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Visualization and Imaging

by Jon Trott and Eric Pement

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An Overview: Visualization, which is making a substantial impact in our culture, is the use of mental concentration and directed imagery in the attempt to secure particular goals, whether physical, psychological, vocational, educational, or spiritual. It attempts to program the mind to discover inner power and guidance. However the relationship between visualization and the occult is the greatest concern. It is often used as a means to, or in conjunction with, altered states of consciousness (e.g., as produced by meditation), and is frequently used to develop psychic abilities or make contact with spirits. Also See Contemplative Spirituality

Visualization is commonly used in occult practice, from casting spells to contacting "inner advisors" or spirit guides. As such, Scripture prohibits New Age visualization. Allegedly Christian forms of visualization are insufficiently critiqued, of dubious value, and subject to abuse.


Also See The Secret, a film produced by Prime Time Productions, consists of a series of interviews and dramatizations related to "The Law of Attraction".

And Section Mysticism in The Church and Doctrines of Demons


Every time I hear someone haul out that hoary old myth that human beings only use about five percent of their brains, I wince. I just know the next words I hear will be about the incredible possibilities that supposedly lie hidden within the mind For me, suspicion is an occupational hazard, and I admit that certain pop philosophies set my systems on alert.

Now, I believe Christians ought to be free to use their minds, to examine ideas from the other guy's perspective, and generally to employ the mental gifts and creativity God has given them. However, "imaging" and "visualization" are increasingly appearing as Christian meditation, "mind-stretchers," or a consciousness-awakening experience in Christian workshops, and you'd better believe that visualization as a cultivated exercise comes with all sorts of metaphysical and spiritual baggage in tow. Frankly, some of these bags desperately need to be opened up before being admitted into Christian territory.  Also See Contemplative Spirituality

One form of visualization which often appears in Christian circles is "guided meditation," where one person leads a group in imaging an experience. In exercises of this nature, everyone present assumes a comfortable position.

Facing the motionless assembly the workshop leader directs the audience to relax, close their eyes, and enter into what follows. A few suggested images are offered, interspersed with long stretches of pin drop stillness, to allow the image to rise, form, and develop in the recumbent minds.

    "See yourself getting into a plane. There's your row number ... You fasten your seat belt. The plane is taxiing down the runway, and you feel it lift into the air ... You lean back in the soft cushion. Enjoy the smooth ride ... the plane descends ... you get out. You're in a city, one hundred years in the future. The ground beneath your feet, is it concrete? Dirt? The buildings, are they shiny and tall, or broken and destroyed?"

Fifteen minutes have gone by at this point. "Someone's passing you, what are they dressed like? ... What is the government like? What does love mean? Are there churches? Do people pray? What does God mean? . . . " After forty-five minutes, the workshop leader directs the group back to the plane. They land, disembark, and he quietly says, "In your own time, when you're ready, you may open your eyes."

By the end of the meditation, some people are weeping at the thoughts which have been aroused, while others seem euphoric. The most common reaction is a hushed awe that such an experience could seem "so real!"

Meditation exercises can also be carried out by one person alone. One popular form calls for meditation on Scripture, not in the classical sense of struggling with its meaning, but as a means of experiencing biblical history. "Take a single event like the Resurrection, or a parable, or a few verses, or even a single word and allow it to take root in you. Seek to live the experience, remembering the encouragement of Ignatius of Loyola to apply all our senses to our task. Smell the sea. Hear the lap of water along the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head and the hunger in your stomach. Taste the salt in the air. Touch the hem of His garment ' "I So encourages Richard Foster, well-known author of Celebration of Discipline. In the same book, Foster also recommends a meditation which greatly resembles an out-of-body experience. "in your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily ... Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator Rest in His presence."  More About Richard Foster

Integral to many meditation practices is "centering down," which requires getting in touch with the "divine Center," learning to rely on one's inner voice. Methods used to achieve this state include: breathing exercises, Scripture visualization, chanting a mantra, yoga, focusing on a physical object, Transcendental Meditation, pondering a Zen "koan" (a meaningless question used to derail the conscious mind), biofeedback, etc. Morton Kelsey, Episcopal priest and prolific author, recommends many of these, but warns they "do not go far enough" and that one "is left to wander." They should only be used "to help the individual find ... God '"

One method of ministry which involves imaging and visualization is that of healing of the memories. The idea is to guide the person in need back to the great hurts of his or her life. Counselors using imaging techniques ask the counselee to visualize Jesus physically intervening in the traumas of childhood, altering bad memories to replace them with good ones. From being neglected to rape to fear of water, the original event is, in effect, "re-entered;' this time with Jesus.

Ruth Carter Stapleton, for instance, writes of her ministry to an adult man struggling with homosexuality: "Jody, imagine that you are six years old ... In faith-imagination you visualize with your thoughts. You're doing exactly right. Now, the doorbell rings ... Jesus is going to be there. He's got a baseball bat and glove with him. He wants you to play ball with him. Open the door."'

Visualization may also be used as a materialization technique. Some people claim that through imaging, we are creating objects on a spiritual, heavenly, or psychic plane, which (if we continue imaging long enough) will eventually filter down and materialize on the earthly plane. This power is supposedly innate to all humanity. Forms of this doctrine are present among charismatics, mainline churches, and nonChristians. One writer describes imaging as "the power that turns wishes into realities when the wishes are strong enough."'

Note: This is the basic premise of the Word Faith Movement

It is obvious that visualization exercises are increasingly finding their way into Christian churches. We suspect many of our readers may have participated in imagery and visualization exercises in a manner similar to the ones described above, or may find themselves in such a situation in the future. A professor of homiletics at an East Coast university recently suggested pastors lead their congregations in group imagery instead of delivering a sermon on Sunday morning. Such practices, prevalent in the Christian world, should be the cause of great concern.

One main concern deals with the question of fantasy and reality. If these are confused, we end up in deception. The Christian who seeks to come closer to the Lord, or to learn more about his own heart, needs to make a clear distinction between what is real and what is imaginary.

For example, there seems to be nothing amiss with visualizing a story or a parable, so long as you know it's a story. ("Do you know what the love of God is like? There was once an old man who was a master pearl diver. . . ") But visualizing which begins with full-body relaxation and a suspension of disbelief, and concludes with seeing oneself in the presence of Jesus Christ or God the Father should not be mistaken for a genuine spiritual encounter.

Visualization does not usher us into God's presence, and it is never endorsed in the Bible as a means of knowing or coming closer to God. The Bible says that we, who were once separated from God by sin, are brought nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:12-13). The blood of Jesus, not a mental photo, gives us access to the Father. Visualization offers a sensation of God's presence, but sensation cannot be accepted as living truth. We will find ourselves deceived if we immerse ourselves in imaging, and then conclude that our images represent reality from God's perspective.

Guided meditation experiences make the person exceptionally vulnerable to confuse what was essentially a fantasy for reality. Specifically, he/she may easily mistake the imaged experience to be a vision of spiritual realities on the "other plane," a revelation from God, or a clairvoyant observation of the past or the future. When all is said and done, moreover, the process by which the group gained these deep spiritual experiences bears a striking resemblance to a mild form of group hypnosis.

One result of this seeking through experience seems to be spiritual confusion. Richard Foster, for instance, goes to great lengths to attempt a division between Eastern/occult and Christian meditation. [1] Despite his obvious sincerity, his example of an out-of-body visualization bears a striking resemblance to astral projection. Nor is he alone in this. Morton Kelsey valiantly tries to divide Eastern/occultic methods from their religious foundation, to no avail.

Where guided visualization would make many people nervous, the idea of visualizing oneself as a participant in Scripture or an observer of scriptural history sounds relatively harmless. Truly, to the extent that our mental reenactment corresponds to the Bible, it corresponds to history. But our interior reenactments, the simple products of our own imaginations, always carry accretions not mentioned in the Bible. There can be a strong temptation to confuse the two sources (the Scriptures and our meditation), and we may inadvertently begin to believe our deep, prayerful experience.

    Somebody may object, "Yes, but visualization is a way of becoming more aware of God. Imaging makes Christ more real to me.,

No, it only seems to make Christ more real. Certainly, Christians are summoned to meditate on Scripture, but this method involves the pondering of an active mind reflecting on the events of history, not fantasizing ourselves being participants in those events. In addition, such "meditation" tends to cause you to be more focused on experiencing Scripture (i.e., how you feel, what it does to your senses) than on understanding Scripture, grasping what is actually being said and how it applies to your life.

Connected to this over-reliance on experience is centering. Though Jesus is said to be at each person's center (certainly an improvement over the Eastern/occultic idea that each person's own divinity is at the center) this idea usually does not take into account the biblical doctrine of the depravity of man. (See InPlainSite.org Footnote)

Centering is based on the cultivation of a passive mind, tuning out all distractions until thought processes can be slowed or stopped. This, is being spiritually careless. It is not coincidental that most advocates of "centering down" also endorse Eastern/occultic techniques in reaching that goal. See Contemplative Spirituality (centering prayer)

As evangelical/orthodox Christians, we confess that God is not approached only through the rational mind, but that experience is also an integral part of Christian living. When God is approachable primarily through the channels of experience, however, he becomes a mystery known through each man's own inner eyes rather than the Bible's revealed truth. In the words of John White, "We are not invited to know what cannot be known until a coming day. And if God has gone to such pains, through the prophets and by means of the incarnation, to reveal to us what we can understand of him, is it not irreverent folly and vanity to cast this revelation aside for a supposedly "higher" experience? And we may be achieving [are] ... altered states of consciousness."'

Inner healing or healing of the memories is one of the more complex areas involving visualization. As a community of believers who ourselves have ministered to many wounded people, we understand how important it is to be able to forgive those who have hurt us, to be able to recall and speak about tragedies in our lives, and to pray over these areas. This properly comes within the sphere of Christian counseling.

Also See Confrontation, Forgiveness and Reconciliation

The problem with visualization arises where the person receiving counseling is asked to spiritually return to a past trauma and image Christ's physical presence altering the actual events. A real healing may take place through such methods, but we stand in danger of dishonesty and reliance on manufactured experience. Mrs. Stapleton's assertion that she filled Jody's "memory bank" with experiences he'd "never forget" was based on imaging that which in reality did not occur. Such a distortion of history ultimately detracts from the power of confession, forgiveness, and the work of the Holy Spirit, "the Comforter," in healing and renewal.

The necessary means of grace which God has provided for believers to become "complete and thoroughly furnished unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17) are many--prayer, fasting, forgiveness, fellowship, communion, spiritual warfare, abiding in Christ, study of the Scripture, availing ourselves of God's promises. The healer is Christ, but we needn't image him to know he's there.

We face a different approach to visualization when it is used to bring things into existence. The Christian worldview affirms there is a reality external to us and that God's creation is not directly affected by our mental images. However, God is pleased to affect creation in response to our prayers, as well as giving us the privilege of influencing other persons and the created order through our physical actions. In addition, man's ability to imagine enables him to generate new ideas and to focus his attention so he can better accomplish his aims.

Set against the Christian position is the occultic theory, which says that man has innate psychic powers and can create as God does through the power of imaging. Some say man's psychic power is a form of psycho kinetic control, like mind-over-matter, while for others this power is a form of creation and perhaps can be described as mind-into-matter. In either case, the basic idea is the same: mind controls reality.

Also See The Word Faith Movement

This is the theme behind Psycho Cybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz; Psycho Pictography, by Vernon Howard; Creative Visualization, by Shakti Gawain; Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill; and Dynamic Imaging, by Norman Vincent Peale. Though written from various spiritual perspectives, they all teach the principle of materialization through visualization.

Christians cannot allow themselves to develop an occultic worldview which has simply substituted Bible words for occult words, but which leaves the basic operating principles the same. Nowhere does the Bible say the mind is a creative force, and in fact, the idea that the mind is brimming over with psychic energy, which creates what it imagines, is basically occultic and non Christian.

Were often unacquainted with mystics, especially Eastern or occultic, and therefore don't realize the nature of occultic ideas which have filtered down.

Another influence comes from the psychology of C. G. Jung (1875-1961), a well from which many recent Christian authors have dipped. Mites Morton Kelsey, one of these: "It is ironic that after I had three years in seminary and several more studying the devotional masters, it took a Swiss psychiatrist to suggest this possibility [imaging] to me. It was C. G. Jung who showed me that such practices can work today, and that images not only open one to the depth of oneself, but also beyond to the world of psychoid realities where one is able to come into contact with the realm of God Himself ' "

Jung's autobiography reveals that from a very early age he experienced visions and dreams, whose power caused him to believe in their spiritual reality. Visualization offers a sensation of God's presence, but sensation cannot be accepted as living truth.

It is necessary to make a qualification here about the power of visualization. The mere act of picturing something is not demonic, and some authors who advocate visualization (meaning mental images) simply mean our attitudes and outlook will influence our success in business and at home.

Many of the results which are supposedly activated by visualization are not caused by spiritual forces at all. It is a simple fact that confident people will tend to be more successful than fumbling, timid people. People with definite plans will usually accomplish more (and be more satisfied) than aimless people with no particular ambitions. Yes, visualizing helps you set definite goals, and enables you to build toward a particular end. But when a person sets goals, holds to them, and achieves them, Christians shouldn't ascribe his success to the "cosmic power" of mental imagery. Nor was the man's success due to "demon power." The explanation is practical, not mystical.

It's not difficult to trace the practice of meditative imaging and visualization back to the mystics. Meister Eckhart (12601328), St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), and Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) are three figures very influential on the mysticism of the West. However, meditation techniques which incorporate some form of visualization or "centering" are much more prevalent among the religions of the East-Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism-as well as occult religions. Evangelical Christians don't usually read the phenomena, including ghostly visitations and clairvoyance, were an accepted part of Jung's life. His concept of God was at best sub-Christian (God being "not entirely good or kind" and unapproachable from any rational base) and he employed meditation techniques from Zen to Hindu to Moslem.

Perhaps the two most seminal influences in the past decade have been Morton Kelsey and Agnes Sanford, friends of one another and disciples of Jungian psychology. Kelsey sat under Jung and studied at the Jung Institute in Switzerland. His recommendation though guarded, of Eastern practices, and his assertion that parapsychology and extrasensory perception are positive extensions of the human senses, betray a non biblical worldview.

Agnes Sanford's, writings reflect her affinity for Jung, mixed with spiritualism and religious jargon.

    "For now we know that we have within us another mind than the conscious, and that this unconscious mind is not disconnected from life but is connected with the mind of the race: the collective unconscious. Therefore we can 'pick up' thoughts and impressions from another or from life, outside ourselves or from the memories of the race. Now into this collective unconscious, into these race memories, Jesus Christ entered ... " (9)

Despite this mixing of Christian truth with Jungian psychology and pop spiritualism, one nonetheless finds it likely that Agnes Sanford did aid many people in being healed. Her confusion of the Holy Spirit's gifts with latent unconscious powers within man remains in some charismatic teaching today.

There is a basic, profound difference in the orientation of visualization focused as an "inward steady gaze of the heart upon the divine Center" 10 and traditional Christianity's focus toward "the God who is there."

Perhaps this is the fundamental problem for biblical Christians in dealing with imaging. Rather than the firm, objective Word of Truth in Holy Scripture, the person who images must interpret his or her own images The results of this are an increasing reliance on spiritual experience, along with the search for others' experience to back up one's own experience. Thus both Jungian psychology, with its focus on the unconscious causes of human behavior, and occult religion, with an emphasis on an inner search for the spiritual forces of self arid/or the cosmos, can receive equal or better status than Scripture.

In the Christian realm, however, the danger Is not so much that visualization will cause the person to abandon Christianity for Hinduism, as it is that he or she may redefine the manner in which God speaks. Rather than communicating through the objective Word, which of course can lead us to experience, they search for spirituality through experience itself, regardless of the philosophy or method behind that experience

We can certainly empathize with those who grow tired of faith being limited to a deep-frozen set of propositions. Yet, it's dismaying to see Christians borrowing from secular and occultic sources to discover new spiritual "experiences. " The unbiblical nature of this growing "addiction to experience" in charismatic, evangelical, and mainline Christian circles points to some disturbing facts about ourselves.

Imaging offers a cheap alternative to cultivating a biblical walk with God. Unlike traditional faith, which is verified (or exposed as shallow) by the hard evidence of our conforming to Christ, the faith of visualization is verified by the intensity of each believer's experience as he/she images a relationship with God.

To encounter the living God of the Bible and history is to discipline ourselves in the art of prayer, study, and mutually accountable fellowship. It is to welcome experience when experience comes, but to seek after our Father in heaven above all feelings. It is to live out our faith as biblical truth demands us to do. Only a living personal faith in the most loving Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, can save us from dusty mental dryness or ecstatic epilepsy.

Reality is a slippery commodity for human beings these days. Let's stick to Scripture's well-defined pathways toward the Kingdom in order to avoid getting lost while thinking were on the road home. *


1. Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), P. 26.

2. lbid_ p. 27.

3. Morton Kelsey, The Other Side of SlIence York: PaL*st Press, 1976~&121.

4. Ruth Carter Stapleton. Gift of Inner Healing 0 TX' Word Books, 1976), p 6& 69.

5. Norman Vincent Peale,   Dynamic Imaging (Old TT..pan NJ: I'levell, 1982). P. 85,

6. John White, Prayer tDowners; Grove, .: s1tY Press 1976). pp. 13-14, IVP booklet

7. Kelsey, p. 13

8. C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

9 Agnes Sanford  The Healing Gifts Of the Spirit (PhAadeVus: J.B. Lipptrcotl, 1966), p. 136.

10, Richard Foster, Meditative Prayer (Downers Grove, N.: InterVarsity Pless. 1983). p. 18.


InPlainSite.org Footnote. While in almost complete accord with the authors of this excellent article, I have to differ on this one point.  The Depravity of Man is a commonly believed doctrine that arose from the Catholic Church, not the Bible.  See The Myth Of Original Sin on THIS Page. [PLACE IN TEXT]


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