Playing with Fire: A Modern Investigation into Demons, Exorcism, and Ghosts; A Book Review

I heard about this book on a podcast. With my curiosity about the supernatural aspects of Christianity, I had to get it. It even talks about ghosts, something I’ve wondered about. Written by former investigative reporter Billy Hallowell, the book is…

“What is our fascination with the other side?

Join investigative reporter Billy Hallowell as he delves into the strange phenomena of supernatural activity. Themes of demonic possession have overtaken Hollywood, with countless films and TV shows delving into the age-old struggle against evil. Why?

Yet, with so much focus on the topic, there seems to be very little public knowledge and discussion about the real-life nature and reality of demons.

In many foreign countries, however, supernatural activity is often recorded and discussed.

Government officials watch a nine-year-old boy walk up a wall

A sheriff hears a demonic voice over his radio

Doctors witness a child exhibit extra-human strength

It’s no surprise international media took note. Quite often, though, many people remain silent about their experiences or resort to quietly whispering about what they’ve seen, heard, or felt for fear of being labeled insane or crazy.

The truth is, even pastors, priests, and clergy who have observed firsthand accounts of possession and deliverance can succumb to the strange and terrifying effects of intense spiritual warfare.

For people of faith, Playing with Fire will address these core questions:

Are demons active today?

If they do, indeed, exist, what are they? Are they fallen angels? Nephilim?

Can demons inhabit human beings?

If they exist, what can be done to stop them?

Playing with Fire will explore the theological underpinnings surrounding demonic forces. Relying on firsthand accounts, newspaper reports, and Christian experts, Billy Hallowell will take readers through the various views and perspectives surrounding supernatural activity.”

I highlighted a lot in this book. It triggered blog posts. So what did I find so fascinating?

One quote, right off the bat, reminded me of the premise behind CharlesTaylor’s A Secular Age:

“Whether our militant atheist friends, or the village atheist, wants to admit it, most people—even in the West, even in the cultured post-enlightenment technological society West—most people find a materialistic,” the only thing that’s real is what my five senses can detect” worldview, completely unsatisfying.” he said.”

He is Dr. Michael Heiser in an interview with Hallowell. 

The book focuses heavily on exorcisms. Like where do demons tend to be? Here’s the answer:

“Regardless of the debate surrounding claims like Cranmer’s purported infestation, some experts like Pastor Chad Norris do report encountering these issues where locations—not just people—are deeply impacted by the demonic realm.” “What happens is, people cooperate with the demonic on the Earth [and] that draws them into specific locations,” Norris said. When asked if cases similar to Cranmer’s, where people have committed a concentration of evil activity, can cause demons to remain in place, Norris answered affirmatively. Others like the Reverend Benjamin McEntire also spoke about the prevalence of infestation, something that he said is “”extraordinarily common”” and more prevalent than full possession.” I’ve spoken to several exorcists who had very long careers . . . who all said that they dealt with the infestation of places, as a pretty much routine matter” he said,” “but then would only see a handful of cases that would meet the standard of possession over the course of their career as an exorcist.”

Interesting, isn’t it? Here are two more quotes:

1: “A site that’s been used for pagan worship is another one,” he said. At the same time, if you’re dealing with a location that, let’s say is commonly used for drug deals, I would fully expect there to be something lingering around in that place.” He added that it’s a good idea to “pray through” locations such as hotel rooms, as the activities that unfold there could open doors for spiritual issues to linger.”

2: “Many pastors and theologians agree that one of the common mistakes people make when they suspect spiritual issues in their homes is to turn to ghost hunters, psychics, and other perceived spiritual experts. McEntire openly warned against this approach. “Many of the people who get involved in that actually do have a background in the occult, and it can actually strengthen the spirit’s hold in the place, he said.”

Don’t call any of the TV shows.

Here’s another quote:

“As we explore these biblical accounts and the ramifications of playing with spiritual fire, Dr. Michael Heiser makes an essential and thought-provoking point worth keeping in mind: the Bible doesn’t necessarily give specific reasons why people become possessed. “We don’t have enough information in the New Testament to know why a person . . . was possessed,” he said. “We’re not really told their story. We’re just sort of confronted with, well, here’s where we wound up.” With that in mind, let’s explore how Jesus repeatedly confronted evil and delivered afflicted people of the demons that were actively impacting and destroying their lives.”

This is getting long, so I have to choose my quotes carefully. Another one that’s worth sharing:

“Spiritually speaking, most theologians and pastors agree that there are many ways in which playing with fire can usher in spiritual darkness. While most agree that full-on demonic possession is a rare phenomenon, it seems the deeper, more prevalent issue is oppression, which can arrive and manifest in a plethora of ways. There are those who are oppressed by darkness, and then there are those who have to fight off darkness because darkness is emerging to distract,” Rodriguez explained. “Darkness may not penetrate, it may not invade, but will attempt to distract.”

Now for my ghost questions. Like what are they? Is the underworld a different vibrational plane we can’t see but share with them? Here are two answers from the book:

“Author Ron Rhodes tackled this in his book, The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums, and Psychic Phenomena, when he said some mistakenly believe they have encountered ghosts when, in reality, they have communed with something far more sinister. People sometimes genuinely encounter a spirit entity—though not a dead human, Rhodes wrote. “Some people encounter demonic spirits who may mimic dead people in order to deceive the living (see 1 John 4:1; 1 Timothy 4:1–3). Many who claim to have encountered such spirit entities have some prior involvement in the occult.” If we back up a bit, it’s clear that one’s beliefs about what happens after death will have a direct and implicit impact on what he or she thinks about the potential existence of ghosts.”

“Regardless of speculation and debate over the idea or reality of real-life ghosts and hauntings, Wood made a related argument about the demonic realm that he and other experts believe is essential to this discussion. It’s a key tactic of demons to pretend to be someone that has died in order to gain more permission,” he said. “If it is . . . an entity that’s claiming to be a person that’s haunting, you need to treat it as the worst-case scenario. You need to treat it as a demon.” The key takeaway from this discussion is that the Bible definitively tells us there is a spiritual war unfolding and that Satan and his minions exist; the Bible does not, however, speak to the notion that people die and remain behind to haunt. Even in the case of Samuel, he needed to be summoned, and considering the events surrounding Saul and his decision to turn from God, the argument that the Lord simply allowed this contact—an incredibly narrow and rare act—is logically appealing.”

A warning on how culture influences us and the power influencing culture as we start to wrap up.

“Right now, nearly every arena of culture has been touched by spiritual disarray—and that includes the church. Christianity’s once-dominant place in society previously cultivated a scenario in which certain biblical values and perspectives were widely embraced or at least respected, even among atheists, agnostics, or the spiritually apathetic. But with the rapid secularization of culture has come an erosion of those values, as evidenced by the shocking statistics presented earlier in this chapter. Unfortunately, these negative changes are not simply limited to the general culture, as many Christians, too, have become deeply confused when it comes to the gospel, with strange and unbiblical beliefs seeping into the Christian conscience. On a theological level, this confusion is deeply troubling, with many believers shockingly taking their cues from the world around them rather than from Scripture—a world that the Bible tells us has become “blinded.”

“Here’s one startling statistic that should leave us nothing short of gasping for air: according to the Barna Group: “Only 17 percent of Christians who consider their faith important and attend church regularly actually have a biblical worldview” Yes, you read that correctly. Fewer than one in five devout Christians see the world through a clear spiritual lens—one that aligns with the Bible they claim to hold dear.”

The last quote, I promise:

“In addition to potentially causing us to miss some essential parts of the biblical narrative, ignoring the role and power of evil in our world also has other pitfalls, especially when it comes to processing God’s love. Having proper “category” for evil and good is essential to crafting human understanding, as Driscoll noted. “As a church, we need to be willing to have those categories of evil and holiness, because oftentimes God can get blamed for evil that happens if we don’t have those categories,” she said. So, the danger in that is, “Oh, God did this to me or God did that to me,” Driscoll continued, “No, we live in a fallen world with a very real enemy that loves to tempt and steal and kill and destroy, and so to have those categories is very helpful because then we also can have tools, the armor of God in Ephesians 6, to fight against the enemy’s tactics. But if we don’t have those categories, it kind of gets lumped into God, and it’s not him.”

It’s a good book. I only scratched the surface. It’s heavily footnoted, including a story about a woman who was demon-possessed that a local news station in my state covered. 

5 stars. Get it, and have your paradigm shifted.

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