This came out of a dialogue I was having with a teacher who recently registered her group as a Circle-affiliated study group. Her group had formerly studied The Book ON…and Jesus Answers, scribed by Joel Wright. I offered to clarify why studying materials like that wasn’t part of being a Circle-affiliated group. She took me up on that and I wrote the following.
After reading this, she responded, “What happened with our group using The Book On… was that the whole thing became a non-issue. We did read from it over a period of a few weeks but it then naturally faded in the background as we found ourselves always referencing the Course. And when we were reading from it, I was constantly adding and subtracting what the Course said about the writing. There were some core similarities, but it did not go deep enough or like you said, offer practices. Overall the group decided without words to put it aside. It was a good experience for me because it solidified my stance on bringing in other material. Before this I thought if it was ‘Course-related’ it would be fine. But having this experience helped me to see all of your points played out.”
Let me start with Course-based channeled materials in general. My universal experience of them is that they work within the framework of some existing understanding of the Course. This means they work within some valid understandings of the Course and within existing misunderstandings. They reproduce both. Obviously, each channeler is coming from a different place and so is working within different understandings, but the point still holds. From what I can see, they all work within some existing framework for understanding the Course. The result is that what you get are current biases coming from the mouth of an authoritative voice.
This entails more problems than might be apparent at first. At first, you’d think, “Oh, OK, so there are some errors. We can work around those.” Or “They aren’t that big of a deal.” But the problems go beyond just the errors. Perhaps an even bigger problem than the errors is what is left out. I read a channeled book about the Workbook. It was all about experience vs. the evils of thinking and reasoning (already a huge error so far as the Course is concerned). Yet there was not one word about practice. How can a book on the Workbook and on experience not even mention practice, the Workbook’s whole pathway to experience? In my opinion, most of the Course gets left out of such channeled works. Its vast tapestry of themes is generally replaced by a handful of themes that are repeated over and over. And what is left out is always what Course students and teachers aren’t currently talking about. I’m not sure I’ve really seen channelers discuss issues that haven’t already been pointed out by plain old humans.
There is also the issue of emphasis. Even if you include something, there remains the question of whether or not your emphasis on it reflects the Course’s. Emphasis matters. I remember when a housemate cooked soup for the household and he read tsp. of salt as tablespoons. He overemphasized the salt, with the result that the soup was basically inedible.
These issues wouldn’t be so weighty if the work were considered someone’s imperfect interpretation of the Course. Yet, of course, when something is supposedly channeled from Jesus, it is considered authoritative. And because such works are often more plainspoken, they easily end up supplanting the Course’s message.
There is also the issue of drawing attention away from the Course. There is a rather large pull in human nature towards novelty and away from getting down to business. I see that pull in the rush to dive into the latest channeling rather than staying focused on the Course and doing the work it instructs us to do. This is obviously a crucial matter. Going from novelty to novelty keeps us from doing the last thing we will ever do, yet the one thing we must do—the work the Course asks of us.
These dangers aren’t nearly as present when you are dealing with commentary on the Course. First, it is easier to understand, in that case, that this commentary is fallible human interpretation, and therefore can be off in all sorts of ways (especially when the commentator encourages that view). Second, because it is commenting on the Course, it keeps the focus on the Course. It takes you into the Course rather than out of it.
Now, about The Book On…. Unfortunately, I haven’t read it in detail. To be honest, I have a hard time reading it. It seems to put forth a lot of vague platitudes, sliding from one to another. I don’t feel it doing what the Course does in its Text sections and Workbook lessons—take some familiar topic and take me on a journey to a new, breathtaking, and original perception of it. That being said, I think this particular channeling mostly has its heart in the right place. I get a more favorable feeling from it than from most other pieces of Course-based channeling. However, I do think that it contains errors and that it leaves major things out.
In terms of errors, you just have to look at the opening section, “Dear Jesus…from Joel.” It says, “It IS perception (all perception, good and bad) that you need escape FROM,” and then applies this on a practical level. “You must discipline your mind to release constantly from all perception” (p. 13). This is an absolutely massive error from the Course’s standpoint. The Course is all about the goal of true perception. It constantly tells us that knowledge is beyond its scope, that our job here is to go from false perception to true perception, from which we will be lifted into knowledge. (Note that the words I quote above may be changed in your edition based on feedback I gave to the publisher, who asked for my feedback. That says something good about the publisher, but doesn’t erase doubts cast on the channeling itself.)
As for things left out, I can’t find any references to Workbook-style practice, for instance. Maybe they are there, but I haven’t found any. Yet this practice is central to the Course. Jesus was giving practices even before the Course began coming through. They are sprinkled throughout the Text (about three dozen of them), and they are, of course, the whole point of the Workbook.
In conclusion, I obviously do not recommend studying books of Course-based channeling in Course study groups. Ironically, if you are looking for exciting new material, the place to go is the Course itself. While Course-based channeling tends to recycle familiar ideas, the Course itself is full of original and undiscovered ideas that allow us to view things in totally fresh ways. What more could we want than that?