This book is the public record of an extraordinary event that occurred in my home town in New Zealand in the 1970s: a series of conversations, through a medium in deep trance, with an entity identifying himself as the Christian Saint Stephen. These conversations happened over a period of about ten years, tailing off by the late 1970s. Tapes of the sessions were recorded and transcribed; 'Afterlife Teaching' is an edited, condensed summary of these transcripts, organised by thematic chapters.
Strange though it may sound, this kind of event isn't particularly unusual in the psychic (or Christian mystical) literature - there are examples of similar experiences going back many centuries in monastic orders, with many more recorded in the 19th to 20th centuries. But the 'Stephen Experience', as the participants came to call it, is a good example of the genre, and the book's focus is on Stephen's philosophy and view of life. (A companion volume, 'Into the Wider Dream', focuses on the many shared synchronicities - apparently non-causal connections - that participants in this experience shared, some of which continue to this day).
My impression is that 'Stephen's' communications are similar in some ways to 'A Course in Miracles', a book written during the 1960s which claimed to be by Jesus Christ (and which resonates strongly with me, though it may not with others). There are many similarities with other 'channeled' works, and with the experiences reported by near-death experiences. Coming from an Evangelical Christian background, I found Stephen's take on reincarnation particularly useful for me: he describes the situation not so much as 'one person being born many times' (something that has never sat right with me) but as many people being part of 'shared soul groups'. Again, for some reason this image makes sense to me. I would point to similarities in this concept with Walter Wink's 'Powers' theology, and with Arthur Koestler's concept of 'holon'.
I should add that Michael Cocks is a personal friend of mine, who introduced me to his Stephen material with the first edition of his book (this is the second), and he and I are both involved in our local Anglican church. I also briefly met Thomas Ashman, the (reluctant) medium during the experience, briefly a few years ago before he passed away. Michael is convinced that Stephen was real, and (because of linguistic analysis of some phrases spoken in, I think, ancient Greek?) corresponds to the Biblical Stephen. Perhaps there is room for discussion about what actually happened and who was speaking, but I think this book is a valuable record of the incident for future study, and the spiritual philosophy is worth adding to the world's library of similar cases. I am very glad that Michael and White Crow Books have published this.
Charismatic and Evangelical Christians, who believe in God and the gifts of the Spirit but fear spirit possession and 'the occult', will probably find stories of this nature very difficult to trust (I was in this group at first). Liberal Christians and atheists on the other hand may find it difficult to believe in the literal eternal life and progression of the soul. But scientific study of ESP, psi phenomena, mystical and visionary experience, near-death encounters and anomalous modes of cognition over the last 150 years has built up a large case file showing that a real phenomenon exists - and that in studying these extranormal experiences, multiple religious traditions as well as objective science can find common ground. I would recommend this book as one of many on the subject - but particularly for New Zealand readers, because of its links to our country