David Benner's The Gift of Being Yourself: A Great Book for Your Journey? Not!Wanda Walborn, Spiritual Formation Director, Instructor at Nyack College, and Teacher for the CMA Women's Empower Program, touts David G. Benner's The Gift of Being Yourself as a great book for your spiritual journey. Sadly, she and many others have missed the red flags beginning with the covers. In fact, a discerning reader would not even have to open the book to know here is a work that will be filled with deceptive teachings!
Front Cover Flags:
Notice the title: The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery. Note verses: II Timothy 3:1-2 says, "But know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves..."
Notice the foreword writer: Dom M. Basil Pennington, OCSO. Note this BP quote: We Are God's Dream: "We do not know how precious we are in ourselves. As Dame Julian of Norwich, that delightful English mystic declared, we are God's dream, his homiest home. We have too little respect for ourselves, too little esteem for our own importance. God sees things otherwise."
Back Cover Flags:
Read that Benner is a depth psychologist, a spiritual director, a former professor of Psychology and Spirituality, a retreat leader, an author, and an editor.
Read that Benner is first endorsed by Father Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Read that Benner is also endorsed by these contemplatives: John Ortberg, Mark R. McMinn, Margaret Guenther, and Gary W. Moon.
Read that Benner is published by "Formatio Books" from IVP Books.
First Page Flag:
Here's a Thomas Merton epigraph. Think: Merton is much admired by Benner. For Benner has said, "I started reading Thomas Merton in my twenties and to this day he remains my favorite Christian mystic ... I felt drawn to the journey he described but wasn't ready to personally make it my own for many years."
Here's a Thomas Merton quote: Think: This quote from Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation contains the core teaching of this book and that is: "Your true self is divine." For Merton wrote, "There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find him."
Check out the Formatio publisher's chambered nautilus shell logo. IVP writes that they use this logo as a symbol of spiritual formation because of its continual spiral journey outward as it moves from its center which sounds much like the New Age idea that it represents the expansiveness of awareness, and the evolution of consciousness. Another telling description of its meaning can be found at "The Theosophical Society's" web site in a piece entitled "Ancient Wisdom in a Chambered Nautilus."
http://www.theosophical.org/publications/quest-magazine/1345 After reading that this shell is a piece of "sacred geometry," and a known New Age symbol one must ask why a so called "evangelical publishing house" might select it as its logo?
Check out the Formatio agenda of publishing spiritual formation books; check out the IVP authors.
Take a close look at the kinds of authors published here. Who exactly are they? Do they teach salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? Next examine Benner's bio. Look into his books by clicking on the book title, and on "details" to see the contents, various reviews, and special features of each work.
Benner and The Basil Pennington Part:
In the David Benner article, and interview "Touched by an Author" done for the Fall 2003 Conversations about Basil Pennington's book True Self/False Self: Unmasking the Spirit Within Benner tells how Pennington's writings impacted his life and ultimately The Gift of Being Yourself. http://conversationsjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Conversations_Journal_Issue_1_1.pdf As you read this piece and interview you'll see where Benner gets some of his false self/true self ideas used in his book. You will also note that Benner mentions that "a real fringe benefit" of Pennington's work is that one will be introduced to "centering prayer." Chapter six, the Merton chapter, says Benner is so meaningful that it would be enough if there wasn't any more to Pennington's book. Apparently, Pennington made such an impression on Benner that he asked the Dom for his foreword endorsement of The Gift of Being Yourself. For more on Pennington please click on "Spiritual Teachers" and go to "Remembering Spiritual Masters" to find M. Basil Pennington.
Benner's Merton Thread:
From the Thomas Merton epigraph to the epilogue a Thomas Merton thread is found woven throughout the entire book in each chapter. There's mention of Merton in the epigraph on the first page, in the preface on p.17, in chapter one on p.19, in chapter two on p.35, in chapter three on p.47, in chapter four on p.62, in chapter five on p.81, in chapter six on p.95, and in the epilogue on p.110 (Finley's Merton book) Benner quotes from Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, The Ascent to Truth, and Thoughts in Solitude besides James Finley's Merton's Palace of Nowhere: A Search for
God Through Awareness of the True Self; and Ekman Tam's article: "Message to the Wounded World: Unmask the True Self -- Zen and Merton." Truly, this book is saturated with mystic Merton.
Benner the Enneagram Man:
Benner's end notes tell us that Benner is an Enneagram fan. He writes, "However, I am a fan of the Enneagram ... as a tool to assist in deep knowing of our core of sin tendencies." Benner also asserts that Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson have much to teach us on enneagrams in The Wisdom of the Enneagram. "And for an explicitly Christian approach to the Enneagram" one should read Richard Rohr's Enneagram: Naming Our Illusions. For the real Christian viewpoint on enneagrams read "The Enneagram GPS: Gnostic Plan to Self." by Marcia Montenegro.http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_Enneagram.html
Benner & Imaginative Meditation:
Benner teaches his readers to do what he calls "Gospel Meditation," or "Imaginative Meditation" where one uses the Ignatian (Ignatius of Loyola) Technique of imaginatively entering into an event in the life of Christ. Benner throws in some centering prayer techniques as well as he says to quiet yourself, close your eyes, pray, and then read a scripture passage slowly, and then allow yourself "to daydream on the situation presented in the story." He encourages "as if you were a spectator, observe the events as they unfold. Watch, listen and stay attentive to Christ. Don't be distracted by ... And don't try to analyze the story ... Just be present to Jesus and open to your reactions." Further he counsels, "Wandering thoughts are inevitable. As soon as you become aware of them, simply return your attention to the meditation." For more about "Imaginative Meditation" read "Pray with your Imagination" by David L. Fleming, S.J. here:
And why did Benner begin to use "imaginative meditation?" It was because plain old Bible reading had become stale so he wrote, "After decades of Bible reading, I realized my relationship with God was based more on what I believed than my personal knowing." After advocating one practice "Gospel Mediation" he goes on to also prescribe one take up "The Daily Examen." Commit, says he, to fifteen minutes at the end of the day at first and you will soon meet yourself in deeper places.
Benner's False Self & True Self Beliefs:
Benner is a proponent of abandoning your false self to find your true self (Please see my previous blog: "Red Flag This: Ruth Haley Barton & Self") In chapter five "Unmasking Your False Self" Benner writes, "Coming out of hiding (the bushes of our false self) is accepting God on God's own terms. Doing so is the only route to truly finding our unique self-in-Christ."
Chapter six is entitled: "Becoming Your True Self." Right away the word "becoming" jumps out.
The Bible does not teach about becoming one's true self. On the contrary it says, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) It also says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31) (not become saved) Furthermore, it states that once we repent of our sins, and trust in the Lord Jesus as Savior that we are "a new creature in Christ, and that old things are passed away and behold all things are new." (II Cor. 5:17)
However, Benner teaches, "The true self is who, in reality, you are and you are becoming." He goes on, "...it is your total self as you were created by God and as you are being redeemed in Christ." (p.91) There's that word "being" again. He states, "Jesus is the True Self." (p.92) But my Bible reads, "Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life and no man cometh unto the Father but by me." (John 14:6) Why Benner even states, that our Lord Jesus, coequal with the Father, had "to find his way, his self." He further suggests we "speculate" about Jesus early years before he found "his true self." (p.93) Benner tells us, "Jesus was on his way to knowing his calling because he was perfectly and completely the True Self." (p.98) Jesus was not the "True Self," but he was the Son of God!"
Benner & A True Self Man-Ekman Tam:
Eckman Tam is another writer that has shaped Benner's view of both Merton, and the teachings about the false and the true self. Tam does an article "Becoming Real: Thomas Merton and the True Self" for the Fall 2003 Conversations. There you can also read an interview "Tam Talks with David Benner." Tam was a spiritual director of Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre & Interfaith Dialog where he founded a formation program in Christian Spiritual Direction. And it was to the east to Tam's Hong Kong centre that Benner and his wife--much like the revered Merton--went to spend several extended periods of time dialoging with Buddhists and Taoists. Of these experiences, Benner commented, "Once I tasted the richness of meeting people of other faiths in this sort of sacred place there was no turning back." For updated information on Tam see:
Benner & "The Givens of His Being:"
Benner rambles on about living out the truth of our uniqueness, and that as a teen he was pointed to the Bible to find God's calling for his life vocation. And says he, with out downgrading the Bible, I now understand that it is a more basic place God's will has been communicated to me and that is--"in the givens of my being." (p.101) And what is "the givens of our being?" An answer may be found at a psychotherapy site called "The Human Givens Institute" where the term/background "human givens" is defined as knowledge we're born with which manifests itself by feelings and emotions. These feelings, so claims the institute, have evolved over millions of years.
At the institute one can also find a book called Human Givens by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell. With a quick "Look Inside" on Amazon.com you can get a taste of what this book will be all about. Its prologue "Why We Need Healthy Minds," begins "IT TOOK millions of years for the human mind to evolve to the point where we have knowledge to direct our own development..." Chapter eight, "Water Babies & Our Distant Aquatic Past," includes topics as "Fishy Features," "Autistic Fishlike Behaviors," and "Casualties of Evolutionary Pressure." http://www.hgi.org.uk/
Benner's Reference to Dr. Gordon T. Smith:
If you've followed the recent news on several apologetic sites you may have seen photos and news of CMA's Dr. Gordon T. Smith, President of Ambrose University, who has sponsored an ecumenical conference between Evangelicals and Catholics at Ambrose. https://ambrose.edu/chapel-recordings
Smith is also a Formatio author, and one whom Benner read for Smith's work Courage and Calling is listed in Benner's notes for "Becoming Your True Self." (chapter six) And Smith, a lot like Benner, having learned at the feet of Father Thomas H. Green, S.J. in the Philippines at a Jesuit university, began a journey of ecumenicalism advocating sampling other faith traditions and dialoging with them.
Benner's Finley Ending:
Benner ends with an epilogue entitled "The Transformational Journey." In it he quotes James Finley, a Merton contemporary and follower, who long ago slipped into the New Age. In these pages we're told that God's intended home is our heart. "This is where we become one," Finley writes in Merton's Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God Through Awareness of the True Self, "with the Risen and Deathless Christ in whom all are fulfilled." (Note the "all!")
Benner's Background or "Getting to Know Benner Better:"
Finally, Benner's very own story, as told on his web site, will help you become aware of who Benner was, where Benner has been, and what Benner has now become.
Benner comments that his apparent shift in perspective, spirituality, and personal theology has not been "a single shift, but a life-time of unfolding ... following my quest to be the truth of myself in God." Read his bio here: http://www.drdavidgbenner.ca/
Benner mentions that his very conservative Plymouth Brethren family was deeply religious. He states: "I took my religion seriously." While he credits his parents with love, he is not so generous with his praise of his PB upbringing saying it was anti-intellectual and culturally isolated. He felt the idea of taking the Bible literally was "intellectually naïve." He felt that it was the "restrictive and oppressive" world view that he had internalized which made him yearn for something more freeing, something broader.
Benner's First Awakening:
College was the first place where he began to have a great period of intellectual awakening. He had now escaped the glass box. Not too far into his academic studies he switched to psychology which fit with his increasing value of mystery and complexity. And through his Freudian studies which pointed to Jung and others he found a way "of making psychology a thoroughly spiritual matter." During this time he began his fascination with dreams, and began to keep a "dream journal." His home during these years was still evangelical Christianity, but because of his quest for the mysteries of life without "hiding behind the simplistic formulaic frameworks for belief" he began to embrace a more liberal view.
Benner's Mid-Life Awakenings:
In his mid-thirties Benner was the Chair of the Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology at Wheaton College. In those days both his family and church life were going well; but underneath he was finding that he was uncomfortable as he wrote, "with the reduction of faith to beliefs." What he longed for, he says, was an authentic knowing of God.
Benner's Later Life Awakenings:
Once he'd broken free of his past he was taken into spiritual direction, and into his first encounters with contemplative stillness and retreat. Following this, it was on to the mystics going far beyond his evangelical traditions. This led to the Russian Orthodox Jesus Prayer and icons, as well as the Roman Catholic Benedictine and Cistercian traditions of centering prayer and lectio divina.
These experiences in turn let him to walk through wider ecumenical portals where he sampled the writings of the Sufi poets Hafiz, and Rumi. Not long after, he and his wife traveled to Tam's Tao Fong Shan Centre for interfaith dialogue with Buddhists and Taoists. There he found he had more in common with those of other traditions instead of those "who had allowed faith to be reduced to beliefs and counted the holding of these beliefs to be their journey."
Journeying onward he fellowshipped with those of any faith, or no faith. He also became an Anglican to savor its liturgy. Now, relates Benner, my personal journey has become one of transformation rather than preservation.
Presently, having left all the old doctrines and traditions behind, he's joined forces as a writer, and master teacher with dissident Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr, and with the Rohr Institute's Living School for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Please see my previous blogs to find out more about Rohr and his heretical agenda.
Reader, have you noted Benner's repetitive description of his former faith that was so restrictive and so oppressive, in contrast to his present faith that has opened him to ever widening view points and traditions?
In conclusion, Benner, as related during his journey of awakenings, has left the God of his childhood, and early manhood for mysticism, contemplative prayer, imaginative meditation, lectio divina, enneagrams, the New Age, and ecumenicalism with hopes of coming home to his true self in God. Sadly, he's left "The Way of the Cross." As the old hymn says: "I must needs go home by the way of the cross, There's no other way but this; I shall ne'er get sight of the Gates of Light, if the way of the cross I miss." As Peter penned in Acts 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
Learn to Discern Granny Verse: Proverbs 16:25
"There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."