Pop culture has a growing fascination with the occult. From zombies and vampires, to Hogwarts and horoscopes, and even witches and Ouija boards — the mystical, unknown and undead seem to dominate TV and movie screens.
While many celebrate this phenomenon, is it appropriate for Christians to get caught up in the zombie zeitgeist?
Apologist and New Testament scholar Jeremiah Johnston discusses paranormal entertainment, conjuring the dead, and "ordained" mediums in a section of his new book Unanswered, a volume intended to shed light on several hot-button topics that loom large within the Church.
By and large, a majority of Americans say they've had a personal connection to the paranormal. According to Johnston's book, 71 percent say they've had paranormal experiences, and 37 percent believe in ghosts, while 56 percent believe those ghosts are spirits of the dead.
So is watching paranormal-themed TV shows and movies simply a normal extension of those experiences? After all, the mainstream hit show "The Walking Dead" resonated with more than 22 million viewers during its fifth season premiere alone, and it's probably safe to say that plenty of those viewers were Christian. Is there any harm in a little paranormal entertainment?
While apologist Johnston doesn't condemn shows like "The Walking Dead," he does caution Christians to find a healthy balance when it comes to their consumption of paranormal content.
"It's important to balance. … This is one of these difficult issues, like alcohol in the Church and others," Johnston told The Christian Post earlier this month. "It really comes down to one's spiritual maturity, it comes down to the priesthood of the believer."
The theologian warned, however, "Anything that takes away from your love for God, anything that detracts you from all the joys that we have in Jesus Christ — [you] should be very careful [about]."
All paranormal entertainment isn't as harmless as it may seem. In fact, some entertainment can have treacherous results, according to the Bible scholar. To Christians who are curious about the hereafter and dabble on the dark side using games to contact spirits, Johnston issued a stern warning.
"The paranormal is a slippery slope, and it always starts with a Ouija board or reading a horoscope — something that just seems harmless," he told CP. "Once you open that door to the demonic it is very difficult to close."
The author's book pointed to a 2006 study which found that 73 percent of teens have participated in contacting the dead and engaged in "other related witchcraft activities beyond the more pedestrian exposure from entertainment channels or horoscopes." Sadly, only 28 percent of the youth said they had learned anything at church to help educate them on the supernatural.
Along the same lines, Johnston warned Christians about the pitfalls of consulting "psychic ministers" who claim to be able to speak to the dead.
"Astonishingly, some psychics, mediums, and necromancers claim to be Christians in order to lure new clients," Johnston wrote in the book, adding that over 300 psychics in America also claim to be ordained ministers. "They advertise the fact that you are not consulting any ordinary medium but an ordained medium!"
Johnston takes umbrage with mediums who claim to be ordained. "These people are charlatans. They give false names. They rip people off. I get really passionate about this because I have buried children of parents, and I have seen how, in a grieving state, that parent will do anything to contact that child after death — anything," he told CP.
"They have a target on their backs and these liars, these charlatans, claiming to be Christians, target them with some kind of would-be clairvoyance. … The Church has an opportunity to really minister to those who are grieving, [to] be there for them. Be there and be present [so that] they don't feel like they need to go to a psychic to find some kind of closure."
About 42 million Americans have consulted a psychic, medium or fortune-teller, the author wrote in his book — many with negative experiences. He wrote, "Stories are legion that confirm the paranormal world preys on the weakness of a grieving human disposition."
That's consistent with the fact that, per Johnston's book, the American Federation of Certified Psychics and Mediums says that 97 percent of psychics and mediums won't refund a customer for "underwhelming" results. Johnston wrote, "Perhaps that is why a significant number of mediums only use a first name or an alias."
Shady business practices, however, haven't hindered the almost 20 psychics in the U.S. who claim to have reached millionaire status.
Johnston explained in his book that the Bible clearly warns against false prophets in 1 John 4:1, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world," (NIV).
But carrying out that mandate may be a challenge for many Christians. "The majority of Christians lack discernment," wrote Johnston. "They do not take this command seriously. Christianity has the most educated general membership in its history, but also the most undiscerning."
According to Johnston, discernment and the principle of the priesthood of all believers are key to establishing balance and boundaries when dealing with the many iterations of the paranormal.