As I set about making the video I predicted a range of reactions reflecting the range of views on the subject.
When John Piper was asked about Halloween he summarized these varying approaches…
How to write something that satisfied all such groups?
Well, you can’t. So I decided to write something for the friends of Christians – friends who would have little understanding of Halloween’s origins or the gospel. That’s the target audience. Therefore I’m not trying to convert Christians to ‘trick or treating’. I am trying to engage trick-or-treaters (and their Facebooking parents) with the gospel.
Originally the video was going to be an animation with silhouetted figures playing the part of trick-or-treaters. We ran out of time for that and so decided to film it. On the day, I told the parents to bring children in whatever costumes they were comfortable with – a pirate or a spiderman would be perfect. I also brought some spare pumpkin costumes just in case. As it happened, the parents did a wonderful job on wardrobe and make-up as you can see. And my videographer and soundtrack artist were incredibly good at evoking the mock-horror.
What we ended up with was a really quite scary first minute of film that went beyond what I’d imagined with words and a basic animation. But I’m glad for how the film has turned out. I think that initial impact grabs folks and hopefully pulls them into the gospel material. Remember – this is for non-Christians. Non-Christians.
So I want to make clear, my intention is not to open the doors for Christians to go trick-or-treating. I want to open the doors for trick-or-treaters to come to Christ!
Interestingly I’ve had complaints in the other direction too. One person so far has thought I’m too hard on paganism. I think they made some good points. They asked Why do we “mock” these spiritual beliefs (witches, paganism, etc)? Is it really Christian to mock? Would we similarly ‘mock’ Muslims or Hindus? That complaint led to a really fruitful conversation. But I mention it just to say that the video is not at all trying to compromise with spiritual darkness but to unmask it.
Here’s the bottom line for me: if you’re not sold on the whole “mocking the darkness” angle (which I think is the true meaning of Halloween… see links below) then please don’t get involved in Halloween just because we made a pretty video. I’m persuaded that Halloween can be engaged with positively, but if you’re not persuaded then don’t practice.
Romans 14:14 is the verse here:
I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.
Just cos I made it rhyme, doesn’t mean I’m right. If you’re a Christian wondering what your approach to Halloween will be this year, our video hasn’t solved anything for you. You can’t short-cut the reading, thinking and praying part.
If you want some pointers in the direction of Christian engagement with Halloween, James Jordan is my top tip on a starting place. Peter Dray has also written a great paper (delivered first as an evangelistic talk). The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church has good entries on “All Saints Eve” and “All Saints Day” (which deny that ancient Christians simply adopted pagan practices). CS Lewis’s introduction to the Screwtape Letters gives sound advice on neither thinking too highly nor too little of evil powers and gives a great defence of holy mockery. He quotes Luther:
“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” (Martin Luther)
One of the great problems is that the new age have wanted to make all sorts of unsubstantiated claims about the ancient roots of their practices and beliefs. And then certain quarters of the church have been (in my opinion) too credulous of them (in the name of taking spiritual darkness seriously). The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church has good entries on “All Saints Eve” and “All Saints Day”. They deny that ancient Christians simply adopted pagan practices. Long before any records of pagans celebrating Samhain, Christians were celebrating All Hallows Day (from the early 4th century).
Of course that doesn’t settle the matter of what we can and should do on October 31st nowadays. I happen to think there is a way to redeem what was originally ‘holy mockery’. But I’d still raise a bunch of caveats. Let me mention 3.
1. These days Halloween’s gone in new directions — eg sexualisation (and of the very young!), bullying, and ridicule (fancy dress intended to mock minorities, say). We want nothing to do with that.
2. The way we’re perceived by Christians and non-Christians is a consideration (I don’t want to cause others to stumble). There would be unloving ways of pursuing my freedom to redeem Halloween. And,
3. My bottom line is Romans 14 — if your conscience won’t allow it then it is sin for you.
But with all those caveats I’d say there is an option for the ‘strong’ who are persuaded that Halloween basically is “a Light Party”, celebrated by anticipation. Halloween is inescapable for our children (certainly for mine) so I teach them that the forces of darkness are scary but they are as nothing compared to the light. “Which is stronger, the darkness or the light?” My four year old knows that one. Well then let’s mock the darkness, then rejoice in the light.
That’s my approach anyway. But, with Romans 14 in mind, I recognise there are others!
I hope you enjoy the video though, and do be sharing this All Hallow’s Eve. As Luther said (and today is Reformation Day!), we drive out the devil by mockery but even more by sharing the word of God!