Walter Ralston Martin (1928 - 1989), was an Evangelical Christian apologist who founded the Christian Research Institute in 1960 as a para-church ministry specialising as a clearing-house of information in both general Christian apologetics and in countercult apologetics.
Martin was born in New York City, the son of George Washington Martin (a judge) and Maud Ainsworth. He was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, and was one of six children. In the mid 1940s he attended Stony Brook School where he obtained his high school diploma. At age seventeen he eloped with Patricia Alice Toner, with the marriage lasting about four years. In June 1952 Martin married Elaine Lois Jacobsen, and this marriage ended in July 1973. There were five children born out of this union. In November 1973 Martin married Darlene Nesland, and one daughter was born. Darlene Nesland remained his wife until Martin's death in 1989.
Martin's tertiary education began with his brief enrollment at Adelphi University (September 1946-January 1947), followed by attendance at Washington Bible College in 1948. Martin finally settled on taking a degree at Shelton College where he was enrolled from 1949 until graduation with a B.A. in 1951. He further obtained a Bachelor of Religious Education degree in 1952 from Shelton College. One of his best known lecturers at Shelton College was James Oliver Buswell. In 1956 he received a Master of Arts degree by coursework in religious education at New York University. Martin then proceeded as a candidate for the Doctor of Education degree at New York University but did not fulfil all the requisite work to be awarded the degree. He subsequently obtained a Ph.D. in 1976 from California Coast University (formerly known as California Western University).
Martin's career as an apologist coincided with his tertiary education in 1949 as he reputedly self-published some pamphlets on cults. He also practiced answering a variety of questions about the Bible and faith during lunch hours at a public park situated near Wall Street, in New York City. Martin has indicated in various book dedications and in audio recorded lectures how he was mentored by Frank Gaebelein (Principal, Stony Brook School), Wilbur Smith (author of the apologetic text Therefore Stand), and the Presbyterian radio evangelist Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960).
Martin's relationship with Barnhouse proved strategic as he was appointed as a regular columnist to Eternity magazine (1955-60). Barnhouse's support for Martin validated his early ministry in much of the American Evangelical world. He also worked for a time as a research associate for the National Association of Evangelicals.
Martin was ordained as a minister of the Regular Baptists in 1951, but this was revoked in 1953 owing to his remarriage. His status as a minister has been the subject of much controversy (see below "Controversies"). While doubts have been raised over his ordination, what is clear is that Martin did serve as a pastor in various churches in New York and New Jersey in the 1950s and 1960s. He also became a regular presenter of Bible study classes convened by Barnhouse in New York City. In later years Martin would serve as a preacher and Bible study leader at Melodyland Christian Center and then at Newport Mesa Christian Center in California.
Perhaps the greatest public controversy of his early career arose from his studies of Seventh-day Adventist theology. From its earliest days until the 1950s, the Seventh-day Adventist church was regarded by Evangelicals and mainstream Protestants as either an extreme sect or heretical cult. Martin had initially accepted the received Protestant opinion about the heretical status of the Seventh-day Adventists. He indicated his opposition to Adventist teachings in a brief paragraph in the inaugural edition of his book The Rise of the Cults, published in 1955.
However, he reversed his views after a series of interviews with various leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist church, and on reading Adventist literature. Martin reported his initial findings to Barnhouse, and between 1955-56 a series of small conferences were held with Barnhouse and Martin meeting Adventist leaders like T. E. Unruh and LeRoy Froom. Barnhouse and Martin then published some of their findings in a series of articles that appeared in Eternity between September and November 1956. The standpoint taken by Barnhouse and Martin was that Adventists were largely orthodox on central doctrines, but heterodox on lesser doctrines, and so could be classified as belonging in the Evangelical camp. Martin later expanded his position in a book length treatment in 1960 in The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Evangelical opinions were divided over the Martin-Barnhouse stance on the Adventists. Some, like E. Schuyler English, supported Martin, some such as John Gerstner urged a sober and fair hearing, while others, such as Louis Talbot, J. K. van Baalen, Harold Lindsell and Anthony Hoekema, opposed his view.
Between 1955-65 Martin enjoyed a relationship with Zondervan publishers where he was appointed as director of cult apologetics publications. During this period Zondervan released several publications about cults under his direction, with at least eight books and four booklets written by Martin. His earliest countercult books included Jehovah of the Watchtower, The Christian Science Myth, The Christian and the Cults and The Maze of Mormonism.
Martin's primary approach to assessing cults was to focus on doctrinal issues, particularly those concerning the person, nature and work of Christ. Martin emphasised contrasting Biblical teachings with those of the cults, and for many evangelicals he standardised the dominant style of countercult apologetics by refuting heresy.
Christian Research Institute
In 1960 Martin established the Christian Research Institute in New Jersey, and then in 1974 relocated it to Southern California. In its earliest years Martin's colleagues who were associated with Christian Research Institute included Walter Bjorck, James Bjornstad, Floyd Hamilton, and Shildes Johnson, many of whom went on to publish countercult books.
Through this para-church organisation Martin built up a reference library of primary sources, sought to train Christians in the art of apologetics and evangelism, developed a bureau of speakers, and from the early 1960s conceived of the need for a computerised data base of apologetic information. Martin's prescient advocacy of using computer technology for apologetic purposes led to a major conference, the All-Europe Conference on Computer Technique for Theological Research held in Austria in September 1968. This became the subject of the book Computers, Cultural Change and the Christ, which was written by Martin's friend and colleague John Warwick Montgomery.
In 1978 he established a ministry periodical known as Forward, which was redesigned in 1987 as Christian Research Journal. Martin mentored several figures who have become prominent apologists in the Christian countercult movement including Bob and Gretchen Passantino, Elliot Miller, John Weldon, Ron Rhodes, Rich Poll, Paul Carden, and Robert Bowman. Many of the people who have established ministries in the Christian countercult movement regard Martin as the grandfather figure of this form of apologetics. One indicator of the high esteem in which he was held is that at least twelve books have been dedicated to him.
Martin was a figure of controversy who aroused great loyalty among his colleagues, and deep animosity from many of his detractors. He was criticised by some ultra-fundamentalist Protestants for his affiliations with Pentecostals and Charismatics, and for his refusal to classify the Roman Catholic church as a cult. He was the subject of scathing criticism of his doctrinal stance by the Canadian historian and ex-Jehovah's Witness M. James Penton. He was also criticized by Thomas Johnsen for defending the Lieber manuscript as an authentic source document for Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science.
In the 1980s Martin was involved in critical debates over the positive confession success theology (also called Word Faith) of Christian charismatic teachers such as Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin. While Martin was critical of these teachers' claims concerning their views of Christ, healing, faith, and prosperity, he nonetheless was persuaded of the perpetuity of charismatic spiritual gifts in the Church. To that end Martin presented his positive appraisal of spiritual gifts in several audio lectures, and by editing with chapter end-notes, a fresh reprint edition of D. L. Moody's book Secret Power.
He was involved in several public confrontations with Mormon leaders and apologists, one of which involved contesting the content of Martin's lectures and credentials in a Californian law-suit in the mid 1970s. Another concerned contested claims about the origins of the Book of Mormon. During the 1980s his tertiary credentials and ordination status as a Baptist minister had further doubts cast on them by popular Mormon apologists Robert and Rosemary Brown. They compiled a multi-volume work They Lie In Wait To Deceive, of which the third volume involved a critical attack on Martin's credentials and claims about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since his death Martin's daughter, Jill Martin Rische has sought to answer some of these allegations via the website she co-administers, Walter Martin's Religious Information Network. She has documented her father's ministerial status as a recognized pastor within the Directory of the Californian Southern Baptist Convention.
After his death a controversy ensued about the leadership succession to Christian Research Institute. This controversy was between Martin's widow and several of his children on one side, and Hank Hanegraaff, along with other members of Martin’s family on the other. Hanegraaff succeeded to the ministry's presidency on June 29, 1989. The controversy remains unresolved as Hanegraaff continues to direct the ministry. In November 2009, new evidence became available that sheds light on this controversy. Audio tapes from Walter Martin’s bible class at Newport Mesa Christian Center reveal that Martin had spent considerable time investigating Hanegraaff’s background and was very familiar with his work. On a tape dated December 7, 1986, Martin tells his class that he has been promoting Hanegraaff’s Memory Dynamics for more than 5 years. On October 23, 1988, Martin tells his class that he has been praying for one man, for two years, to come to CRI as an Executive Vice President. On December 4, 1988, Martin introduces Hanegraaff to his bible class, as CRI’s Executive Vice President. These audio clips can be heard be heard along with additional material at Walter Martin Jude 3 (waltermartinjude3.com), the website established by Cindee Martin Morgan, another of Walter Martin’s daughters, and her husband Rick Morgan.
Rick Morgan and Cindee Martin Morgan created Walter Martin Jude 3 to help shed light on the ongoing controversy surrounding Hank Hanegraaff and his position at CRI. Hearing Dr. Martin in his own words allows interested persons to consider critical additional information, while developing an informed opinion in these matters.
Jill Martin Rische has sought to perpetuate her father's ministry through Walter Martin's Religious Information Network, and by arranging for the publication in 2003 of a fresh posthumous edition of The Kingdom of the Cults. She also collated and transcribed excerpts from around one hundred of her father's sermons and bible-study talks, which was released in 1999 as Through the Windows of Heaven.
Obituaries and biographical sources
- "CRI Founder Walter Martin Dies," Charisma & Christian Life 14 (13) (1989), p. 28.
- "Cult Authority Martin Dies," Bookstore Journal, August 1989), p. 93.
- "Memorial," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 33 (1990), p. 143.
- "Memorial Service for Dr Walter Martin" Christian Research Newsletter, 2 (4) (1989).
- "Dr Walter Martin," The Christian Librarian, 13 (4) (1970), pp. 3-4.
- Barnhouse, Margaret N., That Man Barnhouse (Tyndale House, Wheaton, 1983), pp. 223-225 & 252-254.
- Groothuis, Douglas, "Walter R. Martin" in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau (Baker, Grand Rapids, 2000), p. 601.
- Quebedeaux, Richard, The Worldly Evangelicals (Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 66-67.
- Stafford, Tim , "The Kingdom of the Cult Watchers," Christianity Today, October 7, 1991, p. 21.
Critical assessments of Martin's writings
- Cowan, Douglas E. Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian Countercult (Praeger Publishing, Westport, Connecticut & London, 2003).
- Johnsen, Thomas C., "Historical Consensus and Christian Science: The Career of a Manuscript Controversy," The New England Quarterly 53 (1980), pp. 3-22.
- Saliba, John A. Understanding New Religious Movements 2nd edition (Alta Mira Press, Walnut Creek, Lanham, New York & Oxford, 2003).
- Shupe, Anson D. Six Perspectives on New Religions: A Case Study Approach. Studies in Religion and Society Volume One. (Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York & Queenston, Ontario, 1981), pp. 61-84.
- Martin, Walter Ralston, and Norman H. Klann, Jehovah of the Watchtower (Biblical Truth Publishing, Paterson, New Jersey, 1953).This was revised and republished by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1956; revised again and republished by Moody Press, Chicago, 1974; and final revision published by Bethany House, Minneapolis, 1981.
- _____________________, and Norman H. Klann, The Christian Science Myth (Biblical Truth Publishing, Paterson, New Jersey, 1954). This was revised and republished by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1955.
- Martin, Walter R., The Rise of the Cults (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1955). This text was revised and published by Zondervan, 1957, then revised and published by Vision House in 1977 and 1980; and finally completely revised and reissued under a new title Martin Speaks Out on the Cults (Vision House, Santa Ana, 1983).
- The Christian and the Cults (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1956).
- Unity. Modern Cult Library Booklet Series. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1957).
- The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1960).
- "Seventh-day Adventism" in The Challenge of the Cults, Harold Lindsell & Others (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1960), pp. 36-44.
- Essential Christianity: A Handbook of Basic Christian Doctrines (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1962). This was republished by Vision House, Santa Ana, 1975, and reissed with minor additions by Vision House, 1980.
- The Maze of Mormonism (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1962). This was substantially expanded in a new revised edition published by Vision House, Santa Ana, 1978.
- The Kingdom of the Cults (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1965). This text was revised and republished by Bethany Fellowship, Minneapolis, 1968. Further revised editions were published by Bethany in 1977 and 1985. Two very different posthumous editions have been published by Bethany, one under the editorship of Hank Hanegraaff, 1997, and then one under the editorship of Ravi Zacharias, 2003. The 2003 edition is approved of by Martin's family.
- (ed). UFO: Friend Foe or Fantasy (Christian Research Institute, Wayne, New Jersey, 1968).
- Screwtape Writes Again (Vision House, Santa Ana, 1975).
- Abortion: Is It Always Murder? (Vision House, Santa Ana, 1977).
- The Riddle of Reincarnation (Vision House, Santa Ana, 1977).
- (ed). The New Cults (Vision House, Santa Ana, 1980).
- (ed). Walter Martin's Cults Reference Bible (Vision House, Santa Ana, 1981).
- The New Age Cult (Bethany House, Minneapolis, 1989).
- "Ye Shall Be as Gods" in The Agony of Deceit, edited by Michael S. Horton (Moody Press, Chicago, 1990), pp. 89-105.
- and Jill Martin-Rische, Through the Windows of Heaven (Broadman & Holman, Nashville, 1999).
- Moody, Dwight L. Secret Power, Introduced and edited by Walter R. Martin (Regal Books, Ventura, 1987).
- Montgomery, John Warwick, Computers, Cultural Change and the Christ (Christian Research Institute, Wayne, New Jersey, 1969).