To Lighthouse Trails:
Our Pastor has started a series based on a book “The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self Discovery” by David G. Benner. What can you tell me about this book and the author? What our pastor has read from this book is very strange because in the first few pages there is no mention of the Bible. Can you help me because I think this book is a farce.
David Benner is one of the major heavy weights in contemplative spirituality. First of all, this particular book of his is promoted and endorsed by some of the most prolific contemplative mystics out there today, including the Catholic interspiritualist priest Richard Rohr (a modern day Thomas Merton) and Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (Handbook on Spiritual Disciplines). In addition to the endorsements, the foreword is written by Basil Pennington. Ray Yungen discusses Pennington in his book A Time of Departing. Yungen explains:
In the book Finding Grace at the Center, written by Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington (both Catholic monks), the following advice is given: “We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and capture it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible … Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices …” Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington have taken their Christianity and blended it with Eastern mysticism through a contemplative method they call centering prayer … Keating and Pennington have both authored a number of influential books on contemplative prayer thus advancing this movement greatly. Pennington essentially wrote a treatise on the subject called Centering Prayer while Keating has written the popular and influential classic, Open Mind, Open Heart, and both are major evangelists for contemplative prayer. (p. 64)
The following two quotes by Pennington show his panentheistic beliefs (God is in all):
It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different [non-Christian] traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced. ( Centered Living, p. 192)
The Spirit enlightened him [Merton] in the true synthesis [unity] of all and in the harmony of that huge chorus of living beings. In the midst of it he lived out a vision of a new world, where all divisions have fallen away and the divine goodness is perceived and enjoyed as present in all and through all. (Thomas Merton, My Brother, pp. 199-200.)
Regarding the specific book by Benner of which you inquired, it is loaded with quotes by, references to, and ideas from numerous contemplative mystics including Thomas Merton, Dallas Willard, Gary Moon, Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, and of course, Basil Pennington. And throughout the book, Benner recommends contemplative meditation, enneagrams (a meditation tool), visualization, and other means to help the reader become a contemplative mystic. The fact is, the very essence of this book shares the same vision and emphasis that most contemplative books do. It is important to understand what the contemplative means by “self-discovery,” or finding your true self. To the contemplative, we each have a false self and a true self. This true self can only be reached or attained to through going into the meditative silence, whereupon, they say, we find that true self which is the divinity within all human beings. The core of contemplative spirituality is panentheism (God in all) and the fruit is interspirituality (all paths lead to God). In The Gift of Being Yourself, Benner’s focus is on helping readers find their “true self,” their divinity within (not dependent on being born again and having Jesus Christ living in you).
Benner has devoted his writing career to spreading the contemplative prayer message such as his book Open to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer, in which teaches readers the contemplative practice lectio divina. You can read our article/booklet on this subject: LECTIO DIVINA-What it is, What it is not, and Should Christians Practice it?
Isn’t it something that The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self Discovery is published by InterVarsity Press! While they have certainly published many contemplative books, this one truly shows how strongly they believe in this panentheistic, interspiritual spirituality. And it reminds us once again that the Christian church is in very big trouble, and yet virtually no Christian leader is warning about it. On the contrary. Rick Warren himself has promoted many contemplatives over the years including Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Gary Thomas, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, and several others.
We would encourage you to see if your pastor would read a copy of A Time of Departing. However, we fear that he, like so many other pastors today, may be well down the contemplative road. If he, himself, is practicing contemplative meditation, then he is being drawn in by seducing spirits (familiar spirits); and to convince someone to step away and denounce those euphoric mind-altering experiences is as hard as convincing a drug addict to give up heroin. That’s why the Catholic priest Thomas Merton likened an LSD trip to the contemplative experience. Both entice their victims to think they are reaching God when in fact they are falling into spiritual darkness.