Penn Jillette is one half of the famous comedy-magician team, Penn and Teller. He was originally a juggler who made juggling look like a magic trick. But as I’ve heard him say many times, his juggling wasn’t magic — it was just a lot of hard-work and practice! Penn and Teller host a weekly TV show where they invite the best magicians in the world to come on and try to fool them with their magic. This rarely happens though, as Teller literally seems to know every trick in the book. My fascination with Penn (and Teller), and other world-class magicians, is the result of my pursuit to develop my craft of preaching. It might surprise you to know that there are a lot of similarities between preachers and magicians (just as there is also a lot similarities between solo musicians and preachers which is another source of learning for me). From magicians, I endeavour to learn how to: keep an audience’s attention; how to tell a story; and how to make a point by employing the element of surprise. But there are some significant differences between what magicians do and what preachers do though. A magician is deliberately deceptive. A preacher is striving to be authentic. A magician will lie, distract, and trick his audience. A preacher will speak the truth, seek people’s full attention, and be utterly transparent. Nevertheless, I have great respect for the craftsmanship and work ethic of magicians like Penn Jillette. He is literally not a man easily fooled. But provokes me as a pastor. He is a self-confessed hardened atheist who boldly claims “I know there is no God!” He has even written a book to support his claim. Consequently, I’ve been praying for Penn for some time now. I began when I first heard him publicly ridicule the Bible and Christianity. I have great confidence that God will eventually do something in Penn. My confidence is bolstered by a video he uploaded to Youtube expressing his respect for Christians who truly believe Bible.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.
For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
The late Christopher Hitchens, a New York Times best-selling author, was another embolden atheist who also wrote a book promoting his reasons for atheism, GOD Is NOT GOOD – How Religion Poisons Everything. To promote his book he would publicly debate Christians about whether there was any proof for the existence of God. Hitchens would mock the miracles of the Bible, malign the morality of the Bible (especially its sexual prohibitions against sex outside of marriage exclusively between a man and woman), and berate the Bible itself as merely the fanciful literature of men. These debates which were held around the USA fizzled as Hitchens’ debate opponents were increasingly ‘liberal’ Christians who also denied the miracles of the Bible and rejected the sexual ethics of the Bible and also rejected the Bible claiming that it was not divinely inspired. These liberal Christians frustrated Hitchens. He knew they did not represent classic Christianity and so he stopped debating them.
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation,
ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality
and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Then Christopher Hitchens encountered two very genuine Christians with whom he was prepared to debate: Larry Taunton and Pastor Doug Wilson. Hitchens was a very well read man, but he more than met his match in Doug Wilson who majored in, and taught, classic English literature before becoming a pastor. He intellectually challenged Hitchens’ atheism resulting in both men co-writing a book together on their series of exchanges. In the documentary, Collision, the bond of fellowship that grew between the two men was obvious. And then his exchanges and debates with Larry Taunton also led to a deep friendship especially through the period where Hitchens was battling terminal cancer. Before Christopher died he wrote about his changing views on atheism as a result of his friendship with Wilson and Taunton – and then Larry Taunton wrote a very revealing account about his friendship with Hitchens as they spent hours together studying the Bible in Hitchens final weeks before he died. The publisher’s blurb about Taunton’s book describes how Hitchens maintained his public persona as an atheist, but in private, as Taunton reveals, he was slowly turning to Christ-
“At the time of his death, Christopher Hitchens was the most notorious atheist in the world. And yet, all was not as it seemed. “Nobody is not a divided self, of course,” he once told an interviewer, “but I think it’s rather strong in my case.” Hitchens was a man of many contradictions: a Marxist in youth who longed for acceptance among the social elites; a peacenik who revered the military; a champion of the Left who was nonetheless pro-life, pro-war-on-terror, and after 9/11 something of a neocon; and while he railed against God on stage, he maintained meaningful—though largely hidden from public view—friendships with evangelical Christians like Francis Collins, Douglas Wilson, and the author Larry Alex Taunton.”
This little known account of how Christopher Hitchens’ life ended adds to my encouragement that one day my prayers, for Penn Jillette to come to know Christ, will be answered. But perhaps my greatest encouragement to hope that Penn will one day open his heart to Christ comes from his 2010 video where he expressed his deep respect for Christians who are genuine and evangelistic (which he calls proselytising).
Have a look at his video below, and I hope that it will encourage you to continue to pray for and share the gospel with loved ones, friends, family-members, work-colleagues, as it does for me. Penn is not easily fooled. The man he referred to in this video was a sincere, authentic, and genuine believer who demonstrated his faith in Christ and the words of Holy Scripture by sharing the gospel with Penn after one of his magic shows. I pray pastorally that we too will have the same boldness and confidence to do likewise.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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Apologetics Part 3 – The Apologetic Arguments For The Bible, Premium Audio