This post is Part 1 of 3 in my Halloween series.
- Christians and Halloween: A Taxonomy of Perspectives
- Is Halloween the Evil Holiday?
- My Top Ten Benefits of Halloween
It’s that time of year again, when Christians will drop the gloves and fight about Halloween. If you are as sick as I am of the same old rehashed arguments for and against believers celebrating Halloween, then I hope you’re ready for a perspective that moves the conversation beyond the stalemate to a place of mutual understanding. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that I alone have it all figured out. I don’t. My goal is a more humble one: to get us to see Halloween from the typical vantage points where various Christians stand. In other words, as a thought experiment let’s try for a bit to walk in our brother’s shoes. I propose the method of gaining this insight is perspectivalism.
OK, that big word might have scared you off. Come on back and I promise not to spook you. It’s actually quite a simple concept. Perspectivalism is the belief that literally every topic can be comprehensively discussed from three viewpoints: normative, situational, and existential. I know, more big words. Think of these as (1) the standard (normative), (2) as it relates to life in the world (situational), and (3) as a person experiences it. All three perspectives are related and dependent on each other. It is impossible to deeply understand a topic without considering all three perspectives. They inform one another, balance one another, and correct an overemphasis on any one of them.
Now here’s the thing. When it comes to arguing about Halloween, it seems to me that most Christians overemphasize the perspective most agreeable with their conscience, and then deny the validity of the others. And since the topic is Halloween, they feel free to demonize everyone who doesn’t agree with their position. Sober-minded Christians are tempted to think the devil really is in the details regarding Halloween. Hence the stalemate.
Before we begin, I must offer a caveat. Most Christians seem to agree that Halloween can be a very evil holiday. An excuse to celebrate the dark side. I think there are some people out there who profess Christ and also see nothing wrong with indulging the devil one day a year. They treat Halloween like the more perverse traditions of Mardi Gras: a holiday that winks at sin. “I’ll be bad today because I’ll be good again tomorrow.” This kind of person is not my audience. Any Christian who thinks it’s OK to sin every once in a while, or whenever the culture makes light of it, has got a more basic problem. He needs to repent and believe all over again, seeking after 24 x 7 obedience.
All the various Christians perspectives I want to look at approach Halloween with a sincere desire to not sin. But each doesn’t trust the consciences and convictions of the others. It is these sincere people who I want to address, with the goal of mutual understanding. I’ve nicknamed them the Righteous Abstainers, the Winsome Evangelists, and the Moral Partiers. How do these types of people view themselves and others? How do they answer basic questions about the Christian life? Let’s take a look (here’s a summary table).
First, let’s consider the tendencies of the Normative perspective. These are the doctrinalists and the originalists. I’ll call these the Righteous Abstainers. They emphasize the pagan origins of Halloween, argue that origins (can if not must) control Halloween’s monolithic meaning in the present, and then apply Bible teaching concerning the occult to conclude that uncompromising Christians ought not celebrate Halloween in any fashion. The errors this perspective is prone to are:
- the genetic, etymological, and straw-man fallacies (denying the situational perspective)
- the ad hominem fallacy, superstition and asceticism (denying the existential perspective)
- legalism and pharisaism (overemphasizing the normative perspective)
How do Righteous Abstainers answer typical questions about the Christian life as it relates to Halloween?
- What is the Christian perspective on Halloween? It was and is a pagan holiday celebrating evil.
- What to do on October 31? Live as if it were any other day, make a statement by morally abstaining from Halloween, or participate in an alternative celebration (e.g. Fall Festival or Reformation Day).
- What should other Christians do on October 31? Do as I do to be righteous.
- What is the goal of the Christian life? Be right and pure.
- What is the strategy for living as a Christian in a fallen world? Withdraw and condemn.
- How do you judge the Winsome Evangelists? “You employ an ineffective strategy. The evil of Halloween cannot be overcome with good because it is satanic and thus irredeemable. You are a fool. Be wise like me. You’re a compromising Christian.”
- How do you judge the Moral Partiers? “You are polluted by your strategy. The evil of Halloween cannot be avoided. You are childish. Be mature like me. You’re possible not a real Christian.”
- What are some commonly cited Bible passages regarding Halloween? Num 33:50-53; Dt 18:9-14; 1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 6:14-18; Eph 5:3-14; 6:12-20; Phil 4:8; 1 Pet 5:8; Jas 4:7.
When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this. (Deuteronomy 18:9-14)
Here are a few examples from the perspective I call Righteous Abstainers. Note how they respond to Halloween and characterize those who are different.
- Trick or Treat? How Should Parents Respond to Halloween? By Steve Russo.
- Should Christians Celebrate Halloween? By William Schnoebelen.
- Halloween for Christians? By Greg Koukl.
Second, is the Situational perspective and its tendencies. These are the cultural engagers and the missional evangelists. I call these the Winsome Evangelists. They emphasize the opportunity that Halloween provides to be a good neighbor and to engage with the community for the sake of being a Christian witness. They argue that Jesus was the missionary par-excellence, and then ask “What would Jesus do?” The errors this perspective is prone to are:
- minimizing the spiritual power of evil (denying the normative perspective)
- devaluing common grace entertainment (denying the existential perspective)
- elevating ministry to all-important status (overemphasizing the situational perspective)
How do Winsome Evangelists answer typical questions about the Christian life as it relates to Halloween?
- What is the Christian perspective on Halloween? In the past, it was primarily a pagan holiday celebrating evil, but now it is primarily a day to celebrate the gospel’s triumph over darkness.
- What to do on October 31? Participate in Halloween with the culture, being “in but not of the world.” Interact with unbelievers. Seize the day to proclaim Christ to your neighbor. Make the gospel attractive by being friendly and inoffensive to all.
- What should other Christians do on October 31? Do as I do to be effective.
- What is the goal of the Christian life? To be a beautiful servant.
- What is the strategy for living as a Christian in a fallen world? Engage and convert.
- How do you judge the Righteous Abstainers. “You employ an offensive strategy. The world views you as uptight and judgmental, and therefore won’t ask why you are culturally different. You are heartless. Love the lost like me. You’re an irrelevant fundamentalist.”
- How do you judge the Moral Partiers? “You are wasting a missional opportunity. The world can’t tell that you are different and therefore won’t have a reason to consider Christ. You are selfish. Serve others like me. You’re not a committed Christian.”
- What are some commonly cited Bible passages regarding Halloween? Mt 9:37-38; 16:18; Jn 17:18; Rom 16:20; 2 Cor 10:5; Eph 6:12-20; Col 2:8-23; 1 Pet 5:8; Jas 4:7; 1 Jn 4:4.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:8-23)
Here are a few examples from the perspective I call Winsome Evangelists. Again, note how they respond to Halloween and characterize those who are different.
- What Christians Should Know About Halloween. By Justin Holcomb.
- Concerning Halloween. By James Jordan.
- On Mission This Halloween. By Jeff Vanderstelt.
Third, here are some tendencies I’ve noticed about the Existential perspective. These are the pietists and the celebrationists. In my taxonomy these are the Moral Partiers. They emphasize the spiritual freedom Christians have to celebrate Halloween for good reasons, argue their motives for celebrating Halloween are innocent, and therefore conclude that anyone who questions their motives is attacking the principle of Christian freedom. The errors this perspective is prone to are:
- naivety and ignorance (denying the normative perspective)
- acculturation and syncretism (denying the situational perspective)
- antinomianism and narcissism (overemphasizing the existential perspective)
How do Moral Partiers answer typical questions about the Christian life as it relates to Halloween?
- What is the Christian perspective on Halloween? It is now a mostly secular/cultural holiday for kids that is harmless if celebrated without actively engaging in sin.
- What to do on October 31? Have fun and do not sin. Dress up and go trick-or-treating. Decorate your home—inside and out—with silly Halloween stuff. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Make fun of the devil by not being afraid of him. Laugh at the Great Pumpkin. Believe God for the freedom to live with a clear conscience.
- What should other Christians do on October 31? Do as you do to be free, but extend the same tolerance to me.
- What is the goal of the Christian life? To be good and free.
- What is the strategy for living as a Christian in a fallen world? Participate and celebrate.
- How do you judge Righteous Abstainers? “Your description of Halloween is not consistent with my thoughts or experiences. Therefore your argument carries no weight for me. Your scrupulous conscience is making you weak and judgmental. Be strong like me. You’re a Pharisee.”
- How do you judge Winsome Evangelists? “I’m not sinning so let me have fun. There is a time for ministry and a time for play. You don’t know how to have fun unless there is a ministry purpose. Relax and get a life like me. You’re a religious nut.”
- What are some commonly cited Bible passages regarding Halloween? Rom 14:5-9; 1 Cor 8:4-8; 10:25-31.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. … Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience–I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 8:4-8; 10:25-31)
Here are a few examples from the perspective I call Moral Partiers. Again, note how they respond to Halloween and characterize those who are different.
- The i-Monk Annual Halloween Rant & The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast. Both by Michael Spencer.
- Where Did Halloween Come From? Can a Christian Celebrate It? By Matt Slick.
- Can Christians Enjoy God Through Halloween? By Jared Moore.
- Here is the Song Charles Manson Stole From the Beatles–We’re Stealing it Back. By Jared Wilson.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Of course not everyone fits neatly into one of the three perspectives. Many sincere Christians hold a more-or-less nuanced stance, combining aspects of different perspectives on Halloween. But I believe there is sometimes practical value in stereotypes–the kind of value that fosters clearer self-awareness, understanding, and sympathy for others. I hope that in considering the three basic perspectives on Halloween, we can all tone down the rhetoric and move past the current stalemate in the Christian subculture. If you want to make a small difference in moving past the stalemate, here are two suggestions. One is easy. The other a little more difficult.
- At the risk of sounding like a shameless self-promoter, if you think this taxonomy of perspectives is helpful, you might link to this post on your social media, or email it to some people whose views on Halloween tend to make you uncomfortable. This is an easy way to start a conversation.
- Along with speaking with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances about the three perspectives on Halloween, commit to spending time on October 31 with sincere Christians who don’t share your perspective. Cultivate understanding through Christ-like love. This requires a greater emotional investment on your part, but doing so is highly strategic because it demonstrates a willingness to learn from others. And you may earn a hearing by winning their trust.
May God grant us faith, hope, and love as we prayerfully seek the mind of Christ on every topic,
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:13-16)