Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction
David G. Benner
Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002
Rating: 8 out of 10
Quick Summary: This is my fourth revue of a book by Dr. David G. Benner. Personally, I have followed his work from psychology and pastoral care to Christian spirituality. Interestingly enough, Larry Crabb, who wrote the Foreward, and Benner, share a similar journey from clinical psychology to Christian spirituality. Benner is a Christian clinical psychologist and academic, who has written on many topics relating to the Christian faith, psychology, and Christian spirituality. His book, Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel and this work lay the foundation for his brief, popular Christian spirituality books which follow this work. I hope to revue some of these later…
In this work, Benner addresses two topics: spiritual friendship and spiritual direction. In Part 1 on spiritual friendship, he discusses the transformational journey of believers (ch. 1), hospitality, presence, and dialogue (ch. 2), and ideals of spiritual friendship (ch. 3). In Part 2 on spiritual direction, he speaks to demystifying spiritual direction (ch. 4), soul attunement (ch. 5), a portrait of the process (ch. 6), and becoming a spiritual director (ch. 7). Lastly, in Part 3 on combining these two, he approaches small groups (ch. 8) and marriage (ch. 9). At the end, he makes suggestions and comments for further reading.
Evangelical Assessment: Sacred Companions is broadly evangelical and experiential, which is somewhat expected in such a practical book. While it is not an academic textbook on spiritual direction, such as Kenneth Leech’s Soul Friend, it is well-researched, although this is clearly in the background. He uses many real-life illustrations to explain spiritual friendship and direction.
The evangelical distinctives are emphasized in an experiential way. Thus, the transformational journey is about the experience of following Jesus Christ and surrender to God’s will. The goals are generally Biblical goals, although I have a question about the “becoming our true self-in-Christ.” Although Benner seeks to use this concept theologically, I inwardly debate this True Self/False Self idea and wonder if it is more psychological than Biblical? Scripture does speak of Christians being "in Christ," but I am not sure that this is what he means. Regardless, the focus is subjective, not objective, which highlights an area that evangelicals often feel uneasy about.
Most evangelicals are outwardly propositional, but secretly subjective. In my Revivalistic heritage, preaching and worship are very affective experiences, yet we say that you cannot trust emotions and experience. I find it humorous that many Christians in my tradition base the quality of a service on the emotion it stirs within them!
While I agree that Scripture is the supreme source of knowledge for Christians and cannot be compromised, I also think that we need to develop an appreciation of the emotional, experiential side. Often, it is the subjective side that causes trouble for us, and this may be because we have not developed and understood our theology holistically, applying it to every area of life.
Benner’s work exposes the experiential side of the Christian life. This will make some evangelicals uncomfortable. He shows that community is imperative to spiritual growth. His work takes us beyond the normal, structured discipleship models to the next stage of spiritual growth. I appreciate the work that Benner has produced.
Who might this book interest? I think that this book would be of interest to those Christian who have mastered the basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life and desire to know God more deeply. Spiritual friendship and direction may be the next step on one’s journey.