If you are looking for a brief, comprehensible introduction to the heart of Christian spirituality, Surrender to Love deserves serious consideration.
David G. Benner is director of the Institute for Psychospiritual Health in Atlanta. Drawing on decades of experience as a counselor and spiritual mentor, he argues that surrender to the unconditional love of God is foundational to Christian spirituality. Such surrender opens the way into the kind of intimacy God desires to have with each of his children.
Benner distinguishes sharply between surrender and obedience. Mere obedience may be driven by the desire to earn approval, fear of punishment or any of a number of lesser motivations. Surrender, though, involves experiencing God’s love. The result is that one voluntarily gives up one’s will in favor of God’s will because one trusts God. Rightly motivated obedience flows from such surrender.
The most insightful chapter in the book deals with the subject of love and fear. According to Benner, fear blocks us from recognizing and accepting God’s love. Fear takes form in accordance with life experience. We may fear either intimacy, solitude, loss of control, public failure, the strength of our feelings, pleasure, pain or any of the other experiences possible to humans. Benner’s key insight is that fearful people share common traits regardless of the focus of their fears: living within restrictive boundaries, undue vigilance, the need to be in control and difficulty in giving and receiving love. Paradoxically, the only way out of fear is through surrender to God’s love.
Benner’s understanding of the love of God is Christo-centric. He believes God’s character is best revealed in Jesus, and that the God we see in Jesus is quite different from any god we might have imagined on our own. In Jesus, we see a God who is perfect love. Love invites us to surrender our egos and allow ourselves to accept God’s unconditional love.
Such surrender opens the way to transformation. With refreshing candor, Benner admits transformation is too large a concept for psychology, which can speak only in terms of incremental change. Transformation, however, is the ultimate goal of the Christian’s spiritual journey. We hope to be made into the very image of God’s love. The process lasts a lifetime.
In the best tradition of Christian spirituality, Benner insists transformation shifts the key reference point “from a focus on me to an awareness of the greater we.” We become connected to the people of God and to humanity in general. Genuine love draws us from isolation into community, and increasingly we recognize our bond with all others.
Benner’s work fits well into the broad tradition of Christian spirituality. In my opinion, it will speak directly to people who are wrestling with the consequences of dysfunctional relationships or fear-based theologies. I recommend it to pastors, spiritual mentors and those who are seeking a clear presentation of the basics of Christian spirituality.
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