My husband, Brian, has thought long and hard about a lot of things, and how Christians approach the paranormal is one of them. Here are some of his musings. Read previous posts for fuller understanding. Thanks, hon! 🙂
For centuries, Christians have maintained the infallibility of the Bible. It is God’s Holy Word, a guide to salvation, and useful for all kinds of preaching and teaching. I myself believe in the verbal-plenary theory of Biblical inspiration. (Any fans of Richard Dawkins in the audience will take note that my head has yet to explode, and that I have yet to beat anyone with a Bible the size of a compact car.) The Hyper-Literalist is a point of view that takes these good, right, and True ideas, and then runs completely out of the park with them.
The Hyper-Literalist believes “if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage,” to adapt a phrase from some southern thespians of old acquaintance. Their idea of a Biblical approach to the paranormal is to insist that the realm of the supernatural is expressly limited to that which is spelled out in Scripture. Anything else is, by definition, excluded from consideration.
Sometime in the future, I intend to address this issue in more depth, so I don’t want to steal all my own thunder here, but in a nutshell, I don’t believe that is an appropriate assumption to make concerning Scripture. Let me be clear: I believe that everything that the Bible says about the spiritual world or the paranormal is True. The Bible contains the complete and total Knowledge sufficient for the salvation of humankind. But it doesn’t follow that the Bible tells us everything there is to know about the larger spiritual world any more than it tells us everything there is to know about mathematics, biology, or astronomy. Everything the Bible says about those subjects is true, but the Bible makes no claims to being the full and final repository of Creation’s knowledge on them. Any claims that it is have been made by insecure, immature believers, not the Book Itself.
The next step in the Hyper-literalist argument is to state that since the Bible has already told us everything there is to know about the subject, we are somehow committing sin by continuing to ask questions. The assumption is that there must be something spiritually wrong with you if you do. Though the images I’ve used here poke fun at the KJV-only crowd, it can affect anyone who uses any translation.
So, it should be obvious what problems I have with this position: It is unnecessarily limiting. It arbitrarily prevents us from appreciating the full spectrum of God’s Creation, and all of the events, creatures, and entities inherent to it. It inhibits legitimate study.
It also has the unfortunate tendency to reinforce the stereotype of Christians as small minded bigots. That is because this view is most vocally expressed by those whose faith has not yet matured to the point where they can realistically weather criticism. In these cases, the individual often identifies the details of his own personal belief system (which may or may not all be in accord with Scripture) with Divine Truth. Such a person often feels obligated to defend the whole rickety theological edifice, since to be proven wrong on a small point may imply that he could be wrong about something more important. To a mind like this, the “fact” that there were three magi at the stable in Bethlehem becomes as important as the Incarnation and Resurrection. (BTW, there were no magi at the stable. They visited later. Get over it.) In the end, the denunciations and ad hominem attacks come fast and furious, much to the detriment of the Church’s collective witness.
At the same time, believers interested in the paranormal would do well to heed the Hyper-Literalist’s warnings. I do believe that there is a very fine line between legitimate student and manic fascination in matters of the paranormal. What to one person is a healthy curiosity to another is an obsession that will open doors that should stay closed. In the worst case, the believer will take one spiritual baby-step after another away from the narrow path until the hope of return is almost purely academic. (It’s a danger I myself am acutely aware of; I just hope I’m aware enough.)