Between the Lines: A Conversation with David Benner – Part 1

We recently got a chance to talk with Dr. David Benner about his most recent Brazos book Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation.

Dr. Benner is an internationally known psychologist, author, spiritual guide, and personal transformation coach. He currently serves as Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at the Psychological Studies Institute, Richmont Graduate University. He has authored or edited more than twenty books, including Soulful Spirituality and Strategic Pastoral Counseling.

We will be posting our interview in four parts on The Brazos Blog. In today’s post, Dr. Benner discusses what he hopes to accomplish with Spirituality and the Awakening Self.

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If you would, please describe the focus of Spirituality and the Awakening Self. What was your goal in writing this book?

I wrote this book because I am concerned that Christians too easily settle for too little.  We may talk of transformation – in fact, the concept seems to be becoming increasingly common in discussions of Christian spirituality – but too easily we confuse it with growth.  We miss the fact that the goal of Christian spirituality is not simply a spiritual tune-up but a transformation that is so radical that it profoundly alters our identity and consciousness.  The goal is union with God and the self that begins this journey with the first act of awakening that we typically call conversion is hardly recognizable in relation to the self that we become as we experience the full fruits of this transformational journey.

My interest in transformation has been at the core of almost everything I have written in the last 35 years.  The central organizing framework of all my work at the boundary of psychology and spirituality has been the possibility of becoming more fully human and more deeply and integrally our unique self-in-Christ. But if we look carefully at this journey what we discover is that there is quite a difference between the small incremental steps of growth with which we are somewhat familiar and the more quantum changes in identity and consciousness that we may on occasion notice in the rear view mirror.  Experience never makes these major shifts in the platform from which we view the world and relate to God inevitable. In fact, we are hard-wired to resist deep change, seeking instead to preserve the internal status quo that I would describe as our normal state of consciousness. But deep change is possible and my goal in this book is to present a relatively comprehensive psychological and spiritual understanding of how this happens.

I call it the journey of the awakening self.  To describe it as a journey is to note that a first step – no matter how dramatic – never completes a journey.  Awakening, and staying awake, lies right at the core of any spiritual journey and Christian spirituality is no exception.  But Christian theology gives us a map of this journey that I don’t think we have, to this point, done a good enough job of unpacking.  That is what I provide in this book – an unpacking of the map of the journey into God that is at the core of human awakening and becoming whole and holy.

I realize that’s quite an ambitious task.  I guess that is why some have described this book as my magnum opus.  But that doesn’t mean that it is dense or academic.  I would say that it is as accessible and non-technical as any of my books.  But it does present something that I don’t believe has until now been available in any book on Christian spirituality – namely, a carefully examination of both the contours of the journey as we move toward what Christian theology has historically described as union with God and the psychospiritual dynamics of that journey.