It is in this context that the question about the Bible Answer Man has meaning.
Perhaps he is well intended. Perhaps he does not know the misery his actions may set off. Perhaps he does know about the misery, but feels that the salvation of a single soul is worth any amount of misery and believes his actions will help lead that soul to salvation. Perhaps there is not a trace of malice or pride in his actions. This is what I am wont to believe, and I can say that I do not think that true malice is present. Yet pride is a very tricky thing. If there is a hint of it-and only God and Bible Answer Man can really know-then the Bible Answer Man’s act could be one of those baby steps.
If it does not land him in hell, it will certainly contribute to the time he spends in purgatory, which for the Bible Answer Man is a surprise he may not be likely to escape anyway. This not to disparage the Bible Answer Man. Presumably few people will escape purgatory. For most it is a goal. It is, after all, the gateway to heaven. Still, we are called to try to minimize the time we spend in purgatory, and there is no reason why the Bible Answer Man cannot try as well. I can see at least two courses of action he could take, one better than the other, but both heading in the right direction.
The first is the old Catholic path of contrition, confession, and penance. This is the path that the Bible Answer Man should take if he believes, as he says, that the Catholic Church is truly a Christian church. Feeling sorrow for having misled the Catholic, he could seek him out on the radio and tell him to look for Christ first through the family and the pastor that God has provided for him. This could also be done as an act of faith. If the Catholic finds out that Christ is present in his own family and parish, so be it. If not, he is still free to look elsewhere. Having done this, the Bible Answer Man could then do penance by letting a Catholic representative guest host the Bible Answer Man show for one night. This too would accord with believing that the Catholic Church is Christian. Let the audience hear Catholic doctrines explained by a Catholic. I bet it would be one of the most popular nights ever experienced on the show.
But if the Bible Answer Man cannot see his way clear in this direction, there is another way, also honorable. This way is to declare openly against the Catholic Church. I am not suggesting here that he join the bigotry of people such as Bart Brewer, the head of Mission to Catholics International, or Joycelyn Elders, the former Surgeon General. These people hold up a distorted picture of the Catholic Church for public ridicule. What I suggest is that he let the Catholic Church define itself and then differ with it, if he must, in an open and direct way.
A reading of history shows that, no matter how ruthless the conflict, mankind honors forthrightness and honesty even in adversaries. Manfred von Richthofen, the greatest ace of World War I, painted his Fokker trip lane bright red, as if to say, “Here I am, your adversary; I come to differ with you.” He brought down eighty Allied pilots, yet his enemies honored him when he himself fell. One can guess how his personal history would read if he had carried French or English colors on his wings in combat.
Give us an enemy who flies his own colors clearly, and we will honor him, but never one who seems to come along beside us, while secretly seeking our destruction.