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Is Gospel Magic Black or White

Stephanie Martin

A closer look at whether the much-used "magical" tool is really good for kids.

"Now you see it, now you don't."

Do those words belong in a Christian children's ministry? Gospel magicians and their proponents say a resounding yes because they believe illusions can more effectively reach kids than other traditional methods. Opponents, however, say gospel magic should do a disappearing act of its own-before it permanently harms children.

Magic tricks can illustrate God's qualities, according to Dave Arch, author of the soon-to-be-released book Tricks That Teach About God (Group Publishing). Gospel magic "taps into an intrinsic interest and then bridges into the truths I want to teach," Arch says. "I understand that magic can bridge into the occult, deception, and evil, but anything can be turned into a negative depending on how you use it."

Gospel magic opponents are concerned about where so-called illusions may lead. Mickie McKibbin, a Christian mother who home schools her four children, says gospel magic involves trickery and dabbling in what's wrong.

"Scripture is very clear," she says, adding that "gospel magic is not righteous or holy." It involves small steps of deception, McKibbin says, which can then lead kids into things such as Oijua boards, Dungeons & Dragons, and evil music.

Parents are to blame for not being discerning anymore, asserts McKibbin. "Parents think [gospel magic] is fabulous...and have been so lulled and desensitized. They grew up with Bewitched and Casper, but that's Satan's deceptive ways of making the occult cute."

Most people who object to gospel magic have never seen it and therefore don't understand it, says Steve Blendermann, an area representative of the International Fellowship of Christian Magicians. According to Blendermann, the Bible uses two definitions of magic: one relating to sorcery and witchcraft but the other relating to art. Blendermann points out that Daniel was chief of the magicians.

Jim Moates, a past president of the Alabama Fellowship for Christian Magicians, says, "Whenever I do a magic show, I explain up front to kids or my audience that I'm a gospel illusionist, that I don't have magical powers. I want them to understand that there's only one person who can do miracles, and that's Jesus."

Before Blendermann's gospel magic presentations, he explains to audiences that he does illusions. "We can't do the impossible; we just do what looks impossible," he says of gospel magicians. One example involves the familiar "torn and restored newspaper" trick. As Blendermann tears pages, he compares the newspaper to the Good News of the Bible. For the first page, he says people doubt Creation; for subsequent pages, he says people doubt the Flood, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection from the dead, and so on.

After shredding the newspaper, Blendermann opens it up, turns the restored pages, and says, "You thought you saw me tear it up, just like people attack the Bible. But the Good News can't be undone. God says, ÔMy words will never pass away.' "

Blendermann says illusions are so effective because people-especially kids-are much more visually oriented today. "If you have their eyes, you have their ears," he says.

But getting kids' attention isn't a good enough reason to subject them to potentially dangerous materials, says McKibbin. "Who gets their attention-the magic side!" she says. As an alternative, she recommends that children's ministers let kids act out exciting Scripture stories and "help the Bible come alive in its truth and reality.

Stephanie Martin is a free-lance writer and editor in Colorado.

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