David G Benner's Living Wisdom: The False Gospel of Perennialism

By Marcia Montenegro, August 2020  (page 1 of 2)

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 Recommendations

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."






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