Yesterday I noticed that my town was apparently ransacked by some old-school Christian ninjas who managed to sneak through the community under the invisible cloak of night and tape tracts to everything – walls, benches, windows etc.
Do you know what a tract is? It is an old-school evangelism technique – a small palm-sized piece of literature that explains a portion of the Gospel. Usually the primary emphasis of the tract is that the reader, unless they are a Christian (and usually a certain, very specific brand of Christian) they are bound for Hell.
In recent history tracts were very popular in the late 1960’s and throughout the 70’s. To see them around again suggests a certain culture-boundness by whoever the culprit(s) are and while the intentions are good many a road is paved with good intentions.
Tract evangelism falls under the category of evangelism characterized by the attitude of “it doesn’t matter how you convert them just keep ’em outta hell and get ’em into heaven”.
An extreme form of this kind of conversion which was based on the above logic was the forced conversion (on threat of death or the execution of family) of Jews and Muslims to Christianity throughout the Spanish Inquisition. This is bad salvation theology.
RULE OF THUMB: If your evangelism involves some form of violence (physical, mental or spiritual) it is unhealthy and wrong.
There is a problem with this kind of conversion…it is motivated by the individual doing the evangelism. It is an outside/in kind of evangelism rather than an inside/out.
Let me put it another way – a recent study (one I will link to when I find it again) of Christian converts in North Africa revealed an interesting aspect of conversions in that region. Most converts (a large majority) cited the witness of the way local Christians lived their lives as the primary motivation for conversion – not tracts, not church, not visions, not threats or fear mongering – life.
The nature of salvation is that it is both a crisis (that is, a specific moment in time) and a process. It is both, not one or the other. Many stories of Christian lives (A.B. Simpson of the Christian and Missionary Alliance for one) demonstrate that salvation as a process started early on in a life but, a moment of definite crisis did not happen until late into adulthood. In no way does this suggest that a particular person was not saved until the moment of crisis…the crisis was the hub of the wheel of faith in the person’s life – the centre of their salvation but neither the beginning nor the end.
The problem with tracts and other similar types of evangelism is that they are focused on creating a crisis but have little if anything to do with process. It is the “ticket to heaven” kind of evangelism that is not demonstrated anywhere in scripture and looks suspiciously like the evangelist is doing the saving. It is also as impersonal as a door-to-door vacuum salesperson.
The Word is spoken because it is the Word…for the spoken Word to be truly heard requires relationship. This is why the apostle Paul went to the Jewish population of cities first to establish the Gospel in community. He went to those who would be most receptive to him as a fellow Jew and therefore member of the same community. Relationship was easiest to establish there. Then those members of the Jewish community would spread the gospel through already existing relationships they had with others in the city.
What is demonstrated time and again is the impact of a life lived as witness before the world. Through the prophets of the Old Testament, through Christ and through the apostles in the New Testament, relationship and a presentation of honest humanity before a loving God are the primary means through which the world changes.
Honest humanity does not necessarily mean “honest” in the immediate and guilt-ridden sense so much as it means genuine warts-and-all humanity living under the recognized sovereignty of God and the grace that goes with that.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9