Q: What’s the difference between magic and illusion? Why do you use the term magic?
A: In general, all magic tricks are illusions. In the magic community, the word illusion often refers to larger tricks involving people or assistants.
Other Christian performers may use the term illusion exclusively when referring to their tricks because they want to avoid the possible bad connotation that the term “magic” has. I use the words interchangeably because of the common uses of the words in modern language.
In every show or presentation I do, I make it clear that all the illusions I perform are for entertainment and educational purposes. I use no supernatural powers whatsoever to accomplish the tricks. They are performed using natural means via slight of hand, misdirection, or physical principles.
Q: How do you do your magic tricks? What’s the secret?
A: I can’t say. : )
Q: WHY can’t you explain how you do your magic tricks?
A: Telling the secret to how a magic trick is done is like telling someone about their own surprise birthday party. It spoils the fun for them and others.
Magicians are secretive about their methods of performing tricks. This is important because many professional magicians make their living by performing these tricks. If most people knew how the effects were accomplished, illusionists would be out of a job and a wonderfully imaginative and creative art form would be lost.
More importantly, knowing how the tricks are done is only part of the illusion. The presentation of the performer is much more important and can’t even be explained in a moment. There is a whole psychology and method to performing magic that is fascinating…and takes years of practice to master.
Even after performing magic for over 25 years, and knowing most of the principals and secrets used, I still enjoy being fooled. There are some really incredibly skillful magicians out there with clever and inventive minds. I find that amazing.
When we are fooled, it brings a feeling of being a child in awe and wonder about our world. We believe, if even for a moment, that something we know is impossible is suddenly possible.
If you are intent on finding out the secrets of magic tricks you can do so by putting in some effort. Virtually every trick performed these days is available in a book, on a video, or simply by purchasing the effect itself from a magic dealer. The secrets of magic have never been so accessible as they are today. You must, however, have an interest in the subject from the perspective of a magician.
So, it wouldn’t be a good ethical thing for me to explain the secrets to everyone.
Q: Doesn’t magic have evil sources or roots historically?
A: A different kind of “magic” has a history of evil. Magic as conjuring and entertainment such as first performed by Robert Houdin (one of the first modern conjurers) does NOT have a history of evil. In fact, there is a story about him and how he prevented a war from breaking out by performing some illusions.
Magic today, when performed as entertainment by a Christian illusionist, has nothing to do with any of the negative things of “black magic”. “Magic” or illusion is doing things that SEEM impossible but really are not. Our senses are easy to fool…which is exactly why we must be careful to not be deceived by the wrong people. (James 1:16)
Q: Is there any positive use of magic or illusion? Isn’t it ONLY for entertainment?
A: Illusions can be used to illustrate various principals and act as a memory aid. Gospel illusion shows can provide a blessing and encouragement for many people. The illusions are used as a picture and attention grabber so that the good news of Jesus can be preached. It’s an especially good opportunity to bring a friend to the presentation that may not know Christ.
A magician and his wife escaped from communism by performing some magic tricks for the border patrol.
Magic has been used to help cheer up children in hospitals. Teaching magic tricks to children has also helped certain kids establish some self-esteem and learn a fun skill. David Copperfield‘s “Project magic is a program designed to give the gift of magic to people with various physical, psycho-social and developmental disabilities. People of both sexes and every age, regardless of their handicap, can successfully become involved in the program. It is of benefit to people with a variety of diagnosis, such as those with arthritis, spinal chord injury, brain injury, drug and alcohol abuse, chronic pain and learning disabilities.”
Even if the only purpose of magic was to entertain, then it would still be a good purpose. Laughter has many positive effects…and good magic is often used in a comedy sense.
Q: Isn’t it always bad to deceive people?
A: There are good and bad deceptions. It depends on how they are used. For example, you may have lights in your house on a timer to make it appear that you are home when you are not. This is a deception to ward of a potential burglar. Another deception is makeup. It allows people to present themselves to be something they are not. Other deceptions are used in theatrical productions…even those shown in churches for Easter pageants, etc. They may have fake lighting, fire, fog, or even scenery painted to look larger than it is from a certain perspective. These are all good deceptions…it depends on how it is used.
I’ve heard it said that magicians or illusionists today are among the most honest of men because they tell you that they will fool you and then proceed to do it. Many people fool you all the time without telling you that is what they are doing…that is more dishonest.
A magician entertainer is acting the part of someone who can do impossible things. We know that what he/she does is not real…especially of Christian illusionists because the performer tells you what is true.
Q: What about this David Blaine guy I’ve seen on TV? He does some scary stuff. Is he for real?
A: David Blaine is quite an effective illusionist. As a Christian I do not personally like some of his methods of presentation. I assure you he simply performs tricks. All of his magic tricks are available for purchase at magic stores or you may learn how they are done by reading the correct books or watching videos.
It was interesting how on some of his programs he presents himself as a REAL magic man…and then on one of his shows people from Haiti are afraid of him (because they believe he does real black magic). David Blaine runs after them saying that he is just doing tricks and that they shouldn’t be scared.
A lot can be accomplished with the aid of television…simply through the selection of which things to show. You may video tape a trick 50 times and it works really well once or twice. Which one do you show on TV? There aren’t any camera tricks, but selective viewing helps.
I actually perform some of the same tricks that David Blaine does…but with a different method of presentation. Usually, I use comedy along with the effects. It totally changes the effect.
Q: Is it OK for a Christian to do magic?
A: Basically, yes. There’s a more detailed explanation in the article that follows. Since a magician is an actor playing the part of someone who can do amazing things…if you don’t think it’s OK for a Christian to do magic, then to be consistent you should also have a problem with other actors who are playing parts of people they are not. For example, the main actor in the movie “The Passion” is not really Jesus and he can’t perform miracles so in that sense he is decieving you in a similar way.
Should a Christian Do Magic or Conjuring?
Doesn’t the Bible forbid magic, fortune-telling and ventriloquism? Is it right for a Christian to be involved in sleight of hand and illusion–aren’t these instruments dishonest and deceptive?
A Problem of Vocabulary
First, let’s get our terms defined. When the Bible (especially certain translations) uses the term “magic” (e.g. Exodus 22:14) or “sorcery” (Deuteronomy 18:11 et al.) or “ventriloquism” (e.g. Isaiah 8:19), it is clearly dealing with man’s involvement in the supernatural, often with the collaboration of evil spirits. The context of the Bible prohibitions make it clear that God does not want man to dabble in games with the devil. Today’s manifestations of these forbidden activities are such things as ouija boards, tarot cards, the occult and horoscopes. The Christian has no business playing with these, since they open the door to demonic influence.
Let it be emphasized that no true Christian magician or ventriloquist is in any way involved in the use of supernatural powers.
A problem rises from the fact that certain words have two meanings. “Magic” has the meaning of witchcraft or sorcery, but the word also means sleight of hand and illusion, the surprising and fascinating modern entertainment medium. Obviously the Bible is talking about the first of these meanings and not the second.
Etymologically, the word “ventriloquism” means “belly-talking.” As used in the Old Testament, the word refers to fortune telling by means of reading the entrails of slain animals, or demon possession, wherein an evil spirit spoke through a human mouthpiece. Modern ventriloquists create the illusion that their voices come from another source, using this to entertain. Spectators unable to explain this skill misnamed the illusion “belly talking.” Again, the Biblical prohibition has reference to one meaning of this word, but not the animation of puppets as is done in the modern entertainment medium. The first thing we must be sure of when dealing with Biblical prohibitions is that we understand what the Bible is in fact saying, so that we do not misapply the truth because of a confusion in vocabulary.
Confusion with the Supernatural
One could raise the objection that it is wrong for the Christian to do any performance that could so easily be misinterpreted as sinful by someone who doesn’t know. Doesn’t the Bible warn us to “avoid all appearance of evil”? (I Thessalonians 5:22) Couldn’t innocent parlor magic or ventriloquism be easily confused with forbidden activity?
In fact, a better translation of I Thessalonians 5:22 is “avoid every form of evil” or “avoid every kind of evil.” In dealing with right and wrong, one must always be careful of appearances, but it is not the appearance that makes something right or wrong. The emphasis on appearance is the essence of hypocrisy. If the issue were that Christians are to refrain from doing anything that looks like sin or could be misinterpreted by someone who does not know, then we would never be able to do anything with confidence. According to this thinking, Jesus was correctly rebuked for eating with publicans, for forgiving prostitutes and for touching lepers. Certainly these actions confused many people, but the Son of God knew His mission and performed His ministry in spite of possible objections.
The Gospel magician could easily be confused with the secular entertainer, or worse, with the occultist, just as the Christian singer could be identified with the acid-dropping Satanist, or the preacher could be linked with the immoral talk-show host. Or we could insist that it is wrong for the Christian to read any magazine or paperback book, because immoral people publish sinful books and magazines. Do we believe that because of the sin of some broadcasters, there is no value in the ministry of broadcasting? Part of the issue is whether a godly performer should stop ministry he knows to be right, just because someone else might misjudge his motives or his methods.
Some Christians are very superstitious and assume that anything they cannot themselves understand and explain must be supernatural. Hence they see negative effects as being produced by demons, and every positive event must be a miracle of God. There is, however, great room for neutral events which can be used either for good or for evil.
Ministry by means of “Deception”?
Another objection is that it is not right for the Christian to use trickery in presenting the truth. No matter how you slice it, magic involves deceit (illusion). Of course some “Gospel magicians” try to get around this objection by never actually saying their hand is empty when it isn’t, but they say, “my hand looks empty.” This skirts the issue, since the intent is for the audience to believe that the hand was empty (or that the bunny materialized from thin air, or that the red scarf actually turned white, etc.) The deceit was there, regardless of whether the performer told a lie with his words or with his actions.
Here we must deal with the nature of truth. At any given time, a presentation of truth only represents a portion of reality. I carry a photograph of my wife that everyone claims is a very candid likeness, yet it deceives in certain ways. For one thing, my wife is not black and white and gray; for another, she is more than two inches tall and is not flat. But the image abstracted by this photograph captures her expression and personality very honestly. It is an honest–though partial–representation of the truth. The issue is whether the Gospel magician conveys the impression that he is doing supernatural things, or whether he honestly acknowledges its trickery.
After all is said and done, most people acknowledge that magical entertainers do not actually have supernatural powers. If the total presentation is an accurate representation of Biblical truth, the audience will be impressed with the message, and not dazzled by the possibility of humans doing superhuman feats.
A Biblical Basis for Gospel Magic
It is fine to say that doing Gospel magic is not wrong, but is it right? Is there a Biblical justification for using magic to present Scriptural or spiritual truths?
The first part of the argument comes from Jesus’ own use of parables–visual aids. Matthew 13:34 indicates that in Jesus’ teaching, He always used object lessons. Sleight of hand and illusion provide a way of presenting some very powerful spiritual messages in a visual way. When a dirty handkerchief–representing sin–is transformed into an egg, it makes a very striking illustration of the change God makes in a person’s life when he trusts Christ. Magic tricks have power to gain and maintain attention.
The second part of a Biblical basis for Gospel magic is God’s own use of the spectacular as an attention-getting device. He could have dealt with people without using the miraculous, but with Moses He chose to use a bush that burned without being consumed, with Balaam He used a talking donkey; with Joshua He used a destructive trumpet blast to bring down the walls of Jericho, and with Belshazzar He wrote on the wall with a giant hand.
Many of the prophets used spectacular attention-getting devices, such as shaving their head, wearing a rotten garment, making a model of Jerusalem. And what a sight Jonah must have been, bleached from the digestive juices of the great sea monster, as he paraded through Nineveh proclaiming the judgment of God.
But perhaps most spectacular of all are the descriptions of the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. It could have happened without a lot of fanfare, but Christs death was accompanied by darkness and earthquake. The resurrection was accompanied by a blast of light that left the guards stunned and dazed.
I have seen some very impressive and effective use of “magic” to illustrate principles from the Scripture. When sleight of hand and illusion are harnessed for the purpose of explaining Gospel principles, it can be very powerful from a psychological point of view.
Performance Leads to Pride
A serious objection is that when people are amazed and admire the performer, this leads to pride on his part. This is certainly a possibility, and the Christian performer (no matter what art form) must guard against pride. This is true of the Christian singer, actor, magician, ventriloquist–and even preacher! Let us condemn pride in any form and in every presentation, but the possibility of pride should not deter from the exercise of a skill that can point people to God’s truth and lead them to Christ.
To wind up this brief treatment, let me make several practical suggestions about your own attitude towards “Gospel magic”:
1. Enjoy “magic” presentations. Don’t worry about being fooled. You don’t need to understand how every trick is done in order for it to be all right.
2. Pray for the Christian magician. He wants to present Gospel truths in an effective way, without violating what is proper. It is easy to give in to the sins of pride and presumption. He needs your understanding and support. Praise God that He has given this performer opportunities to present a message at places where a preacher would never be able to speak.
3. Seek God’s mind. Be sympathetic and ask God to help you understand what attitude is right to have towards forms of ministry that you do not wholeheartedly understand or endorse. Realize that the same skill may not be best for everyone, but God can bless it and use it for His glory.
4. If you continue to have reservations, work them out. Talk to your local Christian magician. He will be happy to discuss them with you!
Thanks for being open to consider some new ideas. I hope they have helped you to gain a new perspective. Read Acts 10:9-20 and rejoice that God opens the hearts and minds of His children who are ready to receive His messages.
“Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks [and honor and glory] through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17
Article Copyright © 1988 by Robert H. Hill. The above article may be freely copied and distributed provided that it is done so in its entirety and without charge. You can correspond with the author, Robert Hill, at [email protected].