Chapter 5 
Religious Experience of Jesus Compatible with Modern Research
by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
    Home     Dedication     Foreword     Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5     Chapter 6
    Chapter 7     Chapter 8     Chapter 9     Chapter 10     Chapter 11     Chapter 12     Chapter 13     Chapter 14     Chapter 15
    Chapter 16     Chapter 17     Appendix A     Appendix B     References     About Ken     Resources     Permissions Acknowledgements
Dr. Ken R. Vincent on stairway.
 Table of Contents


Introduction to the Mystical Experiences of Jesus


Religious Experience and Aftermath


Faith Healer (Placebo Effect)


Separating the "Super" from the "Natural"




Psychic Ability








About Dr. Ken R. Vincent


Books by Dr. Ken R. Vincent  

 1. Introduction to the Mystical Experiences of Jesus

The Miracle of the Catch of 153 Fish. As a religious experience researcher for the past 20 years, I have long asserted that the religious / transpersonal / mystical experiences of Jesus related in the New Testament Gospels were no different than those of the rest of us, except in degree. While most of us feel blessed to have received the light of a lone "candle" and others describe a more impressive "incandescent bulb," Jesus perceived a "beacon!" The most consistent finding to know about all religious experiences is that they change people's lives.

Modern scholarship has devised some methods to separate myth from reality regarding Jesus. In The Five Gospels and Acts of Jesus, the Jesus Seminar attempted to uncover what is authentic about Jesus, including his mystical experiences and healings, as well as the visionary experiences of him following his death. Throughout this paper, I will site their conclusions to provide a current theological perspective.

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 2. Religious Experience and Aftermath

Richard Bucke photo. There are two ways to sound profound about God. One is to study religion, and the other is to have a religious experience. Jesus would have learned something of Hebrew Scripture during his Jewish childhood; later, he witnessed the inspired preaching of John the Baptist. But this secondary kind of knowledge paled in comparison to what must have been a profound spiritual experience of God that transformed his own life and, unknowingly, affected the course of history for the next 2000 years! The Jesus Seminar members were skeptical that Jesus' primary religious experience occurred at his baptism by John, but they did acknowledge that Jesus, "had visionary experiences on occasion" and they did not rule out the possibility that his "baptismal experience involved a vision of some kind."

The Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) files contain ample evidence of the life-changing effects of religious experience. For example, in The Spiritual Nature of Man, Sir Alister Hardy sites the life-changing effects of Rev. Leslie Weatherhead's religious experience at age 19 that sealed his commitment to a life in ministry (case 385). Neuropsychiatrist Richard Bucke had a profound spiritual experience at age 35 which led him to research and write a major book on mystical experience, Cosmic Consciousness. Additionally, Bucke continued the path of service, becoming the head of a psychiatric hospital in London, Ontario, Canada. Mary Austin was a prolific author of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who wrote about the plight of women and American Indians. In her book Experiences Facing Death, she not only describes her spiritual experience of the presence of God at age 5 or 6, but also that it was "the one abiding reality" of her life and that she would recall it throughout her life as a source of comfort.

In An Introduction to Religious and Spiritual Experience, Marianne Rankin tells the story of St. Thomas Aquinas who stopped writing theology altogether following his profound mystical experience:

Multi-colored icon.   "He proclaimed his theology mere straw in comparison to what had been revealed to him."

When people have a profound spiritual experience, they characteristically require some time to process its meaning and implications. The Gospels tell us that Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days (which is "Bible talk" for "a long time"). Following his spiritual experience of Jesus, St. Paul spent three years in reflection before deciding how his life's work should proceed (Galatians 1:18). In his book, The Power of Now, modern-day mystic Eckhart Tolle tells that after his spiritual experience:

Multi-colored icon.   "For the next five months, I lived in a state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss ... I knew, of course, that something profoundly significant had happened to me, but I didn't understand it at all."

He goes on to tell how it took years of reflection and study to make sense of it.

Religious experiences are usually positive, but many are not. Jesus must quote Scripture to counter the proposals of Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). The Jesus Seminar was evenly divided as to whether Jesus was tested in the wilderness. Nevertheless, 4% of the first 3,000 cases gathered by the RERC were negative, and in Negative Spiritual Experiences, Merete Jakobsen notes that:

Multi-colored icon.   "[Religious] rituals are the only protection against horror and darkness of the soul."

In other words, what worked for Jesus works for the rest of us.

Similarly, modern people are often puzzled about who they can trust to share their profound experience. Fear of being thought mentally ill by friends or family is nothing new. When Jesus starts to preach, his family thinks he is "out of his mind, and went to restrain him" (Mark 3:21, NRSV). In Something There, David Hay notes a 1985 study found 40% of religious experiencers have never told anyone of their experience.

In Seeing the Invisible, Meg Maxwell and Verena Tschulin note that, in addition to fear of being thought insane, modern spiritual experiencers often relate being rebuffed when they shared their experiences. This was especially distressing when the rejection was by their minister.

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 3. Faith Healer (Placebo Effect)

Irreducible Mind book cover. We know Jesus was a faith healer because his cures were contingent on the person's "belief" or "unbelief" (Matthew 13:54-58). Also, the Gospels tell plainly that some of his exorcisms were not permanent (Matthew 12:43-55). The Jesus Seminar acknowledged that Jesus was a faith healer and an exorcist and considered some of his cures genuine; of course, examples of the supernatural healing, such as Jesus' reattaching a severed ear (Luke 22: 50-51), were dismissed. Unlike the descriptions detailing the crude resuscitation techniques of Old Testament prophets Elisha and Elijah (2 Kings 4:32-35, 1 Kings 17:17-23), the Gospels do not describe Jesus' method of resuscitation of near-death experiencers (Luke 7:11-17, Matthew 9:18-26, John 11:38-44). The Jesus Seminar did not consider any of his resuscitations genuine.

Today, there is a large body of literature demonstrating the effectiveness of the placebo effect/faith healing. In Timeless Healing, Hubert Benson lists a variety of physical ailments receptive to the placebo effect. In Irreducible Mind, Edward Kelly and Emily Williams Kelly, et al., devote 124 pages to psychophysiological influences, including religious practices like prayer, faith healing, and voodoo.

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 4. Separating the "Super" from the "Natural"

St Paul. St. Paul is one of the few ancients who left his own first-hand account of his religious experiences. Most significantly, he describes his after-death communication with Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8) and states frankly that the Gospel he preaches did not come from humans but was communicated to him by Jesus from beyond the grave (Galatians 1:11-12, Galatians 1:15-17). Paul both acknowledges and encourages the religious experiences of others (1 Corinthians 12:8-11; 1 Corinthians 14:26-33). He describes an out-of-body experience in which he is taken to the third level of Heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). While he says that others have the ability to heal (1 Corinthians 12:9), his letters do not tell of healings; in fact, Paul writes that he was not even able to heal himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Contrast Paul's own words with the stories about him in the Acts of the Apostles in which it is claimed that he performed miracles and even raised the dead (Acts 20:9-12)! Unfortunately, Jesus was not so lucky as to have control over his own writings.

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 5. Transfiguration

Spiritual Encounters with Unusual Light Phenomena book cover. The "transfiguration" (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) is pregnant with theological symbolism. Nevertheless, part of modern religious experience includes reports of two or more individuals seeing an apparition of a dead person or religious figure at the same time. A 1970s study (N=434) in Los Angles, California, USA, found 2% of the residents had reported a vision of a dead person that was part of the reality of another person (Kalish, 1973). In Seeing the Invisible, a male and female both share a vision of light and then Jesus (case 3015). In Spiritual Encounters with Unusual Light Phenomena: Lightforms, Mark Fox notes that 10 of his 400 cases were shared experiences, including two soldiers in Northern Ireland seeing a light that gradually took the form of the Virgin Mary (case 3008). At the transfiguration, Jesus' face:

Multi-colored icon.   "... shown like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white."

In another of Mark Fox's examples, a woman reports:

Multi-colored icon.   "Suddenly I was filled with a wonderful light, and I felt my face streaming with light. My mother said afterward that she would never forget my face" (case 1160).

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 6. Psychic Ability

A Measure of Heavenbook cover. The Gospels relate several episodes in which Jesus exhibits psychic powers, namely, his telepathic ability with the "woman at the well" (John 4:4-42), and two cases of precognition, one regarding the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:4-7) and the other, the fish with the coin in its mouth to pay the Temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27). In A Measure of Heaven, Vince Miglorie analyzes reports (N=787) sent to the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) website of which 24% were individuals who did not have a life-threatening condition. In other words, they had religious experiences similar to a near-death experience, but they were not dead or near death. One of the after-effects reported was an increase in psychic ability. While 75.5% of the clinical death group reported the development of healing and psychic abilities, the non-life-threatening spiritual experience group reported a 61.9% increase. The existence of reported psychic abilities is not proof of psychic powers which are notoriously hard to validate. Nevertheless, Ralph Hood, Peter Hill, and Bernard Spilka note that inevitably, surveys of paranormal experience and mystical experience are highly correlated (Hood et al, 2009).

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 7. Resurrection

Most modern liberal theologians hold with St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15) that the resurrection of Jesus was a visionary experience (Jesus raised up by God in a spiritual body rather than a physical body). The empty tomb does not solve the dilemma, since no one saw Jesus' body rise spontaneously or be removed by others. A treasure-trove of after-death communications from ancient times to the present RERC files can be produced that resemble the appearance stories of Jesus in the Gospels, but this topic is to huge to cover here.

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 8. Conclusion

The Gospels are not "pure Jesus." Instead, they are a mixture of mythic lore and supernatural miracles, intermingled with his genuine words and religious experiences. Nevertheless, as a liberal Christian, I take comfort in the continuity of religious experience from Jesus' time to the present. Jesus knew God, and my belief is that the difference between Jesus and the rest of us is not one of difference but one of degree.

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 9. References  
•  Austin, M. (1931). Experiences facing death. Bobbs Merrill Pub. 
•  Benson, H., & Stark, M. (1997). Timeless healing: The power and biology of belief. New York, NY: Fireside. 
•  Bucke, R. M. (1931). Cosmic consciousness: A study in the evolution of the human mind. New York, NY: E. F. Dutton. (Original work published 1931).  
•  Fox, M. (2008). Spiritual encounters with unusual light phenomena: Lightforms. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press. 
•  Funk, R., Hoover, R. W., & the Jesus Seminar. (1993). The five gospels - What did Jesus really say? The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperOne. 
•  Funk, R., & the Jesus Seminar. (1998). The acts of Jesus: The search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.  
•  Hardy, A. (1997). The spiritual nature of man: A study of contemporary religious experience. Oxford, England: The Religious Experience Research Centre. (Original work published 1979). 
•  Hay, D. (2007) Something there: The biology of the human spirit. Templeton Press.  
•  Hood, R., Hill, P., & Spilka (2009) The psychology of religion, 4th Ed. London: The Gilford Press. 
•  Jakobsen, M. D. (1999). Negative spiritual experiences: Encounters with evil. Lampeter, Wales: Religious Experience Research Centre.  
•  Kalish, R. A. & Reynolds, D. K. (1973) Phenomenological reality and post-death contact. Journal for the scientific study of religion, 12,2.  
•  Kelly, E. W. & Kelly, E. F., et al. (2007). Toward a psychology for the 21st century. In E. F. Kelly, E. W. Kelly, A. Crabtree, A. Gauld, M. Grosso, & B. Greyson, Irreducible mind: Toward a psychology for the 21st century (pp. 577-643). New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield. 
•  Maxwell, M., & Tschudin, V. (2005). Seeing the invisible: Modern religious and other transcendent experiences. Ceredigion, Wales: Religious Experience Research Centre. (Original work published 1990).  
•  Migliore, V. (2009). A measure of heaven: Near-death experience data analysis. Folsom, CA: Blossom Hill Books.  
•  Rankin, M. (2008). An introduction to religious and spiritual experience. London, England: Continuum International.  
•  Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. New World Library.
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 10. About Dr. Ken R. Vincent

Dr. Ken R. Vincent photo. Dr. Ken R. Vincent received his doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado in 1973. He is currently retired from teaching Psychology and the Psychology of Religious Experience at Houston Community College. He is a member of the Alister Hardy Society for the Study of Spiritual Experience and the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS). Dr. Vincent served as a founding Board member of the Christian Universalist Association and is the former webmaster of The Universalist Herald website. His writings all contain a strong undercurrent of Universalist thought. In his book The Magi: From Zoroaster to the Three Wise Men, he compares the religion of the Magi (Zoroastrianism) to Christianity and shows the parallels of Universal Restoration in both faiths. In Visions of God from the Near-Death Experience, the wisdom of the prophets and sages of the world's religions is superimposed upon the accounts of modern-day near-death experiencers to illustrate the similarities between them. Dr. Vincent‘s book The Golden Thread: God's Promise of Universal Salvation documents the solid support for Universal Salvation in the Bible as well as research into NDEs and Mystical/Religious/Spiritual Experiences. This online book is entitled God Is With Us: What Near-Death and Other Spiritually Transformative Experiences Teach Us About God and Afterlife. Correspondence regarding this online book should be sent to this email address:

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 11. Books by Dr. Ken R. Vincent
Visions of God book cover.

Visions of God from the
Near Death Experience

by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

Many of our most inspiring and straightforward visions of God, afterlife, and values for living have come through near-death experiences. In gathering together the spiritual highlights of many such experiences, Dr. Vincent does a real service for readers who need quick access to "the good stuff." The result is an inspirational book that gently reminds us how much we have always known deep inside. A HARDBACK edition of the book is also available.

The Golden Thread book cover.
The Golden Thread: God's Promise of Universal Salvation
by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

In our modern pluralistic world, the barriers imposed by the old doctrine of religious exclusivity are confronted every day by individuals, families, and nations. Now more than ever, the inspirational message of God's Universal and eternal love for all humanity needs to be retold. By reacquainting readers with the God who is too good to condemn anyone to Eternal Hell, this book offers a Biblical interpretation present in Christianity from the earliest Jesus-Followers to the 21st Century.

The Magi book cover.
The Magi: From Zoroaster to
the "Three Wise Men"
by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

Do you know why Zoroastrian priests are on your Christmas cards? In The Magi, Dr. Ken Vincent shines light on a topic previously known mainly to scholars; he provides the layperson searching for Christian origins an extremely readable but thorough exploration of a religion which predates Christianity by hundreds of years. This easy-to-read introduction highlights the parallels between Zoroaster and both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and shows the use of Zoroastrian imagery in the Dead Sea Scrolls. An appendix includes an English translation of the complete hymns of Zoroaster.

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"Enjoy the life that God has given you and make the world a better place." - Dr. Ken R. Vincent

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