Does anyone remember Chick Tracts?
Jack Chick was a comic book illustrator who created little booklets that Christians could hand out to share their faith. His booklets were super popular in the 70’s when I was in youth groups. His speciality was illustrations of hell and heaven. He was a literal, pre-millennial rapture, apocalyptic, reformed theology, Bible guy. He ascribed to the old saying that,
If you can’t love them into heaven, then scare them outta hell
Some of those tracts messed me up! I don’t think I slept for most of 8th grade because of “The Beast”. The truck mounted guiolltine featured front and center in my nightmares. Between this one and “This is Your Life”, where all my secret deeds will be filmed and shown to the world at my judgement day – I was toast.
You laugh, but the fear was real!
We shared the scare em’ outta hell thing with the young adults at church and they cracked up. Most had never heard it even though many had come from highly legalistic churches that taught a scary God doctrine. It took a bit of convincing for them to believe us.
I’ve never been comfortable with the evangelical method of witnessing. It gives me a stomach ache. I’m an awesome sales person, but I can’t witness to people. Anyone remember street corner preachers? They’d stand on a corner somewhere, sometimes with a megaphone, and announce that Jesus is the only way and if you don’t accept him today you are in danger of hellfire.
Or how about door to door witnessing? Yep, Christians did it along with Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. Fuller Brush men come to mind, or door to door encyclopedia salesmen. The Avon lady always came to the door. Door to door witnessing was like cold calls in sales.
I didn’t like those either
Over time I developed a guilt complex about my allergic reaction to witnessing. Guilt and I are buddies of long standing. I feel guilt about almost anything. Forget to say please and thank you? I’ll loose sleep. Forget to follow through on a promise? I might as well martyr myself. Eventually they came out with a phrase that eased my guilty conscience.
There were entire seminars built around Lifestyle Evangelism. I never went to one but I liked the phrase. I adopted it when defending my aversion to enthusiastic, evangelizing believers. We prayed in restaurants, didn’t allow our kids to do a lot of things that our pagan neighbors did, we went to church, read our Bibles, went to Bible studies. Our neighbors knew we were Christians.
Worked for me!
But one of the sticky aspects of lifestyle witnessing is that a lot of the Christians I knew (myself included) were really messed up people. We battled a host of problems that were common to people who weren’t Christians. Yes, we loved Jesus! But often, we wished he’d return already, so we didn’t have to wake up the next day. We had about as much hope some days as unbelievers…
One of the more disturbing aspects of evangelism that was deeply imbedded in my spiritual DNA, was the idea of Us vs Them. Life was divided into 2 categories, Christians and everyone else. And if you were a Christian the goal was to win as many to the Christian category as possible before they faced an unthinkable eternity. For the most part this hasn’t changed. But in creating the Us vs Them dynamic, I sort of feel like the Thems are a little less human than the Us’. And if anything is true,
We are all Thems
I wonder what it meant to BE a witness back in the time of Paul? There was no cultural Christianity then, life was either Jewish or pagan. So how did one go about making converts in that day? Paul’s work was among the gentiles, the Thems from a Jewish point of view. He always began his preaching to the Jews in a new city but his congregants were a mixed bag of people from all walks of life. Christianity was the minority religion of that time.
We have no idea what that’s like with 2,000 years of cultural Christianity influencing us! Today I find there are few who haven’t heard about Jesus in some fashion. Very little of the world is left where his name is unknown. So what does it look like today to BE a witness?
I can tell you this much, scaring people into heaven isn’t going to work! In my experience, the people coming to Jesus today have already lived a hell of their own. One thing common to their faith journey is a compassion shown to them by someone on their path. It seems to create a longing in them for more. More compassion, more empathy, more healing, more forgiveness, more freedom and eventually a deep desire to be fully loved.
As it turns out, hell has many forms
When we moved to Chicago, one of the things Bruce felt strongly about was to let his yes be yes and his no be no. His integrity needed to be squeaky clean. It’s not that he didn’t already live that way, but even the occasional short cut was disallowed now. Our landlords were a same sex married couple and their own integrity was unimpeachable. They knew why we were moving to the city and what we were all about. As it turns out its become an incredibly rich relationship for all of us. And no, we haven’t ‘witnessed’ to them.
But maybe that’s one way of being a witness???
Another thing that we felt strongly about was that it wasn’t our job to change people. Not their lifestyles or their minds. And on the heels of that was this,
Everyone will face God one day without excuse for their unbelief
In other words, don’t give people a reason to despise Jesus. Be authentic and natural and let God do the convicting.
That thought set me free! It lifted the burden of witnessing off my shoulders and allowed me to simply be myself. I didn’t have to argue with folks about why their lifestyle was Biblically wrong. Or why their political persuasions were ignorant. Or why they should listen to such and such podcast, or watch a YouTube video, or read a book so they could know the truth.
I have no idea how God is going to be sure everyone has an opportunity to accept his son before they die, but I believe He can accomplish it. And I believe he can accomplish it even if I don’t take to the streets with little tracts that scare people into heaven!
Until I can fully figure this witness thing out, I think I’m just going to enjoy hanging with the Thems,
Turns out they kinda like me…
(Chick tracts are still being published, you can find them @ https://www.chick.com)