Ken Ham—The Man Everyone Loves to Hate

by Todd Friel on October 28, 2018   https://answersingenesis.org/worldview/ken-ham-man-everyone-loves-hate/   

Audio Version

Todd Friel, host of Wretched TV and Radio, interviews Ken Ham on the 25th Anniversary of Answers in Genesis.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more vilified modern Christian than Ken Ham. The founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis is regularly called names not fit to print simply because he insists the Bible is God’s Word and it means what it says. Day after day, nasty critiques flood the ministry, often aimed directly at Ken by name. Why would anyone in his right mind voluntarily enter the Colosseum every day to face the lions?

When given this assignment to interview Ken for Answers in Genesis’ 25th anniversary, I was determined to find the answer. That is why my first question out of the gate was, “Are you nuts? Why do you do this day after day, knowing that people are going to put things on the internet that would make a pirate blush?”

To my surprise, Ken didn’t answer with his infamous dry humor. When he is not preaching, Ken Ham is a bit of a jokester. (Apparently this has something to do with being Australian.) But when it comes to discussing what drives him, he becomes deadly earnest. My questions gradually unpeeled the answer.

The Gap

Eight years ago I met Ken for the first time at an Answers event in West Virginia where I was speaking. As he sat in the audience, I confidently proclaimed, “Here is an amazing quote from a phenomenal preacher named Thomas Chalmers. You can trust a guy like this because he’s been dead for 150 years.”

There was just one little glitch: Thomas Chalmers was the inventor of the theological train wreck known as the gap theory, which teaches there was a massive gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Needless to say, that is not exactly the interpretation Answers in Genesis endorses.

Without fail today, every time I see Ken, he shakes my hand and says, “It’s been quite a gap since our last meeting.” Ken Ham, who has been called “the man who looks like Abe Lincoln, but talks like Crocodile Dundee,” rarely misses an opportunity to joke. Not today. If we did a “word cloud” summarizing my interview with him, three words would be most prominent: Bible, authority, answers. Ken didn’t answer many questions without bringing in at least one of these words.

KEN HAM IS NOT PLAYING WHEN IT COMES TO THE AUTHORITY OF GOD’S WORD.

As we sat in his tidy and simply decorated office—which doesn’t look like it’s been redecorated since the Creation Museum opened in 2007—Ken was distracted only when he looked out his spacious row of windows overlooking the Creation Museum’s gardens and saw throngs of teenagers walking by. Each time he released a rather satisfied sigh. “Look at all those kids learning the authority of God’s Word.”

Those few unsolicited words were a big clue to what motivates this man to enter the arena every day and face a shellacking. “These kids need answers. They are being indoctrinated with evolutionary lies every day. They need to know that they were created by God.” Ken lives to provide those answers.

What Everyone Needs to Hear

Critics say many things about Ken (many of them grotesque and personal), but few recognize the astuteness behind his folksy veneer. How else can you explain multimillion-dollar attractions like the Creation Museum and full-size Ark—built for pennies on the dollar compared to similar construction projects in secular venues? And they’ve attracted millions of visitors, including rave reviews even from their own opponents (for the production quality anyway). Astonishing!

This hard-driving organizational genius, skilled promoter, and visionary could have been a successful businessman leading any major company, in my opinion. But in 1961, at the age of 10, Ken committed his life to the Lord to be a missionary for him, and made a promise to the Lord that took him in a different direction: “I will go anywhere and do anything for you.” He kept that promise.

For any servant of God, opposition is part of the job. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12. “I don’t get stung by what the atheists say,” Ken told me. “They are facing a Christ-less eternity, so how can I get mad at them?” He doesn’t get mad; he gives the gospel.

It quickly became clear that the ministry is concerned about more than winning arguments or proving creation. Providing clear, biblical answers to modern attacks against the Bible’s authority has a purpose: the gospel of Jesus.

The Ark Encounter opened in 2016 with a mission to educate Christians about Noah’s flood and to evangelize the lost with its message of judgment and only one way of escape.

The Gospel Above All

Answers in Genesis could rightly be called “Answers in the Gospel” because that is ultimately what this ministry is about. “There’s no point in doing what we do if we don’t proclaim the gospel. It’s the most important message here. I do it in every talk,” he said.

As you tour the magnificent Ark Encounter or Creation Museum, it doesn’t take long to figure out that these attractions are not about entertainment, or even Genesis for that matter.

While it is right to call him an apologist, at heart, Ken is an evangelist. Bill Nye, “the Science Guy,” an avowed atheist, learned that when he debated Ken back in 2014. Few times has a large national audience been treated to a clearer gospel presentation than the one Ken delivered in his opening statement. When Bill later accepted Ken’s invitation to visit the Ark Encounter, Ken sought opportunities to turn the conversation from exhibits to Christ.

“God killed animals and clothed Adam and Eve—the first blood sacrifice—as a covering for their sin, pointing toward the fact that someday one would come to die for our sin, die for your sin, Bill, and die for mine, be raised from the dead, and offer the free gift of salvation, and he offers it to you, too.” Ken went on to quote Paul’s invitation to confess Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 10:13) and Christ’s warning that we must be born again if we hope to enter God’s kingdom (John 3:3).

“You can be born again, too,” he appealed to Bill. “I want you to be born again.” (The entire exchange is on the video Nye-Ham: The Second Debate.)

In 2014, Ken Ham debated Bill Nye, “the Science Guy,” in the Creation Museum’s Legacy Hall. The media event was watched by over 3 million people online and over 20 million later. The topic: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”

Defending the Truth on Which the Gospel Is Based

Ken sees an enemy to the gospel: those who question the infallibility of God’s historical record, the Bible. After all, we base our faith upon the Bible’s historical record of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1–4). Attacking God’s Word has been the devil’s tactic since the very beginning, when he asked Eve, “Did God actually say . . . ?” (Genesis 3:1). “I get angry at Christians who compromise God’s Word. My father hated compromise. They are blinded by the god of this world, and when you think of what that means . . . ,” his voice trailed off.

An uncompromising stand is unpopular, even among some Christians. When pressed, Ken admits that critiques fired from fellow Christians can wound him, but the most painful wounds have been the ones inflicted by personal friends. While he wouldn’t name names, he disclosed, “I’ve had nightmares about betrayal from associates and friends.”

But just like an inflatable punching bag that refuses to stay down, Ken determined to apply a valuable lesson. “I learned that God has to protect any reputation. I can’t do anything about this. If they don’t believe me, that is not my problem. God is in charge of this ministry; he won’t let nasty accusations stick.”

Despite the Red Seas he has passed through, Ken presses on. This is a man on a crusade to provide answers for children, defend the Christian faith, point people to the Bible, and see souls saved—a crusade literally reaching millions every year who visit his two brainchildren, the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. That explains the what of Ken’s passion, but I wanted to know why it arose.

The Fruit Didn’t Fall Far

How many times would you need to be told that you are going to do something special for the Lord before you believed it? Upon surrendering his life to the Lord, Ken promised, “I am going to be a minister for the Lord.” Watching his passion grow, his mother and grandmother (Nanna) repeatedly encouraged him, “You are going to do something special for the Lord.”

He claims that he, like Jeremiah, has a “fire in his bones.” While he can’t describe it in words, Ken is emphatic. “I have a burden and burning desire to stand on God’s Word. I can’t explain it.” He doesn’t need to. The proof can be seen in every book, DVD, and homeschool curriculum that Answers in Genesis creates.

“At 13, I went to school with textbooks that taught evolution, so I asked Dad what to do with these claims. He told me, ‘I don’t know much about fossils and dating mechanisms, but you can’t compromise Genesis, because it’s foundational. We have to wait for answers. Once you compromise, you undermine its authority. If you understand the Bible right and it contradicts man’s word, don’t question the Word, question the man.’” Like father, like son.

His parents influenced Ken not just by words but by example. “They had a tremendous passion and made great sacrifices to get the gospel to people.” This should encourage every faithful mom and dad.

“I saw my father bold with his faith in a secular environment in the public school, where he was an administrator. He never hid his faith, and people respected him.”

Family inspiration was a common refrain as we talked. This is a man who loves his family, yet he was willing to move his own wife and children almost 10,000 miles away from home. Here is a man who loves family but loves something else more, just like his parents and Nanna.

“When Jehovah’s Witnesses would visit Nanna,” Ken recalled, “she would preach to them. One time she ran after them waving the Bible at them. I thought, If my Nanna can do that, why can’t I? She was in her seventies.

The Spark

In 1964, Mervyn Ham told his son he would have to wait for answers to his evolutionary questions. In 1974, Ken found some of those answers in a little yellow booklet titled Evolution: Science Falsely So-Called. “When I read, ‘You can’t have death before sin,’ I knew I had some answers. That idea lit a fire in my bones.” That theological issue is more central to Ken than scientific questions about origins and evolution.

Other books helped him answer some of those questions, too, especially Henry Morris’ Genesis Record. “I would have to say that was an important book to read.” Books have played a very large role in Ken’s life.

“Books are why I started a creation ministry in Australia. There were no creation books there. So my wife and I raised money and received many unsecured loans to buy $20,000 worth of books. We only had $200 in the bank, but God provided.” Indeed. To date, Answers in Genesis has distributed or sold millions of books and other apologetics resources.

The impact of those books on believers gave Ken a burden for yet another way to get out the message—a creation museum. “It goes back to when I was a public-school teacher seeing kids go to museums that taught evolution. I thought, ‘Why can’t there be a museum that teaches kids about creation?’” In 1980, he shared that burden with a friend (John Thallon, who later became a board member), and they prayed, “Lord, let us start a creation museum.”

Nearly 40 years ago, Ken Ham was so burdened by the falsehoods being spread to young people that he left his teaching job in Australia and began a full-time speaking ministry, now known as Answers in Genesis.

Twenty-seven years later, God answered that prayer. Today, Answers in Genesis employs over 500 fulltime staff members and another 500 seasonal workers. You would think that would go to a man’s head. So I needed to know more. I had glimpsed the what of Ken’s passion and why it arose, but I needed to know how he could sustain it all these years.

At the Top of a Long List

Who better to know the answer than his family? That is why I was excited to get a rare interview with Ken’s wife, Mally. His daughter Renee joined us as well. When I sat down with them, I had to ask, “Has it gone to Ken’s head?” Renee jumped in. “He is one of the most humble men I know.”

Mally agreed. “This is the Lord’s ministry, and the Lord has laid it on his heart. It’s not a Kenny Ham ministry.”

Okay, humility is key. But wait, did she just say, “Kenny Ham”?

The axiom “behind every great man is a woman” is certainly true for Ken. Since the garden of Eden, God has provided us with marriage partners to help us keep our priorities straight, not just to have an extra set of hands.

How does a woman manage a household, raise five children (who are all walking with the Lord), and homeschool while her husband is busy building Christian themed attractions and racking up over five million frequent flyer miles? When I asked her, I heard the common refrain, “This is God’s ministry, not mine, not Kenny’s. It is clear God has a call on our lives, so who am I to run from it?” They’re in it together.

Her shyness barely masks her toughness. “I don’t need someone to babysit me. I asked the Lord to sustain, and he has. My role in this is to support my husband and be there for my kids and grandkids. I just love him to bits.”

Without her present, Ken made his affections and admiration for Mally clear. “My commitment is to the Lord first, my wife second, and family third. This ministry would not be here without Mally.”

His daughter went further: “This ministry would not exist if it weren’t for my mom holding this family together. I have never heard her complain about anything once.”

Why would a woman happily spend her life in the shadows while her husband is busy battling for the authority of the Word of God? “When I was 10 or 11, my parents, who weren’t Christians, sent me to Sunday school. At Easter, the teacher explained the gospel on a flannelgraph. I told the Lord, ‘If you did that for me, then Lord, I will go anywhere and do anything.’” If that sounds exactly like what Ken promised to the Lord at age 10, it is.

Perhaps this is why Ken has endured ministry for over 40 years without scandal: he loves his wife. “Forty-six years ago I made a commitment to be totally devoted to her. I would do anything for her and vice versa. Too many people think they are little gods. Who am I? This is God’s ministry.” (That was officially the ninth time I heard that Answers in Genesis is God’s ministry.)

“Which feat sits at the top of your accomplishment list?” I asked Ken later in the interview. He was quick to respond, and it wasn’t buildings or books. “My greatest accomplishment is 46 years of marriage, 5 children, and 16 grandchildren.”

Four out of five Ham children work with Answers in Genesis. So do two of Ken’s grandkids. (I suspect it’s only two because child labor laws force the little ones to wait.) Ken’s daughter gave me a hint why the Ham children love the Lord. “If there was one thing we all knew, Dad insisted we do family devotions every night.” Apparently Ken practices what he preaches.

His office is surrounded by pictures of family, Ken’s greatest accomplishment.

Notoriously Generous

This picture is a far cry from the picture his enemies paint, of a ministry obsessed with making money. Two years ago, my own ministry had some business-like issues that required legal assistance. I sent Ken a text asking if he knew a good nonprofit attorney. Within minutes he responded with a cryptic, “Don’t go anywhere. Expect to hear from someone within five minutes.”

Within minutes, my phone rang. The senior counsel for Answers in Genesis, John Pence, introduced himself and assured me, “Ken called me and said you need help. He told me to do whatever it takes to get you through this.”

This was not a one-off for Ken. When I shared this story with Emeal Zwayne, CEO of the evangelistic ministry Living Waters, he quickly responded with a similar anecdote. “He has helped us in so many ways.” I suspect there are many others.

I asked Ken why he is so quick to offer support and help to ministries smaller than Answers in Genesis. “I never see any other ministry as competition. If God has entrusted us with resources, we must be generous with money, time, resources. The most important thing is reaching people. If we can help someone else reach the lost, we should.”

Mally claims that Ken’s gift is being a giver. “Kenny is giving all the time. That is how his parents were . . . helping ministries and missionaries. Kenny always brings home guests and visitors. He’s always looking out for everyone.” Well, maybe everyone but himself.

While flying to Kentucky to visit Ken, I googled his name. A link popped up offering to disclose his net worth. No, I shouldn’t have looked, but I did (don’t judge me). When I shared the number with Ken, he simply laughed and began to disclose his bank balance and value of his own house. He doesn’t even have much of a retirement account, and he has only one typical suburban house, not even paid for.

“I came from nothing. My parents gave away everything, and we do too.” The only critical thing I heard come out of Ken’s mouth in two hours was his annoyance with reports to the contrary. “What sticks in my craw are the accusations by media that I am in it for the money, or when they try to equate me with a prosperity preacher.” Can’t blame him for that.

If Ken’s shoes are any indication, he is not a prosperity preacher. Looking at Ken’s footwear, a few words come to mind: sensible, good arch support, worn, Walmart, science teacher. Despite Ken’s being from Australia, crocodile shoes are not a part of his wardrobe.

Ken is not a fashionista. Nor is he in it for fame. “Fame intimidates me. My wife and I are very shy. I don’t like being in the limelight. I’d rather hear how people’s lives have been changed.”

When Ken enters the lobby of the Creation Museum, people swarm around him like he’s Justin Bieber—without the tattoos. For a man who doesn’t prefer the spotlight, he treats everyone as if they were special guests in his home. If you know shy people, you know that crowds can be exhausting. Nevertheless, Ken shakes hands and thanks every guest he encounters.

Ken is also quick to give credit where credit is due. He isn’t shy about praising the talented men and women God has placed in his life. That humble dependence on the gifts of others certainly helps explain why this massive ministry continues to run like a well-oiled machine, despite the opposition at every turn.

Retirement?

At 67, Ken doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, despite his decades-old back problems. For 30 years he has battled chronic back issues. “Every time I fly it can be painful for days. When I speak, the pain goes.” And then he gets on another plane to speak again. If the Energizer Bunny were a young-earth creationist, he would look a lot like Ken Ham.

Don’t look for him to retire anytime soon. “Moses retired the day he died,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I will outstay my usefulness. I told my wife and board to let me know when I shouldn’t be doing this.”

IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. THIS IS GOD’S MINISTRY.

Currently he is leading internal structural changes to prepare for the future. “It’s not about me. I won’t choose a successor, the board will. This is God’s ministry.” (This was the 11th time he reminded me that Answers in Genesis is the Lord’s ministry).

The longest pause of our interview was in response to the question, “What are you looking forward to most in heaven?”

“Lots of things. Obviously seeing Christ in all his glory and praising him because he’s the one who gave up all to save us. Then I want to meet Noah and ask some questions.” Not a word about the end of opposition.

On my plane ride home from Cincinnati, as my back began to inform me that it would prefer a different position than sitting squished with my lanky legs pressed up against my chest, I thought of Ken Ham. How could he possibly have endured hundreds, perhaps thousands, of flights with an aching back?

Because I had learned the answer to my first interview question, I knew the answer to this one.

Is Ken Ham nuts? Yes. Yes he is. He is nuts for the truth. He is nuts for his wife and kids. He is nuts for his Savior. And he is nuts for your kids to know the answers that he didn’t have when he was a child. Mission accomplished.

Spreading the Message

Answers in Genesis—25 Years

From its humble beginnings in the home of a science teacher in Australia, an apologetics ministry is spreading the message around the world. God’s Word is true—we can trust the gospel because it is based on an infallible account of history, beginning in Genesis. Outlets for this message just keep growing.

Todd Friel studied four years to be a pastor but without Christ. He did secular TV, radio, and stand-up comedy for six years before God saved him. Today he hosts Wretched TV and Wretched Radio.

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