On my way to a friend’s house, I stopped at a red light; there was a guy on a corner handing out tracts. He looked British. I imagined him speaking with a thick English accent. The man looked my way and pointed to his collection of tracts and Scripture booklets. I opened the car window and he asked if I was interested. How could I say no? He seemed like a really nice guy with an English accent (okay, I actually don’t remember his accent). I took the stuff with a smile.
I’m not a fan of tracts. Their effectiveness is limited to cultural context—folks in the Middle East are more apt to internalize the content of a tract than middle class suburbanites in America. Tract narratives are far from compelling and butcher the beauty of Jesus’ full life on earth. They oversimplify and minimize the gospel to a formula. Pray this prayer and bang! You’re saved, son! Now go join a church and read the Bible everyday. The holism of the gospel message is terribly ignored.
The particular tract I received was titled, “Are You A Christian?” I was rather disappointed with the question. It seemed to suggest that being a Christian was the solution; that our conversion to Christianity is a prerequisite for salvation. I think this misses the point of what the gospel is all about. Christianity is a response to the gospel. The term “Christian” is a man-made label. Our Lord did not come to found Christianity but to reconcile us to Himself. Although a Christian is a title we give to people who believe in Jesus, it is also a title given to those who adhere to Christian doctrines and traditions that are the result of man’s interpretations of the Biblical narratives. One who is not familiar with the gospel might mistake the tract’s message to be about converting to Christianity rather than becoming a believer in Jesus.
The gospel is much more intimate than this. The story of Jesus as Messiah is much more mysterious, complex and compelling. His life, his teachings, the theology of his incarnation and its relation to all of creation cannot be compacted into a sinner’s prayer at the end of a tract. It cannot be exclusively packaged into Christianity. The gospel transcends all religions. Jesus saves anyone that comes to him, whether she adheres to Christianity or not.
It is obvious that this Brit (I’m still convinced he’s British) cared about people and their eternal destiny. He probably has a very good heart. I hope that his evangelism impacts at least someone out there. Jesus would give anything for one lost sheep. But I hope the message of the gospel is taken further; that it is a way of life more vibrant, expressive and communicative than a comic strip in a tract.