Recently a Facebook friend shared an example of Christian white magic in the real world.
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
Of 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:
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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
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.”
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
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:
- If only Christians hadn’t compromised with worldly entertainment …
- If only Christians had not hidden from the culture and been better missionaries …
- If only Christians hadn’t only ever emphasized sexual sin (hint: that is not true) …
- If only Christians hadn’t blurred the lines between gospel ministry and politics …
- 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.
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.
- In response, some fantasy-fan Christians might be tempted to try the same against critics. ↩
- Deuteronomy 18:9-14. ↩
- Deuteronomy 18:15. ↩
- Family Christian Introduces New Protective Christian Bubble™ For Children, The Babylon Bee, Aug. 23, 2016. ↩
- 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.) ↩
- 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.” ↩
- Elliot Miller, The Bondage Maker: Examining The Message and Method of Neil T. Anderson. Part Three: Spiritual Warfare and the Seven “Steps to Freedom.”. ↩
- War Room | Say Goodnight Kevin, 18:30, video review, Feb. 15, 2016. ↩
- E. Stephen Burnett, Rebuking the Romance Prosperity Gospel, Christ and Pop Culture, July 23, 2013. ↩
- As Jake Meador points out, LGBTism defenders are being cowardly and passive-aggressive about this threat. ↩