“Magic is evil. You should stop doing magic. It is deceiving.”
“Don’t you know the Bible forbids doing magic?”
“Even if the Bible does not forbid magic, illusions are deception and no Christian should be involved in deception!”
I recently made a Facebook post asking gospel magicians and Christian illusionists to share topics they would like me to write about. I must admit, I was surprised by the response. More than anything else; I was asked to deal with what to say, and how to respond, to those those who think magic is evil. Christian performers are yet being confronted with the kind of statements made at the start of this article!
Frankly, I thought this problem was going away. When I first began doing magic in churches (more than 40 years ago) I faced a lot of criticism. It seemed I was constantly having to explain, and often needing to defend, what I was doing.
One of the reasons I came up with the term “Christian Illusionist” was to placate those who were saying “Magic is evil.” It seemed, if I used to the term “illusion” rather than “magic,” and “illusionist” rather than “magician,” people were less likely to get upset. I do recall how more doors opened for me to minister in churches when I quit advertising myself as a gospel magician and instead promoted myself as a Christian Illusionist.
Since then, I have experienced less and less criticism. Nowadays I rarely find anyone who has a problem with my use of magic tricks to illustrate spiritual truth. In fact, many seem quite excited about it.
However, it may be that part of the reason for less criticism is the fact that I have learned to avoid certain groups and certain people. There are particular kinds of churches, and people who attend such churches, whom I know will condemn my work even before seeing it. These people cannot be reasoned with. Their minds are made up. There is nothing to say that will change them. They mean well. They believe they are being true to the faith. With these people, rather than creating a negative and divisive situation, I let them be. I don’t try to convince them of the validity of my ministry. There are plenty of other places where I can share. It is not that I do not care about these people. It is that I believe God does not want conflict between believers. If I can avoid it, I should.
Note: It is important to remember there is no such thing as non-controversial ministry. Whatever we do, it is likely someone will think we are not doing it properly, or should not be doing it at all.
(The preacher is too loud or too soft. The lessons are too deep or too shallow. The music is too contemporary or not contemporary enough, the church building is too fancy or not fancy enough, etc.)
Trying to make everyone happy can keep one from ever getting anything done. In spite of criticism, we must move forward in ministry to do what we believe God wants us personally to be doing.
I believe another reason why criticism is less is the fact that I make a disclaimer in my shows. I learned to do this years ago when it was especially necessary. Even though it may not be as necessary now, I still do it. I think it puts minds and ease. It comforts those who, although not directly opposed to having a magician in church, are unsure about it.
It is important to remember there may be gracious and kind people in a church situation who will not openly say, “Magic tricks should not be done in church,” but they are concerned about it. They are thinking…This may not be a good thing. I think maybe the Bible forbids it. If we can help them be at peace about the situation, we should do it.
By “disclaimer” I mean I explain that what I am doing is just tricks. I identify my work as “surprising the eyes and challenging the mind.” I directly say, “I have no secret powers and am not involved in anything spooky. God and God alone does real miracles. What you see me do may look impossible, but there is always a natural explanation.”
In recent years I have stumbled on an aspect of presentation which seems to be especially appreciated. I briefly discuss the fact that GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF MANY ILLUSIONS. I ask people, “Have you ever thought about this? Illusions are not necessarily bad things, for God has made many of them.”
A good example is the Chameleon. It is a lizard-like animal which blends into its surroundings so it looks like it is not there…when it is there. It is a living illusion. Who made the chameleon? God did! God gave this creature the ability to fool its enemies with a color trick.”
I continue by mentioning the Praying Mantis. It is a bug that looks like a stick. It is one thing that looks like another…and God made it! I talk about the Flatfish which looks like sand and pebbles on the sea bottom. It blends in so well it hardly can be seen. Who gave it the ability to do this? God did. God created the living illusion which is the Flatfish.
Although I try to keep the explanation short, I typically go on to remind people of the phenomenon known as a mirage. On a hot summer day we might see what appears to be water over a stretch of highway far ahead. As we continue down the highway, we discover the water is not there. Why does this happen? It is a natural occurring illusion in God’s creation. It is caused by the refraction of light. It is not anything evil. It is a matter of physics.
The truth is, God has put many things in this world that confound our eyes. He has created many things which we find hard to explain. These are not bad things. To the contrary, they remind us of the greatness of our God. He is an amazing God who does amazing things. His creation reminds us that we know so little, whereas He knows all! (It is possible to create a long list of optical illusions and deceptive appearances found in nature.)
What do I do as a Christian Illusionist? I take the same principles a Chameleon or Praying Mantis uses, the same matters of physics that make water appear to be over a road when it is not there, and the same optical deceptions that make railroad tracks seem to come together far in the distance when they actually do not, and use such things to create fun and educational experiences.
As a Christian Illusionist I am using surprising and puzzling principles from God’s own creation to creatively minister. My simple “wonders” come from principles and realities in this world that naturally cause us to wonder.
Although I do not deal with it in my shows, (there is a need to be discreet about how much we try to justify our work in an entertainment setting) when addressed with the matter of “deception” and told by someone that “no Christian should be involved in deception” my response is to say, “No, not all deception is evil.
When people understand that acting and tricks are part of an experience, they can enjoy and appreciate deception. There are ways in which deception is valued in our society.
- Is it okay to play a sport like football or basketball that has fakes and trick plays?
- Is it okay to play games like Checkers and Chess where an attempt is made to mislead an opponent about one’s intentions?
- Is it okay to enjoy a mystery novel where the writer includes “red herrings” to confuse readers about who the villain really is?
- Is it okay to have a Christmas pageant where children who are not really Mary and Joseph “pretend” to be Mary and Joseph?
- Is it okay for a military leader to use a strategy to confuse and disorient an enemy?
- Is it okay for a Christian to smuggle Bibles into a hostile country by way of hiding the books in a secret compartment of a suitcase?
Not all pretense is bad. Acting is not necessarily bad. Tricks and strategies are not automatically evil. Fakes and optical illusions can have a good purpose. (Forced perspective in buildings, an artificial rock with a compartment in it for hiding a house key, a facade to make an otherwise ugly site more appealing, etc.)
Of course it is wrong to directly tell a lie, but it is not wrong to say, “This is a show. This is a place where we use pretense, acting and tricks to have fun and learn some things!” In other words, we are honestly telling people “These things are illusions.” When they know they are illusions, it is like watching an act or participating in a game. No one is really being deceived.
Note: This is not about arguing or having fodder for debate. It is about helping people understand matters that concern them and about putting at ease those who have doubts.
What do I do when confronted by a person who, rather than having a problem with the concept of “illusion,” says “Magic is of the devil?” I have two responses…
I. The first is refuse to argue.
Years of experience have taught me that arguments are not productive. Neither party will be convinced of the other party’s point of view. Vocal conflict is a waste of time. When people approach me to confront me about doing magic, I am as polite as I can be, but also firm in my position that I do not believe Scripture condemns what I do. I will continue to go about my business, they can go about theirs.
If Scripture really did condemn the magic I do, I wouldn’t do it. I accept the Bible as God’s word and therefore as the finally authority for my life. I simply do not believe the Bible condemns the use of talents, skill and knowledge to create special effects. That is all my “magic” is.
II. I give them answers if it appears they really want to listen and learn.
I am familiar with interpretations of Biblical texts which seem to refer to magic and can explain these texts to those who really want to know what they mean. The Bible condemns what we would define as “sorcery,” but that is far different than the performance of illusions for entertainment and inspirational purposes.
Beyond that, there are resources available which thoroughly explain the issues. (Go the website for the International Fellowship Of Christian Magicians and check out the writing of Bob Hill on “Should A Christian Do Magic?) If people really want to understand the issues, it is possible to help them understand. The crucial thing is to know the difference between those who want to understand and those who’s minds are already made up and they are therefore determined only to argue.
Bottom line in all of this…
I love my work as a Christian Illusionist. I have no doubts whatsoever about it being an effective and honorable way to share spiritual truth. I am excited about using unique principles from God’s creation to glorify him. About the critics? I politely step around them and keep moving forward in what God has called me to do.