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A Book Review of
Truth Matters, Life Matters More: The Unexpected Beauty of an Authentic Christian Life
(W Publishing, 2019)
Reviewed and endorsed by Jean-Claude Larchet
Truth Matters, Life Matters More is not only the title of Hank Hanegraaff’s latest book, but also a conclusion made by him after a long spiritual journey and one he would like to share with his readers.
This book is like a review of his entire life up to now, which appears like a voyage along a straight path guided by Providence, which led him to the discovery only a few years ago in the Orthodox Church of what appears to him now as the essential truth of Christianity: this faith is not a contract, or an alliance of a legal or moral type that could make being saved a simple reality; salvation is only a step towards a higher state: deification is a reality not expressed merely by concepts, but lived out in a real transformation of the whole being in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, by means of the grace communicated in the Church by the sacraments and the personal practice of ascesis destined to assimilate this grace.
In the first part of this book, Hanegraaff emphasizes that truth does matter. He does not deny anything about his past activity. During the time he was an evangelical Christian, this activity was a constant search for Truth, especially through a thorough and very honest reading of the Bible. It was also, correlatively, a defense of the Truth revealed by means of his fight against all sorts of lies about God and man propagated by modern society in the form of atheistic ideologies or false religions. In particular, he summarizes his main books: 1) exposing the weaknesses of Darwinism, the insufficiency of scientific knowledge, and the errors of non-Christian religions; 2) justifying the great mysteries of Revelation surpassing reason (creation, incarnation, resurrection, eternal life, etc.); 3) emphasizing the authority of the Bible to those who relativize it even sometimes while preaching it. He then recalls the principles that guided his biblical exegesis, an area in which he excelled and earned the nickname “Bible Answer Man” not only for his perfect knowledge of the sacred text, but also for his ability to find suitable answers for all the problems that man can face, including in contemporary society.
In the second longer part, however, Hanegraaff emphasizes that Life matters more than Truth (although the latter is the necessary foundation for the former).
The first chapter is devoted to deification, which was for him the discovery of recent years, or rather the real discovery, because if he previously had an idea of what it was, it was by approaching the Orthodox Church and becoming a member of it that he could concretely experience its reality. “Becoming by grace what God is by nature” is indeed the fundamental project of the Orthodox faithful, a project whose realization has become possible through the incarnation, the very goal of which was this transformation, according to a word repeated by all the Eastern Church Fathers: “God became man so that man might become god.” From this perspective, Hanegraaff rediscovers: 1) the essential place of the Mother of God, the first deified human creature; 2) the fundamental role of the Fathers of the Church as teachers of the ways of deification and witnesses of it; 3) the importance of the divine energies by which deification is accomplished; 4) the link between the Old Testament and the New, which the former proclaims, but also prefigures with regard to this project; 5) the true meaning of the incarnation, according to which Christ deifies human nature by uniting with it so as then to grant this deification by the Spirit to those who will be united with him by the Spirit in the Church, which is His body. This is how Hanegraaff is led to present the Church as the source of Life. The Church is a Eucharistic assembly, but also a “spiritual gymnasium” where the Christian is formed in the mode of life which must be his own and is gradually transformed in the likeness of God. This transformation is effected by the grace received in the sacraments, but also requires asceticism, which must be understood as a set of spiritual exercises. The author emphasizes in particular the role of prayer, and particularly the form of prayer that the Orthodox Church has developed and which allows the faithful to pray unceasingly, that is, to be constantly united to God: the Jesus Prayer. Hanegraaff also discusses the importance of spiritual readings and periodic seasons of sexual abstinence and fasting, recalling the strong biblical anchoring of these practices and their positive effects on the spiritual life. In a final chapter, the author attempts to express, as far as possible, the union with God and the transformation of being, which are the true goals of Christian life. In this chapter subtitled “The Secret to Global Transformation,” he speaks of the “fusion” that must be realized between man and God as opposed to the “fission” that results from sin, and expresses the wish that all Christians may one day be united in the one Body of Christ.
What is interesting in Hanegraaff’s approach, inasmuch as we can see it from reading the whole book, is that it is not a theoretical presentation, but a testimony of his personal journey, of what he lived and experienced, of his successive discoveries. His gaze on the ancient Orthodox Church is the fresh one of a new convert, and he re-reads the past chapters of his own life in the light of his recent rebirth. But even though the author’s reflections have as their source his own personal experience, this does not lead them to be selfish in character. There is in Hanegraaff’s writing a constant concern for sharing, a youthful communicative enthusiasm. In traversing the stages of the long way that finally led him to the True Life, he does not forget to pay homage to all those who, often without knowing it, illumined his path. He is fond of all the partial truths accumulated during his many encounters and his many readings, because an immense culture — not merely biblical and religious, but also literary — unfolds in this book.
Hank Hanegraaff has for some time been seriously ill, and one has the sense that he has written this book as a testament, since it is like a synthesis of his entire spiritual journey. We wish, however, that he might live for many more years so that he might still offer us many fruits of the Truth and Life that have allowed him to unite in a harmonious synthesis the One who is this synthesis itself, and who has revealed it to us by this word, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). —Jean-Claude Larchet
Jean-Claude Larchet is an Orthodox Christian layman, professor of philosophy in a French lycée in Strasbourg, and author of many books including The Theology of Illness (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002).