Magic vs Illusion

…a little perspective from Jeff

Why do you use the word magic?

First off, the type of magic I perform is called sleight-of-hand. Historically speaking, when this style magic was performed in churches it was referred to as “Gospel Magic.” Many non-Christian magicians still refer to it as such. They are often confused when a slight-of-hand magician calls himself an “Illusionist,” because this is a title magicians traditionally give to performers with large stage props or big cats in huge Vegas-style acts.

That being said, “Illusionist” is a title that I am often called in order to not offend and to clarify any misunderstanding among Christians. However, as noted, it may not be the clearest title for other magicians when thinking of me. And every so often, grown adults ask me, “What is an illusionist?” proving it wasn’t a clear title for them either.

I find the word magic is simple. It gives clarity to what people will expect to see in an entertainment setting.

How are you different from other Christian Entertainers?

First, I never refer to myself as a “Christian Entertainer/Illusionist/Magician.” I always refer to myself as an “Entertainer who is a Christian.” In his early, more orthodox writings, Rob Bell gives a detailed distinction between the two in his book, Velvet Elvis. The short version is that the word “Christian” makes a great noun, but a horrible adjective. Some things should not be described as “Christian.” (Please reference his book for a well written essay on the subject.) Also, by simply being “an entertainer,” I have more open doors to a wide range of professional opportunities – opportunities to take my theology beyond the confine of the church walls.

Second, from my experience, historical Gospel Magic has a tendency to be “churchy.” I have no desire to present “Gospel Magic.” For example, this style of performance might use a deck of cards to depict Jesus as the “King of Hearts,” different colors to represent the story of salvation, and every trick has a scripture verse to go with it. Not to mention, somehow, Jesus always seems to find his way onto a one dollar bill in the place of George Washington’s face. Strange, but true.

Though this style of presentation may have worked historically and still hold a place of relevance in some cultures and does minister to some people, I have found that overall, this does not reach out to non-Christians and may do more damage than good.

So why do you use the word “magic?”

I find that it relates to people. We use the word magic in everyday speech. We don’t say, “Love is an illusion.” No, we say, “Love is magical.” We don’t say, “Wow, it’s like Illusion!” Nope, we say, “Wow, It’s like Magic!” And children certainly use the word magic.

Sure you can talk about dark forms of magic, but the sleight-of-hand magic I perform has no connection whatsoever. My tricks amaze, entertain, and confound the mind but they are never presented as anything supernatural.

The only people I ever meet offended by the word “magic” are Christians. Paul teaches us that even though he was comfortable with certain foods, he wouldn’t eat them in front of those it offended. Therefore, if “magic” is offensive for a crowd, the word “illusion” is substituted and the show goes on.

I hope that this simple Q and A will provide answers for anyone with questions on the subject. As well, I hope that it provides common ground for dialog with anyone who may have a different opinion on the subject.


All American Children’s magic shows for library programs, school assemblies, and even birthday parties trace their origins back to the beginning of the 20th century when ministers discovered that magic was an excellent tool to teach Bible stories. The first book on this was published in 1910 by Rev. Charles H. Woolston, entitled: Seeing Truth: Object Lessons with Magical and Mechanical Effects. He gained popularity and inspired ministers around the country to use magic. Woolston was even asked by Billy Sunday to put on programs for the children during his crusade programs for the adults.**

**Source: Seriously Silly: How to Entertain Children with Magic and Comedy by David Kaye. p19, 2005