Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Philosophy of Gospel Tracts Part 2

This is the third article in a series.  To read the Introduction, click here.  To read Part 1, click here.  The next question I would like to address is:  How much Bible must be in a tract?

A few years ago, a tract-printing ministry in the United States sent me some Vietnamese tracts to use here in Cambodia, and they also asked if I would send them a good tract in Khmer that they could print.  They were very nice people, and their desire to be a blessing was evident.  I sent them a tract I had just written, but they declined to print it.  Their reason:  not enough verses in it.  They tried to add in a bunch of verses, but their tract template was just to small to contain it all.  I was not upset as they had a right to their own opinion regarding the content of their tracts, so I went ahead and printed the tract myself locally.  They wanted more Bible verses and less explanation.  I wanted less Bible verses and more explanation.  But this was not the first time I had faced this issue.

The first time was when I arrived in Cambodia nearly 10 years ago.  There were not yet very many good tracts, and many of the missionaries were using Gospels of John for tract distribution.  As I participated, I began to inwardly question the effectiveness of what we were doing.  I almost felt guilty about questioning it, because I didn’t want to suggest that God’s Word was weak or ineffective.  I believe the Word of God is powerful, and it is never a bad idea to place a whole Bible, a portion of a Bible, or even one verse of the Bible into someone’s hands.  There is no way that we could know what has already been going on in that person's life and how God may use His Word to speak to them.  On the other hand, it seemed to me that for the vast majority of people who knew NOTHING of Christ or the Bible, we could do better than simply handing someone a “colorless, non-attractive, difficult to understand book with no pictures”.  (I don’t view the Bible in this wayJ…this is how THEY viewed it).

After struggling with some mixed-emotions and praying about the correct approach, God directed me to Acts chapter 8.
I am sure you are familiar with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  When Philip approached the man, he was reading from the book of Isaiah.  Philip asked, “Understandest thou what thou readest?”  The eunuch answered, “How can I except some man should guide me?”  I believe this simple conversation between these two men provides the key to this issue.  Here was a man sitting and reading a portion of God’s Holy Word, and it was not enough.  That is not due to a defect in the Bible, but a defect in man.  The natural man (unsaved) cannot understand spiritual things.  As we would pass out Gospels of John, 99 out of 100 people would look at it with a blank stare as if to ask, “What’s this?  What’s the Gospel?  Who is John?”  Then they would quickly thumb through the pages to see if there was anything else interesting in it.  Once they realized there was not, they would generally toss it or hand it to someone else and walk away.  In part one of this series, I defended the practice of distributing Gospel tracts even though some get thrown away, so please don’t consider this article to be a departure from that philosophy.  It’s just that I believe we should use the most effective piece of literature possible.

The eunuch required Philip’s help and explanation of the Scripture.  To the person who insists that a Gospel tract be filled from start to finish with many Bible verses and very little explanation, I would ask if they have ever preached a sermon out of just a verse or a brief passage of Scripture.  If it is okay to read one or two verses and then preach for 45 minutes, why is it not okay to put one or two verses in a tract and then explain the verses for a couple of minutes?  Just as in the previous article in this series, the key is balance.  Certainly a pamphlet or tract, which is filled with man’s philosophies and ideas, instead of Bible verses and Biblical truth would not be appropriate to use in evangelism.  On the other hand, to pass out Gospels of John, Romans, New Testaments, etc. with no other Gospel tract or explanation of any kind is not the most effective way to introduce people to Christ either.  Philip was balanced in his approach.  He “began at the same scripture” (he used God’s Word), “and preached unto him Jesus” (he explained God’s truth).  I am not trying to make the case against using Scripture in tracts.  I am merely trying to make the case that man’s explanations are helpful and usually necessary in order for a person to understand the Scripture.  I have heard the argument that it is God’s Word not man’s word which God will bless.  But I submit to you that there are many instances in the Scripture where man’s words were blessed and used of God, because they were words of truth.  Philip is just one example.

In our ministry, we use all different types of tracts.  We have some tracts which have much Scripture throughout.  Other tracts use one or two verses and then build upon those verses.  We even have a couple of tracts which are written in a parable-style which use no actual Bible verses but are filled with Biblical truth.  We don’t consider those Gospel tracts, but merely “seed-planters”. 

Here is one final thought concerning using Bible verses in tracts.  Here in Cambodia, people are not familiar with the Bible.  Many have never heard of it at all, and those who have certainly don’t know any names of the books or how to use the chapter and verse system; therefore, I usually do not put references in the tracts which I write. 

For example, instead of this: 
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23)

 I will say something like this: 
“God tells us in the Bible that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 

I find that it simply confuses people to put the references in the tracts, and pulls their attention away from the message.  Obviously, in a country where people are familiar with the Bible, there would be more value in putting the references.

So…how much Bible must be in a Gospel tract?  The Bible doesn’t say.  One could certainly be guilty of not putting enough verses or Biblical truth and subsequently rob a tract of its efficacy; however, in my opinion putting only Scripture with little to no explanation will simply leave people sitting in their chariots befuddled and bewildered and asking, “How can I (understand) except some man should guide me?”


  1. I appreciate your thoughts. You put to words what I have been thinking about as well.

  2. This post is good and practical. I agree whole-heartedly!

  3. Very helpful. I look forward to the next addition to this series.