Discover more from True Magic
An open manifesto for Christian paranormalish ministry
A call to appropriate care in an area with many dangers.
We are seeing a resurgence of interest in the paranormal among regular church-goers. Or, perhaps better put, we are seeing a normalization of the existing interest that was always bubbling beneath the surface. This is good, but it comes with many dangers and challenges. This is therefore a fitting time to call all those involved in paranormalish ministry—both over it and under it—to carefully heed the pitfalls that attend it. Knowing these from both scripture and our own experience, we offer the following principles and practices as guardrails for sound ministry.
Our guiding principle
We must be solely motivated—as much as any sinner can be—by a jealousy for God’s purpose with Christian life and ministry. The Lord Jesus gave pastors and teachers
for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ. (Eph 4:11–15)
It is the perfecting of the saints into fullgrown men, unswayed by any wind, sleight, craft, or wile, that we are especially concerned for. We wish to be single-minded in this goal, that we may all be made fit for Christ, with whom we rule in the heavenly places, that he might eventually fill all things (Eph 2:6–7; 4:10).
There is much profit in knowing what we can about the former rulers in those heavenly places, against whom we wrestle (Eph 6:12)—and about how to defeat them in Christ. Experience and testimony can be helpful towards this end—whether personal and anecdotal, or cultural and religious. And there is great need to effectively minister to those under the bondage of demons—from seductive rituals to harassment and possession—and to equip others in doing the same. Ben at Backwoods Belief was not wrong to recently tweet that:
Protestants must soon develop a theology of exorcism. It is our greatest weakness. We have happily abandoned (for good reason) many errors of Rome, but we have enjoyed for too long the remnants of Christendom. We have forgotten how to make war against powers and principalities.
But the telos of all this is to integrate everything into Christ—both the facts, and most importantly ourselves—for their perfection. If something is not, or cannot, be gathered up into Christ, of what value is it? It is dross to be discarded. This should be our guiding principle in everything we teach, in everything we promote, and in everything we avoid.
Having established this principle, we commend the following practices for guarding and upholding it:
Assume everything is dangerous
Paranormalish ministry deals with highly deceptive powers we barely understand, and therefore opens us up to highly unpredictable dangers that we barely understand. Many people do not appreciate this until, in their enthusiasm, they stray too close. Even speaking on paranormal topics should be assumed dangerous—to both the speaker and the listener—because delving into it can indeed open you up to it. To give just one example that too few people know: telling others of a sleep paralysis experience can sometimes “pass it on” to them.
These kinds of dangers obligate us to a level of caution that can seem over the top to the ignorant or reckless. If we are to be useful to Christ in the work of re-enchanting Christianity, we must first and foremost have great concern for the safety of the souls that he draws, and take great care not to put them in jeopardy.
It is inevitable that people will be tempted by the tantalizing topics associated with paranormalish ministry, and also that such ministry will attract “marginal characters.” But modern culture serves as an object lesson in normalizing and celebrating such behaviors and people. When the nature of a community grants more weight to those near the bottom and the edges, those at the top and the center must exert more gravitas to maintain a proper balance. Even the most sober-minded Christians today can become light-headed when the paranormal floodgates open. It is intoxicating to fling off the chains of the enlightenment, and there is a natural cage-stage in pushing the boundaries into the most extreme stories, the most provocative theories—then receiving back applause rather than disapproval. And who can deny the almost comical relief in releasing the tension of our cognitive dissonance—much like the release of nervous laughter?
But leaders, especially, must be grave, treating a spiritually dangerous subject not with levity, nor speaking hastily, but giving it the weight and measure it deserves. Neither can we be greedy for the shameful gain that tempts us all, whether of money or glory. We must serve as examples to the flock of how to avoid becoming puffed up in our inquiry, being instead sober and watchful in handling our investigations and conclusions.
We are especially concerned about a growing trend in our community to revel in its fringe nature. We have noticed a tendency with some to speak of how “unhinged” they are—as if the greater the extremes of what we are willing to hear and believe, the greater the honor due. This is a diabolical pattern, not a scriptural one. Unguarded speculation and theorizing is a means by which people seek to medicate anxiety; and is therefore a means by which the devil devours them (1 Pe 5:8). No doubt the “unhinged” trope is well-intentioned, as a tongue-in-cheek way of mocking the enlightenment mindset that treats anything paranormal as absurd. But in practice, it glamorizes credulity, obsessiveness, and undue levity, rather than the sobriety, watchfulness, and due gravity we are repeatedly exhorted to (1 Pe 1:13; 4:7; 5:8; 1 Thes 5:6, 8; 2 Ti 4:5). It is an unhealthy and immature faith that pursues unverifiable testimonies or theories to tickle the itch of paranormal curiosity. In our own churches, those who have experienced the unseen realm as pagans (we use the word in its most literal sense) typically guard themselves against even such hypothetical contact.
We want to normalize the desire to know the world as God made it, both physically and spiritually—so that we may better serve him through it. We do not want to normalize a desire for the world to be weird and wild merely to serve our own amusement.
We do not mean, of course, that paranormalish ministry should be joyless or self-serious. Rather, we mean that it should not be glib or unserious. Neither should it be confused with entertainment, which brings us to our next guideline.
Avoid confusing ministry and entertainment
If there is zeal according to knowledge, there is also zeal without knowledge. We learn from Paul, for example, that many professing Christians “will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.” (2 Ti 4:3–4)
In a similar way, we learn in Acts 17:21 that “all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Though Luke’s humor is famously both dry and understated, it is clear that he does not intend for us to infer a compliment from his description.
Paranormalish ministry offers a singular temptation to these destructive patterns. It is a necessary ministry for safeguarding sound doctrine: not only about the paranormal, but especially from the paranormal. The modern church has fallen into the ditch of avoiding these things entirely, thus denying sound doctrine to those who need it, and deliverance to those under bondage to spiritual beings.
However, there is a ditch on the other side also. There are those within the church who lust after tales of the paranormal—whose ears itch to hear any new thing, even if a fable or an old wives’ tale; and whose tongues twitch to tell their thoughts on it, even if nonsense or foolish conjecture. In this there is great danger, for we know that in the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression—and our subject-matter can greatly increase the nature of that transgression, and its consequences. We know that there are those who,
in their dreamings, defile the flesh, and set at nought dominion, and rail at dignities. But Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these rail at whatsoever things they know not: and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things are they destroyed. (Jud 8–10)
Some of the spiritual forces of darkness against whom we struggle are majestic beings, and Jude warns us that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Idle, ignorant, and irreverent talk about the heavenly host is self-destructive and dangerous. It ought not to be encouraged in the sheep, or even tolerated, but censured—gently, at first, but by sharp rebuke if they persist, that the rest also may fear (1 Ti 5:20). Moreover, even when this danger is not in view, tall tales will often violate Paul’s instruction to the Philippians:
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Php 4:8)
Much that happens under the wing of today’s paranormalish ministries does not comport with Paul’s instruction here. We are no enemies of making ministry interesting and enjoyable—but we must always distinguish between ministry and entertainment. There is considerable danger in failing to maintain this distinction, both for the shepherds, and for the sheep. Our purpose is to glorify Christ and perfect the world, by integrating all things into him—especially the ones being ministered to. Retelling tantalizing stories of debatable provenance, which may be neither true nor honorable, nor pure or of good report, contributes nothing to this end, but only multiplies words without knowledge. While it is pastorally important to recognize true paranormal experiences—especially traumatic ones—and to assure the sheep that they are not alone in them, nor insane, continual telling of such things does not contribute to healing, but rather to dwelling.
We are not condemning the telling of tall tales as entertainment. Our concern is with the telling of them in ministry. We should not be encouraging and promoting campfire tales to a wide cross-section of people, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—including immature Christians struggling with the kinds of temptations we mention above, and unbelievers subject to the very powers these stories involve. Neither should we underestimate the force of the examples we set. We may repeat stories without seeing a need to critically engage with them, but in doing so, we lend our weight to them, and train others to imitate this pattern. In our own observation of how our mutual community is developing, this can do much harm.
Avoid low-quality evidence
Scripture holds us to strict standards of truth, requiring careful discernment toward testimony, and due diligence with investigation. Although the contexts of Exodus 23:1 and Deuteronomy 19:18 are judicial, certainly God requires us not to spread false reports in any of our dealings, and to make thorough inquiry any time the truth is at stake. We must therefore seek out only the highest-quality evidence, and be frank in acknowledging when sources do not meet biblical standards for knowledge. For instance, anonymous anecdotes on the web are generally of no value, since anyone can write anything and may have plenty of motivation to do so. Evidence that has not been verified, or cannot be followed up and tested, must be treated very lightly.
We must rather protect those who are young, immature in the faith, and tempted to itching ears, by not only avoiding worthless testimony, but also by setting an example of requiring high-quality evidence. For instance, taking the issue of sleep paralysis again, we ought to appeal to research such as that of folklorist David Hufford’s The Terror That Comes in the Night.
Allow time to chew your food
It is no sin to be ignorant, but we know that teachers will be judged with greater strictness. Ignorant teaching or speculation on the paranormal puts souls at risk, and we cannot know what we do not know without careful inquiry. We must therefore be eager not only to seek out reliable guides, but to train our senses in distinguishing bad milk from solid meat, and to chew our food well. Until we have taken the time needed to be sure we have found the best information available, and properly digested it, we should not desire to make public statements.
We should especially avoid putting ourselves into situations where we will feel pressured into teaching. To commit to the possibility of making unforced errors in haste is to stray from the path of wisdom. For instance, we should avoid ambitious deadlines for releasing content on issues we are still young in ourselves, and we should especially avoid taking money in advance to meet such deadlines. The laborer is indeed worthy of his wages, but the employer should not be paying for hastily-completed work.
Only by following these guidelines can we ensure the honor of the Lord’s ministry is maintained, the safety of the sheep secured, and the glory of rightly uncovering hidden things is earned.
With these comments very much in mind for ourselves also, we offer this counsel in the spirit of brotherly love.
Bnonn Tennant, True Magic
Josh Robinson, The Narnian
River Devereux, Deacon of St Timothy's Anglican Church, Auckland
Christopher Preston, Pastor, Fairview Bible Church, PA
If you would like to have your name added to this list, drop a comment below, or email Bnonn at email@example.com.