(This unsigned review appeared originally in Publishers Weekly, from which it is reprinted with permission.)
Spiritual direction is in vogue, although like so many other practices found in contemporary spiritual expression, it’s a time-honored discipline for spiritual development. In Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, David G. Benner, with impressive credentials in depth-psychology and psychoanalysis and author or editor of multiple books in the field, gives evangelical Christians a gentle introduction to spiritual direction and friendship, and to the mystical knowledge of God in which these practices are rooted. He acknowledges early in the book the skepticism of his intended audience. “Protestants are often suspicious of mysticism,” he writes, linking this observation to a criticism of excessively intellectual processing of God’s word as revealed in the Bible and as proclaimed from the pulpit by centuries of preachers. There is another way of knowing God, Benner suggests, and spiritual direction is a useful and legitimate tool for working toward this theologically unimpeachable aim. He uses the Protestant-friendly language of “spiritual discipline” and “prayer” and widens the meaning of these terms by adding Roman Catholic figures such as Ignatius Loyola, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen to the mix. He also draws upon early Christian history and its practice of centering prayer. His writing is occasionally repetitive and abstract—too many words circling around a core of meaning. On the whole, however, Benner’s book represents a vital attempt to stoke the fire of spirit in order to grow in Christian faith.