This article was written for the benefit of organizers of events sponsored by Christian groups that utilize entertainment featuring a MAGICIAN. The article provides 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 performance by an ILLUSIONIST. 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 utilizes sleight-of-hand, misdirection, psychology, 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 described in this definition is forbidden activity for the follower of Jesus 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 realize 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 political 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: The RSV version of the Bible uses SOOTHSAYER and 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: The RSV uses SORCERER. Both refer to one who whispers spells or practices cheating and defrauding the public.
A CONSULTER WITH FAMILIAR SPIRITS: The RSV uses MEDIUM. This is a person who pretends 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 all based on lies and deceptions. It should also be obvious that the practices described above have very little in common with entertainers using the title MAGICIAN today.
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, from 1974 to 2008 I worked in the entertainment industry serving thousands of Christian organizations 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 and that I would never seriously claim to have such. In fact I would point out Scriptures like Psalm 72:18 and Psalm 136:3-4, which 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 the 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.
That which is Beyond Comprehension is Not Always Supernatural
Many individuals are superstitious and misunderstand the use of natural MAGIC, or the ART OF ILLUSION and SLEIGHT- OF-HAND. When faced with a mind-boggling 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, occasionally someone would say to me, “That just is not possible. You must be possessed!” Well, if I was possessed, and if Satan and his demons really had the ability to produce the genuine miraculous, 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 every day just to set up and tear down the show each night? When faced with the unexplainable, always remember, that from a Biblical perspective even the “possessed” cannot perform the genuine miraculous. The ability to produce genuine miracles is 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 really understand how those images get into that screen in front of me. However, I do not attribute a supernatural explanation to the images appearing on the screen.
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! I don’t! “I love magicians because they are the most honest of men”’ said author Elbert Hubbard. “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 who utilize MAGIC, such as Rod Robison, Adrian Van Vactor, 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, throughout the many years of serving churches and para-church ministries around the world by presenting the Gospel via a simple illusion in their communities – 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.
My challenge and encouragement to others is to 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.
©1995-2017 Toby A. Travis
About the Author: Toby Travis holds an undergraduate degree in theology, a master’s degree in Religious Education, and a doctorate in education. His doctoral dissertation is entitled, “The Trusted School Leader: Gaining Better Results, Deeper Stakeholder Relationships, and Greater Stability.”
For many years Dr. Travis 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 the entertainment industry. 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 serves as the Headmaster of Desert Christian Schools in Tucson, AZ. He is also an Associate Consultant with PAIDEIA, Inc. – a comprehensive consulting firm serving private schools and universities around the world for over 50 years.