Harry Houdini … David Copperfield … Criss Angel … Jesus Christ?

Putting these names together might seem like a game of “One Of These Things is Not Like The Other,” but according to post-modern theologian Peter Rollins, it might make more sense than you assume. In his new book, The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of Faith, Rollins argues that the Christian event is like a “magic trick” and Jesus was a “trickster.” This (and much in the book itself) will make some traditional Christians uncomfortable, it may not be as offensive as they might assume. Here Rollins discusses his ideas and why he thinks they matter.

RNS: You say Christianity is like a magic act with three parts: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. What are these three acts in short?

PR: A classical disappearing trick is made up of three parts. The first involves the presentation of an object. This has been called the Pledge. Then there is the Turn, this is the part of the trick in which the presented object vanishes before the eyes of the audience. Finally there is the Prestige. This names the point in the trick when the object reappears. Yet what returns isn’t what vanished. In the standard form of the trick what returns only looks the same as what vanished. The coin that vanished at the beginning is rarely the coin that returns at the end. 

RNS: But those three parts of a “magic act” are really the parts of an “illusion act.” Nothing really changes in that kind of “magic.” But it seems that transformation is central to Christianity, so doesn’t that challenge your analogy a bit?


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Written by Jonathan