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Is Jim Bartlett a Magician or an Illusionist?
Jim is commonly called a magician, but he typically bills himself as an illusionist, as this terminology highlights the fact that what is being performed is an Illusion -- meaning it is not as it appears to be. We use the title “Magic With A Message” because it tells what we do in a way that almost anyone can easily understand.
What is the difference?
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines the terms as follows:
Magician -- One who performs tricks of illusion and sleight of hand
Illusion -- Perception of something existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature.
Illusionist -- One who produces illusions; An artist whose work is is marked by illusionism; a ventriloquism or sleight-of-hand performer.
Can you tell me more?
When Jim makes an item “vanish” or makes it appear as though something changes form instantly (such as from liquid form to a solid), this is just an illusion....something that appears real to our eyes, but is in fact impossible without sleight of hand or other trickery. The purpose behind all types of illusions and so-called “magic” performances is to entertain, not to demonstrate supernatural powers. Many other areas within the performing arts besides magic or illusion are also used to entertain while carrying an important message. These include music, drama, juggling, clowning, mime, ventriloquism, balloon art, and more. It is through such forms of entertainment that powerful and important messages can be conveyed in a meaningful way -- images that often last long beyond the end of the performance
Therefore, Jim may be called a magician or illusionist, but he clearly states that what he does is just an illusion, for the purpose of entertainment and communication of important messages. He is not in any way involved in the use of sorcery or the occult, nor does he claim to posses supernatural powers. He creates all his illusions fully within the laws of physics, using techniques that may be undetectable by even the most well educated scientists. This makes his form of illusion show exciting for audiences of all ages.
What is Jim’s religious background?
Jim received Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior at age 29, and believes that the Bible is the only inspired, infallible word of God. In this part-time ministry he has committed himself to sharing the Gospel message, reaching lost souls and encouraging growth in the body of Christ through the use of his talent in the magical arts of illusion. In his shows, Jim clearly disclaims any magical or occult powers. He points to God, the Almighty, who is capable of miracles. Jim, his wife Michele, and their children have been active members of many churches as they moved from the midwest to New England, to Tennessee, to the Carolinas, and recently to Colorado during their 28 years of marriage. They currently are active members of Foothills Bible Church in Littleton, CO, where Jim is director of the high-school and junior-high drama ministry.
Should a Christian Really Do “Magic” or Illusions?
Two of the greatest gifts God has given His people are the ability to be creative, and to entertain.. Whether our creativity and ability to entertain are used to present amazing magical illusions, or to create wonderful images in drama, on canvas, or through musical composition, God is surely pleased when we do these things to share the Good News, and in ways that glorify His name. We strive for excellence in the art of illusion, as would any professional artist who is striving to express creativity in any other field. In each of us, God has planted a seed of creativity. Every human being has the choice of letting that seed die, or to discover and nurture the creative potential God has placed in our lives.
At the same time, in the Bible we are clearly taught that it is wrong to be involved in sorcery, or the occult. The Bible also teaches that it is wrong to purposely deceive others. This means we are not to be dishonest -- that we are to be trustworthy, and true to our word. We are comfortable with any “deception” that occurs in the magical arts because we are clear in our intentions to deceive the eyes of our audiences. We tell them they are about to be fooled, and they enjoy it anyway.
In fact, usually the more educated the audience, the more entertained they are when an illusionist helps them to “suspend their disbelief” for a moment in time. Educated people are very familiar with how things work, as well as the physical limitations on everything around us due to the laws of physics that God has put in place. We are taught in high school such things as the preservation of mass and energy, and the law of gravity. Thus we know that things with any substantial mass cannot float around the room unsupported, or be made to instantly disappear without some form of trickery. Part of the entertainment in such illusions comes from wondering how such feats are done when no mechanism is immediately obvious.
Some people would point to the secrecy of magicians who keep the working of their effects hidden, and say that such behavior is a form of deception. They could also rightly point to any one of a number of verses which clearly teach that we are not to deceive each other. For example:
Proverbs 34:28 (NASB) “Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, And do not deceive with your lips.”
However, Webster’s dictionary provides the following definition:
Deception: To purposely cause to believe what is not true; to mislead
Synonyms: deceive, betray, mislead, beguile, delude, dupe, hoodwink, bamboozle, double-cross. These verbs mean to purposely lead another into error, danger, or a disadvantageous position by underhanded means. Thus, to Deceive involves the deliberate misrepresentation of the truth.
In Illusion or Magical shows, the star performer is well known to be an actor -- a professional who uses a combination of acting skills, sleight-of-hand, misdirection, stage presence, and various forms of secret trickery to make it appear as though something impossible has occurred. However, the audience is fully aware that the performance is an act. If magicians could truly predict the future or read minds, each of them could have won a lottery somewhere, retired very wealthy, and no longer need to perform for a living. If they truly could control objects, making them float in the air or instantly vanish from sight, the Pentagon would be paying them huge consulting fees to train soldiers and scientists so these feats could be repeated on the battlefield. However none of this happens, because magicians and illusionists are no different from anyone else. They only play their part for their audience as a form of entertainment.
Author Elbert Hubbard said it well: "I love magicians because they are honest men. They tell you they are going to fool you and then proceed to do it. But no matter what happens at the show, when you get home you will still have your watch, your pocketbook, and your appendix. And that is more than I can say of my non-magician acquaintances."
Thus, in a way, illusionists are legitimate deceptionists. They use all of their skills to execute their amazing illusions solely for the purpose of entertainment and communication.
In a similar manner, a football player deceives his opponent when he fakes a move to the left before dodging and running to the right, leaving his would-be tackler on the ground, grasping at an empty space. As spectators, we enjoy watching skilled halfbacks or tight ends run for many yards, avoiding opponents through the use of athletic ability and fakes (momentary visual deceptions) -- all within the entertainment of the game.
What exactly does the Bible say about magic?
When the Bible uses the term "magic" or "sorcery", it is clearly dealing with man's involvement in the supernatural, and often with the collaboration of demonic power or evil spirits. Here are the most well referenced verses that deal with magic and related topics in scripture (all from NIV):
Ex 7:11, 22; Ex 8:7, -- “Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians1 also did the same things2 by their secret arts3.” .
1 Jannes and Jambres....see 2 Ti 3:8
2 Duplicated God’s signs delivered through Moses to Pharaoh (turning a staff into a snake, turning a river’s water into blood, causing a plague of frogs throughout the land)
3 By means of demonic power
Deut 18:10-11 -- “Let no one to be found among you who. . .practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist, or who consults the dead.”
Rev 21:8, 22:15 -- “But. . . those who practice magical arts -- the idolators and all liars -- will be placed in fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Rev 22:15 -- “Outside [of heaven] are the dogs, those who practice magical arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolators, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
When translating the above verses into what we should and should not do, it is important that we recognize that some words have more than one meaning. Consulting the versus above, we can see that "Magic", as used in God’s word, has the meaning of witchcraft, the occult or sorcery. However, in modern times the word has developed common usage in describing sleight of hand or illusion -- an exciting and fascinating entertainment medium that is enjoyed by many today, yet well-known by the public to be nothing but optical illusion, assisted by sleight-of-hand, or technical apparatus. Obviously, when the Bible is talking about us not being involved in “magical arts” it is referring to the first of these meanings -- not the second. It is comforting to know what the Bible is actually saying, so that we do not misinterpret God’s true word simply because of a confusion in semantics.
For another perspective on this topic, visit Andre Kole’s page -- What the Bible Says ABout Magic
For yet another perspective, visit Toby Travis’s page -- “Christian Magician?”