Are Magicians Demonic? Magic and Christianity

The other day I watched a video where Justin Flom, a well-known magician and believer in Jesus Christ, was responding to critics alleging that he was using demonic power to perform his magic tricks and illusions. (The video is titled “I am not a demon!” You can watch it here). At first, I thought this must be the case of a few off-the-wall critics. I was mistaken. Digging a little further, I found numerous websites, blog posts, and a bunch of YouTube videos – many with a staggering number of views – arguing quite strongly that magicians (including Christian magicians like Flom) were either intentionally or inadvertently consorting with demons to pull off their feats of trickery and illusion.

In this blog, I’ve written a few articles talking about how many Christians condemn fictional magic in fantasy literature or movies. It should come as no surprise then that many Christians do the same when it comes to performers who entertain with magic tricks. Yes, many Christians believe that when a magician performs at a children’s birthday party, he or she is channeling demonic spirits. It’s sad that I have to write an article addressing this, but I do.

Christians sometimes believe crazy things. This is unfortunate because Christians should be among the most sober-minded, thoughtful, and intellectually robust people on the planet. Yet I’ve found that too many Christians rely on emotion, personal experience, preferences, or “my pastor said…” when it comes to formulating their beliefs.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dismissing Satan and demons as fiction. I believe in God, Jesus, the angels, Satan, demons, heaven, hell, the Bible, and all that. I’m also not totally discounting personal experience, nor am I saying we shouldn’t listen to our pastors. (What kind of a pastor would I be if said that? 🙂 ). But the Apostle Paul says that we are to “test all things” and “hold fast” to what is “good” (I Thessalonians 5:21). We aren’t supposed to just turn off our brains, “drink the Kool-Aid” (so to speak), and then parrot whatever we’ve been taught. We are to think, to study, to investigate. This article is written in that spirit.

Once again, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles written on Christian themes, if you don’t believe in God, you’re going to find this discussion foolish. Feel free to skip. But if you believe in God and have a healthy respect for the Bible, I hope this will be of some help to you.

Let’s acknowledge that over the course of human history, many magicians have indeed consorted with dark forces. Some have worshiped pagan gods. This was certainly the case with Pharaoh’s magicians as recorded in the book of Exodus. Some, over the years, have dabbled with or immersed themselves in the occult or in Satanism outright. This is even the case in our time.

One of today’s magicians (who I won’t name) openly boasts of engaging in satanic rituals and communicating with demons. When I saw the video on YouTube, I thought it was a joke. Nope. It was no joke. This guy really is a Satanist and calls himself a practitioner of “black magic.” Other magicians, while not outright Satanists, are very much into tarot card readings, spirit guides, and all kinds of other deeply troublesome practices and beliefs. As but one example, an America’s Got Talent contestant from a few seasons back spoke openly about his spirit guide named Desmond. Spirit guides are a fairly common element in New Age practice.

The Bible is clear that those of us who follow God should stay away from spirit guides, mediums, sorcery, the occult, demons, Satanism, or the New Age. That’s what the Mosaic Law forbids (Deuteronomy 18:10-13) and what Peter condemned when he confronted Simon the sorcerer in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25). It stands to reason then that any magician who associates himself or herself with (or endorses, in any way) these things (spirit guides, mediums, occult practices, etc) should be avoided. I’m 100% in agreement with Christians who say we should avoid those kinds of magicians. However…

The vast majority of magicians today are NOT actual sorcerers.

Justin Flom is a magician… and a Christian

It pains me to have to write that, but it’s worth repeating. The overwhelming majority of magicians are not sorcerers. They are simply entertainers. There are indeed some entertainers we’re better off avoiding, while others are very worthwhile. But to assume all or most magicians today are either secret agents of or dupes of Satan is grossly unfair and utterly ridiculous.

There’s nothing sinister or supernatural going on when the vast majority of magicians work their magic tricks. Their tricks and illusions, while impressive and often mind-boggling, are a combination of craftiness of design, misdirection, and technology. To argue that such a magician is a sorcerer is like saying Henry Cavill is really Superman.

Doubt me?

There are countless books on magic available to read, many magic tricks for sale all over the Internet (including eBay), and numerous videos on YouTube that reveal the secrets behind some of the most popular illusions and magic tricks. Check it out yourself. Anyone with the ability to think (at all) will quickly surmise from all those books, videos, and tricks for sale that magic today is, for the most part, harmless entertainment.

Not only are most magicians harmless entertainers, but many of them are openly Christian. Justin Flom and his colleagues in the Fellowship of Christian Magicians (yes, there’s an organization for Christian magicians) regularly use their magic skills to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes, we should be careful when it comes to the world of entertainment (whether we’re talking about magic shows or fantasy literature). But let’s not become a knee-jerk critic either. Don’t assume the worst about people or find yourself believing a demon lurks behind everything you don’t understand or which you find disconcerting. Instead…

Be informed. Be rational. Be discerning.

How sad that so many Christians today, rather than appreciate the work of Christian magicians like Flom, instead condemn them as demonic charlatans. In so doing, they tear down their own, divide the Christian community, and make Christians everywhere look foolish. We’re better than that. Let’s act like it.

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You might also want to check out my articles on fictional magic in fantasy movies and literature…

An Interview With Fantasy LitRPG Writer Adam Horne, Author of Unwritten Rules

Adam Horne’s Unwritten Rules is a fantasy LitRPG novel that’s available on Amazon Kindle (and doing quite well). I recently finished the book and wrote a review on it, which you can check out here. And I reached out to the author with a few questions, and he was kind to get right back to me. With his permission, I’m posting the interview below.

BT: I’ve really enjoyed reading Unwritten Rules. How did you discover the LitRPG genre and what made you decide to write in it?

AH: I read Ready Player One. And by read, I mean I put it on my Amazon wishlist, ignored it for 3 years, then rediscovered it and wished I’d picked it up when I first saw it. From there it wasn’t hard to find links to similar books, and I tried several different series, including The Land, Awaken Online, Caverns and Creatures, and some translations of the Russian books. I’d played RPGs, both tabletop and video games, for over 20 years, and I’d also just finished writing my second book, which was a young adult science fiction novel. I wanted to work on something new and LitRPG was a perfect fit for my interests both as a game player and a writer, so I began outlining the story that became Unwritten Rules.

BT: The main character is a disabled young man struggling with depression and looking to find a purpose in life. There are some who may think the novel insinuates that disabled individuals need a virtual reality game to give them purpose. I know this isn’t your intent, but wanted to ask if you could comment on that.

AH: Sure. I always looked at Kevin’s condition as having less to do with his physical circumstances and more to do with his outlook in the aftermath of the car crash. At any point, he could have worked with his new limitations to create a purpose in his life. He had a motorized wheelchair that would have given him the mobility needed to socialize or hold a job, and he had parents and friends willing to support him in his goals. He just needed to make the decision for himself, which isn’t an easy thing to do when suffering from depression. What Kevin needed most in his life was a way to feel like he was contributing, and that could have been done in any number of ways: a job, volunteering, outreach programs to mentor other people with disabilities. That’s what I saw as his purpose, and the game was the perfect tool to help him achieve it.

BT: How did you go about this aspect of developing Kevin as your protagonist?

I don’t have a disability like Kevin’s, so I’ve had to research quite a bit in order to write it. The psychology behind how people change after a traumatizing event kind of surprised me. Many people in Kevin’s situation report that after they come to terms with what happened to them, they feel a deep sense of gratitude for things they used to take for granted. They’re happier afterwards and wouldn’t trade the sense of well-being they’ve discovered for going back to the person they were before. I plan to include more about how playing the game helps Kevin regain some of the physical mobility he lost and how it affects him emotionally and psychologically as well. Hopefully my writing skills are up to the challenge of handling it in a way that is sympathetic towards people with disabilities.

BT: With LitRPG, you’re not just dealing with characters and plot, you have to immerse them in a believable game world and track their progression through that game world. Did you design the game before you wrote the story?

AH: I did a lot of design work before I started writing. I wanted my characters to overcome their problems through strategy rather than being overpowered, something I see a bit too often in LitRPG stories. I felt the more I knew about the game and how it played, the better I would be able to write the story. I knew the skills and powers, leveling system, character classes, death mechanics, and all the ways the AI worked in the background before beginning chapter one. I had to make some changes as I went along, but having all that figured out in advance meant I could focus more on the storytelling as I wrote.

BT: How did you track character stats?

AH: I use a program called Scrivener to help with my writing. It lets me add notes to each chapter, so I kept track of stats that way. Honestly I could have been a lot more diligent about tracking and showing stats, but I tend to concentrate more on the story. When I read LitRPG, I usually skip over the points when an author shows the entire character sheet anyway, especially if they’ve already been individually reporting when skills and attributes increase. I plan to be more diligent in reporting those values in the next book.

BH: I’m sure many readers (like me) want to know when we can expect Book Two. So…tell us? 🙂

AH: At the moment, I can’t say when book two will be ready. It took approximately four months to write “Unwritten Rules,” but I’m hoping I can work faster this time since the game world has been established. The outline is mostly done, and I intend to release chapters on a weekly basis on Royal Road once I start writing. If you want to include a link to the story page, I will be updating it with information as the book progresses.

BH: Thank you for your time, Adam. I know my blog readers will appreciate this interview. Blessings to you and your efforts.

AH: Thank you for including my book in your blog, and I am glad you enjoyed it.

For more on Adam, check out his Author Page at Amazon.com.

An Interview With LitRPG Writer Apollos Thorne, Author of Codename: Freedom

Codename: Freedom is Apollos Thorne’s debut LitRPG novel

Apollos Thorne is the author of the new LitRPG series Codename: Freedom. His first book Codename: Freedom – Survive Week One goes live today in Amazon Kindle. I had the privilege of chatting with Apollos. He’s graciously agreed to be interviewed for this blog.

Brian Tubbs (BT): “Your book Codename: Freedom – Survive Week One releases TODAY. I’m looking forward to reading it. It’s in the LitRPG genre. For the benefit of some of my blog readers, can you explain what LitRPG is all about?”

Apollos Thorne (AT): Sure. That is probably the hardest question to answer that I get asked all the time. Tron is a good example. The main character is sucked into a digital world. Although a lot of authors use virtual reality because it’s becoming more and more of a reality. The only difference is that once you are sucked into this world you are able to level up to grow stronger. Just like in the common Role Playing Game. The progression of the characters is usually a major characteristic of the genre.

Another aspect that isn’t talked about as often, but is almost always present, is the competition between other players or people also stuck in the same situation you are. Not only is there the opportunity to level up and grow stronger, but to compete against others. The trailer for Jumanji 2, which just dropped on YouTube, is also a good example.

BT: “What got you interested in LitRPG as a genre?”

AT: I grew up playing games, especially role-playing games. It was always the story of these games the fascinated me. The sense of progression from leveling you character and growing stronger is also something I think really captures the imagination of guys in particular. I think it is a perfect genre to tell coming of age stories. There is also the exploration of future technology that has my inner geek dancing.

BT: “On your blog, you say you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Can you tell us what you most appreciate about them?”

AT: I will start with Tolkien, just because he was the cornerstone for the modern fantasy genre; especially epic fantasy. Even though I am a minimalist in my own writing when it comes to descriptions, to read Tolkien is to enter a new world. He is also a great example of what mankind is able to do with the imagination God has given us. C.S. Lewis is probably a bigger inspiration because of how he was able to mold his Chronicles of Narnia universe into something entertaining to all, but also more directly honoring to God. Also, I was able to start Lewis’s series earlier in life and stay interested.

BT: “You’re a Christian who enjoys science fiction, fantasy, role-playing games, and LitRPG. As you know, some Christians are uncomfortable with these things. What would you say to someone who is sincere in their faith and who also enjoys science fiction, fantasy, role playing games, and so forth?”

AT: First of all, listen to your conscience. For anyone that is a new Christian… do not do anything that you are uncomfortable with just because another Christian has found liberty in that area.

I was converted while in the process of getting a film degree, so understanding where I stood in this area was something I had to figure out fast. Where you stand on any form of entertainment is probably one of the first things you will struggle with as well since it is so readily available in our culture. Don’t rush the process as God renews your mind through His word and wise counsel.

With that out of the way, fiction, regardless of the medium, is fiction, not reality. That distinction is very important. Understanding it is entertainment makes it possible to take something like Harry Potter and discern what is good and wrong about it. Yes, some people believe in witchcraft, or even take the made-up magic of Harry Potter and practice it as if it is real. They have not discerned reality.

As you grow in knowledge of Scripture and experience the philosophies of the fiction, and characters within, the idols of their hearts, and also the good and noble things in the story will become easier to spot. Self-sacrifice, heroism, love, compassion, mercy and redemption are all things that even unbelievers can understand to a certain extent and appreciate. Remember that man is totally depraved, not utterly depraved. Meaning we are naturally sinners, but by God’s grace no one is as bad as they could be. We are also created in God’s image. That makes mankind fascinating, even in his fallen state.

Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is probably the most prolific reader I have ever encountered. Not only does he study every topic under the sun, but he also reads fiction. Now he doesn’t give recommendations, but he has helped solidify certain aspects of different forms of media in my mind. Reading, like nothing else, allows you to experience a story in an extremely intimate way and delve into the heart and mind of the characters, almost experiencing what they are experiencing and takes you on the journey with them. The emotions it can cause are evidence of that.

BT: “By the way, your first name is Apollos – the same name as one of the Apostle Paul’s ministry colleagues in the New Testament. Is that just a coincidence? or did your parents have the Apollos of the Bible in mind?”

AT: That is exactly where I got the name! A man of eloquent speech. I tease that my last name Thorne comes from Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Meaning for every ounce of eloquence He gave me to tell a story, He made sure to level the playing field. Actually the last name just sounded cool.

BT: “Tell us about your book.”

AT: Codename: Freedom – Survive Week One is the first book in what I plan to be a long running series of nine or more books. I wish they broke up nicely into trilogies, but I don’t see that happening. It is a coming of age tale where Lucius, named after the Lucius in Acts, is raised in a world where virtual, mixed and augmented reality have completely taken over everyday life.

Apollos Thorne is a Christian author inspired by CS Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

His father is a software developer and created an artificial intelligence (AI) bot named Destiny to basically raise him in his place. She is more than that though. She is a constant voice in his head to help him develop to become the best he can be in whatever it is he so desires. Destiny is much more advanced than the regular AI bot and Lucius’s father is rather disappointed he uses her to pursue becoming a professional gamer.

Gaming at this point in time has become as big as professional sports are today, if not bigger. With enough followers you can catch the eye of sponsors and get huge contracts. Lucius is selected to enter a yearlong virtual reality experiment that is really a training simulator, Codename: Freedom, designed to transform normal people into super soldiers. He enters Freedom to hopefully push his semi-pro status to the next level.

The leveling system isn’t like what is common in LitRPGs. It is based off of military grade Mixed Reality tech. When they level up, they can improve their senses to grow their ability of sight, hearing and smell. All combat is based off of their real world ability. Since both gamers and athletes are chosen to participate this causes some extra drama when the two different worlds clash.

I have to stop now or I’ll give too much away.

BT: “How long did it take for you to write it?”

AT: I started this one in October of 2015.

BT: “How accessible is this story for people who may be uncomfortable with profanity, sexual content, and so forth?”

AT: There is no profanity or sexual content at all for starters. I usually use fillers that are cleaner, like “cyborg snot” for cursing. Something that is cleaner, and more humorous than cringe-worthy. That doesn’t mean I do not touch on mature topics. One of the biggest trials Lucius has to deal with is the 100% pain in Codename: Freedom. Even if pain doesn’t come paired with death, having to wait hours as you suffer through it before your body recovers is not a light topic.

If in the future there is sexual content, then I will imply and not describe it. I have never run into a book where I thought it was necessary to tell the story. Now certain genres are based upon that, but I am not writing for any of those genres.

Also, Codename: Freedom is an action novel. There is violence, but I don’t do gore. That is sometimes a fine line, but I only explain certain events if they are required to explain a tactic and that tactic is impacting the mindset of the character.

Drinking. This is something that is done in Codename: Freedom. I have tried to do it tactfully, but everyone is of age. Secondly, it is not praised. A drunk person is thoroughly mocked in Book One as example. Also, one of the ways it is used is to numb pain while people are suffering from an injury because they have found nothing else that works.

BT: “Have you always wanted to be a writer?”

AT: I have always like the idea, and in college I wanted to pursue it. It wasn’t until after college and I was married that I just started to do it for a hobby that things became series. I put up the rough draft of Codename: Freedom on RoyalRoadL.com and got 500k views. After that it seemed silly not to pursue it.

BT: “With LitRPG, you not only have to deal with plot and characters, but also with creating a game world and dealing with game mechanics, character stats, and so forth. Did you design the game before you wrote the book?”

AT: Yes. I also have a second series with a completely different game system coming out hopefully in 2-3 months. This is an aspect I get a kick out of. It’s the gamer in me. Growing up playing games is good for something I guess.

BT: “I’m assuming you plan to follow up with Book Two at some point. Do you have the series all laid out? Or are you letting things unfold as you go?”

AT: A little bit of both. The overall plot over the nine or more books is already outlined. The individual books are only partially outlined. Besides book two that is already written, each individual book I experience for the first time while I’m writing it. There are a few major scenes I have probably already imagined, but other than that the characters do what they want. Lol.

I wanted to thank you Brian for the opportunity and showing the LitRPG genre some love. I hope you continue to enjoy the genre!

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Check out Apollos’ book Codename: Freedom here and his blog here

 

An Alchemist Takes on a Bully and Wannabe King: My Review of the LitRPG Novel ‘Unwritten Rules’

A physically disabled young man experiences newfound purpose and excitement in a virtual reality game world when he confronts an arrogant bully posing as a king. That’s the premise behind Adam Horne’s enjoyable LitRPG novel Unwritten Rules.

While in college, Kevin’s life took a tragic turn when a car struck him and left his body paralyzed. Two years later and still deeply depressed, Kevin is given the opportunity to play a revolutionary computer game – an immersive MMORPG (massive multi-player online role-playing game) called Genesis Online. It’s a game backed by a ground-breaking, state-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI). He soon finds himself reborn (or at least reimagined) as Kelath, a rogue adventurer in an exciting medieval fantasy world.

Kelath’s excitement turns to anger and frustration when he runs smack into a corrupt guild ruled by a wannabe king named Itrix. The guild, Noblesse Oblige, seeks to dominate all of the Genesis world through extortion, violence, and intimidation. Kelath and his friends must rally together, form their own guild, and fight for the freedom of Genesis.

If you don’t like fantasy stories or role-playing games, you probably won’t enjoy Unwritten Rules. But, in my case, I found Unwritten Rules to be rather entertaining. The first few pages may be a little slow for some, but it gets you into the main character pretty well. Then, when he puts on the gaming gear, the LitRPG story gets going and draws you in. It’s not as heavy on the LitRPG elements as some other novels in this genre, but the story and characters are pretty well fleshed out. Horne definitely succeeds in getting you to root for Kelath and his friends.

The initial premise may be troubling to some. On the surface, it may suggest to some that disabled individuals lack purpose, and need something like the fictional MMO in Unwritten Rules to give them purpose. As someone who has a mentally challenged sister and who has worked with members of the disabled community (both as a pastor and, several years ago, on my county’s Disability Services Board), the value and dignity of persons with disabilities is an important issue for me. Nevertheless, as sensitive as some readers might be to the story’s premise, it is not the author’s intention to suggest that those with disabilities need virtual reality to give them purpose. The author is simply laying out the story of this one character, Kevin, and letting us go on a journey with him. When I reached out to the author on this subject, he was happy to confirm this. As he explains, “What Kevin needed most in his life was a way to feel like he was contributing, and that could have been done in any number of ways: a job, volunteering, outreach programs to mentor other people with disabilities. That’s what I saw as his purpose, and the game was the perfect tool to help him achieve it.” (I’ll be publishing a full Q&A with the author in a few days.)

I plan to continue with this series. And if you at all like fantasy and/or RPG games, I suggest you give Unwritten Rules a try.

 

Is it Wrong to Read Fantasy Literature?

I have a confession. I’m a Christian, and I love fantasy and science fiction. There, I’m out of the closet. So, let me say it plain: I love reading about dragons, monsters, wizards, Jedi, sword fights, epic battles, and more. That’s right. I’m a Bible-believing Christian (and a pastor, no less), and I love reading (and watching) science fiction and fantasy. Some Christians will not approve of this, and my reputation with them may suffer for it. But I believe in telling the truth. And the truth is… I love fantasy and science fiction.

As a kid, I was captivated by Star Wars, practically addicted to Star Trek, and thoroughly enjoyed watching Buck Rogers and the 25th Century. I wrestled with whether I’d prefer to command a starship like Captain James T. Kirk or wield a light saber and dazzle people with the psychokinetic powers of a Jedi. I decided I’d like to do both!

Not seriously, mind you. I can see some Christians (in fact, I can name a few 🙂 ) who will read the above paragraph and say: “Aha! You see? Watching Star Wars leads people to witchcraft!” So, let me clarify. I never actually sought out telekinetic powers or abilities. I knew “the Force” was fiction, and I knew witchcraft was wrong. I speak only of my imagination here. I enjoyed reading about and dreaming about being a Jedi…or a starship captain. (No supernatural powers required with the latter – just a lot of science that’s not quite available yet. Of course, a few aliens that the Enterprise encountered had some impressive abilities, but I digress).

Even as an adult, I continued to enjoy Star Wars and Star Trek, while also becoming a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, The Lord of the Rings, Legend of the Seeker, and more. And…

I began to read more fiction.

For years, I had read mainly nonfiction and got my fiction entertainment from TV and the movies. Yet I believe that reading is far better for the mind than TV or the movies. And I now much prefer reading a novel over watching a TV show.

And when it comes to reading fiction, I enjoy historical fiction (including military history and westerns), science fiction, and fantasy. I’ve enjoyed reading John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, William R. Forstchen’s Lost Regiment series, alternate history novels (including the Civil War series by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen), several of Raymond Feist’s fantasy novels, and just about every book written by James Byron Huggins! His monster thrillers are crazy fun!

Here’s the thing. Many Christians would say I shouldn’t read any of those books. Anything that involves magic, time travel, supernatural powers, etc. – they would say “Avoid it.” I can hear them now: It’s sin. It’s witchcraft. It’s evil. It’s bad. The Bible condemns it. Stay away. Run away. Flee the appearance of evil.

Since not all of my readers share my Christian faith, I feel I must offer an aside here (as I have in a few of my other blog posts). If you don’t believe in God or the Bible, you’re going to find this article foolish. This is written for my fellow Christian readers, particularly those who struggle with balancing the demands of their faith with the needs and desires of their human nature, including their interest in entertainment.

I’ve met many Christians over the years who see God as stern, always serious, and so demanding of His followers that they (consciously or unconsciously) see Him as wanting to wring every bit of fun and enjoyment out of our lives. Writing for Relevant magazine, Adam and Christine Jeske humorously sum up this unfortunate mindset pretty well: “Go ahead and circle the wagons. Keep your head down. Suck it up, people. Let’s prepare for imminent martyrdom. Put on sackcloth. Sit in ashes. Skip all pleasures. Grit your teeth. Furrow your brow. Let’s hunker down and get seriously disciplish.”

Can you be a disciple of Christ and still go to the movies and eat popcorn?

Along those lines, both the church I grew up in and the Christian school I attended repeatedly condemned “worldly entertainment.” We were told not to go to the movies and encouraged not to watch TV. One of my Sunday school teachers bragged about taking his TV out and shooting it! (I grew up in a rural area).

It’s true that God wants us to love Him above all else. It’s true that He wants us to willingly sacrifice for Him, and to be distinct, in many ways, from the culture around us. We are to love, obey, and follow Him. We are to live for Him. And in so doing, we will be called upon to make sacrifices, and some have sacrificed their very lives to Him. We are to be distinct from the culture around us. As the old saying goes: We are to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Nevertheless…

God is NOT against fun!

On the contrary, God is the One who created fun. Get that. Meditate on it. Let it sink in.

God is not against us having fun. In fact, He’s all for our having fun. That’s an important point to make. And to understand.

So…what about entertainment? God may want us to have fun, but does that mean He endorses all our entertainment choices?

No.

But let’s not go to the other extreme either and assume (or suspect), either consciously or unconsciously, that He is against all fun outside of prayer, Bible study, hymn singing, church attendance, or pot-luck church fellowships!

The Apostle Paul’s references to ancient athletics should tell us that both he and his audience were familiar with the athletic events to which he referred. Are we to suppose that he and his audience were only academically or tangentially aware? That’s quite unlikely. It’s much more likely that Christians of the ancient world shopped in the same stores, watched many of the same plays, and attended many of the same athletic events as everyone else!

Again, I’m not saying that all entertainment choices are the same. I’m saying that we should be discerning rather than knee-jerk.

So what about fantasy literature? How do we discern what’s acceptable and what’s not?

The Bible says we are to avoid contact with “mediums” and “necromancers” (Leviticus 19:31) and that “sorcerers” will ultimately be sent to the “lake that burns with fire and sulfur” for all eternity (Revelation 21:8). And the Bible also tells us to “avoid the appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22). But are these verses, in principle, referring to even fictional depictions of sorcery and magic? In other words, does Leviticus 19:31 and/or Revelation 21:8 mean we shouldn’t watch Star Wars or I Dream of Jeannie?

This is where discernment comes in, so I hope you will indulge me as I walk us through a little analysis here.

The Bible forbids participation in actual necromancy and sorcery, because their source of power is satanic. Keep in mind that, in the real world, supernatural power – that is, power outside of and apart from the natural realm we inhabit – comes from a supernatural source. Common sense, right? Well, according to the Bible, there are only two supernatural forces at work: God (and His angels) or Satan (and his demons). That’s it. Only two sources.

Those who follow God are told to love, follow, and obey Him — and to have nothing to do with God’s Enemy. If you play on God’s team, you are to have no contact with the other team. According to the Bible, if anyone performs supernatural feats or miracles, either that person is doing so because of God’s power OR they are channeling demonic power.

Make sense?

That’s how things are in our world. And that’s why we are to not have anything to do with witches or those who claim to speak to the dead. But…

That’s in the real world.

JRR Tolkien referred to his character Gandalf as “an angel incarnate.”

In a fantasy world, we’re dealing with the realm of fiction, of make-believe, of imagination. Any “supernatural” feats in the pages of a novel (or in a game or TV show or movie) are….fictional. They are not real. There is no real power at all…except that of the author telling a story.

What’s more, when characters, in a fictional setting, employ magic or perform miracles, it’s simply irresponsible to conclude that the power behind these works is Satan or his demons. Again, we’re talking about fiction. But even within the parameters of that fictional story, it’s not always the case that the author is having her characters channel demonic power.

Let’s take Christian author Donita K. Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles series. In that series, magic is represented as a gift granted by God (or, in her world, Wulder). The DragonKeeper stories are definitely fiction, but the protagonist is NOT tapping into demonic power. Quite the contrary, in fact. The protagonist, in Paul’s story, is tapping into God’s (or Wulder’s) power! And this is crucial.

In other worlds or universes (as created by their respective fantasy or science fiction authors), “magic” is merely a part of nature itself. That’s obviously not the case here on planet Earth, but we’re talking fantasy, not reality.

To completely dismiss all science fiction and fantasy entertainment because magic is involved reflects an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction that’s more based on fear than discernment. Some fantasy stories, like C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, are perfectly fine for anyone to enjoy. Indeed, Tolkien (especially) and Lewis (to some extent) are regarded as being among the pioneers of fantasy literature.

Are all fantasy or sci-fi novels acceptable in God’s eyes? Of course not. But that can be said of other genres as well. Christians need to exercise the same amount of discretion when it comes to fantasy as they do when it comes to any literature. Some fantasy stories are clean, fun, and perfectly harmless. Others should be avoided. And the same is true for any genre of literature, including science fiction, historical fiction, romance, westerns, thrillers, mysteries, and so forth. Some books are fine to read; others, not so much.

The key is discernment.

So, yes, I love reading fantasy and science fiction. And I do so, with discernment. If you don’t like fantasy or science fiction, that is fine. If you choose, because of your faith, not to read fantasy or science fiction literature, that is your prerogative. But I hope you will respect those (like me) who make different choices.

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For my previous take on this subject, you may want to check out my post “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Christianity”

A Janitor Becomes King: My Review of Adam Drake’s LitRPG Series Kingdom

Robert Barron is a widower and night-shift janitor. Still grieving the loss of his wife, the 52-year old cares only about his grown daughter, Anika, and wants to keep the rest of his life as free of stress as possible. And that’s why he traded in the corporate life in favor of cleaning office buildings. With little to no professional ambition left, Rob just wants to live in peace and enjoy as much time with his daughter as he can. Unfortunately for Rob, unseen forces have other plans for him. And the night-shift janitor finds himself running (and defending) a kingdom!

Adam Drake’s Kingdom series is yet another contribution to the rapidly growing and increasingly popular LitRPG genre. A subset of fantasy and science fiction, the LitRPG genre is all about following a character or set of characters as they progress through a virtual reality game setting.

Drake’s Kingdom series isn’t as heavy into the game mechanics as some other LitRPG novels, and his stories are much shorter. I was able to zoom through the first two books of this series, Kingdom Level One and Kingdom Level Two, in just three sittings. While not necessarily superficial, the Kingdom series is also not very deep. The stories tend to be very straightforward. Most of it is hack-and-slash with some hand-wringing and angst thrown in for good measure. The books could also use some additional editing. There were several typographical errors and spelling issues. But the premise is compelling (if highly unbelievable) and I do care about the main character. And that’s what has kept me going through this series.

Most LitRPG stories follow a young protagonist who is a talented, experienced gamer in real life. Not so with Kingdom. Drake’s protagonist, Rob, is older and much less experienced as a gamer. And this is seen numerous times as Rob makes quite a few rookie mistakes.

This is not a Christian fantasy series. That of course is no problem for many of my readers, but since a large portion of my reading audience identifies as Christian, I feel I should point this out. That Kingdom isn’t Christian is made clear by the language, by an early description of the main character’s attitude toward religion, and by the polytheistic nature of the game world. And while the latter would normally be taken with a grain of salt (we are talking about fantasy after all), the premise of the series itself is still not defined – at least not as of the end of the second book, Kingdom Level Two. Is the game world real? Is it man made? It’s clearly a game, given its mechanics, but it somehow is more than just a game. For one, it had the ability – via its “gods” – to reach into the real world and abduct Rob. For my own part, I can easily suspend disbelief and not take fantasy stories like this seriously. But some of my Christian readers may have a different perspective.

I personally enjoy reading fantasy books. And I have grown to really enjoy LitRPG. And, so, despite Kingdom‘s shortcomings, I’m enjoying the series. And I’m looking forward to the next installment. As of this writing, the first two volumes have been written. The third is soon to be released.

If you’re a part of Kindle Unlimited and like LitRPG, I encourage you to give the Kingdom series a try.

Why You Should Love America (In Spite of its Flaws): My Review of Dinesh D’Souza’s Book on America

Today is America’s birthday. Two hundred and forty-one years ago today, John Hancock affixed his famous signature to the Declaration of Independence, the iconic document penned by Thomas Jefferson and then amended and approved by the Second Continental Congress. And on this Fourth of July, it’s fitting that we reflect on what kind of nation we are — a nation worthy of celebration or one deserving of scorn and shame. And for that purpose we look today at Dinesh D’Souza’s controversial book America: Imagine The World Without Her.

It’s been said that books are almost always better than movies. This is absolutely the case with Dinesh D’Souza’s America. Those of you who saw the movie America may be less inclined to read the book. This would be unfortunate, because the book largely succeeds where the movie failed.

The movie tries to accomplish too much in a limited amount of time. It argues for American exceptionalism, while glossing over some of our nation’s past (and present) sins and mounting only a brief (and quite often superficial) defense over others. It then careens into what feels like conspiracy peddling, basically accusing many liberal politicians and activists (including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) of wanting to commit national suicide. Little wonder liberal critics like Salon’s Elizabeth Stroker Bruenig called the movie “crazy” and a “laughable embarrassment.” But…

The book is not shallow. It’s not “crazy.” And it’s not “laughable.” The book goes much deeper than the film. It provides evidence to back up its central claims, and makes a very persuasive case that, despite her flaws, the United States of America is worthy of our gratitude and respect.

D’Souza alleges that many in the United States are encouraging America’s “decline” by wanting to fundamentally reshape the United States in a manner that (to them) more fairly allocates its wealth and resources and rights the wrongs of its past. It’s all driven by a “moral critique” of America brought to bear by left-of-center progressives. According to this progressive critique, explains D’Souza, the United States of America “was founded in an original act of piracy: the early settlers came from abroad and stole the country from the native Indians. Then America was built by theft: white Americans stole the labor of African Americans by enslaving them for 250 years.” This “theft” continued through American history with America’s wars (such as the US-Mexican War and the Vietnam War), discrimination, segregation, and capitalism. D’Souza claims that, in their way, both conservatives and progressives embrace American exceptionalism. While political conservatives often believe America is “exceptionally good,” D’Souza says that progressives often believe America to be “exceptionally bad.”

The premise of D’Souza’s defense of the United States against the progressive critique is twofold:

1) No country is perfect. Those who attack the United States for its failures of the past and the present, including on matters of race, gender, “social justice,” and so forth, often do so with a barely comprehensible (and often intellectually incoherent) standard in mind. Set aside utopian expectations and deal with the real world. That’s D’Souza’s challenge. And when you do that, you’ll find that the United States comes off quite well.

2) The US has done more than most nations in trying to change reality for the better. For example, slavery predated the founding of the United States. It was commonly practiced by virtually every culture from the beginning of recorded history. It was the founding ideals, articulated by America’s early leaders, that morally indicted slavery. And then over 300,000 Americans gave their lives to fight against slavery in the Civil War. Rather than give the US credit for being the first nation to fight a war to end slavery, left-wing progressive ideologues would rather portray the US as singularly responsible for it. This is similarly the case with just about every other sin that progressives often lay at America’s doorstep.

According to D’Souza, most cultures throughout history prized what he calls “the conquest ethic.” Taking stuff (whether it be land, people, resources, money) was, argues D’Souza, “the natural mode of human acquisition.” He explains that conquest was “how most countries were founded” and that slavery, economic exploitation, and many wars were “simply extensions” of this near-universal mindset. He then claims that the United States, founded not by accident but by intention, was based on principles that refuted this ethic and substituted a new one: wealth creation. “Obviously there were inventors and merchants around before America,” writes D’Souza. “But America is the first society to be based on invention and trade. America is the capitalist society par excellence.”

D’Souza argues that the famed 18th century French observer Alexis de Tocqueville was far more astute in his assessment of the United States than more recent critics such as Michel Foucault, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Saul Alinsky. Tocqueville saw the principles and promise of America in ways that few have been able to grasp since. Tocqueville sees in America “a distinct species of mankind” who embrace principles of freedom, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, innovation, equal opportunity (but not result), and moral accountability. “It was never assumed in the United States,” writes Tocqueville, “that the citizen of a free country has a right to do whatever he pleases.” Tocqueville saw the churches, despite their differences, as all preaching “the same moral law in the name of God” and thus providing that basis of accountability for the culture.

In one sense, D’Souza and the progressives share common ground. They both believe in progress. But, whereas most left-wing progressives see progress as moving the country away from its founding principles, D’Souza would argue that true progress is encouraging the country to live UP to its founding principles. This mirrors Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass (especially later in life), and Martin Luther King, Jr. — all of whom appealed to America’s founding principles rather than rejecting them.

The United States emerged from a world that largely either embraced or accepted conquest, slavery, and exploitation. It should not be surprising that these things found their way into American history (even at the beginning) because they are part of the natural human condition. But the United States has never been content to stay still. Through its history, the United States has (more often than not) moved in the right direction on its shortcomings and helped lead the way in righting wrongs. This isn’t due to a rejection of its heritage or principles, but rather (more often than not) because of its heritage and principles.

Driven by those principles, the United States has made a positive mark in the world. Though Athens practiced democracy for a couple of centuries and Rome tried making a republic work (before falling into dictatorship), the United States is the first country to institutionalize a stable, prosperous, and (thus far) lasting system of government based on the Rule of Law and democratic participation. The Constitution of the United States remains the longest-serving (and most emulated) document of its kind in world history. And our free market system of economics has lifted countless people out of poverty, not just within our own borders but in other nations who have followed our lead.

The United States ended slavery within its borders (starting with the founding era and culminating with the Civil War and the 13th amendment), elevated the dignity and rights of women, welcomed immigrants from troubled and/or failing nations in its own hemisphere and abroad, protected Western Europe in the First World War, liberated Western Europe and much of Asia in the Second World War, and defeated communism in the Cold War. The United States has invested billions of dollars in fighting poverty, alleviating suffering, building (and rebuilding) infrastructure, and more – both at home and abroad. Hundreds of millions (arguably billions) of people around the world (and especially here at home) live with freedom and hope today because of the United States of America.

None of this is to diminish or downplay the suffering that many people have experienced over the years, including many who have lived under the American flag. And no American should refuse to look in the mirror for an honest self-examination (both as an individual and as a citizen of the country). There is no denying that the United States broke several treaties with American Indian tribes. And there’s no getting around the inexcusable, shameful travesty that was the Trail of Tears. There can be no denying or dismissing of the evils of race-based, chattel slavery or Jim Crow or lynching. And, for all the benefits of a capitalist society (especially in comparison to communism), there’s no question that millions of Americans have, over the years, been victimized by greed and economic abuse. And many have failed within the free market system (sometimes due to circumstances not entirely in their control) and they (and their loved ones) have suffered. Awareness and self-examination are important. But it’s as important to look at the good as it is the bad and, even when looking at the bad, it’s important to understand context as well as cause-and-effect.

The shallow observer, for instance, sees sin in America’s history and concludes that America is about the sin. The intelligent, honest, and constructive observer sees sin as part of the normal human condition and that it’s going to be an inevitable part of any nation’s past and present — but then looks at how the country and its citizens over the years have tried to deal with those sins. Too many Americans have bought into the shallow reading of our past, a view promulgated by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Saul Alinsky. Thankfully, we have writers like D’Souza and books like America to provide a more complete and fairer assessment of American history – one that should leave us humble but at the same time grateful.

The United States of America is not a perfect country. We have our flaws and our sins, as any country does. But the United States is a great country, and it’s good for all of us to be reminded of that fact.

A Founding Father Every American Should Appreciate: My Review of David McCullough’s Masterpiece Biography of John Adams

Two hundred and forty-one years ago today (July 2), the Second Continental Congress voted to approve Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence. And John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that the “Second of July” would forever be recognized as a national day of celebration. Two days later, the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, making the Fourth of July the birthday that stuck. Adams’ prophetic error may be mildly amusing to some, but it’s a great reminder that this time of year is the perfect time to brush up on your knowledge of and appreciation for John Adams.

With his Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece John Adams (published in 2001), David McCullough almost single-handedly resurrected the legacy and reputation of our nation’s second President and (until then) too-often ignored Founding Father. McCullough’s book earned widespread (and well-deserved) acclaim and was the basis for HBO’s phenomenal miniseries starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.

McCullough originally intended his project to be a joint biography of both Adams and Thomas Jefferson. And Jefferson features prominently in this tome. As the project progressed, McCullough realized that it was Adams’ story which needed to be told – and which he wanted to tell. Short, vain, combative, and a little on the chunky side, John Adams had one of the most colorful personalities of all the Framers. He was also a force of nature, making his mark again and again locally, regionally, and nationally. Even internationally.

During the founding era, Adams was always visible in the foreground and was generally recognized as one of the leading men of the American Revolution and the nascent American Republic. Farmer, lawyer, writer, politician, diplomat – Adams did it all. Still, he was often (much to his chagrin) eclipsed by others. And as he (somewhat bitterly) predicted, this became more common as the years went on. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, creative leader, witty philosopher, and charming diplomat. His consummate political skills were legendary. A clever inventor and shrewd politician in his own right, Thomas Jefferson was a great visionary who could be magnificently eloquent with his pen. And then there’s George Washington. How do you follow him? Even second-tier Founders like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton have eclipsed Adams in some ways. Madison is remembered as the “Father of the Constitution” and of course served as our fourth President (during the War of 1812). And Hamilton, the brilliant Treasury Secretary, adorns the $10 bill. Outside of New England and his circle of friends, Adams was often taken for granted, overlooked, and (as time went by) forgotten. And  yet…

As David McCullough makes abundantly clear, it’s difficult to fathom the American Revolution succeeding or the new nation getting off the ground without John Adams. He was the heavy-lifter of the Founders, doing more than all of them — other than perhaps Washington. Adams deserves a lot more recognition and gratitude than he has received over the years, and McCullough appropriately shines the spotlight on him. If you haven’t yet read John Adams, I hope you’ll do so. It will give you a richer appreciation of our nation’s founding and of one of the families right at the center of it.

Though Adams may have been out of sync with when Americans would celebrate their independence, he was at the very forefront of what Independence Day is all about. Remember that when you watch the fireworks this Fourth of July.

An Aging, Soon-to-be Mothballed Spaceship Saves the Earth in this Fun Space Opera: My Review of Nick Webb’s Constitution

In the year 2650, an alien menace returns. Its fleet invades our solar system, lays waste to our outposts on Mars and the Moon, and decimates our fleet. Only the aging, soon-to-be-decommissioned ISS Constitution can save the day. That’s the premise of Nick Webb’s Constitution, the first book in his Legacy Fleet trilogy.

Seventy-five years before, Earth was almost destroyed by an alien race known as “the Swarm.” Hundreds of millions perished. Many of Earth’s cities were utterly destroyed. And yet, thanks in part to the efforts of the Legacy Fleet (now all mothballed, except for the ISS Constitution), the Swarm pulled back. No one knows for sure why. And now, 75 years later, Earth has grown complacent.

Nicknamed “the Old Bird,” the ISS Constitution is the oldest ship in the Earth fleet. Much to the chagrin of its crotchety captain, the Constitution is being decommissioned and refitted as a museum piece.  And that refit is taking place during its final voyage home, despite the grumbling of Captain Tim Granger. A hot-shot, young officer from the fleet is assigned to oversee the refit. And Granger doesn’t like it – or her – one bit.

While many in Earth’s fleet believe that both the Constitution and its captain need to be put out to pasture, it’s Granger’s “Old Bird” that represents the best hope for humanity when the Swarm returns.

A USA Today bestselling author, Webb borrows a great deal of inspiration from Battlestar Galactica in this sci-fi yarn, with a little dose of Star Trek as well. A very dark and depressing Star Trek, that is, where tens of millions of Earth’s inhabitants perish. Think Independence Day set in the future! Granger is the perfect combination of BSG‘s Commander Adama and an aging Captain Kirk (as William Shatner played him in the 1980s and 90s Trek movies). Granger’s cranky XO is a carbon copy of BSG‘s Saul Tigh. Several of the other characters are likewise recognizable.

This shouldn’t be surprising, since it was Star Trek that drew Webb to science in the first place. He has a Ph.D . in Experimental Physics and has worked as a scientist his entire career. When he was much younger, he wanted to build starships like the Enterprise, but settled for designing spaceships for NASA. As his official bio says, he “builds spaceships for NASA by day, and writes about starships by night.”

He’s been very successful as a writer, making the USA Today bestseller list with his debut novel, The Terran Gambit, which launched his 10-book Pax Humana series. The Legacy Fleet trilogy is his second science fiction book series. And whereas the Terran Gambit was about Earth fighting for independence, the Legacy Fleet trilogy has Earth fighting for its very survival.

If you enjoy science fiction and space opera stories, you’ll like Constitution. Go grab a copy today.

A US Navy Destroyer Battles an Evil Reptilian Race in an Alternate World: My Review of Taylor Anderson’s Into The Storm

Taylor Anderson’s Into The Storm, the first book in his exciting Destroyermen series, opens with the US Navy losing World War II. Badly. Three months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy is unable to stop the Japanese as they sweep across the Pacific Ocean. Having suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Java Sea, American ships are fleeing, in Anderson’s words, “the implacable juggernaut that was the Japanese Imperial Navy.”

The retreating American vessels include Destroyer Squadron 29, a group of aging destroyers from the Great War era pressed back into service for what is now the Second World War. One of those destroyers is the four-stacker USS Walker, commanded by Anderson’s main protagonist, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Patrick Reddy, USNR. As the Japanese fleet presses forward, Reddy takes his vessel into a squall hoping to escape certain destruction. When they emerge from the squall, they are in an alternate world with dinosaurs, monstrous fish, and a savage reptilian species descended from the velociraptor. Thus begins Taylor Anderson’s magnificent Destroyermen series.

Taylor Anderson is a historian, gun maker and forensic ballistic archaeologist. He’s been a professor, museum advisor, and Hollywood consultant. He’s even acted himself in movies. Published in 2008, Into The Storm was Anderson’s first novel and the first in the Destroyermen series. He’s now a New York Times bestselling author, having written eleven volumes in his alternate history series.

The Destroyermen series is reminiscent of the phenomenal Lost Regiment series by William R. Forstchen, in which a Civil War Union regiment from Maine is mysteriously transported to a different realm and must fight for its own survival as well as for peace and justice in its new world. The difference of course is that Anderson emphasizes naval warfare whereas Forstchen focused on land. Though, it should be noted that both land and sea battles are featured in both series. And both series are excellent.

Anderson’s Destroyermen series appeals to fans of portal fiction, alternate history, nautical fiction, military sci-fi, and fantasy. Those who appreciate complex world-building and, at times, intricate technical details will likewise be impressed. The characters are all pretty well developed, and the action scenes are gripping.

If you’re a fan of William R. Forstchen, S.M. Stirling, or Eric Flint, you should give Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series a shot. And it all starts with Into The Storm.

Happy Reading!