Ghouls and ghosts, mummies and vampires, that’s what haunted houses are made of? Or so I thought. I’m really not too sure because I don’t endorse them. I can recall years ago when our church youth group - yes, a church youth group - visited a popular one, only I was the odd duck out.
It puzzled me then and it puzzles me now as to how being scared is “fun and entertaining” let alone the idea of a church sponsoring a haunted house ...or field...or trail..or whatever other place might be used to spotlight fear and death.
And then I read about Hell House.
Hell House is a violent haunted house sponsored by the Pentecostal Trinity Church near Dallas, Texas that attracts over 13,000 people every October. “The Church hopes to scare the hell out of them” according to their website. The church is using this modern media as part of an evangelical outreach, affecting a haunted house to serve as a pulpit for the ultimate fire and brimstone sermon.
Visitors to Hell House are led room to room by “demons” to view scenes of school massacres, teen suicide, date rape, drunk driving, drug use and botched abortions. The idea is to shock and overwhelm visitors, who may not be church goers or believers at all, into examining the realities of life and the choices they must face. The phenomenon of Hell House has been so popular it was made into a documentary film some years ago which you can find on Amazon; I found an interesting online film review here.
Reading abut Hell House immediately took me back to my days at Calvary Baptist Church as a preteen and being made to watch “Will You Be Left Behind?” a movie that preceded the evangelical world’s infatuation with the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. This movie scared me and was the source of subsequent nightmares. Which brings me to the question, does our culture need to be scared into following Christ? Do the world news headlines everyday not serve this purpose?!
According to the reviews I read, at the end of the Hell House encounter, visitors are taken to a “decision room” where they learn about Jesus and the alternative path in this world. There they are pressured into accepting Christ and praying the sinner’s prayer, hopefully invoking an emotional conversion experience.
As an Orthodox Christian, I have mixed feelings about Hell House. On the one hand, reading about it left me with thoughts of C.S. Lewis and his Screwtape letters, depicting a demon’s view on sin and spiritual warfare. A book which may ‘shock’ the complacent person into a new perspective on sin and yet, Hell House presents theological problems that I didn’t find evident in Lewis’ writings.
Coming from an evangelical background, I can testify that there is a problem for many new converts who go through an emotional conversion experience only to drift for a few months or years wondering, “What next?” “How do I follow Christ? What does it mean to be a disciple?” “Does gaining knowledge equal spiritual growth?”
There is an insightful review I found on Amazon while reading about the Hell House documentary. It allegedly comes from a former cast member and he writes:
“I spent ten years working various scenes at the Trinity Church Hellhouse. Yes, it is a bit campy, and yes, it is often over the top, but I can say that the people are well intentioned, just a bit off target. I attended Trinity Church from birth until I was 22 years old. I do not attend their anymore because of the close-minded attitude that is prevalant in this documentary. I stopped doing HellHouse when they added the decision room my last year. I just felt it was an un-biblical scare tactic. I now feel that way about the entire operation. The worst feeling I get is knowing the young teenagers are blindly following the leadership without doing any research themselves. I know because I was once one of them. I have found that a growing number of former Trinity Youth Group members my age do not attend there for the same reasons I listed above. This movie will open your eyes to the way teens are herded like cattle in fundamentalist Christian Churches.”
My concern isn’t so much with the vivid scenes based in reality recreated in Hell House, my concern is for the kids who are being pressured into “decisions for Christ” while not being granted an accurate view of the nature of Christ or how to participate and grow in the life of Christ. They are trying to grow fruit without water.