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Six Christian White Magic Spells Worse Than Fantasy Magic

When Christians get distracted by fears of magic in fantasy, what Christian white magic “spells” do we cast in reality?

Recently a Facebook friend shared an example of Christian white magic in the real world.

You'll never guess what magic book it was.

You’ll never guess what magic book it was.

His family owned a “book of magic,” a fantasy novel. That wasn’t the dangerous magic. Instead, someone he knew became alarmed at the book. She effectively cast a spell against his family. She removed herself from their contaminated space and created a magic circle.

This phrasing is only mild hyperbole. But unfortunately, this is what many Christians do. We believe in magic, and even practice types of spells, all in an attempt to avoid bad magic.

Such spell-casting isn’t based only on fear of objects. If so, then if Christian 1 fears Christian 2 has an evil object, Christian 1 could ask Christian 2 about it. No—Christian 1 usually fears not just the object. He fears Christian 2 personally. So he doesn’t ask about the object. He doesn’t reason with the Christian who owns it. He just casts a “spell” and leaves fast.1

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 is usually cited to prove fantasy magic is evil. Instead, God directly warns God’s people to avoid the actual practice of divination and sorcery, in an attempt to protect ourselves from harm—that is, dark spiritual influence—or to divine the future:

“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.”2

Moses, speaking for God, goes on to say, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him [and not to the evil occult practices] you shall listen …”3 The point of this passage is not to point to “good” magic to defeat the evil magic. God points away from all personal occult practices. He is pointing to the coming Final Prophet who speaks for God—Jesus!

But Christians may forget about the Final Prophet and get distracted by pretend “dark magic” such as found in books and stories. So what kinds of actual spells do we often cast?

1. ‘Health and wealth’ prosperity spells

Christian white magicOf the many magic spells Christians try to cast, this one is probably the worst. It’s also the most developed magic system among professing Christians. Here’s a basic overview of it:

  1. God promises his children can get what they want with prayer and belief. (Source: personal anecdotes, spiritual talk, and Bible verses ripped screaming from context.)
  2. What a “king’s kid” should want is health and material wealth, all for God, of course. (Source: uniquely American and western notions of what counts as success.)
  3. So give to prosperity ministries to guarantee results. (Source: prosperity ministries.)

This is unadulterated magic. Its spellbooks have smiling faces on the covers. Its classes  are taught by charismatic TV personalities. Its consequences are dismal—thousands of people may think they are following real Christianity, but are enslaved to their own “faith” magic.

John Piper, in one of a few famous video versions, can say the rest so I don’t need to say it.

2. Magic circles, symbols, and verse spells

Christian white magic

A recent Babylon Bee satirical article spoofed the evangelical “magic circle” approach:

According to Family Christian, the Bubble™ is “a huge step forward in Christian protective technology” and is constructed of a “revolutionary” poly material that, while completely sealing the child from the outer environment, allows the child to breathe unhindered while the intelligent processor embedded in the skin of the Bubble™ works continuously to identify and block any visual or auditory stimuli its advanced algorithms translate as “secular.”4

Such a product like this might be nice, because then you could say it’s based on advanced science. But of course, advanced technology is often indistinguishable from magic. So some evangelicals try the equivalent of magic spells designed to purify people or even geographic spaces. We drift into believing that wholesome reading material, crosses, decorations, or even citations of Scripture can render ourselves, or the places in which we live, “clean.”

God gave Gideon advance assurance of His will via the fleece (Judges 6: 36-40). But did He tell others to seek the same?

God gave Gideon advance assurance of His will via the fleece (Judges 6: 36-40). But did He tell others to seek the same?

3. Personal guidance divination spells

All biblical Christians should believe the Holy Spirit is active in our daily lives. However, good Christians disagree on exactly how the Spirit directs our steps. Some Christians, often without intention, drift into assumptions that the Holy Spirit “whispers” to us or guides our choices in some hidden way, if only we would take the time and practice to listen to him.

In extreme cases, Christians fall into practicing a kind of “magic” in which they expect the Holy Spirit to communicate in feelings and external signs. But if we do this, are we not expecting the exact same kinds of divination “signs” that God disfavors in Deut. 18?

Scripture does not record the apostles receiving this kind of direct guidance for daily life decisions. Even if the Bible did say this, it does not teach or even imply that non-apostle believers can expect the same. The Bible is clear that all true Christians are Spirit-filled. In Romans 8: 9-11, the apostle Paul outlines a binary: either you are “in the flesh” or you are “in the Spirit … who dwells in you.” He leaves no category of Christians who are saved but not Spirit-powered.5

John Constantine (Matt Ryan)4. Sorcerous ‘spiritual warfare’ spells

This next quote isn’t from Constantine (the DC paranormal detective, not the emperor). Instead it’s from a Christian author of “spiritual warfare” training materials:

When I rent a room in a hotel, it is under my stewardship. I have no idea what occurred in that room before I rent it, so I renounce any previous use of the room that would not please my heavenly Father….Next, I commit the room and all that is in it to the Lord and command Satan and all his evil workers to leave the room in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, I ask for the Lord’s protection while I sleep.6

As Elliot Miller notes, “If [author Neil] Anderson cannot even stay in a hotel room without taking such magical and paranoid precautions, how much more superstitious can we expect his less mature and less stable followers to be?”7

This may be an extreme example. But many Christians have this image in the back of their mind. Once I did too: it’s the notion that we must perform certain prayers or rituals—magic spells—to cleanse a space of demons or Satanic influence.

Often I wonder if this notion is still around. After all, don’t most Christians commit the opposite error by failing to take Satan seriously? But then I saw this exact sort of anti-Satan magic performed in the recent Christian-made and –marketed movie War Room. Here, a woman “prays up” a miracle to keep her husband from cheating. Then she quite literally prays to the devil, ordering him to leave her family and her house because it’s “under new management.”8 That’s an especially bad example of “spiritual warfare” spell-casting.

5. Romance prosperity gospel spells

This is a particular favorite of mine, partly because I used to believe this way myself:

In a second TV program, a young couple takes a church stage. “Once upon a time, we wanted to write our own love story,” they say. “Now we know that only after we give ourselves to God, and let Him have control over our love lives, will He write you the most beautiful love story ever. And if you maintain not only biblical holiness but your ‘emotional purity’ — not even investing feelings before you know for sure this is that special person — God will clearly reveal who that person is and guide your actions.” […]

All of these are specific promises that God’s Word never gives.9

Evangelicals should burn our magic books that promise perfect or near-perfect relationship results if only (the magic words!) they would submit themselves to God and pray their way to a divine marriage. Perhaps because I’m in better “circles,” I no longer often hear these notions. But as this evangelical movie clip shows, these ideas are still around.

6. ‘If only’: prayer and program spells

For years Christians were told LGBT activists would enforce their new “moral majority” only in public and wouldn’t chase Christians into churches. Suddenly we’re hearing, in articles like this one, that LGBT activists do take their religion seriously. So in fact they will be chasing Christians into churches to punish this new sin. 10

In response, many Christians promote spells that start with the magic words if only, as in:

  1. If only Christians hadn’t compromised with worldly entertainment …
  2. If only Christians had not hidden from the culture and been better missionaries …
  3. If only Christians hadn’t only ever emphasized sexual sin (hint: that is not true) …
  4. If only Christians hadn’t blurred the lines between gospel ministry and politics …
  5. If only Christians would have prayed and followed the right programs …

… Then we wouldn’t today be losing our cultures to enemies of Christianity.

Sure, there’s a little truth here. Christians could have done better at many of these things. But we risk thinking like occult magicians if we assume yet another magical system like the prosperity gospel: that if only we said the right prayers, or followed the right program, then such-and-such negative consequences would not happen to us.

Conclusion

The fact is, God never establishes a magic system.

God never promised us that if we do X, we’ll achieve some reward—health or wealth, protection from evil influence, personal guidance, romance, or popularity in the world.

Instead He promises something better: Himself, with grace to meet every challenge.

What if we reject His real promises and substitute our own? What if we blame other things as if they are the worst sources of occult magic—things like fantasy stories? Then we’re not being spiritual or biblical. We’re acting like practitioners of the occult. Dare I say it, we’re acting like the diviners and sorcerers God has promised will not inherit eternal life.

Thank God that Jesus, the Final Prophet, can save repentant spell-casters like us!

Note: Read the followup to this article, Christian White Magic: Q and A, part 1.

  1. In response, some fantasy-fan Christians might be tempted to try the same against critics.
  2. Deuteronomy 18:9-14.
  3. Deuteronomy 18:15.
  4. Family Christian Introduces New Protective Christian Bubble™ For Children, The Babylon Bee, Aug. 23, 2016.
  5. More discussion is outside this article’s scope. For more on this topic and to answer common proof texts, I recommend Greg Koukl’s series of articles, Does God Whisper? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. (This paragraph is based on a similar one in the footnotes of my piece Three More Problems with Religious Rating Systems, July 1, 2016 at SpecFaith.)
  6. Neil T. Anderson, Helping Others Find Freedom in Christ (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1995), 110, quoted by Elliot Miller, The Bondage Maker: Examining The Message and Method of Neil T. Anderson. Part Three: Spiritual Warfare and the Seven “Steps to Freedom.”
  7. Elliot Miller, The Bondage Maker: Examining The Message and Method of Neil T. Anderson. Part Three: Spiritual Warfare and the Seven “Steps to Freedom.”.
  8. War Room | Say Goodnight Kevin, 18:30, video review, Feb. 15, 2016.
  9. E. Stephen Burnett, Rebuking the Romance Prosperity Gospel, Christ and Pop Culture, July 23, 2013.
  10. As Jake Meador points out, LGBTism defenders are being cowardly and passive-aggressive about this threat.

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notleia
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notleia

Kinda reminds me of this nice pastor’s wife I knew who probably had some undiagnosed anxiety issues because she posted about 5 million times on Facebook about children’s carseats, including pop quizzes(!?) of “what’s wrong with this carseat picture.” Her nice pastor’s kids also wore those amber teething necklaces, which I did not know was a thing that existed until then. And I don’t even know if that’s better or worse than if she coated her mom van in crucifixes and ichthuses (ichthi?) along with the “Baby on Board” sticker, buuuut if I didn’t have to see it spammed on my newsfeed…
In any case, superstitious behavior is about the want/need to control one’s environment — or at least gain the illusion of control. There’s talk about obsessive-compulsive disorder just being a more specific form of severe anxiety. So the glib moral of this comment is that everybody needs to go the heck to therapy to learn how to deal effectively with their anxieties.

Paul Lee
Member

That’s why people pray. True spirituality and superstitious shamanism have the same root, but the one is letting go in the face of the infinite and the other is crouching down in terror to refrain from looking into the unknowable. (And I’m talking about much more than the tired “real faith means you don’t know” verses “faith is trusting in something objective” argument, which really has nothing to do with anything.)

notleia
Guest
notleia

I’m a pragmatist at heart, so I think it’s great when people can use prayer to clear their worries. Except when that doesn’t work for some people, or when people misapply “lift it up to Jesus” into becoming “be in denial that there is a problem.” Can we agree that’s when people need to go the heck to therapy?

Paul Lee
Member

If you’re in to that.

But yeah, prayer as the magic cure-all is the bad kind of magic. Prayer as enacted expression of faith is the good kind of magic, I think. I actually empathize with the sentiment behind the Pentecostal guy blessing his hotel room before he goes to bed, as with tactile enacted symbolism like crossing yourself—even though those things can also become superstitious and shamanistic (and idolatrous, from that perspective).

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

“But yeah, prayer as the magic cure-all is the bad kind of magic. Prayer as enacted expression of faith is the good kind of magic”

This is the word of Rowling, not the Word of God.

Paul Lee
Member

No, Rowling’s magic is rather simplistic and seems to be based on dominance and deformation, or at any rate a pretty crude treatment on the archetypal idea of true names. I meant “magic” more in the sense of Lewis’s Deep Magic — the fundamental Meaning behind everything.

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

This world is not Narnia. God’s Word never calls prayer “magic.” Magic in this world is sin. God says so, abundantly. It is even one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, the opposite of the Spirit and purposes of God. Maybe in Narnia you could call it that, but not here. We need to call things what they are according to the Word given to us, and not blur it with lies like “good” magic and “bad” magic. All magic is sin in this world, period.. Further, Lewis’ Deep Magic is also “written,” i.e., it stands for the Word of God. God’s Word written for Narnia. God does not call magic good or deep here, though reference is made to the deep things of Satan in Rev. 2:24. This one size fits all approach to magic, i,e., it’s all the same from Lewis to Rowling, is false because God never calls magic in His Word for this universe anything but toevah, abomination. So should we.

E. Stephen Burnett
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E. Stephen Burnett

HG, I believe I recall we have many agreements, yet we both know this topic isn’t among them! 🙂

I’m not sure if you have read the piece carefully.

First, I never said prayer is magic. But “training to pray better prayers to get better results” is magic.

All magic is sin in this world, period.

But what causes this magic in the real world?

What idolatries make people want to try it in the real world?

And: are these always the attitudes that lead people to enjoy magic in stories, such as “Harry Potter”?

If “yes, every time,” then even then, we should condemn the person first, not the Thing.

But if “no, not always” then we should not say or believe confusing things like “all magic is sin.” This blurs the distinction between “sin” and “not sin.” We must not do so. Why not? Because then, when someone discovers that thing is not really a sin, who would listen to us when we say that a real sin is actually sinful? We have cried “wolf” when there is no wolf. Then when an actual wolf arrives, few listen.

Real-world, occult magic, like divination or other attempts to discern God’s will or receive assurance apart from His word, is not a thing.

It is an idolatrous intent and a practice.

This means we cannot have a “magic object,” a thing with magical “content” that will corrupt us like germs.

That means that even if we read an actual magic spell, intended for use in the real world, this would not automatically corrupt a person.

At worst its content would only resonate with the person’s inner sinful desires and idolatry. And that is why such a person would need to put such a thing away to avoid the temptation.

But, many fantasy novels do not glorify this kind of idolatry-based magic. They use magic as entirely made up: natural law, “science,” or “superpowers.” None of these exist in the real world. So there is no equivalence.

If we suspect there is, I believe this falls under the personal “stigmas” Paul discussed in passages such as Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. But it does not make anything labeled “magic” a sin.

(Edited for clarity and to fix originally poor markup.)

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

Agreed with everything until the admittedly glib conclusion:

So the glib moral of this comment is that everybody needs to go the heck to therapy to learn how to deal effectively with their anxieties.

This is glib indeed, if we are living in a universe created by and for Jesus Christ, who is the central most important Being in existence, and Who has promised to fix our real problem: our spiritual deadness caused by our impulsive rejection of Him. After a person’s repentance and faith in Him can come the therapy. But without Him, going to therapy will do about as much good as teh magical evangelical trinkets you mentioned!

Travis Perry
Member

OK, E. Stephen, you are quite a bright guy and have some solid points to make here, but you go WAY over the top. Respectfully, you are not really correct about what magic IS (I see I will have to explain this myself in a blog post of my own at some point) and you overstate your case in several different ways to boot.

First off, it seems to me that you make magic straight into a quid pro quo kind of arrangement. If there is anything that binds God (or anything else, presumably) to do anything, then THAT is what you label as “magic” and it is bad. The only thing wrong with that absolutist view of quid pro quo being white magic is that God quite clearly made a number of very plain quid pro quo arrangements with human beings–like the promise to bless ancient Israel if they obeyed divine laws (see Deuteronomy 28 and forward). We see plenty of other examples of this in the history of Israel, some of them direct statements of God (another one I could throw out is in I Kings 9:6-9, where God promises to bless Solomon IF ONLY Solomon obeys).Others were rather strongly implied, like the quid pro quo related specifically to the length of Samson’s hair.

Over and over again (I haven’t counted how many times, but it’s more than a few) God has made quid pro quo arrangements with human beings according to Scripture. Yet these are NEVER called “magic” by the Bible. Is the “this for that” exchange part of magic systems? Yes. But the exchange can exist without being called magic by our source book, the Holy Bible. So you are unjustified in labeling any such exchanges as “white magic” based on the concept of exchange alone.

To avoid making this comment too long, let me say without fulling explaining that I think it IS possible for a Christian to engage in what is the equivalent of “white magic.” I would say that comes in pretty clearly when calling on God to do things that He never promised (which you excellently noted in your point 1), along with the use of certain repeated phrases and symbols of religion (as you observed your point 2).

So I would not dispute that you have something to talk about. However, a number of your examples have some serious problems tucked into them. To give a few examples:

On point #3, the Bible clearly DOES: 1) show people doing specific prayers for guidance–such as Gideon’s fleece 2) show dreams and visions being used to direct people–such as Joseph being told to take Mary as his wife, and DOES say 3) that the Holy Spirit “will guide you in all truth” (John 16:13). So people have a Scriptural justification for thinking God will provide specific guidance under specific circumstances.

Do I agree with how some people take this kind of thing, almost like a Ouija board? Certainly not. But the concept itself cannot be fairly labeled “white magic.” It exists in the Bible and is subject to a careful, reasoned examination. You really went overboard to claim that the whole idea is nothing but white magic, as you seemed to do.

And how about your side comment on point five about a woman “quite literally prays to the devil” in War Room? I haven’t seen the film, but addressing an evil spirit cannot be equated with praying to them. Or else Jesus prayed to Satan in the wilderness and to the demons called “Legion” that he allowed to enter a herd of pigs. Very bad form on your part to say that, old chap. You damage the valid things you have to say by throwing into the same mix things that are clearly invalid.

And I don’t get your point 6 at all, Looking back at the past with regret, even with an (incorrect) assurance that all would have been different “if only” we did things differently has absolutely NONE of the characteristics of any kind of magic I know. Magic tries to manipulate the future–not the past.

More fundamentally, more to your real point, OK, I get it. You are sick of Christians being immature about their understanding of God, you are tired of them leveling simplistic accusations onto fantasy magic as being in league with the devil (as if reading Harry Potter guarantees the top of your skull has been ripped off and ten demons have jumped into your brain). So you’re striking back. It’s as if you’re shouting, “Oh yeah, you say fantasy magic is bad–but what you do is even worse!”

Fantasy magic, if that’s all it remains, as fantasy, is of course harmless. But certain serious people maintain there is a connection between love of fantasy magic (well not just the magic–fantasy fiction as a whole) and the practice of actual magic in real live human beings living among us (I’m one who would say so, by the way). In fact, we could even speculate that some Christian “white magic” concepts are actually influenced by the other kind of magic–the real occult–though Christians don’t know so for the most part, naturally.

But if we can say for sake of argument (it’s an argument I really believe, mind you, but please play along for argument’s sake) that fantasy magic at least sometimes leads to human beings actually practicing the occult, on what basis can you say that what you rather sloppily labeled “white magic spells” is actually worse? (sorry to call your usage of “white magic” sloppy, but it’s an honest assessment, because you included examples that DO belong in the category along with ones that don’t belong in the slightest)

To frame this issue in other terms, is it worse to have a false concept about the true God or to worship the limitless pantheons of false gods? Well, clearly both are bad. Neither desirable. But you’d be awfully hard-pressed to show that wrong ideas about the true God are actually WORSE than total devotion to false gods. In fact, I think I could show a number of passages that point in the other direction–which would imply Christian “white magic” is NOT in fact worse that the devoted practice of the occult, which can be inspired by fantasy magic in the opinion of some people (including me).

So again, in what sense is the “white magic” you cite actually worse? In that it’s more common among Christians? Christians are more susceptible to it? But they are unaware of the potential hazards? OK, in that sense I could agree that Christians could potentially get into a sort of false doctrine that includes practices that are for all purposes magic-based. They almost certainly probably go there much more easily than straight into witchcraft. Yeah, it that sense it is worse, as in, “more likely to happen.”

In the same sense car crashes are worse than airplane crashes. Because they happen a lot more often. But dude, if your airplane DOES crash, as rare an event as that may be, the results are often MUCH worse than airplane crashes. Catastrophic in a way an individual car crash cannot be. So even if it’s a much less common event, serious people don’t usually treat airplanes as if they’re totally safe. They take some reasonable precautions. Because IF things go bad, they can go very bad.

Likewise, no matter how sick you are of Christian craziness and irrationality pointed at fantasy magic, it is my opinion that you ought to acknowledge some people have legitimate reasons to be concerned about the role of magic and other aspects of fantasy literature. And maybe it’s a bit over the top to launch an attack on all forms of “quid pro quo” thinking among Christians as the equivalent of the actual occult. Because I don’t believe that’s a fair assessment.

Audie Thacker
Member

–First off, it seems to me that you make magic straight into a quid pro quo kind of arrangement. If there is anything that binds God (or anything else, presumably) to do anything, then THAT is what you label as “magic” and it is bad. The only thing wrong with that absolutist view of quid pro quo being white magic is that God quite clearly made a number of very plain quid pro quo arrangements with human beings–like the promise to bless ancient Israel if they obeyed divine laws (see Deuteronomy 28 and forward). We see plenty of other examples of this in the history of Israel, some of them direct statements of God (another one I could throw out is in I Kings 9:6-9, where God promises to bless Solomon IF ONLY Solomon obeys).Others were rather strongly implied, like the quid pro quo related specifically to the length of Samson’s hair.

Perhaps so, but this also brings up the change between people under the law and those who have believed the gospel. Yes, under the law, there is a promise of blessing if one can perfectly obey the law. Perhaps it should go without saying, but none of us have perfectly obeyed the law. That is why the quid pro quo way of dealing with God is rather iffy, we don’t have a quid with which to bargain with. As the Bible states, all of the things we might think are works of righteousness are as filthy rags. There is no bargaining with God, there is no commanding God to do this or that, there are no words or phrases that we can repeat or rituals that we can perform in order to somehow make God more willing to do this or that.

Yet it is those kinds of things that are becoming very popular. Often those practices are attached to very good things. I could point out the use of 24-7 prayer rooms. Prayer is a very good thing, we should pray, and we should pray always, but when a single Bible verse that says “Pray without ceasing” is used as justification for these 24-7 prayer rooms, we might rightly ask how the biblical author could have meant such a thing when there is no hint of such practices being done way back when. Along with that, there are claims such as: If we continue to do these 24-7 prayers for X amount time, plus X plus X plus X more if need be, then God will eventually do all kinds of things like send what we consider to be revival, people will get saved in the streets as they walk by the prayer room, demons will flee from the city, people will get healed and delivered and Christians will get all kinds of wealth and power, and so on.

So, I think that looking at how so many in the church relate to God in a way that almost exclusively involves “If I/we will do X, then God will do Y” types of thinking, is not unfairly likened to magic.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

A few quick points, brother. Thank you for your comment. I’ll try to bypass the elements that I believe Audie Thacker has answered very well — specifically, the purpose of God’s “if … then” arrangements that, when seen with a Gospel view, only served to re-illustrate His people’s inability to fulfill our end of His covenant. (At which point the Final Prophet came and took the penalty on Himself.)

First off, it seems to me that you make magic straight into a quid pro quo kind of arrangement. If there is anything that binds God (or anything else, presumably) to do anything, then THAT is what you label as “magic” and it is bad.

Not necessarily. Instead I am basing my view on the biblical warning against divination: trying to use some method, or technique, or made-up “quid pro quo” or “exchange” magical system to learn the future, or receive some kind of assurance, in a way that is contrary to or apart from God’s word–as revealed to us in these last days by His final prophet, Jesus (cf. Hebrews 1).

Your biblical examples are biblical examples, of God working with His covenant people. So they don’t fit in the definition from which I’m working.

I think perhaps we are more in agreement with this part, at least so far?

On the topic of the Spirit’s leadership, I think Greg Koukl does a very good job of distinguishing the notion I am challenging here, versus the truth that the Holy Spirit leads us daily and could even “override” natural events to deliver some kind of direction. To be clear, what I’m challenging (and what Koukl challenges) is the notion that if we train hard, practice some spiritual discipline, then we will be able to “decipher” the Spirit’s otherwise indistinct leading. This is a “quid pro quo” notion not found in Scripture — either commanded in Scripture, or even shown in examples.

The “train yourself to hear God’s voice better” is arguably a white-magic method, not the concept that God could clearly reveal some custom instruction on His own.

By the way, upon re-reading this piece I found that the links for the Koukl PDFs did not copy over as I’d thought. I’ve corrected that error and hope the PDFs from Koukl’s “Stand to Reason” newsletter will prove helpful.

I do stand by my remarks about “praying” to the devil in War Room. The woman speaks aloud to the devil, whom she cannot see and whom she cannot “diagnose” in a manner that, in the NT, is exclusively demonstrated by Jesus and the apostles who had demon-influenced human beings right in front of them. Scripture gives no example, and no command, of people “exorcising” a location of demons. War Room, for its positives, shows a very magic-tinted notion of spiritual warfare — a concept the NT is constantly handling with emphasis not on direct confrontations with Satan or demons, but on personal growth to be like Christ.

I would listen more closely about your criticisms of point 6, because on one level I can agree. There is nothing wrong, and a lot of good things, about this kind of self-reflection. However, to narrow the point, I considered this because I see a sort of wistful “if only …” being done about, say, Christians’ response to the religion of LGBT-ism. They seem to think that “if only” Christians behaved better, we would not be in this cultural kettle of fish. And the conclusion is about the future: maybe if we straightened up now, we could head this off. I do consider this a potential example of white magic, because it can quickly lead to the illusion of some control over things we cannot control — such as people’s desires to sin and have that sin called “good.”

OK, I get it. You are sick of Christians being immature about their understanding of God, you are tired of them leveling simplistic accusations onto fantasy magic as being in league with the devil (as if reading Harry Potter guarantees the top of your skull has been ripped off and ten demons have jumped into your brain). So you’re striking back.

Almost-finally, I wonder if you may misunderstand the purpose of the piece. I am not striking back in some low-level vengeance against fantasy critics. 🙂 Instead, this is part of my mission to challenge (in myself and in others) any notion that is not biblical. That includes the notion that we can pin the “blame” for magic on an object, such as a fantasy novel, while bypassing the sinful impulse that leads to actual white magic. White magic is not an object. It is an action, and actions are born from desire.

To frame this issue in other terms, is it worse to have a false concept about the true God or to worship the limitless pantheons of false gods? Well, clearly both are bad. Neither desirable. But you’d be awfully hard-pressed to show that wrong ideas about the true God are actually WORSE than total devotion to false gods.

Finally, to respond to your question, I would call evangelical “white magic” worse for the same reason I would call a devil worse if he dresses up as an angel of light. But perhaps, in an environment in which people use evangelical “white magic” to justify their own obsession with pagan white/dark magic, I would need to flip and say that, in their particular case, it is the pagan white/dark magic that is worse for them.

However, I am considering that SpecFaith’s readership is a majority of biblical Christians. And we have a long history of justifying “white magic” actions as if they are biblical, while pinning the blame on objects, which happen to include stories.

Michael Blaylock
Member

The prosperity gospel is just sad, and the video makes it even sadder than I realized, so I’m glad you included it. And I agree that the promise of “perfect relationships” is actually the sale of a time bomb once the couple realizes even Christians struggle at this. You make some good points there.
However, I will echo an earlier comment that some of these go too far in my opinion. For example, I don’t understand how spiritual warfare can be equated with magic when Jesus himself spoke to and commanded demons and even Satan. If he drove out demonic forces, should we as his followers not do the same? As when Jesus sent out the 72? (Luke 10:17).
As for number 3, Jesus himself said the Holy Spirit was a guide and Romans 8:26 says The Spirit intercedes for us. To me, that sounds like a good and even normal part of Christian life, not some silly spell someone made up.
The way I understand it, magic is anything supernatural that isn’t God. God alone is our source, but he is indeed supernatural, and he does give promises and tells us to expect supernatural results because that way he gets the glory–meaning it’s something humans can’t do themselves. We must never twist these, like the prosperity gospel as you mentioned, but I think invoking the power of God is something God himself wants us to do. Such is my understanding.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

Hello Michael, and thank you for your comment.

Here is a remix from a comment I just wrote above. This may help in reply to yours:

First, I do stand by my remarks about “praying” to the devil in War Room. The woman speaks aloud to the devil, whom she cannot see and whom she cannot “diagnose” in a manner that, in the NT, is exclusively demonstrated by Jesus and the apostles who had demon-influenced human beings right in front of them. Scripture gives no example, and no command, of people “exorcising” a location of demons. War Room, for its positives, shows a very magic-tinted notion of spiritual warfare — a concept the NT is constantly handling with emphasis not on direct confrontations with Satan or demons, but on personal growth to be like Christ.

On the topic of the Spirit’s leadership, I think Greg Koukl does a very good job of distinguishing the notion I am challenging here, versus the truth that the Holy Spirit leads us daily and could even “override” natural events to deliver some kind of direction. To be clear, what I’m challenging (and what Koukl challenges) is the notion that if we train hard, practice some spiritual discipline, then we will be able to “decipher” the Spirit’s otherwise indistinct leading. This is a “quid pro quo” notion not found in Scripture — either commanded in Scripture, or even shown in examples.

The “train yourself to hear God’s voice better” is arguably a white-magic method, not the concept that God could clearly reveal some custom instruction on His own.

By the way, upon re-reading this piece I found that the links for the Koukl PDFs did not copy over as I’d thought. I’ve corrected that error and hope the PDFs from Koukl’s “Stand to Reason” newsletter will prove helpful.

Pam Halter
Member

wow – there’s a lot of words here. I’ve read them all and before I had a cup of coffee. Ha! I think humans can overthink just about anything. I know this because I do it all the time. But I also think it can make for good conversation if we don’t resort to name calling or hating. And I think we’re pretty good at not doing that here at Speculative Faith. Thanks for that.

I watched the John Piper video. Good stuff. Reminds me of when I was begging for God to heal my daughter of her uncontrolled seizures, about 12 years ago. And when I was too exhausted to continue to beg, I shut up. And I felt God’s answer. It may as well have been audible, it was so loud in my mind.

“I am able to heal your daughter. But if I choose not to, will you will love Me?”

That was as life changing to my faith as Saul being knocked from his horse on the road to Damascus. And I’ve been operating on that ever since. White magic? I don’t think so.

“Yes, Lord. I love you no matter what You do or choose not to do.”

Today, my Anna still has uncontrolled seizures. And I still love the Lord my God.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

Pam, thank you for your comment. It made my eyes mist up!

Stories like yours, about hearing an audible voice as if from God, are partly why I cannot go the route of an “absolute” cessationist, such as John MacArthur, and insist that God cannot and will never step in like this because He has given His written word. Some well-meaning teachers such as MacArthur often imply that such “revelations” will always seek to supplant God’s word. And in many cases (prosperity TV and such), they do. But in cases such as yours, they do the exact opposite. In fact, they often point to the sufficiency of Scripture — and to deep, anguishing truths.

I just prayed that God would heal your daughter, even miraculously. I think we ought to pray for these things, and daily and faithfully. But even if He does not — at least, not this side of eternity — what an awesome, and yet anguishing, truth that He saves people so completely that they can grow to believe and profess as you just did.

Pam Halter
Member

Thanks! We’ve had a bad seizure day today. And yes, I still ask God to heal Anna. I’m her mommy – I can’t stop asking. But I have peace, no matter what happens.

I was talking to friends about this and we believe there’s confusion about God “talking” or “revealing” things to His children. Yes, He speaks to us through His Word – meaning there is no *new* revelation to be shared through prophets. However, His Holy Spirit nudges us, convicts us, guides us, gives us wisdom, teaches us, etc. Isn’t that a way of “speaking” to us? And none of it adds to the Word.

Tamra Wilson
Member
Tamra Wilson

I totally believe that God can and does use the audible voice, but we should never look or ask for that kind of miracle. When God chooses to use it (like in Pam’s case) it is something very, very unique and special. But Ttying to get the voice without God’s intervention, like trying to manipulate God into giving you what you want, that’s where the “white magic” comes in.

Alan Loewen
Guest

I found another one. A number of Christians are getting tattoos and when I ask them why, their answer is couched in terms that make the tattoo sound like a protective charm or amulet.

Khai
Guest
Khai

As someone who has read Neil Anderson’s books including Bondage Breaker and Freedom From Fear, and spoken with a therapist trained by him, I KNOW these instructions are not “magic” or “incantations” at all. I don’t have to be a Christian to get that.

Most people who think Neil Anderson’s Christian counselor teachings amount to “white magic” have never had to deal with the things he addresses in those books – for those who have, it’s common sense. Be careful not to dissuade people who could use the help, from guidance that is good for them, just because you don’t understand.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

Khai, thank you for your comment and your gentle challenge.

I would response that surely some people have benefited from Anderson’s views. I am asking, however, whether these are instructions Scripture teaches. I do not see any such instructions in Scripture, and the link I’ve enclosed explores this further.

“Good results” are not themselves a proof of true or false teaching. They are a proof that God is active in the world, and can bring good out of evil. Mormons have done many good things in the world, such as through missionary work and political action. Atheists can fund hospitals. Prosperity gospel preachers can lead people to Jesus. Does this mean they have taught accurately what the Bible says? Not at all.

That being said, in one situation I’m aware of, a Christian organization of people was practicing fear, suspicion, and slander against personal enemies of one of the group’s members. This was like a personal vendetta against the enemy, not based on actual sin. But even then, the group did not pursue personal reconciliation with the supposed offender. The group member held back, kept an un-Christian distance (and a grudge), and then solicited a professing Christian counselor to approach the problem with “spiritual warfare” notions as devised by Anderson and others.

The counselor recommended framing the personal conflict in terms of “demonic influence” over the supposed offender. The group member did not personally even know the offender, and had not met this person even once. And yet with help, they were diagnosing “spiritual warfare” syndromes from across hundreds of miles.

This alone does not prove Anderson’s teaching is false or like “white magic.” But it does show that for every positive anecdote, a negative example also exists. Which means we cannot based our support/opposition for a teaching on anecdotes alone.

Khai
Guest
Khai

Steve,

I have limited use of the internet. Hence the delay. I’m going to make this my last post on the topic of Neil Anderson’s books like The Bondage Breaker or Steps to Freedom in Christ. I don’t want to make this into a thing. Feel free to email me.

And I don’t particularly want to single you out for criticism in your view – we are all destined to be honestly wrong at least once. I’m doing it so some people who would otherwise be helped by the insights in Bondage Breaker etc., are not dissuaded from looking into it.

I want to offer an alternative, counter-view to yours. It is that the human tendency to “Magic-ize” things is common. It is Formula + Control = Power. People do this because they are scared and life is scary. People often do this to otherwise very legitimate tools, guidance, principals and instructions. And I argue that Neil Anderson’s work is – in theory and INTENDED application, what Christians can consider “Biblical” (etc.) things to do. You and I obviously read the same books but came to opposite conclusions. I think you’re wrong on this. I think people have irresponsibly misused Neil Anderson’s work and wielded it as “Magic”.

I maintain that this teaching (of Anderson’s) is not “Seemingly good” or just produces good “Anecdotal” results. It is sound according to Christian doctrine theory and MAY be beneficial to some. And no one out there should hesitate to check it out for themselves.

I’ll get into ONE specific example. You referenced Neil Anderson’s “Hotel room prayer”:

I have a couple of adult friends who were in prostitution since they were children. They are Americans in the United States.

I think that praying a prayer like that in a hotel room would seem very logical to them. They are very attuned to a sense of evil. What’s hard for them is believing good (or God) is stronger than it. They know – and have witnessed, what has gone on in certain hotel rooms.

This does not apply to everyone, and I doubt one would be inclined to pray that way at the Four Seasons – but the advice does have its place. I don’t know if this prayer tactic is important to him when he travels to speak to counselors who deal with human trafficking victims. I don’t even know if what he suggests to pray actually works all the time! I doubt it does work ALL the time. But it doesn’t seem like magic to me. It seems like something addressing an extreme circumstance on the human experience spectrum.

Ok, I’m done. I’m not trying to have the last word. Feel free to respond, but this is my last response. Thanks for the patience you’ve shown thus far. It’s not easy to do that when taking heat.

Tim W Brown
Guest
Tim W Brown

A certain (large) portion of these tendencies I admit to having dabbled with from time to time; a turning point in my thinking began when I pondered the experience of the earliest Christians, and even of Christ Himself. Completely dedicating their lives to God, not a single one of them received prosperity or immunity (other than perhaps the occasional snakebite). In fact, many were executed as criminals; certainly not a single one of the Apostles achieved prosperity or material wealth. And they were certainly among the most inspired and dedicated believers ever.

And as if to drive the point home, not only were most of the Apostles, as well as many of their followers, executed in a variety of horrible ways (is there a nice way to be executed?), but they counted it as a great honor and joy to be made martyrs.

While I can’t condemn anyone for desiring wealth and power – they are certainly nice things to have, and I am myself definitely guilty of a distorted love of comfort – I have become convinced that any view which equates material wealth, worldly power, or personal pleasure with the blessings of God is a spiritually dangerous way of looking at things. To paraphrase Galatians, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, not wealth, status, power, romance and financial stability.

K DouPonce
Guest

Well said Stephen!
And the Piper video is spot on.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

I admire your passion to help the Body of Christ avoid heresy, Stephen. I admire your sincerity and intelligence. I disagree very much on the blanket statements and judgments you make regarding how the Bible portrays God and His relationship with His people.

I don’t think there’s a single concept in the Bible that hasn’t been stretched out of proportion in both directions of extreme. Anything the Bible says can be and has been taken the wrong way. But we err when we dogmatically denounce things that God clearly told His people to do.

He TOLD us to ask Him for what we need, to expect Him to give us good gifts, and that He has plans to give us MORE than we ask or imagine. It says He gives GENEROUSLY. He TOLD us to have faith and that our faith would (miraculously, if not magically) please Him and make things happen (“woman, your faith has healed you…”). He TOLD us that if we doubt, we shouldn’t expect to get what we ask for. He TOLD us that we’ll reap what we sow, especially if we don’t grow weary in sowing good seed. He outlines spiritual financial principles (in the old and new testaments) that make it clear that the generous man will reap big financial, physical rewards.

Yes, some people misunderstand these principles and treat them like you can control God by demanding He fulfill His Word the way YOU want Him to. Yes, some Christian operate under something no better than superstition that they think is “faith”. Yes, some people’s faith is shattered because they expect the wrong things and forget that we live in a very broken world where bad things happen to good people — even people of faith. Yes, some preachers make a whole business out of teaching things in a skewed way.

But the way you wrote this article, you come across as saying that you don’t believe the Word of God is living and active and never returns to Him void, you don’t believe in its power, you don’t believe that God’s Spirit communicates directly to believers (a la the early church leaders saying, “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”), and anyone who believes that faith makes a difference in the world is believing in a bunch of hocus pocus.

Is that the way you intended it? And if not, why did you write it that way?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

Teddi, thank you for comment.

I believe there are valid, real, active, biblical principles (such as in the book of Proverbs) that can, if tried, lead to responsibility and good work habits that can also lead to success in material terms. However, these are general principles, and as you noted, they will not always work every time they’ve tried. This world is a sin-cursed one. It would be a mistake to expect wealth/health/lack of struggle in every case. Injustice is very real. Hard-working employees can get fired for being a Christian. (How much more so given the growing religion of progressivism!)

You brought forth the very real problems that occur when these general principles are turned into a “formula.” At that point, what happens when Christians are not finding this kind of success, or health, or prosperity? Might we question, as Job’s comforters questioned, whether he was a true God-follower? Might we question, as the disciples did about the man born blind, whether someone (himself or his parents) had brought that struggle into his life (John 9:2)? Alas, this can often happen. (Perhaps it occurs even in simple, micro cases as people who see a child acting up in public and make snap judgments about that child’s parents!)

On the question about the Spirit’s leadership, I will flagrantly e-cycle from above:

On the topic of the Spirit’s leadership, I think Greg Koukl does a very good job of distinguishing the notion I am challenging here, versus the truth that the Holy Spirit leads us daily and could even “override” natural events to deliver some kind of direction. To be clear, what I’m challenging (and what Koukl challenges) is the notion that if we train hard, practice some spiritual discipline, then we will be able to “decipher” the Spirit’s otherwise indistinct leading. This is a “quid pro quo” notion not found in Scripture — either commanded in Scripture, or even shown in examples.

The “train yourself to hear God’s voice better” is arguably a white-magic method, not the concept that God could clearly reveal some custom instruction on His own.

By the way, upon re-reading this piece I found that the links for the Koukl PDFs did not copy over as I’d thought. I’ve corrected that error and hope the PDFs from Koukl’s “Stand to Reason” newsletter will prove helpful.

Finally, I am informed by a perspective that Jesus and the apostles could do things that modern Christians cannot, and have no reason, to do. But I have tried to keep that perspective out of this piece as much as possible. Good, sincere, non-magical (Muggle?) Christians have different beliefs on these topics. This is why I’m thankful to folks like Koukl, who somehow manages to address the issue while leaving the whole “are miraculous signs for today” debate of continuationism/cessationism out of it!

I hope that helps you. Please let me know of any other questions, and if so, I will try to get to them when I can. Godspeed, sister.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

“Finally, I am informed by a perspective that Jesus and the apostles could do things that modern Christians cannot, and have no reason, to do. But I have tried to keep that perspective out of this piece as much as possible. Good, sincere, non-magical (Muggle?) Christians have different beliefs on these topics. ”

Interesting choice to endeavor to leave that aspect of our walk with God out of the discussion. As someone who believes Scripture teaches unequivocally that believers today are in every way given the same Spirit that Jesus and the apostles had, and that we are allowed and expected to do the same (and “even greater”) works that He / they did (and with plenty of reason to do so), I think your article overlaps significantly into the realm of what our everyday life with Christ should look like.

While you’re sitting on the sidelines mocking or condemning people who are trying (if blindly or in error) to walk in the supernatural inheritance we’ve been given by God through Christ, there is much need for people who will instead minister truth that might shepherd people through how to *properly* approach such things.

That’s probably why your attack on magical-thinking-Christians falls far too close to home for me. I do appreciate your respectful tone of reply, and still appreciate your passion for truth.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

Teddi, thank you once again for your comments!

If this helps, I have seen much nastiness result when some Christians (particularly those on the “cessationist” side) try to cram God’s actions and providential work in the world not just to the Bible alone, but to their own preaching of the Bible. This is such a narrow and unbiblical view of God, who has revealed Himself and His gospel in the Bible alone, but who also works in human actions such as culture-making.

But I have also seen much harm result when Christians do not challenge some of the unbiblical views that spread throughout the church. For example, I’ve seen friends and relatives paralyzed by fear and inaction because they are not “hearing from God” in the way they expect based on evangelical materials on the subject. What often ends up happening is they end up following the opinions of church leaders and other strong personalities in their families or friends. This ends up weakening, not strengthening, their ability to walk in faith and wisdom as guided by the Holy Spirit, who has inspired the written word and lives within us to guide our decisions. This happens when we are looking to Jesus and His grace, not our own performance to “tune in” to otherwise hidden signals.

I believe you’ll find some answers, some vital distinctions, and some more challenges to the “God talks to us audibly and daily if only we will take the time and practice to listen” view. To challenge this belief is not the same as challenging belief in God’s providential provision, or His ability to intervene with some kind of supernatural inward prompting. 🙂

I’ve said more on this, as well as the prosperity gospel challenge, here:

Christian White Magic: Q and A, part 1

Christian White Magic: Q and A, part 2

I do not believe what I’ve written counts as mockery or condemnation of other Christians. I’ve taken pains, in this article and in the new followup pieces, to ensure a respectful treatment of beliefs, not persons.

Also, I can certainly share my own stories of how I’ve been tempted (like any Christian is) toward white-magic thinking about words or actions!

My goal with this article, and now with this series, has been to challenge the hidden “white magic” that Christians already practice in their real lives. These “magical methods” kind of give away the fact that when we condemn fictitious magic in fantasy novels, we don’t really know what real unbiblical magic is about, or why God forbids it in the first place.

I hope this helps explain my purposes and reasoning! We certainly don’t need to agree fully on this issue to share faith in our risen and active Lord. And by the way, it was great to meet you for the first time at Realm Makers. Hope to see you again in Reno!

Jill
Guest

Most of these don’t sound like magic to me. 1. Tribalism. 2. Greed. 3. Using faith to justify inaction. 4. I actually do believe in an unseen spiritual reality, so this one doesn’t bother me particularly, even though it’s a bit extreme. 5. More tribalism/attempt to create tribal marriage practices after society eradicated them. 6. Guilt over complacency, which leads to all manner of “what did we do wrong” thinking. How is any of this magic?

notleia
Guest
notleia

I read it as “magic” in the sense of “superstition” or “magical thinking” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking).

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest
E. Stephen Burnett

I agree with notleia. Here I’m exploring the attitudes and idolatry-scraps that are the impulse behind Christian white magic. It’s not an object. It’s a way of thinking — that if I do un-biblical action X, God has guaranteed, or would guarantee, good results. These results can include (but are not limited) to financial or other success, health, good relationships, improved culture, and lack of suffering.

Darrick Dean
Guest

Very insightful look into the problem of “white magic” in Christianity. That’s a good way to put it, too. I remember years ago, during the “Prayer of Jabez” fad, saying, “the saying of this prayer over and over for good luck sounds like a magic spell.” Of course, we do that with the “Our Father” as well, even though that isn’t quite what Jesus intended (Hank Hanegraff’s “The Prayer of Jesus” is a great antidote to that problem).

I don’t know how much grip the “health and wealth” and similar movements currently have in the Christian world – but all are signs of dire need for strong and intellectual leadership in the church that isn’t afraid to challenge people.