by William Trollinger
What is it about fundamentalists and tracts? Is handing out little booklets to unsuspecting recipients really the best evangelistic strategy? What is the attraction?
Most infamous are Chick tracts. Originally produced by Jack Chick in the 1960s, Chick Publications continues to publish “cartoon gospel stories people love to read!,” most of which end with a call to accept Jesus as Savior. Chick tracts are notorious for their virulent anti-Catholicism, extreme Islamophobia, absurd arguments v. evolution, and – of course – frenzied homophobia.
In a different vein — less focused on the hatred of others – are the Four Spiritual Laws tracts. Created by Campus Crusade’s Bill Bright in 1952, these tracts elaborate on these four “laws”:
- God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
- Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know God and experience God’s love and plan for his life.
- Jesus Christ is God’s ONLY provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.
- We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.
I grew up in an evangelical church in Denver (which is now a megachurch in the city’s southern exurbs). Leaders in the church – particularly, my father – had concerns that the youth pastor (Rick) was not properly inculcating the youth in conservative theology and politics. (Actually, he wasn’t, which is why he and I – as youth group president – were so close). So the powers-that-be pressured Rick to take the youth group to Washington Park on a weekend afternoon, the purpose being to give Four Spiritual Laws tracts to the heathens walking the tree-lined paths or playing Frisbee or lounging in the grass.
Off the church bus, my first (and, as it turned out, only) “target” turned out to be three Denver University students who were sitting under a tree, enjoying the lovely spring weather while studying for exams. I walked up to them and gave each of them a tract. Much to my surprise, they wanted to talk with this high school student about the little booklet I had just given them. So I ended up sitting in the grass with them. They pressed me on how I made sense of the fact that there were many other religions on the planet besides my version of Christianity – I don’t recall what exactly I said, but I do remember that it was anything but compelling — and it did not take long for me or them to figure out that I knew absolutely nothing about philosophy. It was an invigorating conversation, one which ended by the four of us agreeing on the impossibility of certainty.
Thus ended my one and only experience of handing out tracts.
In contemporary fundamentalism it is hard to beat Ray Comfort – he of the infamous banana video – when it comes to enthusiasm for passing out tracts. For example, he and his Living Waters organization have proclaimed October 31 to be “National Evangelism Day,” as Halloween gives fundamentalists the perfect opportunity to drop tracts into the bags of unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. It could be a homophobic Chick tract, it could be the Four Spiritual Laws, or it could be Answers in Genesis (AiG) booklets such as “Noah’s Ark Gospel,” “The Atheist Test,” or “Satan & the Serpent.”
Trick, or Treat?
But now Living Waters and AiG have now outdone themselves. As explained by the folks at Living Waters:
On May 6, 2023, millions are going to converge on the city of London for the coronation of King Charles, and many millions more from around the world will be watching the coronation live. How incredible would it be if we were able to reach this unprecedented audience with the gospel?
This is where Operation London comes in: we want to give away millions of free gospel tracts to spread all throughout London on Coronation Day! We want to make these exclusive gospel tracts freely available to every Christian who is able to make it to London.
On one side the tracts appear as if they are 1,000,000 pound notes (replete with a picture of King Charles), and on the other side an evangelistic message. They have printed three million tracts, and they are calling on Christians from all over the globe to come to London on Coronation Day – a day which Comfort describes as “celebrity on steroids” – to distribute them into the hands of unwary celebrants.
What a plan.
In order to secure the thousands of volunteers needed to hand out three million tracts, Comfort and company have produced a 28 minute infomercial which they claim will air in 190 countries. In this video one of the Living Waters spokespersons makes the case for tract distribution, asserting that
A Gospel tract will not receive your arguments. There’s no going back-and-forth. When a Gospel tract speaks, the person listens.
Got it. That’s why fundamentalists love handing out tracts. They have the Truth, they hand a stranger the Truth, and they walk away to find their next Truth target.
No need to listen to – much less learn from – the other.