One scholar has proposed that “Swedenborg presents his theology as essentially Christian, and in fact more truly Christian than either Protestantism or Catholicism, as suggested by the title of his last published work, True Christianity. Although he suggests a new direction for Christianity, his theology has much in common with mainstream denominations: He believes in the sacraments of baptism and communion, the latter of which he calls the Holy Supper. He subscribes to the divine inspiration of the Word (Christian Scripture)…. He supports the existence of heaven and hell, angels and devils, and the salvation or condemnation of the individual after death. He urges repentance and the shunning of evils as sins against God. He speaks of faith and goodwill, and recommends good works. He believes in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in the divinity of Jesus Christ.” (J.S. Rose, Essays for the New Century Edition, West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation 2005, p. 72). Why, then, has Swedenborg so often been perceived as a spiritist or spiritualist (e.g. see the Wikipedia summaries of spiritualism and spiritism). There appear to have been at least three reasons:
1. Spiritist and spiritualist groups and individuals have long claimed Swedenborg as one of their own. For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle devoted the first chapter of his monumental History of Spiritualism to Swedenborg and a contemporary scholar has proposed that there is some ground for seeing Swedenborg as the greatest medium in modern times and the New Church as the first spiritualist church (S.E. Ahlstrom. A Religious History of the American People New Haven: Yale 1972, p. 487). Another proposes that “The dissemination of Swedenborg’s philosophy in the 1840’s helped prepare the way for spiritualism [in the US]” (J. Buescher, The Other Side of Salvation: Spiritualism and the Nineteenth-Century Religious Experience (Boston: Skinner House 2004)., p. 71). According to the latter, Emerson “believed that all of spiritualism was derived from Emanuel Swedenborg” (ibid, p. 139). (See also Ahlstrom. op. I., pp.483ff., and M. Block, The New Church and the New World, (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston 1932, p. 70).) Finally, the founding father of spiritism, Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail (who used the pseudonym Allen Kardec), in 1865 wrote a still-popular book about spiritism that he titled Heaven and Hell, with the name apparently copied from Swedenborg.
2. There has also long been an undercurrent of interest in spiritualism or spiritism by some members of the churches based on Swedenborg’s revelation (e.g. Block, op. cit., p. 70). For instance, the Rev. John Clowes, one of the founders of that church in Great Britain, “in spite of Swedenborg’s warnings, cultivated the society of angels, by whom he said some of his works were dictated” (ibid.). And a search of the web will demonstrate that there are still today proponents of Swedenborg’s theology involved with spiritist or spiritualist activities.
3. From their beginnings two centuries ago, virtually every Swedenborg-related organization has put fundamental emphasis in their public presentations, from church services to publications and websites, on the teachings in Swedenborg’s revelation about the spiritual world. Much of this attention has been focused on Swedenborg’s Spiritual Diary (in modern translation, Spiritual Experiences), which is not even part of Swedenborg’s fully inspired work (see Which of Swedenborg’s Books are Divine Revelation? for details). There has been, by comparison, little mention of the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, and what mention is made is often depersonalizing, such as referring to Him as “The Divine Providence” or “The Divine Human.”
Taking all these pieces together, it is thus hardly surprising that as, again, a web search will show, many Christians regard followers of Swedenborg’s revelation as non-Christian at best and a spiritist cult at worst.