A scan of the footnotes
at the back of the book should give one pause. Quoted frequently are people like
Thomas Merton (who came to love Buddhism), Richard Rohr, M. Basil Pennington,
Henri Nouwen, James Finley, Thomas Keating, and Catholic philosopher Jean
Vanier, author of "Becoming Human" (d. 2019, the same year an investigation was
opened into accusations against him of sexual abuse; see
Pennington and Keating were two of the three Trappist monks who founded the Centering/Contemplative Prayer Movement.
James Finley is called a "Master teacher" who works at Richard Rohr's Center. In a video at https://tinyurl.com/y34y8tt6, Finley recommends Rohr's book, The Universal Christ, and at about 1:11, Finley states:
"Our Christian faith does not teach us that God became incarnate in someone named Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago. Rather our faith teaches that in the person of Jesus....it is revealed that God has become incarnate as us; that God's life and our life are one life. And this one life is Christ's life. It's a unitive life, which in some sense, we in God are not dualistically other than each other."
[at 5:20] "Just as this universal Christ principle is incarnate in Jesus, it needs to be incarnate in you, it needs to be incarnate in me."
Finley, like Benner and Rohr is a Perennialist and Panentheist. Christ as principle takes importance over the historical Jesus. Most people reading this book would have no idea who Finley is and probably would not try to find out. This is one reason Benner slips under the radar.
As the book progresses, it only becomes more troubling. Benner writes that we
"are called to be human beings" and "to be fully human." (87) But we are created
as human beings; we really cannot be anything other than human. It is what
Benner means by "human" that makes the difference.
Benner claims we are to
recognize Christ as the deepest truth of our being. It is not just becoming like Christ but actualizing the Christ who is in us. It is a journey toward union with God. (99)
"Actualizing the Christ" is a concept foreign to the Bible. But if one is a Panentheist and a Jungian, it makes sense because Christ is contained everywhere in creation according to Panentheism. This is a major teaching of Richard Rohr which Benner shares. "Actualizing" the Christ who is part of our unconscious as an archetype is to awaken the true Self. This is what Benner means by being human.
Benner offers this:
...my deepest self is Christ-in-me....challenges the distinction between self and non-self that we all tend to live with. And it profoundly challenges the sense of separateness that typically forms the foundation of our identity. (101)
The footnote references Dr. Ekman Tann, Professor Emeritus of Spirituality and Psychotherapy and President Emeritus of the Christian Contemplative Spirituality Institute, from his article, "Message to the Wounded World: Unmask the True Self -- Zen and Merton."
The title suggests that Tann teaches that we can "unmask the True Self" with Merton's and Zen Buddhist teachings (Merton wrote on Zen Buddhism). The term "True Self" is a red flag due to the context of the Christ archetype and principle.
A brief foray into Jung's thinking on Christ as an archetype and symbol of Self is found in this excerpt:
Jung addresses Christianity's central figure, Christ, and unpacks the meaning of Christ as a symbol of the Self. At the request of many of his readers who asked for a more comprehensive treatment of the Christ/ Self relationship, and apparently inspired by a dream during a temporary illness, Jung worked on the project for several years, completing it in 1951....[snip]...One of the most significant insights of the project, which will be the main thrust of this brief article, is the differentiation between Jesus, the historical figure from Nazareth, and the archetypal Christ, the Redeemer. This distinction between the historical and the symbolical is essential if the Christian symbols are to retain their power to touch the inner depths of the modern person. (From Jerry Wright, "Christ, A Symbol of the Self," at https://tinyurl.com/pzoofk7).
A distinction is being made between the historical Jesus and the "archetypal Christ" as Redeemer. The article explains Jung's idea that the "Redeemer myth" is an archetype and Jesus was "seized" by this "symbolic idea" and thus gave flesh to the Redeemer archetype. Archetypes, Jung believed, are in the collective consciousness of humanity, and humanity seeks those who live them out. The article states:
In this way, Jesus' life exemplifies the archetype of the Christ, or in Jung's psychological language, the Self, which is a more inclusive word for the inner image of god, the imago Dei, which resides in every person....[snip].... It was the archetype of the Self in the psyche/soul which responded to the Christian message, with the result that the concrete Rabbi Jesus was rapidly assimilated by the constellated archetype. In this way, Jesus realized the idea of the Self.
This is what Benner is talking about when he speaks of "my deepest self is Christ-in-me" and "Christ as the deepest truth of our being." Jung taught that one must withdraw attention from the historical Christ to make this unconscious inner archetypal Christ conscious and "wake up" the inner Christ and true Self.
Richard Rohr, who follows Jungian ideas, teaches that Christ is an archetypal figure so it comes as no surprise that Benner seems to express this. Rohr writes on his blog:
By "Self" with a capital "S," Jung meant the deepest center of the psyche/soul that is in union with the Divine. And, if I understand him, it is shared! It is one and we are all participants, just as many mystics have asserted. I would call it the True Self, the Christ Self, or if you prefer, the Buddha Self, which has learned to consciously abide in union with the Presence within us (John 14:17). (From Rohr, "Becoming Who You Are," at https://tinyurl.com/yy3v2gz9; also in "The True Self" at https://tinyurl.com/y3cfav36)
Simple faith in the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ is viewed as inferior to the "actualizing" of the Christ-in-me or Christ Self. Jung, Benner, and Rohr give new meaning to what "self" is and to what Benner means by "Christ as the deepest truth of our being" and the "Christ-in-me."
These concepts are not only not Christian, they are anti-Christian.
Can reading this book be helpful for a discerning reader? Despite some statements that sound orthodox, the context is tainted deeply enough that I would not recommend this book for any edifying purpose.
When reading the word "Jesus" or "God" in this book, Christians will view it
from the historic biblical Christian perspective and assume that is what Benner
means. However, enough is there that should raise questions and is contrary to
Perennialists respect all religions and believe in adhering to one. They believe there are the outward, or exoteric, teachings versus the inward or esoteric teachings. Those following the outward teachings still benefit from them, no matter what the religion is.
Only those who seek and become aware of the core "divine reality" in all faiths can follow the Perennial path. Even then, a Perennialist still attaches to a certain religion which they often term as "wisdom" or "tradition." So, Rohr is a Perennialist in the Christian tradition. Another might say he follows the Christian wisdom tradition. There are those who follow the Hindu tradition, the Jewish tradition, the Buddhist tradition, and so forth. So, they still identify with a religion and do not believe in blending the religions since they think the variety is good for different cultures.
This makes it more difficult to identify a covert Perennialist because the person still uses the language of that religion (although Richard Rohr is very open about being a follower of Perennial wisdom).
Benner is characterized in all his online book descriptions as a "cartographer of the soul." No man can be a "cartographer of the soul." God's word tells man all he needs to know about the soul and complete knowledge of any soul is something only God possesses. This is making a claim to esoteric knowledge. Esoteric teachings are contrary to God's word and to Christianity.
The Jesus in The Gift of Being Yourself is not the historic Jesus of the Bible.
Jesus answered him, "I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret." John 18:20