Thursday, August 14, 2008
Isaiah 8:19 reads, "When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?" (NIV). Despite the clear warnings of Scripture when it comes to the paranormal, mainstream culture remains fascinated by the world of the occult.
In The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums, and Psychic Phenomena (Harvest House), apologist Ron Rhodes, president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, seeks to set the record straight on this mysterious topic of perennial interest. The author of numerous books including The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions (Zondervan, 2001), Rhodes is not only a capable researcher, but a straightforward communicator.
Despite being a relatively short book (154 pages), its approach to the paranormal is thorough and cogent. The book begins with a series of anecdotes based on composites of actual research reports involving the paranormal (pp. 9–17). The stories cover everything from alleged hauntings (9–10) to eerie occurrences such as an incident involving a supposed ghost leaving an impression on a bed (12–13). Rhodes notes one psychic who claims that her "psychic ability is a gift of the Holy Spirit" and that she uses it "to the glory of God" (11). Later Rhodes documents psychic Sylvia Browne's claim that the Holy Spirit works through her (36).
After affirming that "in some sectors of our society, the paranormal has become the new normal" (17), Rhodes documents the extent of paranormal interest in culture, with an emphasis on television and motion pictures. He discusses several television programs including Crossing Over, Ghost Whisperer, Medium, Ghost Hunter, Dead Tenants, Dead Famous, America's Most Haunted Places, and Psychic Detectives.
Rhodes also highlights the rising youth interest in the paranormal. Citing a 2006 study by Christian pollster George Barna, Rhodes notes that "73 percent of America's youth have participated in psychic activities and/or witchcraft. Four out of five have had their horoscopes read by an astrologer" (20). Some of the popular psychics Rhodes addresses include Sylvia Browne, John Edward, Char Margolis, and James Van Praagh.
Rhodes provides an excellent overview and introduction to the paranormal. Chapter 3, "A Primer on Psychic Phenomena," is particularly useful in helping readers get their bearings in relation to the terms and tools of the occult. Chapter 8, "Doctrines of Demons," is perhaps the most useful chapter in the book when it comes to theological and apologetic assessment.
In short, Rhodes manages to cover several important topics, terms, and personalities in an easygoing style. Readers will benefit from his clear reasoning, which is rooted in biblical principles.
A version of this review appeared in Christian Research Journal.