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.
One is struck with reading the Gospels and Acts how many times demons or talking spirits or miracles are part of the narrative. And one is similarly struck by how far this is from a tidy American Sunday experience.
Have you heard of the Liberal Catholic Church? Dealing with the supernatural comes natural to them (although dealing with orthodoxy … not so much).
But I think the main fear is that concern with the supernatural will undermine the particular formation of doctrine that has been handed down. Supernatural studies tend to affirm ghosts and discredit the exclusive claims of the Christian belief structure as the single “narrow road” to Heaven, or a bodily resurrection. Which reinforces my point about folks like the LCC.
I’ve not heard of it specifically (is that an official label?)
Yes, it is really called the Liberal Catholic Church, founded when “Liberal” had more positive and less political connotations, about a century ago. It is a movement of Independent Catholicism founded by Bishops Charles W. Leadbeater and J.I. Wedgwood. The former was a medium and Theosophist who sought all of the beauty of Catholic life, the latter a wandering bishop. They have apostolic succession, all the hallmarks of Latin form and the form of masses is more traditional than Novus Ordo (!), but are clearly far from the mainstream of Christendom. There is a definite doctrine, but an open communion and one is not compelled to agree unless they themselves, by experience, have come to the same truths. They are not large anywhere, but there are churches in a surprising number of cities. In many respects Gnostic, but without the really pronounced dualism or world-hating.
This is them: http://www.thelccusa.org/
I hesitated to mention it because one naturally suspects it of being 19th century occultism in vestments and a mitre, but I’ve been researching them long enough to know that this is not really the case: they are Christians who take seriously the supernatural dimension that being such entails
interesting; I’ll give the site a look.
This has certainly been my experience. I grew up in the church, but didn’t think much about the supernatural. Once I had some of my own experiences and started really thinking more deeply about what I read in Scripture, it became obvious that there was a lot more going on in the spiritual realm than I realized, and I was discouraged that I hadn’t learned more in church.
Now I work with college students and a pretty high percentage of those non-Christians that I talk to have had and/or believe in supernatural experiences, while many of the Christians have their minds blown when I suggest that the stuff they read in Scripture (IF they read it) not only really happened then, but is still in play now (and not just over in Africa!). Thanks so much for your work! I’m almost done reading The Portent, and eagerly await Unseen Realm.
loved the Africa line! Hope you enjoy the Portent and post a review on Amazon!
I brought up this issue to an older friend from Sunday school recently, expressing my concern that we never discussed this aspect of our faith. His response was that since our group consists of people from all walks of life, we would not be successful in having that kind of discussion. Then–and this shocked me even more–he said that Sunday school wasn’t really the place for that kind of discussion anyway!
he’s “right” – it’s a place to tell people what to believe and make them comfortable in that.
“Different walks of life”? What possible subject would lend itself to people of all the same walks of life? When would you ever get that anyway? Might as well just terminate SS.
My own experience was growing up in a church that believed God -could- do things but not that He -does- do things. I was dismissive of the supernatural and the entire spectrum of charismatic teaching.
“Listening prayer” is something I would have found silly then. It’s now one of the most important parts of my life. Christ “speaks” in a very clear inner “voice” that exceeds my knowledge and understanding. He invariably utilizes scripture, never contradicts it, and gently prods at me with what seems a loving sense of humor. A wry smile that says, “Oh? You think so?” followed by teaching is the general tone of the interaction.
I would have thought the above paragraph insane at one point (essentially, before I had the experiences that led me there). Skeptics often dismiss experience — even their own — to appeal to…what? Authority claimed by those who have not had any experience? “Reason”? “Reality”? Surely the problem is apparent.
In my experience, belief sets the bar where the supernatural is concerned. I have worked in a ministry that crosses denominations, and I deal pretty regularly with the entire spectrum on this issue. My mind has been blown by something that has challenged even my own somewhat more open beliefs.
That “something” is this: people and churches I feel strongly are a bit off the deep end seem to receive more -real- miracles and blessings of all kinds than more “sound” folks. I have witnessed miraculous physical healing multiple times (dozens), and it has almost always been people I still think are off-base in some of their beliefs. In some ways, it seems that the more radical a person’s belief, the more likely they will be healed. I’ve particularly noted this in “Word of Faith” people. I am very aware of the flaws in the doctrine, but I cannot deny the cancers (the most recent being Stage 4 pancreatic), frozen shoulders, and numerous other maladies I have witnessed healed.
Of course, much of it could be chalked up to the placebo effect. The books “Mind over Medicine” and “Radical Remission” both touch on the undeniable medical reality that belief — even non-Christian belief — can have miraculous results. Placebo healing is still healing. But I am hesitant to completely dismiss God from the equation.
I honestly don’t know what to make of this issue, especially when the wonderful, faithful people who pray for healing and don’t receive it are taken into account. There just isn’t a comfortable answer that can account for everything I’ve experienced, so I’m left thinking I just need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
thanks for the testimony. I’ve not seen much of this sort of thing, but i know people who have — people who have given me no reason (over many years) to presume they aren’t being honest. I’ve seen more things like precognition or dreams that portend something — with a definite spiritual element. One specific scene in The Portent correlates to one of them — the “his name is Sebastian” scene for those who’ve read the book. Similar to something that happened to my parents.
I’ve been a cessationist about the charasmatic type gifts with the view I might be wrong.
I always believed there were “spirit beings”, elect and bad and that they can influence us.
What I’ve changed on lately is how God may very well still be utilizing dreams and such to influence folks.
I say this because of the experiences of a Muslim youngster who wrote a book about converting to Christ(Nabeel Quereshi, “Looking for Allah, finding Jesus”).
Not only did God use dreams to help move Nabeel from Islam to Christ, He also used Nabeel’s mother(still a Muslim) to interpret those dreams in a way that helped convert Nabeel to Christ.
Nabeel’s father( still a Muslim) had dreams that protected the family from potential disasters( such as avoiding pitfalls while traveling, etc).
We know God gave dreams/visions to all kinds of early believers and I find it easy to believe He is using dreams now to move people like Nabeel to Christ and protecting other folks, God loves us all.
I’ve heard of that and similar stories. I think they could of course be genuine – and not only because some of the circumstances mime the first century, but more broadly, that God can use such means (but they won’t contradict revealed truth).
The author says
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.
I feel there is a certain angst in this and I wonder if anyone else shares it. From one aspect, Natalina says we ought to accept the supernaturalism of the Bible. But from another aspect she admits it was tailored to a particular audience with particular views of the supernatural. If this is so, why should we accept their views on the supernatural? Remember, their predisposition is, how shall we say it, “influenced” by the world around them at that time they lived. So who says THEIR interpretation of the supernatural is what really exists? It’s like the same ol’ question I have been asking: Does the fact that THEY accepted a Divine Council mean there really IS a divine council? Since in these areas the Israelites were influenced by their Ugaritic neighbors, what makes us think there really is a Divine Council then? So how far is Natalina willing to go?
You’d have to ask Natalina. The lines, of course, are mine, and I would say that intelligent divine beings (from God on down) relate to each other hierarchically because (biblically speaking), there is no reason to believe they are ontologically all the same – the vocab suggests otherwise) and (logically speaking) that’s what intelligent beings would do. Failing to relate to one’s kind for coherent purposes wouldn’t seem too intelligent to me. We can see that much in the animal kingdom. Consequently, given the assumption / position / belief that divine beings exist, organization would make sense.
Yes, I posted on her site. Hopefully she will address it.
I feel your response is circular. Yes, organization makes sense…. if I accept the assumption of other divine beings existing in the first place. But why ought I accept they exist at all, given how much your work has shown most (all?) are borrowed from the Ugaritic world view? I don’t accept Baal exists, so than why accept other divine beings exist?
And yes, I do feel that much of academia, showing where the bible has been influenced from has affected people accepting biblical supernaturalism. To them, there is no difference between Ugaritic myths is Israelite myths given how much they share.
It’s not circular. It just stems from my view that a materialist worldview makes far less sense than the alternative. With that point in hand, I proceed to the other.
I mean’t “other” divine beings. Im not materialist either. I accept God. The question is, do I have to accept other divine elements that were taken from polytheistic neighbors of Israel?
We certainly don’t accept the portrait of a dome around a flat Earth, yet that is an ancient near east belief. If we don’t accept those things, why accept other supernatural things from the Bible that is not, for a lack of a better term, “original?”
I make a distinction between spiritual / supernatural claims in Scripture and “natural” (“scientific” or this case, pre-scientific) worldview of the writers. I don’t see the Bible saying “thou shalt believe in a solid dome over the earth” – i.e., that isn’t put forth as a theological truth claim. Rather, it’s worldview baggage of the people God decided to prompt to give us Scripture. The writers are to be distinguished from the theological messaging they were prompted by God to produce. Because they are human, they couldn’t know anything about the unseen realm on their own (it isn’t their domain). Consequently, the information they convey about the unseen world is “revelation” in its most basic sense – it’s information that has to be *revealed* by an external source. Since I accept the notion of a personal God who is intelligent and uses that intelligence (communication is one example), he is perfectly capable of dispensing information about the spiritual world to people, and they are capable of expressing that in writing.
Theological truth claims can of course be weighed for coherence (which depends in part on the coherence of the presuppositions that undergird them – like whether it’s reasonable to believe there is a God and so on).
Naturally (like so many other things) not all people with a high view of Scripture see things this way. But you’re asking me, so I have to give you my position.
As a former Pentecostal/charismatic that spoke in tongues at conversion, I can’t say that I’m surprised at the apparent lack of a ‘felt Spiritual experience’ of the “Anti-supernaturalist mindset as evidenced on this thread.
Robert Govet, in his book “the Two Witnesses” mentioned this problem as far back as 1852. But I believe that this anti-supernaturalist mindset can be traced even further back to the devoted Anti-semite Origen, an early Church father who gave us his allegorical hermeneutics, and thus spiritualizing the prophetic blessing concerning Israel giving them to the Church.
What the Western Church inherited from Luther’s wrong-headed piety in its place was the Introspective Conscience: “Psychology”.
But, its taken that (Spirit-filled) young 19 year old student of Koine Greek struggling back then to fit the glossolia experience in some kind of modern context Scripturally nearly 38 years to see that it was just as Paul said that it would be, namely: “no Israel, no signs and wonders”.
So for me, anti-supernaturalism and its sister, Western mindset, of psychologizing our self-experiences has its roots in the Catholic Church father’s deadly hateful Anti-Semitism.
So, how do I deal with my former Charismatic experiences today? The felt experience of the infilling of the Holy Spirit was the most vital one I ever had as a blood-washed believer but I took them as my spiritual childhood experiences as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13…”When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Glossolia is childish babbling in the Spirit realm in which spiritual babies receive pleasant sensations which for them, is evidence of God’s Spirit dwelling within them.
But spiritual maturity is in allowing God to train our wills to be fully submit to His will, so that spiritual perfection is to will one thing, and that one thing…of course, is the will of God.
again, an interesting reply; hard to take though — I like Origen (so much else to like about him – that is, he’s interesting, to say the least, even if I wouldn’t follow him). I’ve not come across charging Origen with anti-Semitism before – can you point me to some specifics in that regard? He was one of the few early fathers who knew Hebrew and devoted himself to textual study of the Hebrew text (e.g., the Hexapla).
If I may add this further comment RE: “Two powers in Heaven” book as regarding my own spiritual experiences of Yahweh and His Son, Yeshua, in my daily walk with them, and the specifically local kind of spiritual warfare I’ve been experiencing here in Sweden for the past 22 years, which has been quite different from what I experienced back in the States.
This seems to line up with what I believe the Scripures say about the Divine Council of Heaven deciding to make man, and how consequently the 70 Sons of God were each alloted an inheritance according to the table of Nations, and Scandinavia being one of these allotments of these Elohim celestial powers, which apparently,is with whom I am even now wrestling.
Of course, I have always held to the orthodox teaching of the Trinity, yet my over 40 years of felt spiritual experiential knowledge of this celestial realm seems to flatly contradict this teaching.
Whether or not my spiritual calling to a prophet office has something to do with this, I cannot say. But what I can say according to my spiritual discenment, is that there is a very definite deliberating and deciding taking place in that Divine council which calls for many and various delays to my petitions and prayers.
What my sense is, is that while my worship is directly to Yahweh and in the name of His Son, Yeshua, that there are many other Elohim up there in Divine discussions which seems this must need take place before I receive the answer to a particular petition….or, maybe not, but only strength from the Throne to stand in this particular place and nation of Sweden, and in accordance to the specific nature of the warfare of the celestial powers here.
Yet above all of them, is the Mighty God Yahweh Himself, Whose absolute Sovereignty over every thought and action of every person is beyond, beyond anything we mere humans could ever possibly imagine!
I believe in the Trinity, but in my spiritual experiences I just don’t see its there!
The Spirit “is but isn’t” Jesus, just as Jesus “is but isn’t” God (the Father). So the three are there whether you can “divide” them by experience or not.
There are a good half dozen places or so in the NT where the Spirit of God is identified with Jesus or “the Spirit of Jesus.”
I kind of went the long way round before reaching Christ because of my supernatural experiences as a boy. I was brought up a Catholic but kind of drifted into the new age, in terms of reading, in search of answers (Carlos Casteneda, Rudolph Steiner, CG Harrison). The funny thing is that the older generation (born pre WW1) of Irish Catholic culture I was brought up in were firm believers in the supernatural outside of Catholicism, but the younger generations were completely oblivious to it. Whenever I told anyone about my experiences they dismissed it as dreaming.
It wasn’t until I started seeing sites like this, and Chris White’s work that I saw that I could reconcile those early experience with faith in Christ.
very interesting; thanks.
I suppose there are a number of reasons we could point to. Some of it is due to the early church fathers, such as St. Augustine, who de-mythologized the Bible by turning everything into allegory. Then the so-called Age of Enlightenment came along and the skepticism toward the supernatural. Out of that came the higher critical scholars who attacked the supernatural elements of the Bible. And today we live in an age of science that attempts to explain everything away strictly from a natural standpoint. These sort of things have influenced the way Christians think about things rather they know it or not.
Good points, esp. about Augustine.
Responding to the title of your post, I postulate several intertwined reasons:
– Materialism tinged with the New Age being taught from a young age in public schools.
– Really *stupid* charismatic christians giving a bad name to dealing with the supernatural.
– materialism philosophy being “default” – anyone not a materialist is viewed as slightly delusional.
– “Modernism” in mainstream denominations drove the idea of a living & acting God into the fundamentalist/evangelical camp, and the tide of time seems to have pushed it even further into the charismatic camp.
My impression & experience is that I can wander into roughly *any* non-charismatic/pentacostal church and walk out believing that their God is an intellectual idea and tradition from the ashbin of history.
Roughly, I can talk about the supernatural with charismatics, and leave my intellect at home, or I can talk with non-charismatics, and leave my supernatural experiences & theology at home.
There’s certainly a strain of people in the church who would rather sit on their bum and not stir themselves to walk deeper with God. I don’t think this is new – Paul has a few remarks about that behavior, and certainly I’ve seen it in different organizations regardless of affliation – 20% of people do 80% of the work. So any kind of philosophy of life that lets the low-working 80% feel good about themselves will be popular. Relegating God to a silent deity who dictated a book and left to do other things in ~100 AD would certainly allow you to do that!
Hard to argue, though I’d add “mainline” before “church” in your “my impression …” sentence. But I understand the contrast you’re striking.
I think that people are afraid of the supernatural in two ways:
1) They fear believing in something supernatural as a “supernatural of the gaps” because it may be shown to be a hoax or what and they feel stupid.
2) They are afraid because if it is true then this war between good and evil is actually FOR REAL and demons and fallen angels and Satan and etc, that is all FOR REAL and for many believers that is something that they deep down to NOT want to deal with.
Deep down most believers want the bible to be a wonderful book of stories that mean something, just nothing really bad and awful like “fallen angels” that hate humans and want to do us harm.
Agreed – Christians tend to keep that stuff at arm’s length and “Hollywood-ize” it in any event.
The answer is always the same; it resides in the person of Christ in us. The revelation of Christ is the great quest of the early mystics of Christianity. I have come to the understanding of the Holy Spirit that everything else is vanity.
We find our rest in our Sabbath, Christ Jesus, who is that person of God who allows us communion with God and a vision of God through the eyes of love.
Paul prays a prayer for the believers in Ephesus found in his epistle to them. He said that he was bowing his knees unto God asking that those believers and all the faithful in Christ Jesus might know the love of Christ which goes beyond knowledge so that they might be filled with all of the fullness of God according to the power working in all of us who are believers.
For one who spent many years practicing the syncretism of Vedanta and the Hermetic mysteries, the truth was only found when, through the revelatory grace of God,I was shown that the truth is a person. Once you are introduced to the plain teaching contained in scripture that God and all that opposes Him are persons,then you must decide if you want to know him personally and confront all of His enemies personally.
If you choose not to,you can never find rest in this life and can only buckle your seatbelt until the ride is over. As a believer, you are still loved by God and you are still hid with Christ in Him. However,you will just be like those defenders of the faith in Ephesus who left their first love, very smart but oh so confused and afraid.