In case you hadn't noticed the inflatable purple spiders dotting the lawns of suburban neighborhoods or been tempted by those Venti-sized bags of mini Snickers, this Sunday is Halloween. What kind of story will your church tell itself about the holiday?

Shortly after I came to faith in Christ, during my teens, I attended a haunted house sponsored by a parachurch organization. Busloads of youth group kids and their non-Christian friends came to the well-publicized event. The affair offered an in-your-face spiritual confrontation, presenting teens with sensationalized images of gore and death so they would choose life with Jesus. I didn't disagree with the message being proclaimed, but even my teen self rebelled against the exploitative nature of the event. I felt it turned the horrific realities of death and evil into de-fanged caricatures of themselves.

Fast forward a few years. As a parent, I wanted to help my children navigate a season broadcasting spiritual messages I couldn't embrace. As many Protestant churches have, our church offered a Harvest Fest alternative party, complete with carnival games, costumes (positive characters only, Bible character preferred), and evangelistic tracts, along with an impressive haul of candy and trinkets. One of the kids called it the "Not Halloween" party.

Hell houses and Not Halloween parties. Is this the best we can do this time of the year?

I began to ask this question in earnest after reading Jon Sweeney's The Lure of Saints: A Protestant Experience of a Catholic Tradition. Sweeney grew up in a conservative evangelical household. As an adult, he found himself wrestling with questions about the mystery and the historicity of his faith. Though at the time he ...

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