Is It Possible to have a Christian Haunted House?

Hell HouseI realize that this post is potentially 2 weeks late, but I felt compelled to blog anyway. Over the weekend we received the movie Hell House through our Netflix membership. We then watched it, and it really forced a lot of thoughts, which I shall now share with you. But first, for those who might not know of the movie, here is the official description:

This documentary goes behind the scenes of the Hell House, a multimedia fire-and-brimstone performance designed to give its audiences a glimpse of what awaits those who stray from the path of a strict Christian life. Put on by the youth members of a church outside Dallas, the show draws thousands of visitors each year. The filmmakers follow the rigorous creative process behind the show and paint intimate portraits of many of its key players.

Now, this post is not for me to air my disagreements with the Assemblies of God church over doctrine (though I am amused that the pastor whom this documentary focus around shares the denomination was started due to prejudice and racism [ordained ministers not comfortable serving under a black bishop]). No, this post is merely to convey my thoughts on the movie and the motivations behind the event itself.

Hell House is definitely not a big budget documentary. But oddly, the style does not distract from the content like one might expect. It is a fairly open look at the efforts of Trinity Church in Texas, whose desire, as stated, is to give an alternative to haunted houses and to win souls for Christ. In fact, it is well-mentioned in the film that tons of people (75,000+ between 1990 and 2,000) have attended the event, and that it has spawned other Hell Houses around the world.  They follow several occurrences of people who have made sinful choices, and show how those choices play out in eternity. Abortion. School shootings. Suicide. Homosexuality. Rape. Drunk Driving. The list changes each year. It is put on by volunteers and pastoral staff alike.

This film (and the event itself, really) gives a lot of theological problems as well. The main one that sticks in my mind is the fact that those involved with Hell House talk about how it is all about a relationship with Christ. Yet in a couple of scenes we are shown staff arguing with attendees instead of listening to them. We are treated to discussion of how it is all about winning souls for God, not helping them enter into relationship with Him. The demonic realm is given far too much power, even going so far as to have some involved talk about how their life was run by demons. This leaves no responsibility on the individual, and unless possessed, a person can only be persuaded by demonic suggestion, not controlled. There is a heavy-handed approach to literally (and it is said at the beginning of the film) scaring people into Christianity. In fact, the idea is to scare people away from hell and into heaven. This is again, poor because it places the emphasis of Christianity on the future only, and not rooting it in the here and now. People are given a time limit to accept Christ at the end of their trip through Hell House. And if you go through the bonus materials, you can see a snippet from their annual awards show where they give trophies for the best suicide, abortion, etc. (And at this I was really put off, the topic of rape was treated far too lightly in this little clip). This leaves a fairly bad taste in my mouth. And the most intelligent conversation in the entire movie was a teen asking why the church is so closed-minded and not willing to show forgiveness or grace… and her question is not answered!

There is some good that comes out of this, though not much. One person who was involved in that year’s production was forced to face her own past (being raped) while she was playing a rape victim. There is a message that we all need Christ and it is black and white that without Him we will be condemned.

I have been through a few similar events, and am still unimpressed, and even horrified that churches think this is a good method of evangelism (in my opinion, right up there with tracts). People are shamed and goaded into making decisions. They are impressed by the spectacle. There seems to be no real follow-up in place. People are treated as nothing more than notches on a belt. Volunteers are a little to eager to play the sinner, and almost no one wants to play the saint. It is a one-and-done event that attempts to argue people into salvation instead of showing them the real reason to follow Christ. I give them credit for showing the harder edge of life, the black and white without Christ you are condemned element. But in the end, it falls far too short for me to get behind it at all.

Watch it for yourself. But please, steer away from this kind of shallow ministry for your own teens.

Disagree? Agree? Don’t really care? Leave me a comment.