Walter Ralston Martin (September 10, 1928 – June 26, 1989), was an American Evangelical minister, author, and Christian apologist who founded the Christian Research Institute in 1960 as a para-church ministry specializing as a clearing-house of information in both general Christian apologetics and in countercult apologetics.


Martin was born in Brooklyn, New York to George Washington Martin II (1876-1948) and Maud Ainsworth (1892-1966). His father was a prominent figure in the legal profession who served as an assistant District attorney, before working as a criminal trial lawyer. In 1920 he became a county court judge and presided over cases involving some of the notorious Murder Inc criminals.

Martin's mother, Maud Ainsworth, was born in Chicago to Joseph Ainsworth and Annie Young. She was one of several children born of that marriage, but was adopted by her aunt and uncle. Her adoptive parents were James McIntyre (1857-1937) a vaudevillian (one partner of the black-face duo tramp clowns: Thomas Heath and Jim McIntyre), and Emma Young (1864-1935), a dancer and balladeer (known on stage as Maude Clifford), a sister of Maud's mother Annie.

Walter Martin was raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, and was one of six children. In his earliest years the family was domiciled in Macdonough Street, and then from 1930 onwards in Bainbridge Street, Brooklyn. 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. Patricia Toner was the daughter of the prominent Long Island oyster entrepreneur Royal Toner.

Martin was married to Elaine Lois Jacobsen from June 1952 to July 1973, when they divorced. He married Darlene Nesland in November 1973 and they remained together until his death on June 26, 1989, due to apparent heart failure. Martin has five children from his second marriage and one child from his third.[1]

Continuing educationEdit

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. He subsequently obtained a Ph.D. in 1976 from California Coast University (known at that point as California Western University, its original name.)

Early careerEdit

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 (1894-1976) (author of the apologetic text Therefore Stand), and the Presbyterian Bible teacher 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.

Evangelical-Adventist controversyEdit

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 Evangelical Christians and mainstream Protestants as either an extreme sect or heretical cult. Martin had initially accepted the prevailing 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 his 1960 book-length treatment, The Truth About Seventh-day Adventism. Adventist leaders themselves wrote and published a companion book, Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine[1], in 1957.

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.

Early writingsEdit

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.

In his first handbook, The Rise of the Cults, he wrote concise chapters about Jehovah's Witnesses, the Theosophical Society, Mormonism, Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity, and Father Divine, with an exhortative chapter urging the church to treat the cults as an important mission-field. Most of the contents of his earliest books reappeared in his major textbook The Kingdom of the Cults, which was first released in 1965, and has reputedly sold some 750,000 copies worldwide.

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 his interpretation of Biblical teachings with those of the cults, and for many evangelicals he standardised the dominant style of countercult apologetics by refuting what he claimed to be heresy.

Although Martin was developing a reputation as an authority figure on cults, his role as a columnist in Eternity magazine also allowed him scope to address other topics such as basic Christian doctrines, the theology of Karl Barth, the problem of alcoholism, and reviewing books. His basic approach in apologetics was that of an evidentialist.

Throughout his writing career Martin had articles published in other periodicals including Christianity Today, United Evangelical Action, The Christian Librarian, Christian Life, Christian Research Newsletter, Logos Journal, Moody Monthly, and Our Hope.

Christian Research InstituteEdit

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 Craig Hawkins, Bob and Gretchen Passantino, Elliot Miller, John Weldon, Ron Rhodes, Rich Poll, Ron Carlson, Paul Carden, and Robert M Bowman Jr. 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. Scores of ministries on cults and apologetics have also began as a result of Dr. Martin and his ministry.

Broadcaster, debater and lecturerEdit

Martin was also a radio broadcaster who began this side of his ministry on Barnhouse's program. In the mid 1960s Martin regularly appeared as a guest panelist on The Long John Nebel Show, and then commenced his own program known as "The Bible Answer Man." Between the mid-1960s until his death in 1989 Martin debated in public various non-Christians such as atheist author/activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Hugh Schonfield, theologians of Liberal Christianity like Thomas J. J. Altizer and Bishop John Shelby Spong, and new religious commentators like Roy Masters. He appeared several times on the John Ankerberg television show debating advocates of Freemasonry, the Bahá'í Faith, and other groups.

In the earliest years of his ministry Martin became an itinerant speaker, addressing Protestant churches and para-church groups about the theological problems posed by cults with much emphasis on analysing the teachings of groups like Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), Spiritualists, Father Divine, Unity School of Christianity and Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God. In 1958 he spoke throughout East Asia and in Ghana, and in 1961 in Northern and Western Europe.

The popularity of Martin's ministry, however, coincided with the Jesus People movement of the early 1970s and the rise of the countercultural interest in East Asian religions and esoteric pathways. As occult interests surfaced in the counterculture and as groups like Hare Krishna, Unification Church, and Children of God emerged, Martin became a much sought after speaker.

Martin utilized the burgeoning availability of cassette tapes and disseminated many of his public lectures about apologetics questions and cultic groups. Several albums were released on The World of the Cults, The World of the Occult, The New Cults, How To Witness to Jehovah's Witnesses, and How to Witness to Mormons. Other albums tackled general apologetics To Every Man An Answer, and topical problems such as abortion, homosexuality and women's liberation (Martin Speaks Out). He later appeared in a series of six films produced by Vision House called Martin Speaks Out on the Cults.

During the 1980s Martin spoke in churches and para-church conferences in Australia, Brazil, Kenya and New Zealand. His final book dealt with New Age spirituality.

Martin maintained a part-time role as a lecturer in various liberal arts and bible colleges including King's College (New York), Melodyland School of Theology in Anaheim, California, and was for many years a board member of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In 1980 he joined John Warwick Montgomery in promoting apologetics through the Master of Arts program at the Simon Greenleaf School of Law.


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 fundamentalist Protestants for his affiliations with Pentecostals and Charismatics (even though he was a Baptist), 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, also identified as a "cult" by conservatives due to its unorthodox teachings.

In the 1980s Martin was involved in critical debates over the positive confession success theology (also called Word of 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 19th century evangelist 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 lawsuit 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, who noted that his "doctorate" was granted by a California diploma mill. 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 his 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, but Martin himself was reluctant to address the issues himself. She has documented her father's ministerial status as a recognized pastor within the Directory of the Californian Southern Baptist Convention, but the academic validity of his doctorate remains a point of debate between his supporters and detractors. (The degree-granting institution, California Coast University is now nationally accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.)

A large part of this controversy stems from his use of the title "Doctor" at least as far back as his mother's death in 1966, which was long before the founding of the correspondence school which he claimed had awarded the doctorate. California Coast University was founded in 1973 under the name "California Western University", but lost a name-infringement suit in 1981. The school was identified as a diploma mill in official GAO Special Investigations Report (# GAO-04-1096T) which stated that the school provided degrees upon payment of a flat fee. It has since become accredited to award undergraduate degrees, and offers no theological degrees whatsoever. At the time Martin claims to have been enrolled, institutional officials admit that "[it] is entirely possible that this school offered a degree in Comparative Religion in '76; however, we have no record of this" (Welty 1981, in Brown and Brown 1986:52). The school now doesn't answer questions about Martin and will not provide access to any existing records of his enrollment, theses or dissertation.

Other refuted claims included his supposedly having been a descendant of Brigham Young, and having inherited Young's "secret library," from which Martin supposedly gleaned the "truth about Mormonism." Martin claimed on the fly-leaf of The Maze of Mormonism that he was a descendant of Brigham Young on his mother's side ([1962] 1978:3), and that this fact had been confirmed for him by a Mormon genealogist. Robert Brown confronted Martin on radio talk show with evidence that indicated "it's an impossibility for him to be a descendant of Brigham Young" (Brown and Brown 1984:82). Challenged by Martin to make a statement to that effect which might be tested legally, Brown declined to do so on the air. Martin's mistaken belief that he was a descendant of Brigham Young originated from his older relatives, and he had been taught it since childhood. This false claim appears, for example, in his aunt Emma Young McIntyre's 1935 obituary.

At least in one instance he was guilty of sloppy journalism. In a recorded program making its way around northern California Mormons in the late 1970s, Martin recited a list of prominent Mormons, including one "E. LaMar Buckner, president of Standard Oil Company." Buckner, who at the time was president of the LDS Sacramento Mission from 1975 until 1978, answered inquiries about that statement, "Well, I'm still waiting for my first pay check." Buckner had served in 1956 as president of the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, also known as the Jaycees.

After his death a controversy ensued about the leadership succession to Christian Research Institute. This controversy was between Martin's widow and children on one side, and Dutch-born apologist Hank Hanegraaff who succeeded to the ministry's presidency. The controversy remains unresolved as Hanegraaff continues to direct the ministry. 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.

External linksEdit