Living Wisdom by David G. Benner is a 2019 revised and expanded edition from an earlier version. The earlier version has 10 ISBN numbers, which means the first edition was published prior to 2007 (when ISBN switched from 10 to 13 numbers). This is important because it shows Benner had these beliefs prior to his 2015 books used and recommended by Christians, such as The Gift of Being Yourself, a highly popular book and part of a trilogy with Surrender to Love and Desiring God’s Will, (all from InterVarsity Press).
The Preface gives a taste of what is to come:
“Wisdom flows from seeing through the new eyes of the awakened heart and expanded consciousness.”
“The Christian wisdom tradition is not a set of beliefs to be embraced but a transformational path to be walked.”
Significant phrases from the above quotes include “awakened heart,” “expanded consciousness” and “the Christian wisdom tradition.”
This is not the language of Christianity or the Bible but rather the language of the Perennial Philosophy (or Perennial Tradition or Perennial Wisdom), which is the belief that all religions share the same core truth, accessed by mysticism. In this view, our deepest self has always been connected to God, and is the Christ-self and is our True Self. As in the New Age and in many Eastern religions, one must have an awakening to gain a new perception of reality in order to realize these new truths about the self.
The Perennial view speaks of wisdom traditions and believes that all religions share the same wisdom. This is why Benner uses the phrase, “the Christian wisdom tradition.” Benner’s Perennial beliefs are pointed out in the CANA article on The Gift of Being Yourself.
What is Wisdom?
Since wisdom is the title and theme of this book, we should ask, what is wisdom? For a Christian, wisdom is from God, and the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 4:7, 9:10). Jesus was recognized for his wisdom (Matthew 13:54, Mark 6:2) and is called “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). The first two chapters of First Corinthians contrast the wisdom of God with the foolishness of man, and tell us God will destroy the wisdom of the world. This is not denouncing using the mind or philosophy, but rather addresses the basis for that philosophy (from men and from the world).
James tells us that the wisdom that is not from God is “earthly, natural, demonic” while wisdom from above is
“…first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:15, 17).
Benner, whose books are read on Christian campuses and recommended by Christian counselors and others, does not base wisdom on these or other passages. He gives his own view throughout the book, which is the Perennial view.
The Spirit of Wisdom is Benner’s phrase for God as the source of wisdom, but twice on the same page he writes that this Spirit of Wisdom “inhabits all of creation and is our truest, deepest self.” (10)
Benner’s Spirit of Wisdom is not the biblical God because God does not inhabit creation. God is present in creation but is distinct from it. However, Benner, like Richard Rohr, for whom he is a Master Teacher, is a Panentheist. Panentheism holds that God is contained in creation and creation in God. Panentheism is a part of the Perennial Philosophy.
Benner affirms Panentheism throughout the book. Sounding much like Richard Rohr, Benner holds that the Big Bang was the
“First Manifestation because it was the point when God first materialized and revealed the God-self.”
Creation was the
“pouring out of the God-self into the universe, the first infusing of spirit within matter.”
and “God is incarnated in the world.” (184). This idea that nature is a manifestation of God is repeated several times in this section and later. I have also seen this view in some New Age teachings. Rohr teaches that the first incarnation of Christ was creation.
Moreover, argues Benner, we have never been separated from God, but always connected. We learn this by seeing “through new eyes” and reaching
“a new, higher level of consciousness — what I describe as Christ Consciousness” (10).
Benner is not talking about trusting in Christ for salvation. “Christ Consciousness” is also a New Thought and New Age term. Benner is speaking of discovering the true “Christ-self” or the “Christ-in-me,” something he also writes about in his book, The Gift of Being Yourself. Benner sees God, Christ, and man as indwelling each other just as God and Christ indwell all of creation (in Benner’s view). The New Ager would say the true self is divine and is God or part of God, a view not that far from Benner’s.
Follow the Heart
Contrary to Jeremiah 17:9, which states:
“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
Benner writes that “the heart is naturally oriented toward wisdom” and that the reader should “trust your heart” so that one is
“seeing through the eyes of your awakened heart is the path to living wisdom.” (14)
Benner advises the reader to read his book slowly and ponder, listening for what resonates with the heart. This is not only ironically unwise, it is the opposite of how one should be discerning. At the end of each chapter, Benner has a section called “Pausing to Ponder” where he has the reader reflect on certain points and makes recommendations. This is a way to inculcate the Perennial view into the reader.
Benner recommends that one should read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, “The Wisdom Way of Knowing.” (17) Bourgeault, a colleague of Richard Rohr and past student of the late Contemplative Prayer co-founder Thomas Keating, has a school of wisdom based on the esoteric gnostic teachings of George Gurdjieff. Bourgeault claims she got her ideas about the “law of three” in the Trinity from Gurdjieff.
Benner refers to and recommends New Ager Georg Feurstein, New Ager Anodea Judith, Perennnial books like Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy, Richard Rohr’s books, Joseph Campbell, and feminist and radical eco-theologian Sally McFague who taught that the earth is God’s body. Benner has no problem positively recommending these writers whose views are contrary to Christian doctrine but are consistent with Perennial beliefs.
Citing and recommending these people is not spiritually harmless. For example, Bourgeault, to whom Benner refers several times, claims to have worked with Sufis in British Colombia and thinks “the Sufis took the transmission of the living heart of Jesus and kept it alive in almost pure form without acknowledging it was Christ.” In the same interview, Bourgeault avers that Jesus came “to model and teach non-dual consciousness in the West for the first time.” (From video interview with Buddha at the Gas Pump at https://tinyurl.com/y6zmz3pk)
Like Rohr and Benner, Bourgeault is a Panentheist, Perennialist, and believes we are to have a nondual mind, which is the “mind of Christ.”
Benner discuses what he considers sources of wisdom: natural, indigenous, science of interconnectedness, body, unconscious, Perennial, Mystical, Sapiential (which means wisdom) Christianity, and personal.
In the Science of Interconnectedness, Benner trots out the tired idea of “quantum” theories (used for so long in the New Age) and asserts that this proves the mystics are right and everyone is connected in “a great cosmic dance” which, for the Christian, is our “oneness in Christ.” (50). He cites Colossians 1:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, but neither of these passages support this view.
The passage in Colossians tells us that that Christ sustains the order of the universe (see comments on this in CANA article on Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts). First Corinthians 12 is about how the gifts work together in the one body of Christ.
Body Wisdom might display the most obvious anti-Christian views that Benner finds to be wise. Extolling the New Age pseudo-scientific practices of Bowen Therapy, Rolfing, and the Alexander Technique, Benner moves on to chakras, astonishingly calling them “portals” between the inner and outer worlds. (58)
An illustration of the chakras is given showing where they are supposedly located in the human body. Each chakra, claims Benner, is “associated with a state of human consciousness” and represents the “way the evolutionary life force runs through the vertical axis of humans.” (59) He cites the work of New Ager Anodea Judith and asserts that both upward and downward movement through the chakras “lead to the Divine” and are “paths of access to the Spirit of Wisdom.” (60). Chakra teachings, states Benner, come from “a rich and ancient wisdom tradition.” (61). He shares more false ideas about chakras than I can include.
The Unconscious section sets out Jungian ideas such as myths, symbols, and archetypes, all part of Carl Jung’s psycho-spirituality. As a depth psychologist, Benner evaluates through a Jungian filter.
In the Perennial Wisdom section, Benner writes that distinctives in religions
“allow each separate tradition to speak with its own voice and tell its own story, but the common core allows us to hear that story in broader and deeper terms.” (73)
Benner admires Anthony de Mello (d. 1987), an author and Jesuit priest from India who was “known for his ground-breaking work that integrates western and eastern spirituality” (from Amazon). Quoting de Mello, Benner warns about
“the danger of getting stuck in our words and concepts rather than getting in touch with the reality behind them.” (75)
The warning about getting “stuck in” words and concepts is classic New Ageism. The New Age and all non-Christian beliefs I have studied attack thinking and language. This is because God wired us for language and words are how God has communicated with humanity. Attacking words and language is an indirect attack on God and a direct attack on the Bible and on the mind.
Anytime there is an attempt to convince people that language or words are traps, or that feelings, intuition, and/or experiences have more truth than words, a danger sign should be flashing. But notice that Benner must use words and concepts to warn us! It’s a self-defeating statement.
To know God, asserts Benner, we must have union with God. He states that in this union,
“the dualism that initially separates subsequently dissolves and we experience the unity that holds us both.” (77)
Giving further evidence of Perennial Panentheism, Benner writes that:
“There is a place in the depths of our soul in which Ultimate Reality alone can dwell and in which we dwell in Ultimate Reality.” (77)
Salvation through faith in Christ is never mentioned because that is not the Christian Wisdom Tradition. Rather, it is that all comes from God and all returns to God and “our origin is our destiny!” (78) This is more Hinduism than anything.
Returning to a theme of Knowing the True Self, Benner writes that “ego-self” covers up or hides the “the truth of your Christ-self.”
The true self is “at one with Ultimate reality” and awakening is seeing through “our apparent separation.” Notice that Benner thinks that humanity has never been separated from God:
“we are already one with Divine Presence and with all that is. All that is missing is awareness.” (79)
This idea is repeated in the section on Mystical Wisdom:
“Everything is a manifestation of the Infinite Presence that is God”
“God is already present and we already exist in God and God in us. All that is lacking is awareness.” (83)
Such Panentheistic views are woven throughout the book.
Benner advocates a mystical knowing which
“involves a new level of knowing that is made possible by means of transformed consciousness.” (84)
The way to this transformed consciousness is through Contemplative practices. This is exactly what Richard Rohr teaches. In fact, Rohr has said that using Contemplative practices is “unlearning.” Both Rohr and Benner preach the Gospel of Perennialism and desire that people come to it but in order to do so, one must set aside his or her present beliefs.
For Benner, “mystical knowing,” which differs from “ordinary knowing,” is to see God everywhere and in everyone. Benner even calls mystical knowing “a state of altered consciousness,” which is what it is. This is when the mind is suggestible and open.
The Christian Wisdom Tradition
Sapiential Christianity is a term for the Christian Wisdom Tradition which Benner follows. Benner wrongly presents Jesus as one who spoke mostly in paradoxical terms and “puzzling statements that he refused to explain.” (91). Jesus did speak in parables that many did not understand but that was because they could not or did not want to hear the truth. Jesus also explained some parables to the disciples. In at least one case, the Pharisees understood a parable that was exposing them and it angered them.
Benner states that if
“Jesus had wanted to simply transmit knowledge or teach beliefs he would have spoken in a much more direct, propositional manner.”
But Jesus did speak in a direct, propositional manner quite frequently.
Very quickly the reader is back to Benner’s unorthodoxy when he writes of “the God-self manifest in all things” and the earth “as the first incarnation of God.” (97).
Benner proposes that trying to follow wise advice, even advice in the book of Proverbs, “is a poor substitute for hearing the voice of Wisdom in the depths of your being.” (98). Benner urges the reader to
“listen to the voice of Wisdom that exists in the depths of your soul.” (99)
Benner can suggest this because as a Panentheist and Perennialist, he believes that the Spirit of Wisdom (God) inhabits everyone. He favors the subjective experience of this voice within over the objective truth of God’s word.
Jesus vs. the Christ
Just as Richard Rohr does, Benner makes a distinction between the historical Jesus and “the cosmic Christ.” (133-135). Christians, maintains Benner in a manner that seems condescending, know more about Jesus than Christ and their beliefs could be called “Jesusanity” rather than Christianity. The term “Jesusanity” is not a compliment from Benner. Focus on Jesus, asserts Benner, means losing the “Cosmic Christ.”
Benner claims that Peter announced in Acts 2:32 and 36 that “Jesus reveals the Christ.” Acts 2:36 states:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.”
This is the same verse Rohr appeals to for the very same claim. However, this is not stating that Jesus became Christ at some point, but rather that God has validated who Jesus is by the resurrection. The previous five verses are about the resurrection and how it was prophesied in a Psalm.
Indeed, Jesus is called Christ early on in Matthew 1:18, Mark 1:1, and Luke 2:11:
“…for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Peter confesses Jesus as Christ in Matthew 16:16.
Citing Hebrews 1:3, Benner contends that this is about Christ, not Jesus. It was the Cosmic Christ who appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and Paul wrote about Christ, not about Jesus (also taught by Rohr).
Benner quotes Rohr’s words that the Cosmic Christ, not Jesus, is the subject of certain passages such as Colossians 1, John 1, and others.
Separating Jesus from Christ like this is heresy of the highest order.
A New Consciousness
Chapter 16 on Transformation could be the words of a New Ager. Benner writes about the Kingdom of Heaven and quotes “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” from Luke 17:21 contending that the Kingdom of Heaven is a “state of consciousness.” (142-143).
The more common and accurate translation is the Kingdom of Heaven “is in your midst.” Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees who have asked him when the Kingdom of God was coming. Jesus had announced at the beginning of his ministry that “the Kingdom of God (Heaven) is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus had repeatedly given evidence for who he was. Yet the Pharisees rejected him. So now when they ask this question, Jesus is telling them that the Kingdom is right there in front of them because he is the Messiah!
Jesus would hardly tell the Pharisees who rejected him that they had the Kingdom of Heaven within them! Yet this is how Benner takes it (the same way as New Agers do). Benner goes on to say that the Kingdom state of consciousness is something that “can be realized by everyone, right now, here on earth.” The belief that the Kingdom of God is a state of consciousness is prevalent in the New Age.
What is this state of consciousness? Benner explains that Jesus saw God “in everyone and everything” and that everyone needs this new awareness. Jesus, according to Benner, had “radical inclusiveness” and saw all humans “as part of himself and ontologically ‘in God.'” Benner is telling the reader that all humans are literally part of God’s nature and humans have God’s nature in them. This is a Panentheistic belief and also one held in the New Age. However, God is always distinct from his creation.
As does Rohr, Benner preaches throughout the book that we need an awakening, a new way of seeing, a higher level of consciousness. In contrast, God’s word teaches one needs faith in Christ’s finished work in order to have forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. This is never stated by Benner.
The New Age and all esoteric systems and Eastern religions teach that one must have an awakening and a new perception of reality. This involves, claims Benner, a new way of seeing, which involves realizing “the truth of our self-in-Christ” and knowing that “the Spirit of Wisdom inhabits all of creation and….is our truest and deepest self.” (150)
This way of seeing is not only not taught in God’s word but is contrary to it. Benner’s term “our self-in-Christ” is found throughout this book and also in his book, The Gift of Being Yourself. God tells us that our natural self is separated from God and we sin as part of our nature. This is why Jesus came and died, to pay the penalty for sins so that those who believe on Jesus Christ can be forgiven and redeemed.
Benner discusses faith but pairs it with awakenings as “bursts of awareness that come with disruptive energy.” Faith in Benner’s god is not faith in the biblical God. Referring to Meister Eckhart, Benner promotes the belief that our being has a center in God and “God’s being has a corresponding center in us.” This is the “new knowing” a “mystical vision and knowing.” (158) The result is realizing that we are not separate but are all one. He misapplies Galatians 3:28 to support this.
Benner’s accounts of what he calls his awakenings are revealing. His first awakening was involvement with the Eastern Orthodox practice of Hesychasm. Hesychasm is a form of esoteric meditation. He then learned Centering Prayer from Basil Pennington (Pennington is one of the three Trappist monks who started the Centering/Contemplative Prayer movement). After that, it was a year with Ignatian Spiritual Exercises (taught by his wife).
Benner’s next major awakenings stem from disturbing sources: Taoism, Buddhism, and Islam. Benner writes that he was attacked by conservative Christians for being open to other religions and he had to remove himself to more “supportive places.” (163)
Apparently, this breaking away from a conservative environment was a number of years ago, so Benner has been on the Perennial path for a long time, long enough that evangelicals recommending Benner could have investigated him.
Published by Christian publisher IVP, Benner’s Perennial pagan poison is craftily disguised with high-minded semi-philosophical language using Christian terms mixed with non-Christian ones.