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A Look at CRI's Brownsville Meeting Notes

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Unfortunately, reconcilliation appears to mean different things to different people. While the reports from Brownsville were positive, CRI's recent response to them is far less so.

When it was first released, Brownsville's statement included some erroneous reporting (e.g. it mentioned that Hank had broadcast a live "Bible Answer Man" program via Brownsville's phonelines.) The statement was quickly revised - this time reviewed and approved by Dr. Michael Brown.

I reported the statement on AR-talk on Dec. 7, 1997. The next day, a CRI spokesperson mentioned that an official CRI statement on the meetings was in the works, and on December 24th that statement was placed online at: http://www.equip.org/news/meeting.htmloffsite. URL updated Jan. 4, 2000) At the time, that URL was reached by clicking on "Breaking News" at the bottom of CRI's homepage, http://www.equip.orgoffsite.

 

Over the past few months, I participated in various online discussions regarding reports about Brownsville. One such discussion took place on the CHRISTIA mailing list (which, to some extend, can also be received via usenet at bit.listserv.christiaoffsite). Thus, since I had reported Brownsville's information about the meetings there, I also made note of CRI's response - initially without comments.

One reader, apparently somewhat puzzled, wondered why I reported it. I replied with the following clarification, which includes my observations regarding CRI's statement:

To: Practical Christian Life
Subject: Re: [CHRISTIA] (fwd) AR-talk CRI Statement
From: webmaster@apologeticsindex.org (Anton Hein)
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 15:10:32 GMT

On Wed, 24 Dec 1997 19:41:33 -0600, you, [name withheld - AH] <[email address withheld - AH>, wrote:

I am interested in what your point was, in making this announcement. Your announcement is, of course, true. I pointed my browser over to the article and read it. I just don't understand why you brought it up.

The article is relevant in that we have been discussing Brownsville and various aspects of the renewal and revival movements.

Earlier, I pointed out Brownsville's report of the meeting. On another list, AR-talk, Bob Hunter - a spokesman for CRI - responded by saying that report included some erroneous information. Indeed, that report was then edited and reposted (now including a footnote statement saying that it has been reviewed and approved by Dr. Michael Brown.) It can be found at:

http://harvest.reapernet.com/hank/offsite

At the same site, operated by the company that also produces Brownsville's web site, you can find transcripts of the weekly chats with Dr. Michael Brown:

http://chat.reapernet.com/transcripts/offsite

Some critics, including Mr. Hunter, frequently post and respond to excerpts from these transcripts. Somehow they always manage to make things look as bad as possible. When you check the entire transcript, though, you notice that where the critics spend a lot of energy is bitter denunciations, spin-doctoring and off-topic questioning, responses from Dr. Brown and those who occasionally sit in for him are always gracious and loving.

Bob Hunter, by the way, moved from CRI Canada to CRI USA a few years back. At the time, one of his responsibilities was to set up CRI's web site. The site finally emerged - at http://www.equip.orgoffsite - but has disappointed many who knew the old, pre-Hank Hanegraaff CRI. For one thing, it lacks in useful content. For *that* you can visit the old CRI archives, found at:

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-home.htmloffsite

That material, which reflects the focus of the old CRI, was posted online by Rich Poll, then Research Resource Manager at CRI. (Much of that material was keyed in by Bob Hunter...)

Rich now heads Apologia Report, a refined version of the old "BBS-FYI" newsletter that informs apologists of helpful resources. The old BBS-FYI letters can be found at the above URL, while the new Apologia Report is at:

http://apologia.orgoffsite

There you can also read about AR-talk, the accompanying apologetics resources discussion list.

The lack of in-depth content on CRI's own site wouldn't be because none is available. After all, Bob Hunter operates his own extensive site with highly critical and, in my view, highly unbalanced and - in many cases - simply unfair articles on the Toronto Blessing. When I was an unbalanced critic myself, I published many of Bob's articles in my electronic publications, ("Christian Press Report," and "Laugh or Cry?") as well as on Christian BBS [Abba II - AH], of which I was the co-sysop. Bob's site, "The Contenders," is at:

http://www.geocities.com/~contenders/)

As I mentioned before, I believe that much of Bob's research is at the basis of Hank's "Counterfeit Revival." Certainly, the same attitude and approach speaks from both Bob's site and Hank's book, radio show and statements made in interviews.

Here's my guess: "While there has so far been no change of position on either side, like leaders of the Brownsville revival, I am thrilled by the dialogue that is taking place. (/s/ Hank Hanegraff)". Are you pointing out that leaders have dialog without setting up accountability relationships first?

I pointed to the statement in the interest of fairness, since I earlier pointed to Brownsville's statement regarding the same meetings.

This is an interesting situation, though. For one thing, until very recently, the only interaction between both sides has been to lobby statements back and forth (e.g. Dr. Brown's book vs that of Hanegraaff; Hank's on-air statements vs. Michael's online responses, etc.)

What is encouraging is that dialogue is now taking place. While both sides are not anywhere near a relationship of mutual accountability - or, indeed, even just a relationship - both sides are accountable to God for how they treat each other. Face-to-face dialogue (witnessed, in these cases, by other Christian leaders) is much better than trading on-line or on-air barbs.

Unfortunately, there is still some jockeying for position. Just as Bob Hunter pointed out some erroneous information in the initial Brownsville response (e.g. it is was incorrectly reported that Hank had broadcast a Bible Answer Man program from Brownsville, using Brownsville AOG's phone lines), there are items in CRI's statement that should, at the very least, be clarified. CRI's statement is at:

http://users.deltanet.com/~critalk/meeting.htmoffsite

For example, the following paragraph is interesting for a number of reasons:

Unfortunately, what I had envisioned as a series of private meetings has become grist for the rumor mill. Within days of my visit, people reported hearing that I had been "slain in the spirit" and had succumbed to sensational manifestations such as spasmodic jerking. Faxes and phone calls flooded the Christian Research Institute International's offices ranging from pleas to "say it isn't so" to chastisements for "selling out to the enemy."

Envisioning private meetings is not the same as agreeing to them. Here is how the meetings were reported in Brownsville's account:

Some leaders from Salem Communications, the largest Christian broadcasting network in the world (and the primary carrier of Hank Hanegraaff's syndicated radio program), suggested that the men meet one another on November 1st for a closed debate before 40 or 50 of their national media leaders in Dallas, Texas.

The debate was arranged with the goal of presenting both sides of the issues of revival in an impartial forum. "It was a strong debate, and it was confrontational at times," Dr. Brown said. "But as a result of it, Hank and I reached out to each other. I apologized to him for sinning against him or misrepresenting or hurting him in any way. He in turn apologized to me, and we agreed to talk."

Both men must have meant what they said that day. Dr. Brown said, "We both had a free night in the hotel, and we spent almost three hours talking. We really became totally convinced of one another's sincerity and our passion for the fundamentals of the faith. We recognized one another as brothers and agreed to get together more."

Something else was agreed upon that night as well. "I asked Hank that if it was at all possible, I would like for him to visit the revival [at Brownsville]," Dr. Brown said, "and he said he was eager to do so."

The two men continued to talk together by telephone after the debate, and on Wednesday, December 3rd, Hank Hanegraaff and Pastor Tom Stipe arrived at Brownsville Assembly of God Church in Pensacola, Florida. The men attended the revival service that night and met with some students from the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry directed by Dr. Michael Brown the following morning.

Now, the statement

Unfortunately, what I had envisioned as a series of private meetings has become grist for the rumor mill.

is inadequate reporting in that it leaves too much up for interpretation. Were private meetings envisioned or agreed upon? How private? What became grist for the rumor mill - the meetings? And where did the rumors come from? The unfortunate wording of that sentence makes it look like the rumors came from Brownsville and were a direct result of the meetings not being private...

Then there is this:

Faxes and phone calls flooded the Christian Research Institute International's offices...

Now, does this mean CRI's office in the States - now apparently called 'Christian Research Institute International offices' - could not handle the volume of calls? Or are we talking about CRI's International offices - the one in the States and the one in Canada?

I don't know what it takes to "flood" CRI's offices with faxes and calls. It is impossible to quantify "flooding," but here in Holland, half of which is below sea-level, we consider flooding to be a dramatic event that happens when you can no longer protect yourself from an overwhelming volume of water.

Could CRI not handle the volume of calls it received regarding these rumors? If so, this is a very surprising turn of events. After all, though I and other well-informed apologists spend a tremendous amount of time online and offline talking with people who are pro- contra, or undecided on the Toronto Blessing and its variations, we have not seen any of the apparent rumors that caused people to flood CRI's phones and faxes (why not email?) spill over onto the most effective rumor mill available: the Internet.

Too, CRI received calls and faxes...

...ranging from pleas to "say it isn't so" to chastisements for "selling out to the enemy."

Does that mean there were no positive responses? After all, even one positive call would expand the range, right?

Brownsville's statement on the meetings highlight the positive, while pointing out both sides still disagree. CRI's statement also points out that both sides still disagree, and does include some encouragement:

While there has so far been no change of position on either side, like leaders of the Brownsville Revival, I am thrilled by the dialogue that is taking place. To quote Michael Brown, "Let us see if we can model our dialogue as an example to the body of Christ to show how leaders can have strong disagreements, and yet dialogue in a way that is gracious and Christlike, and learn from each other in doing so."- Hank Hanegraaff

At the same time, though, CRI's statement reads like a prosecutor's closing arguments, once again giving a run-down of all it considers to be wrong with the movement.

Previously, we talked about accountability. In my opinion, the budding dialogue between Brownsville and CRI would benefit from having some independent observers - third parties by whom both sides could be held accountable. At the very least, they could prevent inaccurate reporting and/or inflammatory statements.

In closing, let me express the hope that both sides will indeed continue the dialogue. After all, both sides can indeed learn from each other, as both have valid points as well as erroneous views. It takes balance to know and acknowledge the difference, and it is Scriptural to do so:

Do not quench the Spirit;
do not despise prophetic utterances.
But examine everything carefully;
hold fast to that which is good;
abstain from every form of evil
- 1 Thess. 5:19-22

Anton




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