Book Review: Surrender to Love by David Benner

I received Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality by David Benner from IVP. It is part of a trilogy of small books Benner has updated.

The foreword by M. Basil Pennington has this sentence: “It took me several weeks to read.” The volume I as holding in my hands was slender. The text itself, subtracting discussion group exercises at the end, is less than 100 pages.

Several weeks?

Then, I got into Benner’s introduction… and could easily see how long this could take. Every sentence was a meal.

There are some books that “hit us” at the right time. This seems to be one of them. The words were so inviting. The spirit was gentle. The message was intense and full of love. I wrote one of the staff at IVP and said, “I have almost literally cried my way through this little book.”

Benner turns our sappy cultural notions of “love” on its ear. Unapologetically. He also talks in terms of total surrender and complete transformation that is only possible in Christ. Unapologetically. And he does so as a psychologist. He doesn’t believe in “self-help” or incremental change. It is about total surrender to the astonishing love of Christ. And his words breathe hope and life into the reader.

His premise is this: “Love invites surrender, and surrender is at the heart of spirituality.” (p. 15)

He rejects the entire notion that “God is angry” (although he deals with what it means to fear God), and boldly states that only love has the power to transform a person. We have to surrender. We have to be completely vulnerable. We don’t follow Christ out of simple, blind obedience. We follow him from a posture of surrender.

I wrote briefly yesterday of his opening four lines in Chapter One. They still blow me away.

What does God think about me? How DOES he feel about me? Too often I project my own disappointment into that that answer.

“God bursts with love for humans.” (p. 20)

Not exactly “wrath of God” stuff that makes me feel somewhat better about how lousy I am as a Christian at times.

The bold statement of God’s love for Benner is not based on emotion. It is about God’s character. Love is stripped of our sappy cultural definitions. It is powerful, and I sensed that intense love all the way through this slender volume.

When it comes to encountering God’s love, Benner believes it is vital not only for people who “live with their hearts” but also for people who “live in their heads.” We can’t leave our commitment to following Christ with head knowledge. We need the experience of his love. We need to FEEL his deep love for us. We need that experience.

But this powerful love is also for those who tend to live only in the emotion of the moment. God’s radical love takes us beyond the superficial feelings. It is a call to move beyond the superficial feelings and understand the power of authentic feeling. Along with that comes critical thinking, and God’s love is not opposed to critical thinking.

Each chapter ends with a long list of suggestions for further reflection. There are Scriptures to soak in. At the end of the book are two sets of discussion ideas. One set is for a 5 week study. The other set is for a day long retreat.

I readily concede Pennington’s statement in the foreword. This little volume is one I can carry with me for weeks and feast on sentences at a time. It is my prayer the other two volumes pack this much power!

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