Though we’re still a ways off, I noticed stores around town are already putting out Halloween paraphernalia for sale. As the summer corn dies, it won’t be long before corn mazes start cropping up as well as that other Halloween tradition: spook houses. Spook houses are as eagerly anticipated as Santa Claus by most of those over 18. And why not? Most people like the idea of controlled horror sequences where you know you won’t get hurt, but which provide a nice scare or jolt along the way.
Somewhere (most historians agree it was the 70s… of course!), Christians took the spook house concept and attempted to “redeem” it, and use it as an evangelistic tool. Christian spook houses such as Hell House, and later Judgement House were born, as well as many variations with different names. The purpose of these attractions is to present the patron with a tour of several scenes in which depictions of death and dying causes one to consider the eternal choices they make. After viewing the scenes, observers are asked to make a choice to believe in Jesus, or else someday (perhaps as soon as the ride back home we‘re told) face a grisly death, and subsequent eternal consequences of dying apart from knowing Christ.
One Christian spook house’s website explains “No other tool is more effective at presenting the gospel and giving individuals the opportunity to choose a personal and saving relationship with Jesus Christ.”
We must ask ourselves, is any of this remotely biblical? And how does the concept of salvation via fear line up with the Gospel?
Allow me to share a few of my thoughts.
Fear never produces faith. The idea of trying to scare someone into a saving relationship with Jesus is twisted. Fear never produces faith, nor is fear ever seen in the scriptures as a motivator for faith. Granted, we are often told to fear God and consider eternity. However, trying to use scare tactics to elicit faith is unfounded scripturally. The kind of fear that is produced in haunted houses is a temporal sensation of the unknown catching us by surprise.
That is not biblical fear.
Biblical fear leads us to consider a God so awesome and amazing and holy that we cower because we are well-aware that our sin has offended him. Indeed, when Peter preached to the crowds at Pentecost in Acts 2, we are told that they were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37), and plead with Peter for answers. They were utterly undone that they were estranged from God. In turn, the apostle preached a pointed, gospel-centered message of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation to the stunned crowd.
Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This is not the same kind of “faith” that one has when he or she has been scared witless. The kind of fear that causes a sinner to realize he is a sinner, and the kind of faith that causes belief in the fact that Jesus died a substitutionary death on our behalf can only be produced by the Holy Spirit, not a spook house.
Fear is never the motivator. Emotional fear demeans a person. In the Bible, the gospel says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), BUT God, in his love and mercy has offered a means of reconciliation: Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-5). The scriptures never present a “believe in Jesus — or else!” attitude. Christian horror attractions do. The focus is more on death, and less on the life that is found in Jesus. The Hell houses and their ilk present fear as the primary motivator for belief in Jesus, which is a perversion of the gospel of grace.
Did Jesus ever warn others of the horrors of hell? Yes he did. But he never attempted to use these truths as a motivator for loving him. He is not an abusive parent or husband who uses the possibility of pain and suffering as a means to manipulate. Yet Christian spook houses present Christ in such a manner.
In stark contrast, Paul asked, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance” (Romans 2:4). It’s not emotional fear that leads one to repent and believe in Jesus, but a Spirit-wrought realization that he loves us, has been gracious to us, and expects our obedience in glorifying his Son. Of course, this wouldn’t make for a very exciting spook house!
The “decisions” elicited at Christian spook houses are often spurious. I’ve been a Christian for close to two decades. For many of those years, I’ve worked closely with students, a majority of whom have attended Christian houses of horror. I can recall just one person who became an actual follower of Christ by attending a Christian-themed spook house. Just one. In almost two decades. Because of the level of emotional manipulation involved, teens in particular fall prey to making short-lived “decisions for Christ.”
This is not responsible evangelism in the least. I can name one person I know who still follows Christ to this day, and who says he came to faith at a Hell House. Sadly, I can recall far too many people who made a manipulated decision (raised a hand, said a prayer, signed a card), and left the church shortly thereafter forever. Now that is a true horror story.
Christian spook houses trivialize eternity. Besides clearly missing the gospel message all together, Christian spook houses are often packed to the gills with speculative theology. For instance, Paul said “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Yet, Christian spook houses have no problem recreating a visual representation of a cardboard, glitter, and smoke machine heaven that falls for short of actual the majesty and glory thereof.
Likewise, hell is presented as a dark basement with Satan and demons torturing those who don‘t raise their hand and say the prayer. Never mind that hell (then the lake of fire) is the final destination of Satan and his demons. For now his home is earth, not hell (2 Corinthians 4:4). The idea that Satan isn’t here actively working in the world, but is in hell torturing people, is scripturally false, and only serves to underscore the biblical parody of Christian horror houses.
Jesus is simply thrown in at the end because that’s how the story goes.
It trivializes eternity.
Closing thoughts. Given that Christian spook houses miss the gospel, produces fear and not faith, and trivializes eternity, my question would be: “Why do they even exist?” Again, I do not doubt the hard work, well-meaningness, and sincerity that churches have when offering these events as alternatives to often super-gory “secular” haunted houses. But, sincerity and good intentions do not negate the fact that Hell Houses and Judgement Houses and The Choices, etc. of the world offer poor parodies of haunted houses and the gospel. (By the way, I can’t think fo anything more gory and violent than a happy little family getting gunned down while sitting around the t.v. watching ‘Courageous’!)
Aside from the fact that the gospel is not presented, statistics and experience demonstrates that these attractions are attended, by and large, by teens who are already Christians. This trumps the whole purpose. Aren’t Christian spook houses supposed to be the most effective tool ever for presenting the gospel, as I quoted earlier? They have simply become an ineffective church tradition.
We will have a far greater rate of evangelistic success by simply presenting the good news to our children, co-workers, etc. with love, patience, gentleness, humility, and most of all: hope.