Recently Stephen responded to a posted video clip on Facebook, a promotion piece by Todd Friel for his Wretched radio/TV series, The gist of the episode which I watched is that “wizard stories,” by which he means fantasy, go against Scripture and have no place in the life of a Christian.
The sad thing here is that a number of his Wretched followers left comments agreeing with his position, saying that his views were right. While a number of speculative writers chimed in to give an opposing view, how many of Friel’s followers read those when they had already endorsed the original episode? In other words, one of the reason I object to what this TV and radio host had to say is that he only presented one side—his opinion and his understanding of what the Bible says.
Besides leaving a comment, I also invited Mr. Friel here to Spec Faith for what I termed a print debate. I want people who follow him to know that there are believers who hold fast to the teaching of Scripture who do not agree with the position shared in that Wretched episode. So far I haven’t heard back from him, but I have not given up hope.
I don’t want to wait, though. The longer this Wretched position sits there with only a brief flurry of opposition, the more deadly it becomes. What may have started out as an interesting concept to consider can quickly become a hardened conviction.
The reason is simple: at the heart of what Mr. Friel says is the Bible. In fact Scripture does say exactly what Wretched claims. Here’s the pertinent passage:
you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD (Deut. 18:9b-12a)
From that passage, it’s easy to generalize by saying, “No magic.”
All well and good if magic was the issue here. But the context of the passage is Moses’s warnings to the people of Israel against adopting the idolatrous behavior of the nations they were about to encounter. So killing children and trying to know the future and talking with the dead and all these practices listed in Moses’s command have to do with tapping into a power that does not come from God. It either involves worshiping a false god or trying to use power obtained from a spirit claiming to have power like God.
Mr. Friel never addressed this aspect of the Deuteronomy passage. So in other words, a person could conclude from his show that magic is the real problem when in fact idol worship is the real problem.
Idol worship, of course, doesn’t start or stop with magic. So talking to people about avoiding magic completely misses the mark when it comes to what Scripture actually is saying.
What Mr. Friel says about fantasy reminds me of what the Pharisees said in Jesus’s day about keeping the Sabbath. They particularly wanted Jesus to stop healing people on the Sabbath (which he persisted in doing throughout His ministry). In fact, the Ten Commandments expressly said to keep the Sabbath as holy, and the prophets confronted Israel over and over about breaking the Sabbath.
So weren’t the Pharisees right? No. For one major reason: breaking the traditions that had grown up around the “keep the Sabbath” command, were not the same as breaking the command itself. Jesus also indicated there was some hypocrisy involved in their insistence in keeping the Sabbath they way they prescribed it. They would certainly care for a needy animal on the Sabbath, but they were opposed to Jesus caring for a needy human?
Both these matters apply, I believe. Some Christians like Mr. Friel have raised up traditions—an artificial understanding of magic that includes all things pretend such as flying broomsticks and magic wands, pointy witch hats and wizards that can teleport from one place to another, talking pictures and moving staircases, talking animals and flying dragons. These creative fantasy elements have nothing to do with real power or methods of tapping into a false god’s power. In other words, they become straw men which distract us from the true battle against idolatry.
The converse is true. When C. S. Lewis told his Narnia stories, he showed in no murky manner what the gospel is all about. He was “healing on the Sabbath,” if you will. People who had not opened a Bible knew in their heart that there had to be a real person like Aslan and a real place like Narnia. To declare the Deeper Magic that Aslan displayed to somehow be off limits and to be avoided is nothing more than restricting the way we can share the truth about Jesus Christ.
Because, make no mistake, the power of fantasy is in the good versus evil trope—with good winning. Only when someone like Phillip Pullman flips the script and writes evil as good, does fantasy present a problem. But that happened in the Bible too. Moses turned his staff into a snake and the magicians in Egypt did the same thing. So, a little discernment here is helpful. Which is the power of God and which the power of a false god?
Of course when Moses’s snake/staff ate the others, the point was no longer muddled. We might have to work a little harder, but the answer is clearly not to outlaw staffs.