Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't You Hate Christian Tracts?

I found a yellow, single-fold, “Christian” tract in the airport. Here’s what the cover looks like.

I’m looking at it right now. It’s a good example of modern evangelicalism’s unfortunate cluelessness about the Gospel. It’s entitled “You have God’s Word on It.” Beneath those words is a drawing of a large black Holy Bible.

When you open this little tract, the very first three words inside are these:



“THE BAD NEWS”

I’m not kidding. Modern evangelicalism begins with bad news. That in itself should clue you in that something is wrong here. Like this tract, the message of the church, especially from modern evangelical circles, begins with bad news, not good.

What is this bad news that so many churches begin with? I’m following the tract word for word. If you doubt me, order the tract for yourself. Ways to order it are listed below.

The tract quotes below are in italics with quotation marks. My rebuttals, occasionally dripping with sarcasm, are in parenthesis:

1. “You are a sinner.” (What a shock!)

2. “You will die [damned]. . . because of your sin.” (The reason that damnation is God’s factory default setting for you is because, the tract writer assumes, you are a sinner and God is holy. And since God supposedly can’t even look at your sin, he can’t accept you as you are. He can’t even come near to you. You are separated from God. He’s turned away from you and is far away. Hmm. Funny how God the Son, Jesus Christ, the one who said, “When you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,” the one who said that he “came to seek and save the lost,” entered a sinful world, loved sinners, welcomed sinners, touched sinners, and ate with sinners. Hey, Paul wrote that Jesus even became sin. (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21) But if God the Father is far from me and can’t accept me and can’t come near to me because I’m a sinner, and Jesus can do all those things easily, then Jesus and the Father aren’t alike. And if they’re not alike, how can they be one? Does this tract expect me to believe that the loving side of God sent a sinner-friendly Jesus to take my whipping to appease God’s holy side? Please pardon my sarcasm. The God of this tract is double-minded about me.)

3. “[You will] be cast into the lake of fire.” (God’s very first impulse toward me, a creature he made in his own image, a creature he supposedly loves, is to reject me and punish me forever? Is this supposed to be the “gospel”—a word that means good news?)

Then the tract presents a “solution” to God’s bad news, calling it:


“THE GOOD NEWS”

1. “God doesn’t want you to perish.” (Wait a minute. God doesn’t want to fry me, but that’s his first impulse toward me because he’s holy and I’m a sinner? Again, pardon my sarcasm, but following the logic of the tract, God’s Eternal Plan A is to torture me. Though his loving side really doesn’t want to do it, he has to do it because he’s a holy, legal God. How comforting to know that God is bound by law to reject me! (Dripping sarcasm. I apologize again.) There’s nothing God can do about it. His hands are tied. Rules are rules. He’s regretful, but he has to follow regulations. I wonder who came up with these laws that GOD has to follow?)

2. “God has provided the only way to be saved from hell.” (Is it just me, or does this sound like he’s trapped me like a rat and gone away? Is he an absent rejecting Trapper who requires me to love him? That makes sense . . . NOT. And not only that, but rather than salvation being about universal grace, here in this tract, you are saved from your sentence to hell. But who sentenced you to hell? The tract says God did. That means Jesus came to earth to save you from God! Think about that. The tract is telling you that the “good news” is that God sent Jesus to earth to save you from himself! Is that what the Scriptures say Jesus came for? Did he come to save you from God? Do you see how utterly bankrupt this theology is? If a legal, non-relational God must avoid sin and must punish sin, then why would he bother to send Jesus to stop himself?)


3. “God saves you forever when you trust Jesus.” (The distant Trapper’s holiness demands my blood. But the Trapper has a split personality. He sends someone (Jesus) to spring the trap he set for me. Does that make God holy or psychotic?)

Finally the tract instructs you on how to implement your escape from God’s eternal sinner roast. This section is entitled.



“IT IS YOUR DECISION”

Well, at least the tract is consistent. If your theology is decisional rather than relational at the beginning, it should remain decisional throughout. Who wants personal relationships anyway—not when you can have the comfort and warmth of legal, decisional individualism instead? (I’m truly sorry about the sarcasm. One of my friends says I can sometimes get a bit snarky. I have no idea what snarky means, but I don’t think it’s good.)

1. “You must turn from your way and completely trust Jesus.” (Turn from my way? I guess that means turn from sinning. So all I have to do is obey all the Trapper’s rules from here on out. If I can manage to be a perfect peach, then maybe he’ll come back. Maybe he’ll accept me. But wait. It also says I have to “completely trust Jesus.” But if I try to turn from sin and keep Gods laws, then I’m not trusting Jesus. And if I completely trust Jesus, why do I have to keep all the laws? There is a contradiction here. Which do I do? Trust completely that Jesus has taken care of me? Or work hard as hell to keep all the rules so Trapper-God won’t zap me? I can’t do both! What’s the point of having a savior if we do all the saving?)


2. “Will you . . . ask Jesus Christ to save you?” (I have one more question. If Jesus saved humanity 2000 years ago, being the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, then why do I have to ask him to save me? I thought Paul said God saved us while we were still sinners to prove the Father’s love for us. Why can’t I just say, Thanks, Jesus? And by the way, what’s the difference between “the sinner’s prayer” and a Harry Potter incantation? Yeah, I know. I’m being snarky again.)

3. “If you will accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, please pray the sinner’s prayer with all of your heart.”
(So what words exactly do I use to make sure this “sinner’s prayer” works? How can I make sure that I really mean it? Will it help if I kneel and cry a lot when I ask? Do I get dramatic and throw myself prostrate on the ground? How will I know when I’ve groveled enough? Do I have to walk the isle of a religious institution? Do I have to shake the “right” preacher’s hand? Wait a minute. Come to think of it, if it’s up to me believing enough, then I’m just thrown back on myself. I’m not believing in Jesus. I’m believing in believing enough! I’m having faith in having enough faith. But how do you ever know you have enough faith? How do you know that you believed in believing enough for Jesus to save you from God? How much screwier can decisional evangelism get? Parenthetically, I have a comment about acceptance: I thought that the point of the incarnation and crucifixion and resurrection and ascension was Jesus accepting us into the heart and Life of his joyful relationship with his Father, not us accepting him into our hearts. Who made your heart anyway, and if he made it, how could he not be in it from the start?)


OK, let me get this straight. (I’m on a snarky roll! Sorry, I can’t help it.) According to this tract, the only thing standing between me and eternal punishment is whether or not I can stop sinning and then believe completely without a doubt that I’ve convinced Jesus in a very sincere prayer and/or religious ceremony to stand between me and the blood-rage of a rule-driven G-O-D? How should I word the prayer? “Jesus, please save me from your Dad. Amen.”?

Then the tract ends with a warning and a plea:

1. The Warning: “If you reject Jesus Christ—condemnation.” If you don’t turn from sin and ask Jesus to save you from God’s destiny for you in hell and believe with all your heart that Jesus has saved you from God’s plan, you are rejecting him. If you reject Jesus, you will burn in “a lake of fire” as planned from the beginning by G-O-D. You’re toast.

2. The Plea: “Please don’t reject the Gospel.” In this tract, the Gospel, which is supposed to mean Good News, is that God’s eternal plan to roast you might be changed provided you stop sinning and start praying earnestly the “Jesus-provision prayer.”

Let me personalize this:

1. God’s initial plan for Bert is to burn him forever because he’s a dirty sinner.


2. If Bert doesn’t improve his morals dramatically, and if Bert doesn’t pray sincerely enough, God will burn Bert as planned.


3. But if Bert cleans up his act and convinces Jesus of the sincerity of his I-wanna-get-saved prayer, then Jesus will try to stop G-O-D from burning Bert.

I have one question: In what sense is this Good News?

First, it’s certainly not good news about God. The tract portrays him non-relationally. He’s an automaton bound by rules. He doesn’t love first. He doesn’t love last. He’s absent from you and cannot reverse your sentence unless you invoke the Jesus clause. His first impulse toward you is fire-torture. Good News about God in this tract? There is none.

Second, what about the relationship between Jesus and his Father? In this tract there is none. They are at crossed purposes. They are bound together by rules, not love. It’s God’s job to broil you. It’s Jesus’ job to stop God. Your job is to convince Jesus to stop God. If you don’t, he won’t. Good news? Hardly.

Third, what about Jesus? No good news there either. Jesus not only doesn’t have a relationship with his heavenly Father in this tract, he doesn’t have a relationship with you or anyone else either. Jesus is a mere legal loophole. He’s a provision. If you invoke the Jesus clause, Jesus is legally bound to try to stop God from microwaving you as planned. It’s legal, decisional, and contractual, but not relational. Is that Good News? No way.

Enough said. If you love laws, rules, verdicts, sentencing, punishment, and no loving relationships whatsoever, you’re going to love this tract. If you’d like a copy, you may order it at:

Fellowship Tract League (A non-relational tract is produced by a “Fellowship”? How ironic.)
P.O. Box 164, Lebanon, OH 45036

They are not for sale. Request © Tract 134

They are also on the internet at: http://www.fellowshiptractleague.org/


If you love the gospel, however, you might like this quote from author Wayne Jacobson:

“When you realize sin doesn’t make you worthless it just makes you lost, you will know God’s compassion for people caught in sin, not contempt for them.”


For more evangelical bad behavior:
Hell House
The Prosperity Gospel: God In a Box
Katrina - The Wrath of God?
The Christian Ambush: A True Story