MAGICAL CONFUSION IN THE CHURCH

Ok, so now for the real application: magic in the pews.

No, I'm not going to suggest that an occult practitioner is secretly a member of your church (although such accusations do pop up occasionally in Christian fiction, such as This Present Darkness4[4]). Rather I argue that we must re-examine our practical theology. By "practical theology" I mean how we act based on our beliefs about God. 

Here are some questions to ponder about prayer:

1.  Do we believe that if only we use the right words (utter the right "incantation"?), our prayer requests will be answered according to our wishes?

2.  When we pray, exactly whose will are we trying to conform to whom?

Remember, although God certainly invites us to ask (i.e., John 14:13), he also reserves the right to say “no” (even to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane). And that right to say “no” is often what makes prayer so difficult to practice in faith. Likewise, any time we go through a religious ritual thinking it will cause a particular response from God, we start to slide into something closer to magic than Christian faith. 

Since we are on the subject of magic and the demonic, a few quotes from The Screwtape Letters seem especially appropriate on the mystery of prayer. In letter 27, Screwtape explains that if God grants our requests, we can easily be convinced that our request would have happened anyway. And if our request is not granted, we can easily be convinced that prayer does not work. Either way, we are convinced that prayer is an empty ritual.

So what then is the solution to attempts at controlling God on one hand and practical atheism on the other? Once again, let us consider Screwtape’s advice. In letter four, Screwtape warns his demonic nephew Wormwood against allowing his patient to pray to God as God really is, rather than as the patient simply thinks God to be. So the solution to our magical confusion is to pray that God would show us what things really are, rather than what we simply think them to be. Whether in literature or faith, believers must strive to separate fantasy and reality.


[1]For an extensive discussion, see “Harry Potter: Saint or Serpent” in Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara’s (2006) From Homer to Harry Potter. Those interested in learning more about Christian faith and fantasy literature should also see Rolland Hein’s (2002) Christian Mythmakers.

[2]See Humphrey Carpenter’s (2000) The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.

[3]While researching this article, I came across an organization called The International Fellowship of Christian Magicians, whose webpage provides an answer to the question, “Should a Christian do magic?” http://www.fcm.org/usa/should_a_christian_do_magic.php

[4]For a helpful summary review of This Present Darkness, see http://www.equip.org/articles/this-present-darkness

Stanley J. Ward is the Director of Campus Life and Ministry at The Brook Hill School in Bullard, TX. He is also the author of Worldview Conversations: How to Share Your Faith and Keep Your Friends.

Publication date: January 10, 2011