This conversation on magic centers on a very popular argument, not only used for the promotion of magic and paganism in Christian books and movies, but for many other venues as well. You will likely hear it used in some form over the years of your Christian walk. I hope therefore that it will be beneficial to the reader to understand it more fully in light of scripture.
‘Learned Larry’ came to our booth and purchased the Peleg Chronicles along with a talk I gave called the ‘Devolution of a Boy’. The CD is a trumpet call to the Christian to discern and align with God’s will concerning literature, and seek to understand what pleases and displeases Him. Much of the presentation concerned paganism, of which a small proportion was magic.
Shortly thereafter ‘Learned Larry’ wrote a response to my talk which he called a brief defense of fictional magic. It was apparent from his writings that he is in agreement with the premise that all books and movies are teaching something, whether we are aware of it or not.
Following is a statement he made that I would like to further delve into:
“Good authors will put Biblical bounds around how magic is used in their worlds. Using the word magic to teach children the moral law embedded in the universe, is like Paul using the statue to the unknown god to point to the known God. You start with what they know and move to the truth.”
Okay, let’s start with the last point first. ‘You start with what they know and move to the truth.” Think hard on this logic. There are basically two categories of readers, unbelievers and believers. Let’s apply this argument to the believer first:
The Athenians worshipped false gods. That is what they ‘knew’. Paul endeavored to lead them to the truth of Christ.
Does it make sense to apply this method to the Christian? __________
As far as Christians are concerned, is magic part of what they ‘know’? __________
Is magic the place (like the Athenians worshipping false gods) that Christians need to start with and then be moved away from, and into the truth? __________
If this is true, then shouldn’t Christians also start their children on a diet of false gods, before being introduced and led to Christ? ___________
Hopefully you begin to see the illogical nature of ‘Learned Larry’s’ premise. Christians and their children should already have a Biblical world view that begins with the truth?
In other words, doesn’t the whole application of Paul’s statue of the unknown god only apply to unbelievers? You will probably agree that it does, and we will look at the passage carefully in a moment so you can strengthen that resolve in your own mind. If you agree that the statue to the unknown God scripture is meant to be applied to the unbeliever than it should not be viewed as some sort of thumbs up from God promoting fictional magic for the believer.
What about the unbeliever then? Let’s go to the text:
Acts 17:18-33 KJV
 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
Did Paul start with the unknown god? _________
What did he start with? __________
 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is ?  For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.  (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)  Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
Paul is about to introduce the unknown god ‘strategy’. Is he promoting, or putting a positive light on, or saying something they would like to hear about the subject he is going to bring up? (look at verse 22) __________
What does he tell the men of Athens? (verse 22) __________
 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD . Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.  God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;  Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;  And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;  That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:  For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.  Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
Did Paul promote making an image to the unknown God? (verse 29) __________
Did he promote making an image to the real God? (verse 29) __________
How did he correct them in their thinking? (verse 29) __________
 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:  Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men , in that he hath raised him from the dead.
What are the Athenians in danger of if they continue worshipping these images graven by art and man’s device and not following after the one true God? (verse 31) __________
What must the Athenians, and all men do? (verse 30) __________
So, according to the unknown god method for leading people to Christ we note the following:
1) it was used for unbelievers.
2) it began with the gospel
3) it was used as an illustration
4) their unknown god statue was shown in the negative: superstitious, not a way to think of the Godhead, something that will be judged if they do not repent of it.
5) it was quickly, immediately used to point to the truth of God.
Applying this method to magic might work with the witch, pagan, or sorcerer who pursues magic just as the greeks were pursuing their false gods, IF you told them that their magic was useless, and the One who can do things outside of the natural (ie. things that might seem like magic) is God Himself. He does not use magic, it is just that He is not bound by the natural laws which He has created.
Now think about the witch: we would not continually represent God to the witch through magic. That would completely distort who God is and what He says. Similarly, when thinking of the idol worshiper, would it not be wrong to continually represent God through idols, in teachings, movies, and works of fiction? I use the word ‘continually’ because that is in effect what we see in Christian fictional magic and paganism. They start with magic and end with magic.
Remember our quote from ‘Learned Larry’:
“Using the word magic to teach children the moral law embedded in the universe, is like Paul using the statue to the unknown god to point to the known God. You start with what they know and move to the truth.”
Would you recommend that your children run around playing with idols of false gods or a statue to the unknown god? Of course not. The statue and thinking behind it was portrayed in scripture as bad and it was corrected. It is obviously not pleasing to God. Yet, I hear Christian children often running around with ‘magic’ swords or ‘magic’ powers, and pretending to be magicians from ‘Christian’ fantasy. Why? Who taught them that? It is mostly from books and movies that these things were embedded into their minds … books and movies that we promoted.
‘Learned Larry’ used the Chronicles of Narnia as his example for ‘using the word magic to teach children the moral law embedded in the universe.’ Shouldn’t we then continue the application in its entirety to see if the unknown god method is really being used? Remember, Larry said, “You start with what they know and move to the truth.” Does Narnia and other fictional magic point out that magic is bad? Does it bring the reader from what they ‘know’ to the truth? Does it correct the false thinking which says magic is good and something to be desired?
Our children should not ‘know’ magic like the Greeks ‘knew’ idolatry so as that we need to start with magic to teach them about God’s truth. Paul used it as a springboard and immediately corrected their error. Do most Christians do this with Narnia and Tolkien etc., exposing the lie of magic, and then go on to using God’s truth to teach their children about moral law? Not that I have seen. I think the norm is that we parents get our children excited about the lie (reading exciting books that call evil good, i.e. magic and paganism). We praise the books, and often vehemently defend them.
What is your reaction when you see a world wholly given to magic, paganism, and idolatry? Paul’s reaction is telling … we can see it by starting two verses earlier in the unknown God chapter:
Acts 17:16-17 KJV
 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.  Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
Pau’s spirit was stirred in him when he saw all the idolatry … stirred in him to dispute … and ultimately, to lead them to God through Jesus Christ.
Is that how we are stirred when we see books, movies, and people, wholly given to magic and Paganism?
The unknown god scripture is actually an excellent light to shine on the topic of fictional magic and paganism; it is quite relevant, just not in the way that ‘Learned Larry’ tried to apply it.
One final thought to ponder: what is the fruit of this magical fiction that our children like to read? Do our children move to the truth through these books, do they grow in the grace and knowledge of God, and want more of God?
Or … do they want more magic?