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A Real Halloween Horror: Hell House and Evangelism

(Lisa Robinson)

As Halloween approaches, you can bet the discussions will increase amongst Christians concerning whether Christians should participate.  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 transpires in our society more than we probably care to imagine.

And these scenarios are used to highlight one thing – all these people are going to hell.  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 not 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, not to mention that it makes Christianity look vicious.

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.

There is a brief message at the end of the ‘tour’ that basically tells people they are going to hell if they don’t repent.   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 specified time to make up their minds or they should 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. 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.

Check out my blog at www.theothoughts.com. Follow me on Twitter @theochick

24 Responses to “A Real Halloween Horror: Hell House and Evangelism”

  1. I agree with you. In Romans 2:4 Paul says that God leads us toward repentance by His kindness.

  2. Yes, you are right, this is a gruesome way to represent Christianity. Not that we should represent it as some sort of false Utopic heaven on earth experience either, as I have also observed in Christian presentations.

    When I was child in the south, farmers had signs painted on their barn roofs that said ‘See Rock City’ (a tourist attraction) on one side, or ‘Repent or Burn in Hell’ on the other. The latter scared me so much as a little child that I thought God was surely some of uncaring monster that I wanted nothing to do with. The preaching of the time was not much different either. Lots of it was firebrand style: either behave right or go straight to hell. Not nearly as much about the love of Christ and His compassion for sinners, and His wish to save them.

    So I would say to any parent who thinks the Hell House scare tactics are going to work: Don’t let this be your model, and please don’t take smaller children through this.

    Now I don’t agree with the anti-Halloween folks, because there is a big difference is letting kids know ghosts and goblins are make believe, and making them think that they are going to hell for everything they do wrong. That’s wrong, IMO, because it is teaching a works based gospel, and not a grace based one. Sin can and should be pointed out in the light of our redemption in Christ first, because that is the Good News for all of us.

    So I completely agree with you on this one.

  3. I totally agree with you.

    Also, what these questionable attempts at evangelism fail to get across is that apart from Christ the church attending, well-dressed, successful businessman (for example) is just as lost as the porn addicted, chainsaw weilding heroin addict.

    Great post.

  4. Scaring people into hell (the gospel at gunpoint) is not a good way to share Christ.

  5. I watched a young man in Bible college break down in tears when he came to the realization that his basis for his faith was a vain prayer uttered for the sole reason of getting out of a Hell House as a child. They were forcing kids to say ‘the sinners prayer’ in order to exit and chalking each utterance up as another soul heading to heaven. This type of evangelism has no place in our faith and we must continue to speak out against those who are attempting to pass this off as biblical evangelism.

  6. Trace, that broke my heart. But I’m so glad this young man discovered the message of redemption to replace the noose of fear that Hell House brings. Sadly, I think there are many out there who haven’t gotten the message yet and walk around in a cloud of condemnation. Utterly heartbreaking.

  7. This kind of fire and brimstone, guilt and fear-based evangelism – so classically associated with Christian fundamentalism – repels far more than it attracts. And it only attracts a certain type of person – one motivated by fear and guilt.

    I personally feel this type of “evangelism” does far more harm than good and sends the wrong type of message about God and the message of Christ. Jonathan Edwards needs to be left on the shelf. He is not helpful any longer.

    The Hell House says far more about the psychology and the basis of faith of those who run it more than anything – a faith based on guilt and fear of punishment. Not healthy.

  8. Lisa, thank you for clearly expressing what has always bothered me about the Hell House styled events. We were considering a similar type of outreach many years ago and while I could not put my finger on the reason, your words right true to the Gospel and how we should carry the light into the world.

    We decided to go with a more ‘kid friendly’ approach. We had recently started an AWANA program a few years earlier. My wife and a friend of hers saw a ‘trunk or treat’ event described somewhere so we decided to put our evangelistic efforts behind that. We had 8 or 10 automobile trunks decorated, offering games and prizes. The vehicles are arranged in a circle in the parking lot for safety for the little ones and barriers set up the prevent car traffic and the exact same hours as the local designated hours for trick or treating are the hours we run the event.

    The kitchen starts earlier in the day to prepare hot dogs, chips and soda for our guests to be served in the fellowship hall. The third year we had a rain so we moved everything inside. That year saw a tripling in the turnout. Parents did not want to have their kids in costume sharing dark streets with cars and other vehicles. We received many thanks for that evening. The response we still receive from the community is overwhelming.

    We distribute free Bibles and other items as part of the prizes and ask our youth groups to assist in serving. A small PA is set up to play CDs and for calling out ‘winning numbers’ for door prizes. Last year, one members brought a tractor and hay rack to give hayrides around the property.

    This year is our 10th anniversary and while we are all too busy to even try to do a headcount, normally over 400 hot dogs will be served. A chili competition was added about 5 or 6 years ago so all workers get a good hot meal as well. Christ’s love is proclaimed the entire evening.

    So, instead of a “Hell House” event, we host a big party and have reclaimed the night for…

  9. I don’t agree with the “trunk or treat” of churches . they are mixing the profane with the Holy. why does one have to celebrate pagan Holidays? teach your children the truth.

  10. I’ve been to a Hell House and thought it was a powerful experience. Yes, some gruesome scenes were dramatized but the point was to show that life can be cut short unexpectedly. At the final scene, someone explained the gospel – sin and separation from God, Jesus died and rose, forgiveness through faith in Him. I thought it was very well done, and there was no “forcing” kids to say the sinners prayer (where do people get these things?). There WAS an opportunity to speak with a counselor who would further explain the gospel. Overall, very well done and not condemning at all in my view.

  11. If I plan to walk 100 miles in the desert and decide not to take any water, I would be foolish. I would most likely die of dehydration. If I plan to pass through this life without salvation, I am a greater fool, as Jesus told us.
    The unsaved must be informed of the spiritual reality of eternal consequences for sin and rejection of Christ.
    Beyond that, using disturbing images can traumatize someone and have little value to convict – that is the Holy Spirit’s job!
    We don’t need Halloween to give candy to the kids, or play games, etc. At least know the origins, to make an informed decision.

  12. First time reader here. I agree with this post, especially having been to a couple of hell houses in my day when I was a teen.

    I just want to throw out this idea:Why not celebrate Reformation Day instead of Halloween? That’s what we do, and our kids enjoy our celebration of the Church. We dress up and have fun, but we reject Halloween completely and instead observe a holiday that celebrates the Body of Christ. Just an idea! :)

  13. But do you do it on the day that Halloween falls? why not celebrate the Father all year every day? Worship the Father, Yeshua tells us to worship the Father not him. and what do you mean by the celebration of the “church”?

  14. We celebrate Reformation Day on 10/31, because that is Reformation Day. We do celebrate Jesus daily with our kids through song, prayer, Bible reading, and conversation about life (such as, God created the horses our kids love so much). I don’t see why there is anything wrong with enjoying the existence of the Church as Christ’s bride. We celebrate the Church in that light: we are here to glorfy Him, to share Him with others, to be conformed to His likeness, etc. Perhaps my wording confused you? It’s along the same lines as celebrating our kids’ birthdays.

  15. And I really have zero desire to debate about glorifying Jesus since in Revelation it is quite clear that those in Heaven are worshipping the Lamb who was slain. Nor do I want to debate birthday celebrations. It was just an idea about something positive and edifying that families can do in lieu of Halloween. That’s all.

  16. All we hear is Jesus, Jesus,Jesus , nothing about or Holy Father, don’t you think that is a little bit odd? the entire OT tells Us that there is NO other like him, to worship him only.and I just asked you what church? don’t get all huffy. sorry.

  17. I apologize for seeming huffy. I ask your forgiveness. I teach OT 3 times a week at school, so I am very aware the OT teachings about God the Father. I think that churches who emphasize any part of the Trinity at the expense of the others are doing a great disservice to their congregation.

  18. I am in my 50s and I have grown up to believe in all that stuff, the trinity, but I have been moved to study more, to read more, and I think everyone should take time to study and talk to the Father to come to the truth, don’t believe everything you hear. sometimes it so confusing. I am sorry if I was rude, you are good to teach your children about Jesus and the Father,,I am sorry, i just cannot call him “God” any more, there are many gods in this world, but He is It. the Only one… thanks.

  19. While God is indeed love and grace, He’s also judgement and wrath; one cannot present one side without the other and expect God’s approval. If God’s truth offends people, then Heaven has no place for them. This PC society has become so pathetic and whiny that the truth is more than they can bear, so hell will be their destiny. It used to be that hell fire and brimstone was commonly preached, but no more; nowadays, it’s just a little love story spewing forth out of the pulpits from dead preachers to fill up the church with dead people on their way to hell.

  20. Elizabeth Johnston October 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I have heard of Hell Houses but had no idea they were this twisted form of evangelism. I just thought they were a different version of Haunted Houses. (I must live in a cave.)

    The practice you describe is despicable. And, as you point out, does not have any semblance of biblical precedence.

    I wonder how many people would go through those and think, “I must be okay. I don’t do these things other people do.” As if only really, really “bad” people go to hell, but the guy next door who pays his taxes, loves his family, but rejects Christ is home free.

    I find it interesting that the one scenario that should be included was not mentioned–that of the self-righteous religious folk who were the object of Jesus’ harshest rebukes.

    Thanks for making an excellent point, Lisa. You do not disappoint.

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