One of the joys of college life is that you rarely, if ever, have time to get an actual job. Thus, you are stuck to getting jobs where you often rely on people’s generosity in tips in order to get by (if anyone in the Fort Worth area would like to offer me a job that doesn’t put me in this situation, please, contact me).
Unfortunately, there is one stereotype that is all too true – if you’re delivering to a church or Christian function, don’t expect a tip. For me, this has been more true than not. It’s sad that someone will spend two gallons of gas picking up food, delivering to the church, and then going back to the restaurant and, because of a poor tip, end up losing money on the transaction.
All that aside, a while back for my tip I was handed a tract that looked like a one hundred dollar bill. I was extremely excited when the guy handed it to me and said, “Keep the change,” not realizing it was a tract. When I got into the car and realized what it was, I was a bit upset. My post isn’t about poor tippers though; it’s about tracts.
I am absolutely opposed to Christians using tracts in any and all cases. Here are a few of the reasons:
1) Tracts attempt to summarize the Gospel into a one-minute read.
From the moment the world was created, to the moment Adam fell and sin entered the world, to the Israelites being freed from Egypt, to the Hebrew rebellion and restoration, to the coming of Christ, and everything beyond and in-between, the Gospel has taken thousands of years to formulate. One cannot simply go, “Oh, Jesus died for me” and be saved without having a back knowledge of who Jesus is. In order to understand the necessity of God it can often take hours spread out over days, weeks, months, or even years to explain the full Gospel story.
If I were to share the Gospel with someone who had literally no background in Christianity, it would still take 45 minutes to an hour (it would take about 3 days for someone that did have a background). A tract doesn’t do much in terms of explaining the Gospel.
The irony is that the people who often employ the use of tracts are often the ones complaining about how “watered-down” the preaching in churches has become – yet a tract is about as watered-down as a Gospel message can get. It offers a very brief view into a very deep and serious subject.
This often causes an incomplete understanding of the Gospel, which can lead to rejection, acceptance under misunderstanding, a weak faith after accepting Christ, or heresy. Attempting to summarize the Gospel into a one minute presentation that is adequate is the equivalent of attempting to sail a huge yacht in an above ground pool; it simply cannot be done without sacrificing something along the way.
2) Tracts are highly impersonal and don’t address the needs and questions of the reader.
What better way to say to someone, “This is an important topic, but you’re not important enough for me to waste my time with” than to give them a tract? Giving a person a tract is the equivalent of giving a business card; it is the last ditch effort in trying to get the sale.
I have worked various sales jobs, but the consistent rule that I run into is that if you feel like you are losing the sale, or the customer doesn’t understand you, give them a pamphlet and a business card and let them go home and figure it out on their own.
How is this mentality any different from that of those who use tracts? Think about the Gospel – it is the beautiful story of God creating humans to display His glory, to display His love, and to have fellowship. These humans fell and therefore needed a Messiah. God, however, knew and decreed for these humans to fall in order that He might provide His Son as a sacrifice. This is a very personal, very influential, and very a difficult belief. People can’t interact with a piece of paper, nor can their questions be answered by it.
By giving people tracts we are telling them that we don’t have the time to deal with them or that we are at our wits end. Why not exchange e-mails addresses or phone numbers? If we can’t answer their questions then (1) we have a massive problem in our own faith and (2) what makes you think a summarized, watered-down, cheesy version of the Gospel is going to somehow answer their questions? Exchange contact information so you can find someone who can answer his or her questions in a personal manner.
People have legitimate questions about Christianity and asking them isn’t wrong. I’ve had people ask what seem to be childish questions (e.g. “How close do you think Jesus was to His earthly father?”) to the very difficult (e.g. “How can I know that He actually rose from the dead?”). In all instances if the question is sincere then it is one worth answering. A tract just cannot accomplish this task.
3) Tracts fail to present the educated side of the Gospel.
The Gospel is a paradox – simple enough that a child can understand it yet difficult enough that it can baffle the Godliest scholar. It is simple and complex – something we understand but don’t comprehend, something we can explain but marvel at in mystery. Thus, when I say that tracts diminish the educated side of the Gospel this is not to mean that the Gospel is purely intellectual, something we can hold in our hands and explain with no problem. I instead mean that there is an intellectual aspect to Christianity that does not encompass the Gospel, but certainly composes a part of it.
With this in mind, if the intellectual side of the Gospel is an actual side of the Gospel, then it would be a travesty to ignore or downplay this side of the Gospel. Yet this is exactly what tracts do.
Tracts often attempt to appeal to the emotions or an immediate need. Or, in the worst possible case, they simply presuppose that someone will hear about Heaven, Hell, and God and go, “Yup, that makes sense.” It ignores that the mind is involved in making a decision to follow Christ – one must believe that Jesus existed as an actual historical figure and that the events of the Gospel actually took place. To believe this one needs some amount of evidence. A tract simply doesn’t offer enough room to go into an explanation of the evidence.
4) Tracts fail to present the human side of the Gospel
Not only is the Gospel intellectual, it is also emotional and relational. No one uses tracts to introduce a friend to another friend in hopes that the two will develop a relationship. No one writes up a pamphlet explaining why everyone should like the guy down the hall. All such explanations and relationship building is done on a person-to-person basis.
Now, there is value in writing about Jesus to explain who He was, but the actual Gospel invitation must be personal. Reading Scripture is great because men who spent time with Christ wrote Scripture. A tract, however, just presents a few abstract ideas that display no life on their own.
5) Tracts are highly annoying and extremely cheesy.
Anyone who has received them knows that they are extremely cheesy and annoying. The parking ticket tract I referred to in a previous post is a perfect example – how utterly annoying would it be to find such a thing on your window? Or the hundred-dollar bill one I mentioned earlier. Think of a kid hunting for Easter Eggs only to end up getting an Easter egg tract in his basket.
The ones that are meant to be “camouflage” and make you think it’s something else so you will read it are often the ones that turn people off to the Gospel more than anything else. The reason is pretty simple; people don’t like to be misled. Humans don’t like to be presented with one thing and then receive another thing.
Likewise, these tracts are just cheesy. The Gospel is the most important message the world has ever received – why is it being presented as a bad pun?
6) Tracts generally copy a famous product or ideal that is secular.
As mentioned above, these tracts often ape some ‘secular’ counterpart. I’ve seen a tract that looks like a MasterCard just left out in the open. I’ve seen one that looks like a coupon for a gym membership. I’ve seen many, many, many ‘secular’ things mimicked and aped in the attempt to create a tract.
Christians do themselves no favor when they choose to ape the world. It shows that we lack our own creativity and can only supply the world with puns, left over ideas that have been tweaked with a Christian taste.
What message does it send when we do this? I know that from all the non-Christians I’ve spoken with who asked if I was going to hand them a tract at the end of the conversation, they think it makes Christianity a big joke. They ask me why we have to copy these products to present the Gospel. They ask where Jesus would be in America if it weren’t for commercialization – after all, that is the only way Christians know how to market Jesus.
Unfortunately, I can see how they could come to that conclusion. It shows a lack of original thinking on the part of the Christians, a cheap marketing tool that we can use in order to get people to come to Christ. Is that how we want to present the Gospel, as business marketing flunkies?
7) Tracts remove responsibility from the Christian to bring the Gospel to people.
Often times church leaders will say that if a Christian is nervous in presenting the Gospel, they should instead hand the person a tract. What better way to remove the responsibility from the person nervous to share the Gospel? Instead of showing that the person might be nervous because of a lack of knowledge in the Gospel, we coddle the person and give them a useless tract, hoping that it might do something.
I can often be found in the religious and philosophy sections of bookstores, which are often placed in close proximity. Because I am studying philosophy and its impacts on the culture I am often seen picking up some extremely anti-Christian books, or fringe Christian books. This makes me a prime target to be ‘evangelized’ by some well-intentioned Christian. One time sticks out in particular of a senior in high school talking to me about the Gospel. He was nervous, but he eased his way into the conversation (after a rocky start…after all, “Do you know Jesus” is quite an awkward first question to ask in a conversation). I then began to ask him some simple questions about the Gospel: How can we know Jesus existed? What proof is there that He rose from the dead? Why is Christ the only way? Why did God choose to kill His only Son? The young man’s nervousness reappeared and he handed me a tract that didn’t even entertain the questions I asked. I then helped that young man find the appropriate books that would give him the ammunition to answer those questions in confidence.
His predicament, however, betrays the modern evangelical position. We are so weak in our own understanding and complexity of the Gospel that we have to create methods and tracts in order to compensate for our own lack of knowledge. Using these tracts merely stagnates our intellectual growth and really hurts us when people ask questions about the Gospel.
In all this talk about the negative uses of tracts, I can think of one useful advantage tracts give. If you have a working use of a foreign language, but are not fluent, a tract can help formulate your ideas or convey what you are trying to say to the person. It can help quite a bit in helping to bridge a language barrier, but in this case the tract is merely a tool in a personal conversation and really does avoid all the above problems. This is the only positive use I can find for tracts.
In the end, tracts epitomize evangelicals’ lack of knowledge on the Gospel and how to properly present it. Unfortunately, most people will look at my first problem and be shocked that it takes me forty-five minutes to share the Gospel with someone. They’ll argue it’s simple, that it should only take 5 minutes, and that I’m wasting my time on one person. I would argue that such objections merely show how much the Gospel is misunderstood, even within Christianity.