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Profile of BillyTheSquid
Apologies - I realised I'd posted this originally in the FCM forum and it should have been in the more generic Christian Magicians forum, so I've deleted it from there and reposted it here:

Hi Everyone,

It's been a very long time since I was a regular contributor on MC - mainly in the spookier sections because I enjoyed the storytelling side of close-up magic. Since then I've become a lay pioneer minister in the UK for a multi-denominational movement called "Fresh Expressions", being an Anglican minister. I've had a break from magic for a few years now, but am feeling called back into it, primarily to reclaim a hobby which I gave up in the transition years.

I've been on a journey from a strict upbringing as a "Calvinistic Puritan" to being able to hold things in tension and a more rounded faith due to a wide experience of different churchmanships. I work in a fairly Wesleyan approach (even though I'm Anglican) with Wesley's Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience (Scripture being the "seat" into which the other three act as legs and are in submission to).

I have been pondering the whole concept of human freewill (HFW) and God's sovereignty (GS). For humans to be made in the image of God, they have to have freewill to make life choices - ie they weren't created robots and had the choice whether or not to follow God (sadly choosing the latter, which explains (partially) the mess we're in as a human race), but also God is sovereign in that all things come from God (ie God is Creator) and return to God (at the consummation of all things).

The whole issue of HFW and GS I see as two opposing things pitted against each other. Calvinists rightly see that GS trumps human freewill, and that God always gets what God wills. Arminianists rightly see that humans must have HFW in order to be truly made in the image of God and be able to choose to follow God or not (as per the original human Fall). But... what if *both* are correct... God always gets what God desires, and humans truly have freewill? How could this work?

Well, maybe the art of equivoque could be helpful in explaining this? From the volunteer (and audience) perspective, there truly is freewill to make decisions. However, from the magician's perspective, the magician knows the desired endpoint for the volunteer to reach and based upon the free choices of the volunteer, steers the volunteer towards that desired endpoint. The magician is sovereign in that the endpoint is reached (ie God gets what God wills) and the volunteer has truly free choices (ie humans get completely free choices in their lives).

Does this denigrate the sovereignty of God? Not at all, in fact it shows that God is even bigger because he knows all the possible options and yet guides through the life choices to bring us to God's desired destination for us?

Does this denigrate the freewill aspect of humans? Not at all, because we're in full control of our life choices and as such are totally responsible for the decisions we make.

Ultimately God wins, just like the magician using equivoque.

Am I missing something here, or can magical techniques be useful in helping explain theological conundrums, and if so, how does one manage to convey these truths without revealing the technique in detail?

Every blessing,
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Profile of jamiedoyle

Great to meet you on this forum! I'd love to connect on FB as well... look me up: Jamie Doyle.

This is a brilliant way to express the idea of HFW and GS somehow working together - maybe even to discuss it with other magicians.
For the layperson, perhaps the idea that you are "tipping your hand" -- that a magician sets up boundaries that all narrow to a desired result. It could be presented with vernacular or wording such as (adjust the patter to fit the effect):

"You made a variety of seemingly free choices and at the end, I was able to show you that I somehow knew that's where we would end up... I'm going to do something I know other magicians wouldn't want me to do: I"m going to explain to you how I am able to do such an effect. You see, every trick or effect I do has some sort of secret move or advanced preparation. In this case, I set up boundaries of which you were unaware. I allowed you to make any choices within those boundaries -- BUT... I arranged those boundaries to narrow down to the final outcome. You know, our relationship with God is so very similar..."

This is only off-the-cuff. So, obviously, This is open to discussion and debate. (I'm not looking to debate theology, rather, the patter or application).
Jamie Doyle
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Profile of BillyTheSquid
Hi Jamie,

Thanks for the reply and the suggested patter Smile. I can't find you on Facebook as there are a huge number of Jamie Doyles lol. However, there's only one SammyTheSquib, so can you look me up instead please? lol.

I like the patter suggestion as a starter for discussion Smile.

Would it be good to remove the "seemingly" from prefixing the free choices though as the choices really are free to the user, it's what's done with the choices that's in the control of the magician. I know what you mean, but you're speaking from the magician's perspective, which may tip them off that you're actually doing something sleight of hand (when it's actually sleight of mouth lol).

When I do equivoque with seven coloured stones, I mention each time the freewill aspect of what's been done by the helper, recapping on all the freewill choices they've made (that way they're drilled into understanding that they've made entirely freewill choices - this is my mentalism training that's coming in here lol). This is why I suddenly started thinking to myself about it being an effect which could be used for this purpose.

Would using "trick" as a word give the impression that God is tricking us? Just an open thought - I tend to avoid the word and use effect / routine as, for me, I don't want to leave an audience member feeling they've been "duped" but more like they've been part of the creation of awe and wonder itself (but then that's my upbringing in the Burger / McBride style of theatrical magical performance side that's popping out here).

Perhaps something like (yes there's "Christianese" in here, but I'm assuming a Christian audience - I could translate from Christianese for the particular group I'm working with):

"As a follower of Jesus, I believe that God created all humans with complete free will. We can choose to do bad things, and we can choose to do good things. Each of these choices has consequences, both for ourselves, and for others around us, whether human or non-human. I also believe that our Maker knows the end of our lives from the beginning, and wants us to be reconciled to him. He is sovereign over our lives and gently guides us to himself as we live our lives. Although we have those free choices, God knows the billions of outcomes of all those choices and, because he is over all, works them together for our good and his glory.

To illustrate this, I've got seven stones here, all different colours, and we'll explore the idea of HFW and GS together. I'll play the part of God, because I know what will happen at the end of this routine, and you can play the part of the human (that should be a lot easier as I've no experience of being God, but you have of being a human Smile).

In this bag is a stone and I want you to take it and put it in your pocket. I will not touch the bag after you've taken it, so you can know that I won't change anything after we begin, in the same way that God's preferred and promised future for us doesn't change.

[Now do the equivoque routine, each choice being made being reinforced as a completely free choice from their perspective]

As we've journeyed together, we've seen you make a lot of completely free choices as we've gone along.

[Let them do the reveal themselves without touching the bag]

You see, I knew the end of your journey despite the many different free choices you made along the way. You were free to choose, and yet as the one desiring you to get to a particular place, I was able to make things happen in such a way that you were brought to my will all along.

This is how God guides and helps us through life towards what God promises for us. Some of the choices we make will not necessarily be the ones preferred directly by God, but that doesn't mean God abandons us, he merely causes things to happen in such a way as we end up back on track with him in the end. In the end our wills become God's will."

Again, like yourself I'm riffing off the cuff.

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I may be "Captain Obvious" here or the "Master of the Obvious" (as Jim Harbaugh puts it): sometimes it can be very difficult to use conjuring effects to help illuminate complicated doctrinal distinctives. Having grown up in the Christian Reformed Church (Calvinist) and now being a member of The Wesleyan Church (Armenian), I have heard this joke (or different versions of it many times) which I would consider including in potential routine on this subject being used:

A man goes to a central lobby meeting area for a Bible study- sees two rooms with different signs over the door. One door sign is labeled "Predestined" and the other door sign is labeled "Free Choice". So he decides to walk into the "Predestined" room where he is asked: Why did you enter this room? He replies "I Chose It." He is then told to go to the other room. So upon entering the other "Free Choice" room he is asked: "Why did you come here?"- he replies "Because I Was Sent Here."

I like the line from the priest in the movie "Rudy": "There are two things I know. First, there is a God. And second, I am not Him."

Thorough teaching to older children in particular about the Trinity, end times, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, election, perseverance, eternal security and other doctrinal issues (in my view) are difficult to effectively illuminate using the simple "Gospel magic" props. This comes from a guy obsessed with magic for 50 years and now with a large messy basement full of props from brand new to many decades old.

I know the above comment may be "dodge" of sorts, but in my decades of thinking about Gospel magic, I really have not run across too many good printed routines (any?) I could use or adapt for use on your "predestined v. free will" topic raised. Using/explaining "The Magicians Force" (as in Hot Rod) is what first came to mind. But that kinda puts the magician in the position of behaving/acting out similar to an all knowing God which may seem a kind of a sacrilegious trick premise.

My Pastor (Doug Swink- you can hear the message when it is posted to )this past Sunday preached on James 4:14. He had a "mister" spray bottle- he sprayed the misty water high into the air several times- and pointed to the rapidly disappearing vapor mist. "That's me there! That's Dan right there! That's you there!""Look, I lasted a millisecond more than Dan! Sorry Dan!"--- Then Pastor Doug went on to explain on what should be our life priorities in light of this shortness of life fact- we all need to properly use the limited time we all have given, etc.. I thought that was the terrific use of a "prop" by our pastor- we were all paying attention to him for sure. So for making a point like that, an "object lesson" such as using a spray mister or "magic trick" can sometimes be used very effectively to captivate the listener/kids with an important Truth being taught.

But for a "predestination"/"free will" teaching discussion- I guess if it were me I would just talk about it- as finding an appropriate prop/trick to assist in the overall doctrinal understanding I'd think would be very hard to locate... We'll see what the other Magic Café posters come up with as my sometimes senile mind is currently coming up blank with usable ideas (as it often does). Smile
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Thanks MagicBus. Magician's force I would count as a subset of equivoque, but that's my "Venn diagrams" mathematical mind at play Smile.

I suppose I'm thinking more along the lines of equivoque being used as a tool to aid an academic level theological understanding of HFW and GS, rather than merely as a routine per sé for a Sunday morning sermon illustration. The reason I am enquiring here is that I'm studying for an MA in Mission and Evangelism at a theological college in the UK, and have been studying different versions of hell - whether it's eternal torment, annihilation or an evangelical universalist understanding (yes, the latter is on the fringe of orthodoxy, but still within its bounds, having been once at the centre before Augustinian thought began to hold sway). I guess I like to synthesise various things together to generate a deeper understanding of the workings of God (after all, it's for God to conceal a matter and for kings to search it out).

Re suitable props: With equivoque you don't actually need any particular props, anything will do - car keys, mobile phone, wallet, credit card, etc... That's the beauty of it - everything can be owned by the volunteer and is completely held by them, so there's no direct contact from the performer. Thus it lends an even greater meaning to the HFW side of things - because from our perspective, we work with the things we own or are able to influence.

I know what you mean though a scarcity of good routines which can illustrate Gospel themes. I myself don't use magic routines when teaching because I personally don't want to leave people thinking "How'd he do that" (but that's just a personal thing and I'm not making any judgement on anyone else who manages to successfully present Gospel magic). One thing I have found very useful however, is flash paper, particularly when people wish to offer something over to God, either sins for forgiveness, issues which need God's help, or plans for the coming month - the symbolism of offering something to God through the complete vaporisation of the paper is very powerful indeed, especially when one considers the fact it's not possible to take it back again once given over. But then I work a lot with ritual and symbolism as aids to worship anyway due to the particular calling I have amongst a certain people group (again a product of my magical training coming through the Mystery School works of Burger and McBride).

I suppose the true Christian magic is the "Bread, Wine. Wine, Bread" (said in a Tommy Cooper voice) over the elements - whilst I may sound flippant (and there is a sense of playfulness with which I write this, as I have deep respect for the sacrament of bread and wine), I've come to realise that sometimes Christianity does have elements of true magic within it (if one defines the magic then as something which is done in the physical which has a spiritually transforming effect). But then, that's another conversation in another forum where the two meanings of magic are not easily confused Smile.

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