by Dr Toby Travis, Th.B., M.R.E.
This article was written for the benefit of organisers of events sponsored by Christian groups that utilise entertainment featuring a MAGICIAN. Here you will find a biblical and theological foundation to address objections or concerns that individuals occasionally may have with churches, Christian schools, and ministry groups sponsoring a MAGIC SHOW or ILLUSIONIST performance. The purpose of the article is to assist individuals in understanding the distinction between occult practices (which are clearly prohibited for the Christian) and the entertainment form that utilises sleight-of-hand, misdirection, and other natural skills and mechanical methods to present the illusion of the impossible (i.e. magic).
The word MAGIC itself perhaps creates the largest source of confusion on this subject. There are at least two meanings provided for the word MAGIC in any contemporary dictionary. First we find: “The art of producing effects by what are claimed to be SUPERHUMAN means via occult powers.” Even a brief study of the Biblical Scriptures will clearly show what is given in this definition is forbidden activity for the follower of Christ.
A second definition is: “The art of applying NATURAL causes, whose operation is secret, to produce a surprising effect.” This defines what entertainers, called MAGICIANS or ILLUSIONISTS perform today.
Godly Magicians in the Bible
It is important for Christians to realise at the outset of this discussion that the Bible does not categorically condemn MAGICIANS. For example, In the Old Testament we read that Daniel was a great prophet of God, yet his position and official title was that of CHIEF MAGICIAN in Nebuchadnezzar’s court (Daniel 5).
In the New Testament the Greek word MAGOI (from which the word MAGIC is derived) is literally translated WISE MAN or MAGI and is used to describe the men of the east who followed the star in order to worship and present gifts to Jesus shortly after His birth.
Consider the following words that are found in Deuteronomy 18:9-14, along with their definitions:
- DIVINATION: a diviner is a person who claims to obtain secret knowledge through occult powers.
- AN OBSERVER OF THE TIMES: Sometimes translated as
- SOOTHSAYER or AUGUR. These terms all relate to someone who claims to be able to predict the future by observing the flight action of birds.
- ENCHANTER or CHARMER: This is someone who claims to be able to cast charms or spells through sexual influence and power.
- WITCH: Sometimes translated as SORCERER. Both refer to someone who whispers spells or practices cheating and defrauding the public.
- A CONSULTER WITH FAMILIAR SPIRITS: Sometimes translated as MEDIUM. This is a person who claims to communicate with the spirits of the deceased.
- A WIZARD: The literal Hebrew definition is “one who pretends to have great knowledge.”
It is important to note that in Jeremiah 27:10 the individuals mentioned above are described as “liars” and in Isaiah 57 they are told that their practices will not succeed. In fact throughout Scripture we discover that witches, sorcerers, wizards, etc. do not possess any genuine miraculous powers. Their work and limited power is founded upon lies and deceptions. It should also be obvious that the practices described above are in no way connected with those who perform as entertainers using the general title MAGICIAN.
My Years Performing as a CHRISTIAN
My Years Performing as a CHRISTIAN MAGICIAN
Let there be no doubt that many people today are involved in the occult, but they typically have no connection with those in the entertainment industry who use the term MAGICIAN or ILLUSIONIST. In fact, for several decades I worked in the entertainment industry, and in Christian ministry, serving thousands of Christian organisations around the world, performing and sharing the Gospel as a CHRISTIAN MAGICIAN. In my performances of illusions or magic I would also make it very clear that I did not possess genuine miraculous powers. In fact, often the very focus of those presentations was to highlight Scriptures such as Psalm 72:18 and Psalm 136:3-4 that make it clear that God alone can perform the miraculous.
The MIRACULOUS is an Attribute of God – not Satan
Even Satan is unable to perform the genuine miraculous. In passages such as II Thess. 2:9 we note that his powers are described as LYING WONDERS or IMITATION MIRACLES. In Exodus 7:10-12 Pharaoh’s magicians attempt to duplicate the genuine miraculous performed by God through Moses and
Aaron. According to verse 11 in that passage, their illusionary wonders were accomplished by their SECRET ARTS. The original Hebrew being translated as SECRET ARTS is LAHAT – which is literally translated “to perform covertly” and does not give any indication of genuine miraculous ability, but rather
that of a trick or deception.
Superstition Leads to False Conclusions about the Supernatural
Many people in the world today are very superstitious and misunderstand the use of natural MAGIC, or the ART OF ILLUSION and SLEIGHT-OF-HAND. When faced with a mindboggling experience or effect some individuals take the stand
that if they cannot explain the phenomena, it must be supernatural. As part of my stage show I would regularly create the illusions of people appearing, disappearing, floating in the air and instantly transporting from one place to
another. But again, these were all illusions; accomplished through countless hours of rehearsal, and utilizing the tools and technology of stage lighting, mechanical props, and other theatrical methodologies. Following these
performances, many people would say to me, “That just is not possible. You must be possessed!” Well, if I was possessed, then why was I hauling around a commercial truck with 5 tons of theatrical equipment, and employing a stage crew and cast members who worked long hours just to set up and tear down
the show each night? And also remember, that from a Biblical perspective even the “possessed” cannot perform the genuine miraculous. Genuine miracles are an exclusive attribute of God.
Now, I am not denying that supernatural events take place in the world today, but the supernatural should not be used to explain everything beyond a person’s understanding. I’ve been watching television for years – and I still don’t understand how those images get into that screen in front of me!
How About the Association with Evil
A frequent argument raised concerning the use of magical entertainment performances associated with Christian events goes something like this: “Because magic has been associated with evil in the past, and Christians should avoid every appearance of evil, it should not be used as an evangelistic or educational tool by Christians.” This argument would be worth consideration if it could be applied to every other medium of communication and entertainment.
Certainly music, drama, and dance have been associated with evil, even aggressively used by evil influences – but in no way does this mean these methods of communication and entertainment are forbidden for the Christian. Simply because an art form has been used for evil purposes does not
automatically invalidate that medium. For example, false teachers and preachers have often used the art and skill of public speaking, but we would not suggest that Christians should be forbidden from participating in using those same skills and talents (i.e. preaching and teaching) simply because
those abilities have been utilized for evil ends in the past.
One evening following a very successful community outreach event hosted by a large Christian ministry in the USA, a friend of mine asked me, “How can you justify using deception as part of a Christian ministry?” My answer? “I can’t! And I don’t!” Consider this famous quote by author Elbert Hubbard, “I love
magicians because they are the most honest of men. They tell you they are going to fool you and then proceed to do it.” (…it’s kind of like the opposite of being a politician!)
Without a doubt secrecy is a part of the magician’s trade. Secrecy, however, does not equate to an evil deception. Just because I do not divulge how the stage illusions are accomplished does not mean that I am being deceitful. Secrecy is an integral part of the work of an illusionist, just as a certain recipe is for Kentucky Fried Chicken! Secrecy is simply a matter of good business.
Millions Reached Around the World Each Year through Christian Magicians
In the work and ministry that I participated in for several decades before retiring from performing, (along with the ministries of such performers as Andre Kole, and the work of contemporary Christian performing artists such as Adrian VanVactor, Harris III, Brad Brown, Brett Myers, Don Bursell, Bruce Chadwick, Darrel Barrie, David Hamner, Steve Taylor, Tim Hannig, Duane Laflin and many more) – I did as a follower of Jesus Christ for the express purpose of reaching the unreached through a creative means in order to introduce the genuine amazing power of the Gospel and love of Jesus Christ.
To conclude this brief article on the topic of CHRISTIANS AND MAGIC, let me just share that throughout the years of serving churches and para-church ministries around the world by presenting the Gospel via a simple illusion – it provided me the opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ with literally millions of people who would most-likely never have stepped inside of a church or attended a Christian concert or a ministry-sponsored event. As a result I witnessed thousands place their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives.
Dear reader, my challenge and encouragement to you is to first consider what unique talents, abilities and skills God has given you, and then find ways to utilize those gifts in whatever venue you may to also share His love with a lost and dying world. Secondly then, please go and purchase your ticket for that upcoming magic show, and be sure to buy a ticket or two for some friends – and then use the opportunity to not only enjoy some wonderful entertainment together, but to also think and talk about why it is that magic shows and stage illusions are so popular? Could it be because we all have a longing within us to experience the supernatural and the genuine miraculous? Could it be we enjoy this type of entertainment because we are longing to have a relationship with Someone who really can perform miracles?
About the Author
Toby Travis holds an undergraduate degree in theology, a master’s degree in Religious Education, and is currently completing his doctoral studies in Christian School Administration. For many years Toby performed as a professional actor, singer, magician and illusionist (as well as being an author, speaker, and variety-show producer); winning international acclaim and high honors before his retirement from performing. Throughout his performing years Toby also possessed a passion for leadership development and education – often combining his work as a performer with his work in training and consulting leaders, as well as producing educational seminars. Today Toby and his family live in Quito, Ecuador, where he serves as a missionary in the role of Academic Director for the Alliance Academy International. Toby also continues to provide leadership training and consulting for non-profit corporations, schools, and universities.