Mmm, October.

That beautiful time of year when Christians of every denomination and persuasion offer advice about how to deal with the mystical, supernatural, and over-commercialized holiday we know as Halloween. Usually it boils down to a few different arguments:

1) Halloween is a Satanic, dangerous holiday and Christians should abstain from participating!

2) Halloween is a harmless holiday of candy and community, and Christians should lighten up and let their kids trick-or-treat!

or,

3) Halloween is a tool which can be used to reach the lost for Christ!

It is this third perspective which informs some of the “hell-houses” that pop up around this time of year. Perhaps you’ve heard of Liberty University’s “Scaremare” exhibit, or the long-running drama “Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames” produced by Reality Outreach Ministries. In case these names are unfamiliar, here’s a basic rundown: these exhibits take spectators through renditions of hell (some meant to spook, like a haunted house, and some are just intense dramatizations). At the end of the event there is a presentation of the Gospel message and a prompt for spectators to reflect on their relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ.

“If you’re terrified of what you saw, imagine how much worse the real hell will be. Accept Christ as your savior and he will save you from these torments.”

Love it or hate it, scare-tactics are certainly not a new method of evangelism. Perhaps the most famous use of the scare-people-out-of-hell method was Jonathan Edwards, a Presbyterian Minister who lived during the Great Awakening. His sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was given (upon request) to a lethargic congregation in Enfield, Connecticut which had been heretofore unaffected by the revival touching New England at the time. Edwards’ imagery is stirring enough to be featured in any hell-house, as evidenced by some excerpts below:

“Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering.”

“[the Devil]... stands waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it...”

“The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.”

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.”

Many Christians continue to carry Edwards’ proverbial torch by using hell’s flames to scorch people into right living, and convict them of their dire need of God’s grace. However, plenty of theologians (even early church fathers) disapprove of this sort of conversion method. It’s a tactic that, when used today, is met with hot criticism certainly equal to the righteous fervor of those running, promoting, and participating in hell-houses.

So in the spirit of the season, I thought perhaps I’d try to take a step back and look at both pros and cons of these spooky exhibits from my own perspective and experiences. Do these things truly produce converts? Do they properly represent the message of Christ? Here are some observations.