Natalina, the force behind the Extraordinary Intelligence blog and podcast, asks it this way: “Rise in the Supernatural, Decline in the Church: What’s Going On?” Here’s an anecdotal portion of the post that I’m guessing will resonate with many readers:
At a rehearsal dinner for a wedding I was recently involved in, I had a discussion with a pastor from an Evangelical church. He asked me to share my testimony. I told him about my research into the paranormal and supernatural, and I explained to him how I had a transformational experience that led me to Jesus. He asked me why I do not regularly attend his church, or any church for that matter. I felt compelled to share with him the fact that it is not for lack of desire for fellowship, but because I’ve been increasingly put off by the church’s inability to recognize the supernatural aspects of our faith and the world around us.
He stared at me for a few moments, and I wondered if I’d crossed some kind of line; if in my passion I’d inadvertently insulted his ministry. After an awkward pause, he said to me, “You know. I’ve seen things that you could call paranormal. Things that scared me.”
This sent my mind into a tailspin. I’d attended this church a number of times in the past, and it always came across as the standard, seeker friendly type – High-energy praise and worship team, community activism, occasional discussion of end times prophecy… but really no discussion of the supernatural realm. Certainly no acknowledgement that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. And yet, here the pastor was telling me that in his personal life, he’d experienced the paranormal. Further, it had made him afraid! The fact that he’d not translated that into some kind of warning or message to his congregation was perplexing.
Personally, there are lots of reasons for the hesitancy. Some of them make sense. Others aren’t as coherent. I try to draw attention to the inconsistency in my novels, The Facade and its sequel, The Portent. Those who’ve read the sample chapters from my upcoming book, The Unseen Realm, will find my own take in chapter 2. But read Natalina’s post. It’s quite telling.
For those who haven’t read my sample chapters, here’s the section from Chapter 2:
Modern Christianity suffers from two serious shortcomings when it comes to the supernatural world.
First, many Christians claim to believe in the supernatural but think (and live) like skeptics. We find talk of the supernatural world uncomfortable. This is typical of denominations and evangelical congregations outside the charismatic movement—in other words, those from a background like my own.
There are two basic reasons why non-charismatics tend to close the door on the supernatural world. One is their suspicion that charismatic practices are detached from sound exegesis of Scripture. As a biblical scholar, it’s easy for me to agree with that suspicion—but over time it has widely degenerated into a closed-minded overreaction that is itself detached from the worldview of the biblical writers.
The other reason is less self-congratulatory. The believing church is bending under the weight of its own rationalism, a modern worldview that would be foreign to the biblical writers. Traditional Christian teaching has for centuries kept the unseen world at arm’s length. We believe in the Godhead because there’s no point to Christianity without it. The rest of the unseen world is handled with a whisper or a chuckle.
The second serious shortcoming is evident within the charismatic movement: the elevation of experience over Scripture. While that movement is predisposed to embrace the idea of an animate spiritual world, its conception of that world is framed largely by experience and an idiosyncratic reading of the book of Acts.
Those two shortcomings, while seemingly quite different, are actually born of the same fundamental, underlying problem: Their view of the unseen world isn’t framed by the ancient worldview of the biblical writers. One segment wrongly consigns the invisible realm to the periphery of theological discussion. The other is so busy seeking some interaction with it that it has become unconcerned with its biblical moorings, resulting in a caricature.
I’m concerned about both shortcomings, but since this book derives from my own story, the problem of the Christian skeptic hits closer to home and is my greater concern. If your background, like mine, is in the evangelical, non-charismatic branch of Protestantism, perhaps you consider yourself an exception to the patterns I’ve identified, or think that I’ve overstated the situation. But what would you think if a Christian friend confided to you that he believed he had been helped by a guardian angel, or that he had audibly heard a disembodied voice warning him of some danger? What if your friend was convinced that God had directed her life through a dream that included an image of Jesus?
Most of us non-charismatics would have to admit that our initial impulse would be to doubt. But we actually have a less transparent reflex. We would nod our head and listen politely to our friend’s fervent story, but the whole time we would be seeking other possible explanations. That’s because our modern inclination is to insist on evidence. Since we live in a scientific age, we are prone to think these kinds of experiences are actually emotional misinterpretations of the events—or, worse, something treatable with the right medication. And in any individual case, that might be so—but the truth is that our modern evangelical subculture has trained us to think that our theology precludes any experience of the unseen world. Consequently, it isn’t an important part of our theology.
My contention is that, if our theology really derives from the biblical text, we must reconsider our selective supernaturalism and recover a biblical theology of the unseen world. This is not to suggest that the best interpretation of a passage is always the most supernatural one. But the biblical writers and those to whom they wrote were predisposed to supernaturalism. To ignore that world or marginalize it will produce Bible interpretation that reflects our mindset more than that of the biblical writers.