Christian 'Magic': Theatrical Entertainment or Demonic Manifestation?
I first encountered Dan Delzell's July 8 article, "The Illusion That Seduces and Bewitches Magicians," when a friend shared it on Facebook. I was embarrassed and saddened by what I read. It got worse as I saw the article spread virally through my industry friends.
You see, I'm a professional magician and corporate speaker, a member of a number of magical industry groups and societies, and a current and past leader in some of them. More importantly, though, I'm also a Christian – baptized as a child after a profession of faith, raised in the Southern Baptist church, and ordained as a deacon nearly twenty years ago. Of course, I speak for no magic organization, nor any magazine, nor my church, nor my pastor, nor anyone else here. This is my personal commentary.
While I think Mr. Delzell was motivated by a genuine desire to help people whom he feels are in spiritual danger, I also think he over-reached and under-researched. I give him the benefit of the doubt that his article was motivated by a Peter-like zeal for Jesus. In the process of exhibiting that zeal, though, he seems to have unnecessarily cut off more than a few ears.
I'd like to offer some insights on this subject from my admittedly unique profession, with the hope that the additional information leads to a bit of wisdom and maybe some restored relationships.
Magic Is a Theatrical Illusion
Let's start with the word "magic." It's inconvenient that our English terms "magic" and "magician" can be used in multiple ways. Yes, some of the more archaic uses relate to the occult and sorcery. The primary use of the term now, though, relates to a form of entertainment that is a theatrical combination of dexterity, acting, and hidden – but completely natural – methods. Magic is a form of theatre and storytelling that uses natural means to create seemingly impossible special effects.
I've committed to preserving secrets and mystery in my art. It's part of the code of ethics in most magic organizations. Even while honoring that code, though, I can safely assure you that the illusions you see performed in the various "magical arts" – including feats by magicians, mentalists, illusionists, etc. – involve absolutely no connection to demons or the occult.
What those feats do require is a lot of practice, some fine motor skills, the cognitive ability to translate written instructions into physical choreography, and a sense of showmanship. The instructions in magic books, far from being arcane incantations of spells and conjured spirits, are mostly a mind-numbingly dull collection of instructions on how to secretly hold and move things with your hands. You'll also find a smattering of science and math principles, some interesting applications of technology, and some of the same self-absorbed navel-gazing you find in lots of other arts, crafts, and hobby publications.
Magic Can Communicate the Gospel
Like other arts, magic can be and has been used to share the performer's point of view about what's important to him or her.
It's unsurprising, then, to find out that magic has been used by committed Christians as a form of expression and outreach. They use theatrical magic to share their changed lives and their witness for Christ. Andre Kole, an inventor and illusionist long associated with the Campus Crusade for Christ, has traveled around the world many times using his illusions in churches and colleges, presenting the Gospel directly and unapologetically for decades. There are innumerable others who have brought thousands to Christ using magic as their communicative art. If Andre Kole might be considered the Billy Graham of magic, the late Felix Snipes might be the George Beverly Shea of the art. Modern performers like Toby Travis, Duane Laflin, Brock Gill, Greg Davidson and Scott Humston have all taken the art forward, ministering to untold multitudes with live illusions that direct attention to an everlasting Truth.
Having met most of these people, and having myself used my own performances for Christian ministry and outreach at churches and on mission trips in the U.S. and internationally, I was obviously embarrassed and saddened to see a fellow Christian lash out on the basis of a mistaken reaction, lambasting all magicians – Christian or not – as demon-dabblers.
Our Witness Is Damaged When Christians Are Careless
The initial event described in Mr. Delzell's article was his experience of an illusion, apparently via a video recording. He watched a video of Dynamo apparently levitating during a stunt in London, didn't know how it was done, and assumed that it was a "legit" demonstration of supernatural power. He went on to assert that such levitations are commonplace, along with casting of spells to conjure the power to perform such feats. None of those claims were documented.
Instead of researching something that he didn't understand, Mr. Delzell chose to assume not only that the illusion was supernatural, but that the performer was in league with the devil. Rather than talk to any illusionist, or specifically a Christian performer, he went directly to accusations of witchcraft and contact with evil spirits, and the presumption that the art of magic is a gateway to demonic involvement. (Interestingly, a discussion of natural methods for the specific illusion in question had been posted on The Christian Post nearly two weeks prior to his column.)
In a world where Christians and the church are – often rightfully – criticized for lack of intellectual rigor, this kind of unnecessary incident does nothing to elevate Christ. We don't need the riches or accolades of the world and we aren't supposed to be looking for them, but there's no need to give those already hostile to Christ's witness another legitimate example to point to when they try to anti-evangelize people away from Christ's message.
Given an entertainment experience we don't understand, I hardly think Jesus would want our first reaction to be an accusation of sorcery. As Christians, we can certainly agree that we have enough work to do against the real destructive forces in the world; let's not be distracted by fearfully imagining new enemies where none exist.
In the end, we can have different opinions on how different art forms can or should be used in praise, worship, outreach, or ministry. Some groups think instrumental music is great, some don't. Some think dance is great, some don't. Some like different genres of music, hymns, or praise songs. If you are reaching your mission field with your approach to the use of performing arts, I think that's great. But I think it's damaging to our witness, to the church, and to our ability to engage a lost world when we let an unexamined assumption become a false witness against our neighbors, Christians and non-Christians alike.
We must be careful with our knives. Some of the ears we cut off in our zeal might actually have been willing to listen to us.