“Christian Magician” or “Christian Illusionist”?

Brad Brown: Christian Magician or Christian Illusionist?

As I travel across the country performing for churches and other Christian organizations, I am often asked whether I am a “Christian Magician” or a “Christian Illusionist.” And, for that matter, what’s the difference?

The short answer is that it’s most accurate to refer to me as a magician. The longer answer is a bit more complicated. Continue reading ““Christian Magician” or “Christian Illusionist”?”

Creating a Moment for Ministry Using Balloons

A few weeks ago, I shared a video about learning very basic ballooning for use in ministry. (See below.) I wanted to share a few tips about taking advantage of a moment like this with a kid in order to build them up. Although this is specifically about balloon sculpture, the principles apply in many interactions with kids.

Let’s consider the following example of a hypothetical interaction with a child getting a balloon:
Continue reading “Creating a Moment for Ministry Using Balloons”

God’s Big Story

Genesis 1:1

A generation or two ago, pretty much everyone in our culture was at least familiar with the basics of Christianity. People understood basic Christian concepts like truth, sin, and God and Jesus. You could simply tell people about Jesus, because they already had the background to understand. That’s no longer the case.

Sadly, it appears to me that even in the church, there are a growing number of Christians who have a very limited understanding of what the Bible really teaches. Kid’s ministries tend to just teach random Bible stories. Kids hear stories like David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, Sampson and Delilah, and Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but they aren’t taught how these stories fit together or what they have to do with “real life.”
Continue reading “God’s Big Story”

I Believe in Jesus

Picture of Jesus

This is my third entry in my I Believe… series, which goes into more detail about my core beliefs. This one will focus on the third point in my statement of faith on my website:

“I believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles, His vicarious and atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His personal return in power and glory.”

There’s a lot in that single run-on sentence, so I won’t be able to go through it point-by-point in this post. I have already covered my belief in the deity of Christ in my previous post on the trinity, so I won’t rehash that here.

Jesus virgin birth is important, for a couple of reasons. The first is simply because the Bible says it’s true. To deny it is to deny the plain teaching of Scripture. Second, it points us toward an important truth about the incarnation. This event is radically different from the previous times when God took on human appearance. There are many instances in the Old Testament when God appeared in human form. (For examples, see Genesis 17:1, Genesis 32:24-30, Joshua 5:13, and   Daniel 3:22-25.) In the incarnation, Jesus did not merely take on human appearance, he actually became human.

For the sake of space, I am going to gloss over the next few points, and simply say I believe Jesus did what the Bible says he did. This includes his miracles, his sinless life, and his death which paid the price for our sin. (I’ll be discussing the implications of this in my next post in this series.)

It is worth saying a few words about his resurrection. Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead. This was not some sort of allegory. It was not merely a spiritual resurrection. Jesus’ dead body actually returned to life. After spending time with the disciples and many other witnesses, he ascended to heaven. (Acts 1:3)

The final point is that Jesus is coming back. There is a lot of debate among believers as to exactly what this will look like and in what the order these future events will occur. What seems to me to be beyond debate for anyone who takes the Bible seriously is that Jesus is, in fact, returning. Acts 1:11 makes it clear that he will return the same way he left. He literally, physically ascended into heaven, so we can be confident that he will literally, physically return some day.

I Believe in the Triune God

Trinity Symbol

This is the second post in a series providing more detail on what I believe. This one will expand on the second point in my statement of faith, “I believe there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Like my first post, this is intended to be more an explanation of my beliefs than a defense of them.

First and foremost, there is one and only one God. The Bible is abundantly clear on this. (See Deuteronomy 6:4, for example.) There aren’t three Gods, many Gods, or whatever God or Gods you happen to believe in. There is one God. Period.

This is where things start to get more complicated. The Bible teaches that the Father is God (Galatians 1:1). It also teaches that the Son is God (John 1:1). And it teaches that the Holy Spirit is God. (Acts 5:3-4).

Further, the Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another. This is what is meant by “God in three persons.” (Person, in this context, doesn’t mean human. It simply means each member of the trinity has his own mind, will, emotions and so forth.)

One example where we can see all three persons as distinct is John 14:6, where Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” Since Jesus is asking the Father to do something, this indicates Jesus is not the Father. He refers to the Holy Spirit as another advocate. So, Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. Also, since the Father is the sender, and the Spirit is the one sent, they are not the same.

All three persons of the trinity have always existed. They did not come into existence at creation or the incarnation.

There are a number of illustrations that people use to try to help people grasp the concept of the trinity. While they may have some value, they are also imperfect at best. For example, some use water as an illustration, since it exists in three forms: ice, liquid water, and vapor. However, this is not really an adequate illustration, at God does not change forms to become the Father, Son or Spirit. All three persons eternally exist together.

Another illustration is an egg. It has three parts, the shell, white, and yolk, but is one egg. Again, this is not really an adequate illustration, because none of the parts could rightly be called an egg. It is not really accurate to say the yolk is an egg, but it is absolutely true that Jesus is God.

Some argue that the trinity is just too confusing to be true. There must be a simpler answer. Do we really believe that the infinite, all powerful God must be simple enough for our finite human minds to easily comprehend? The fact that this is an undeniably difficult concept does not in any way call into question it’s validity. I consider it to be a critical doctrine for a number of reasons, but primarily because it is so clear in Scripture. To deny it is to deny the accuracy and infallibility of Scripture.

Christianity Isn’t Kids’ Stuff

Kid's Story Version of Noah's Ark

This post is going to be rather stream of consciousness in style, but go with me a minute. I do have a point.

It all started when I saw a recent Barna Group study on why young Christians leave the church. The study identified six reasons for this:

  • Churches seem overprotective.
  • Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  • Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  • Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  • They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  • The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

You can read more the about the study on the Barna website.

This study has basically the same results as a Britt Beemer study that is the basis for the book, Already Gone.

The results of this study reminded me of an experience I had about a year ago. I was putting together a new magic routine, but was stuck coming up with a way to illustrate one critical point. So I turned to an online Magic forum that has a section dealing with Gospel magic. While I did receive some helpful replies, I was surprised by the opposition I encountered. I was told quite adamantly that gospel magic should be limited to simple object lessons for kids. Some on the forum thought it was entirely inappropriate to deal with “theology.”

While the attitude of  Christian magicians  is of interest to me, in the big scheme of things, it’s really not all that important. What is important is the state of the church. Sadly, the same attitude is commonplace in the modern church. “Theology” is scary, so we present a watered down, simplified version of the gospel. This is especially true in kid’s ministry, where we tend to just teach simple Bible stories. This approach is simply not working. In fact, the more regularly kids attend Sunday School,  the more likely they are to leave the church when they grow up. That’s right, Sunday School, as it is typically done, is actually driving people away from church! (You can read more about this in the Already Gone book I mentioned above.)

Kids need more than just childish Bible stories. They need reasons to believe. They need to learn how Christianity finds application in the real world. They need to be allowed to ask the tough questions and be given real answers. We need to do better.

I Believe in the Bible

The Bible

I am more than just an entertainer, I am a minister of the Gospel. So what I believe and proclaim matters. Even seemingly small theological compromises can have great consequences. I certainly hope Pastors and church leaders exercise care in verifying the theological orthodoxy of anyone they bring to their church or Christian organization, especially  if they are bringing in someone to minister to their kids. That’s why my statement of faith has always had a prominent place on my website.

I thought it might be useful to go into a bit more depth about what I believe. This isn’t intended to be a defence of what I believe. It is merely a more detailed statement of my beliefs. So here’s the first in a series of “I Believe…” articles, this one dealing with the Bible. In short, I believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts.

Inspiration of Scripture

God worked through human authors to say exactly what he wanted to say, right down to the specific words that were written. I am not saying God dictated the Bible to its human authors. Rather he worked with and through their education, intellect, and personalities to produce the end result he wanted.

It has become somewhat common for people to claim the Bible means whatever the reader wants it to mean. I want to be clear, Bible passages mean exactly and only what God intended for them to mean. Certainly there are instances where there can be honest debate as to what a particular passage means. Our goal in these situations must be to determine what God actually intends to communicate, not what feels right to us.

This means that the Bible is true in everything that it proclaims. The Bible includes things like parables, figurative language, figures of speech which are not intended to be interpreted literally. For example, when Jesus said, “I am the vine” in John 15:5, he wasn’t teaching that he was literally a plant. He was using figurative language to make a point. However, any time the Bible proclaims that something is true, it is true–even the miraculous stuff like the creation of the world from nothing, Jonah being swallowed by the fish, and the virgin birth.

There is a related principle called “the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture.” (Theologians love their big words!) This does not mean that everything in the Bible is clear. Lets face it, parts of it can be quite confusing! It simply means that the Bible says what it means, and there is no external work that must be used as a starting point to interpret it. There are many groups that say they believe the Bible is God’s Word, but insist that it can only be understood if you begin with some other book, church teaching, or theory. Since the Bible is God’s Word, we must use it as a starting point to judge these other works, not the other way around. Of course, there are many commentaries and tools that can be great Bible study aids, but we must never allow them to have authority over the Bible.

Authority of Scripture

The concept of the authority of Scripture follows naturally from its inspiration. Since it is the Word of God, it has his authority. We don’t get to decide for ourselves which parts to obey. Clearly, that is much simpler in theory than in practice. Parts of the Bible were written for specific times or situations, and may not apply today. For example, I’ve never met a Christian who feels compelled to obey Leviticus 19:19’s command not to “wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” However, when determining whether a specific passage applies to us today, it is essential that we rely on solid Biblical principles, and not just our own feelings.

Inerrancy of Scripture

The final principle is inerrancy. It is important to understand that when I speak of the Bible being without error, I am referring to the original manuscripts, not any specific modern translation. Every translation is the Word of God, to the extent that it accurately conveys the meaning of the original document to the reader. I’m not going to go into details here on how we know exactly what was in the original documents. I will simply point out that we have an amazing wealth of evidence, giving us great confidence that we really do know what was in those manuscripts. (If you’d like to know more about this topic, you can get a good introduction by watching Josh McDowell’s videos on the Bible.)

So what do you think? Am I off-base, or did I miss anything important? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Charging People to Hear The Gospel?

I’m going to suggest something that sounds heretical, but hear me out. Sometimes it makes sense to charge people to hear the gospel. When you are putting on an evangelistic event, in some cases it might be more effective if you charge admission rather than letting people in for nothing.

Charging admission for an event has the potential to do several positive things things. First, it makes a statement about the quality of the event. People tend to associate price with value. Something that doesn’t cost much probably isn’t worth much. Something that costs nothing is probably worth even less. So, when a church invites people to a free concert, magic show, or other event, they naturally tend to assume it will be worth what they’re paying. (And far too often, free church events live up to people’s low expectations, but that’s a subject for another blog post.) Charging admission can help people believe that the event will be worth their time, and actually increase attendance. Of course, of you do charge admission, you better deliver a quality program. 

Selling tickets will get you on people’s calendars. People will forget about free events, but if they’ve bought tickets, you can be sure they’ll remember. This is another way charging can increase attendance.

Finally, charging admission can help cover the cost of the event. Obviously profit should not be a primary motive of an outreach event. However, a little extra money coming in can allow you to stretch your budget and do even more outreach.

So, what do you think? Are there times when it makes sense to charge admission to evangelistic events?

Teaching Truth to Children & Youth

I recently heard Josh McDowell speak at my church. I’ve read enough of his books and other materials that there wasn’t a lot he said that was new to me. However, it was still a great event. One of the most important things he talked about was how differently the current generation thinks.

I believe that very few people really understand the extent and impact of this ideological shift. This generation approaches truth in a fundamentally different way than previous generations. As a result, the much of old “tried and true” methods of teaching truth to children simply don’t work anymore.

In previous generations, kids were primarily taught truth through propositional teaching. By “propositional teaching” I mean simply telling kids what is true and the reasons why. It is nearly impossible the current generation to learn through propositional teaching.

I’m not saying that kids today are rebellious or won’t listen. It’s not simply that the culture around them has changed. It’s also not just a “decline” from one generation to the next. It is a fundamental shift in the way the current generation thinks. They do not accept truth as an absolute. Everything gets filtered through this pluralistic worldview.

The implications of this on children’s and youth ministry are huge. You can’t effectively communicate truth to children unless you understand how they process it.

Real ministry to today’s kids must be relational. It isn’t enough to just tell them about the truth. They have to see it lived out within the context of a loving relationship.

It’s Not Me

I generally don’t post about the numbers of people who make professions of faith at my programs. That’s because I don’t measure the success of a program based on the number of people coming forward. I’m not called to produce numbers, I’m called to be faithful. Getting people to respond is the Holy Spirit’s job, not mine.

I recently returned from doing a series of programs for Fellowship Community Church in Norwalk, Iowa. We decided to conclude each of the VBS programs with an alter call. The first day, I didn’t do much of a Gospel presentation. I just spoke in a very general sense about putting God in charge of your life. I would build on that idea during the rest of the week, dealing more specifically with our sin and Jesus sacrifice and resurrection. I expected to have very few, if any, responses the first day. However, God had other plans. At the end of that first program, a large percentage of the kids came forward.

I was afraid that they didn’t understand. Perhaps they were just coming to join the crowd, or thought they were volunteering to participate in the program. The church had volunteers ready to speak with the kids who came forward in small groups immediately following the alter call. It turns out that the majority of the kids who came forward really did understand and wanted to begin a relationship with Jesus.

I certainly can’t take credit for the results. I didn’t do a particularly powerful or persuasive presentation. It just serves as a reminder that it’s not me who produces results. It’s God.