He Answers His Calling With Radio Bible Show



Los Angeles Times

This is "talk radio" of a very different kind:

Mark, from Sacramento, calls to ask if there is any biblical justification for civil disobedience. Robert, from Bakersfield, wants to know in what language the New Testament originally was written. Buddy, from St. Louis, would like some information about the occult. Dale, from Prescott, Ariz., asks whether-as some televangelists preach-human beings can become "little Gods" through faith and prayer. Janet, from Atlanta, wants to know whether it is proper to prepare and serve food in the church. And Linda, from Ogden, Utah, needs some advice about her job.

At the other end of the line is Walter Martin, "The Bible Answer Man," host of what the National Religious Broadcasters calls "one of the . . . most controversially stimulating programs in Christian radio."

"The Bible Answer Man" is beamed live from Irvine each weekday afternoon to more than 100 radio markets coast to coast, via three satellite systems. The fast-moving, 55-minute program that airs locally on KKLA (99.5 FM) at 3:05 p.m., also is heard in Zaire, Burma and Canada.

Martin credits his seemingly encyclopedic, multilingual knowledge of the Bible to two factors: He "reads omnivorously" and "absorbs like a sponge."


Martin is founder and director of the nonprofit Christian Research Institute, a 48,000-square-foot, nonprofit think tank in the Irvine Spectrum area where the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways meet. The institute, which has 41 employees and operates on about $1.5 million a year, produces a newsletter and monthly magazine, as well as Martin's radio show, and maintains an 80,000-volume library. Available for sale, rent and loan are more than 5,000 audiotapes and several film series.

All this work, and Martin's dozens of personal appearances each year, share a common thread: Martin's mission, as he sees it, is to confront "cults" and "unbiblical beliefs" and to "help the church reach out in love, bringing the truth to those who have believed a lie," his code word for any differing interpretation of the Scriptures of various groups, many of them Christian, in the United States over the past 150 years.

Until a permanent studio is built, Martin broadcasts from a first-floor office at CRI, purchasing time from the various stations. As the late-afternoon sun dapples into the room, he fields questions coming in on the toll-free line while leaning back in a worn armchair, his feet propped up on an open desk drawer, a diet soft drink in front of him.

...Martin started "The Bible Answer Man" in 1964 on a single station in New Jersey (patterning it after the popular 1930s radio show "The Answer Man"). In 1974, he moved to a small suite of offices in El Toro, and the show began locally on KYMS-FM in Santa Ana. Six years later, satellite distribution began.

The continuing success of the program over nearly a quarter of a century, Martin says, has been "beyond my wildest dreams."

This kind of influence carries with it a considerable responsibility, he adds: "You're not playing messiah or Siggy Freud."

Indeed, Martin does not ask the dozen or so callers who get through each hour to rely on his word alone. He recommends books, articles and cassettes, and not just those available through CRI.


Martin ran into a brief but intense firestorm several years ago when he appeared on Dennis Prager 's "Religion on the Line" show on KABC radio in Los Angeles. Martin cited Scripture and other sources in assigning blame for Jesus' crucifixion to some Jewish authorities of the time, rather than the Romans. He insists that he did not suggest that the Jews as a people, then or since then, were responsible for the execution.

"I wasn't holding Jews today accountable for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ," Martin says.

But Prager says this distinction is an odd and "subtle one, given that an innumerable number of Jews have been killed and tortured on the basis of that charge. Mr. Martin came very close to raising the specter of medieval Christian charges of deicide against the Jews."

According to a tape of the broadcast which Martin himself provided to The Times, he said that "any Jew or Gentile alive today that hears the gospel of Jesus Christ and turns away from God's love in the cross is participating in that crucifixion."

When pressed by Prager, Martin defended the passage in John 8:44, which characterizes the Jews who rejected the divinity of Jesus at the time of the crucifixion as children of the devil. Some liberal Christian scholars have pointed out the passage as an example of New Testament anti-Semitism.

In the 6 1/2 years that he has been doing his own program, Prager says, "no Christian-whether fundamentalist Protestant or liberal Protestant, conservative or liberal Catholic-ever said anything approaching Mr. Martin's concept of the crucifixion."

Despite the controversy, though, on Prager's subsequent shows and in the local Jewish press, Prager has said the problem with Martin is more one of being a "misanthrope" than an anti-Semite.

"He doesn't have a good word for anyone who isn't identified with his theology," Prager says.

Martin's own early background was liberal and agnostic. He grew up in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn and went to an Episcopal Church-"I was designed to be an Episcopal priest"-while attending a Roman Catholic school.

Martin now characterizes himself as an intellectual, Reformation Christian, an Evangelical Baptist, as well as a charismatic, meaning that he believes in speaking in tongues and healing by faith.

Like many fundamentalists, he believes that the Bible is "inerrant"-error free-but he emphasizes that not every word is to be taken literally, that the Scripture includes metaphors and allegories and other literary devices.

Martin speaks at many mainline churches, including St. Andrew's Presbyterian in Newport Beach and Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, and he teaches regular Bible classes at Newport Mesa Christian Center in Costa Mesa and Capistrano Valley Baptist Church.

The televangelism scandals of the past 2 years have had an effect on Martin, as they have on many religious broadcasters. Martin volunteers to his radio audience that at CRI there are "no relatives on the payroll, no air-conditioned doghouses, no Mercedes."

According to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Martin receives an annual salary of $59,000 from CRI, which leases a single 1988 Pontiac. His San Juan Capistrano home is assessed at less than $200,000.

Like Robert Schuller, Martin says he assigns to his ministry all royalties for his books and tapes sold through the Institute. He does receive royalties for books sold through religious and secular bookstores. He accepts offerings for his speeches and lectures in churches, and reimbursement for his travel expenses.

And he certainly is not above soliciting his listeners, directly or indirectly. At the midpoint of each show, there is a brief pitch for contributions that concludes: "If you have no money at all, you pray for us and we'll pray for you, that God will supply both our needs."