I received another nice review of Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre, only this reader also challenged the conclusions I made in the Appendix On Ghosts. And as an “ex-medium,” I think she has good cause to. She wrote:
My only issue with Christian Horror (as Mike predicted “will trouble some readers”) is the appendix on “Ghosts”. As an ex-medium who practiced spiritism for the first half of my life before my conversion to Christianity, I understand through firsthand experience that ghosts or spirits of the dead do not walk among us. I agree with Mike’s comment that we do live in a supernatural world. But my biblical worldview is that the supernatural beings that interact with humans here on earth are either angels or demons: Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Nevertheless, Christian Horror by Mike Duran makes a very important case for the Christian publishing market and writers to stop sugar-coating the biblical horror genre and to reclaim it for what it is.
I totally appreciate this reviewer’s caution and, in fact, think it’s wise. As she noted, I anticipated that some readers, especially evangelicals, could take issue with my conclusion. What was that conclusion? For the record, I remain agnostic on the nature of ghost. What gets me into trouble is that I don’t believe the evangelical position — that ghosts are demons — has strong Scriptural support.
What often concerns me (especially as an evangelical myself!) is that some will interpret this position as an endorsement of the occult, or a license to tinker around with paranormal phenomenon. Which is why I ended that Appendix with these words of caution:
While the Bible is not definitive as to the nature of ghosts, nor how the dead interact, if at all, with our world, Scripture is clear in its denunciation of necromancy, sorcery, and witchcraft (Deut. 18:9-12). We are forbidden, in explicit terms, from summoning, consulting, or communicating with the dead. So whatever conclusion a believer reaches about ghosts, inviting them, consulting them, or letting them hang around is the wrong thing to do. Seeing our world as a supernatural place is one thing; validating every supernatural phenomenon is another. In this, we do well to exercise great caution. (p. 105 paperback edition)
This is why I respect the reviewer’s caution. When it comes to the supernatural, it is far wiser to be skeptical and discerning than it is to rush willy-nilly into something potentially devilish. However, this need for discernment is precisely why we can’t automatically consign ghosts to the category of demons. As I wrote,
It is simply too easy to resign all paranormal phenomenon into the category of the demonic. Besides, we have no need to “test the spirits and see whether they are from God” (I Jn. 4:1) if all spirits (or spiritual phenomenon) are categorically evil. So while the Bible cautions us about deceiving spirits, it does not go so far as to say that all “encounters” are necessarily of the “deceptive” order. (p. 105 paperback edition; bold mine)
The need for spiritual discernment regarding “spirits” is evidence that there may be some wiggle room as to their nature. If all ghosts are demons, we don’t need discernment. But if, as I believe, there’s a broader range of spiritual possibilities, remaining skeptically agnostic may be a virtue.
Furthermore, some biblical texts appear to challenge the “ghosts are demons” narrative. Here’s what I consider the three most important.
- Saul and the Witch of Endor (I Sam. 28) — The “ghost” of Samuel is summoned by a witch and witnessed as “a spirit coming up out of the ground” (vs. 13). The spirit is recognized as the dead prophet who validates himself by prophesying against Saul (vss. 16-19). So what was Samuel? A ghost or a demon?
- The Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) — Two dead prophets—Moses and Elijah—appear alongside Jesus in a glorified state. Had they been resurrected? Where did their bodies/souls previously exist? Where did they return to? Compounding matters is that the prophets “were talking with Jesus” (vs. 4).
- Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to the disciples in which they mistake Him for “a ghost” (Luke 24:36-39) — It suggests that ghosts were an admissible category within their culture. Jesus does not rebuke them for this belief. In fact, He seems to substantiate it—“a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (vs. 39). This implies that ghosts ARE something and not another. (Note, this isn’t the first time the disciples thought Jesus to be a ghost — Matt. 14:22-33.)
Notice: These instances DO NOT validate the existence of ghosts. They aren’t proof tests. They simply broaden the potential category.
I realize this position will both encourage and trouble some. Which is fine by me. I think the Bible frames a world of supernatural phenomenon that is far bigger and more mysterious than any of us could wrap into a tight, understandable theological package. There are, and will be, things beyond our explaining. Furthermore, I believe that we evangelicals are often guilty of forcing our beliefs into a black-and-white paradigm. Thus, something is either true or false, “Christian” or “unChristian,” “angel or ghost.” I’m just not convinced that we can approach all spiritual and/or paranormal phenomenon in this fashion.
There is no single verse or text that categorically portrays all ghosts as demons.
To be clear, I absolutely respect this reviewer’s caution. In fact, when approaching the supernatural, it is far better to be discerning and skeptical than it is to be reckless and naive. My agnosticism regarding the nature of ghosts stems from the simple fact that there’s enough clear biblical evidence to confidently say that ghosts are demons. Again, could they be demons? Absolutely! Should we mess with them, or even attempt to contact them? Absolutely not! I’m just of the opinion that we need a little less dogmatism and a little more wonder.