As Halloween approaches, you can bet the discussions will increase amongst Christians, as they normally do. One faction promotes participation while the other faction wants all Christians to see the horrors of Halloween and why they should not participate. But that is neither here nor there because I believe it is a matter of Christian liberty of whether one participates or not. Each should live according to their own convictions.
But I want to address what I consider a real horror that does involve Christian participation in Halloween. In various spots in the country, months of organization and activity have gone into the production of a haunted house experience for innocent people looking for a good old fashioned Halloween scare. The will line up to go to Hell House and they will rightfully face a horror.
Participants will be led through a series of scenes, which sadly go on in every day life. There is one scene that emulates the Columbine shooting. There is another one where a Rave ends up in a date rape scenario. The girl feeling so ashamed of what has happened to her, curses God. Another ends up hemorrhaging from a morning after pill. There is one living room scene that confronts the addictions of pornography. Yes, this is certainly real life.
Unfortunately, the scenarios are used to highlight one thing – all these people are going to hell. And that is the point of Hell House, to lure people into a haunted house experience and expose scenarios that could be going on with anyone in the audience. In fact, as I watched the documentary of the original Hell House here in TX, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people were being forced to relive their own private pain and then being scorned for being victims.
Now, do not get me wrong. I do believe in Hell. I do believe that it is the destiny of those who have rejected the grace of God by trusting in His Son. But I also believe that it was not a place made for people nor does God want people to go there, though some will. But to frighten and condemn people using such deceptive and horrific tactics is abusive, both to the people who witness them and to the gospel itself.
I see nothing of these tactics used in the pages of scripture to win people to Christ. If anything, Jesus Himself reached out to the very ones these scenarios condemn – the outcast, the abused, the neglected and the mistreated. Can you imagine if He made the woman with the issue of blood watch a scenario that only emphasized the horror of her situation? Or if He had told showed something like this to the woman at the well?
The problem with highlighting these scenarios and equating them with damnation, is that it negates the real problem that separates us from God. Sin is our problem not bad behavior, although it certainly is the motivation behind everyone of the acts portrayed. But sin also motivates us to believe we can earn our own righteousness through good deeds and avoid these kinds of immoral circumstances. Apart from Christ, we are all dead in our trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1). Those who are apart from Christ and suffering under the anguish of these scenarios are already condemned. Castigating victims is not only cruel but very unloving.
And this is where I think Hell House abuses the gospel. Everything that God did by sending His Son was motivated by love (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). All through the pages of scripture, we see a righteous and loving God pursuing His creation, extending grace and mercy and calling people to Himself. Look at Ephesians 2:1-9, we were sinners and acting out on this nature, but God who is rich in mercy extends grace through the gift of His Son. God so loved the world (broken humanity) that He sent His Son, not to condemn it because it is already condemned. I don’t believe He takes delight in condemning the condemned and calling it evangelism. In fact, the only people that got condemned were the self-righteous religious leaders who were more concerned with form and function, than with God’s redemptive plan.
Yes, there is a brief message at the end of the ‘tour’. The message was in line with what I wrote in this evangelism post, that dealt with people as widgets with souls to be rescued from the horrors of Hell and not as people that God wishes to redeem. So the message was really nothing more than a get out of jail free card. I was actually shocked that the presenter of this message gave people a time by which they must make their personal decision. Otherwise, forget about it.
Friends, this is no way to do evangelism. It is abusive to people and to the gospel. It treats people as nothing more than commodities to gain in order to satisfy a quest of Christian accomplishment. If we are so concerned about the people that God came to rescue, wouldn’t it be better to use the opportunity of Halloween to feed people, to give them treats and not tricks. And this is a trick, to make them think they are getting one thing and getting something completely different. I love what Marc Cortez says here regarding this kind of bait and switch tactic,
Why do we do this? Deep down, are we that afraid that they won’t want to hear? Do we doubt the power of the message that much? Do we think the Spirit can’t handle things?
And, what are we subtly communicating to ourselves and to other people about the Gospel when we do this? I’m afraid that we’re hinting that we really don’t think that the Gospel is all that. If I’m really convinced that I have the most amazing story that will transform your life forever, I’m not going to invite you over to my church for a football game and then try to slip it in between commercials. I’m going to invite you over to hear the story.
In the case of Hell House, it is far more than just a story but it is giving people a good scare while victimizing the victims who are already ensnared in a darkened prison. Apparently, just presenting the gospel is insufficient by itself and the Holy Spirit is clearly incapable of drawing lost people without tricky tactics. Sadly, some have thought this was a good idea and have replicated the model. I can only hope that people will escape the horror of Hell House and instead be shown real love, the kind that Christ demonstrated to us.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]