This is Part 3 of a series. To read the introduction to this series click here. To read Part 1 click here. To read Part 2 click here.
Does every Gospel tract need to present the Gospel in its entirety? There are many tracts out there which do not actually present the plan of salvation, but some other Biblical truth. There are other tracts which present some aspect of the Gospel, but really do not present the entire Gospel in a way that a person could understand and get saved simply from reading the tract. Is this valid? Or does every Gospel tract need to present "the whole story"? In order to properly consider this question, we must first consider the different ways of presenting the Gospel.
There are many different approaches and “plans” that people use to present the Gospel, but there are two approaches which I consider to be extreme. One is what I call the “5-Minute Approach”. This is also know as the “1-2-3, Repeat-After-Me Approach”. This approach consists of running quickly through a few verses in Romans then leading the person in a prayer. The second is what I call the “65-Lesson Approach”. This one is particularly popular on the mission field where many believe that a person must be taught numerous Old Testament stories first so that they can understand the significance of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. One very popular series used for evangelism has the story of Adam and Eve boiled down to a mere 7 lessons! In case you are wondering, I don’t go for either one of these approaches. I find both of them to be extreme, and I believe there is a happy medium. I plan to share some further thoughts on this issue in a later article, but for now I simply wanted to present these 2 approaches in light of this article on the philosophy of Gospel tracts. A person’s philosophy of Gospel tracts will undoubtedly grow out of their philosophy on presenting the Gospel. So let us return to the question at hand: Does every Gospel tract need to present the Gospel in its entirety?
First, let us consider the view
Your view of how best to present the Gospel will affect your view of the proper content of a Gospel tract. People who hold to the “5-Minute Approach” will usually insist that the whole plan of salvation (including and especially a “sinner’s prayer”) be included in the tract. Now, when I say the “whole plan of salvation”, I am being a bit coy with you. When I say they want to include the whole plan of salvation, I mean the whole plan of salvation as they see it. Generally that includes the following components:
1) ”There are four things you need to know”
2) A few verses from Romans
3) A “sinner’s prayer”.
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I do believe it is possible for a person to be saved with the simple Gospel presentation mentioned above. I have led people to Christ (in America) using the Roman’s Road many times, but they were always people who had some previous knowledge of foundational truths. In this series of articles, however, I am referring to tracts on the foreign mission field. When dealing with people who have no knowledge of God, the Bible, sin, Heaven, or Hell, there are certain foundational truths which must be laid down in order for them to be able to even understand the Gospel, much less respond to it. Speaking from personal experience, when witnessing to a person with no foundational knowledge of God, the Romans Road nearly always engenders twice as many questions as it answers.
My view is that our tracts do not necessarily have to stand alone, because our efforts to win the lost do not stand alone. I come to this position from I Corinthians 3:6-9a. “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God:” My view is that every time we hand someone a tract, we are planting a new seed or watering a seed that has already been planted. I’m glad that I don’t have to be the coordinator, the organizer, or the overseer of what is going on in each heart. That is God’s job. But, we are labourers together with Him! God is smart enough and powerful enough to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together in a man’s heart. That doesn’t mean that we can be careless in our handling of the message of the Gospel. It simply means that we must strive to disseminate God’s truth in the most clear and effective way possible, but it is God who will bring it all together so that a person may understand and place their trust in Christ. Therefore I prefer a tract which clearly focuses on one aspect of the Gospel rather than giving a cursory overview of the entire Gospel. I would rather give a person a tract and convince them of one truth (for example: “there is only one God” or “all men are sinners”), then take them on a sprint down the Roman’s Road and have them still confused. Just as a child accumulates knowledge one small truth at a time, I believe we are more effective when we focus on one truth at a time and try to nail it home.
Perhaps you are wondering why we don’t just print longer tracts and say everything we want to say in a slow, clear, and methodical way. That’s a good question, and we certainly do have tracts which do just that. We have one booklet in particular (written by a fellow missionary) which lays out foundational truths before going into a clear and complete presentation of the Gospel. Hundreds of people have been led to Christ through that booklet. But to be quite honest, most people here will not read that booklet if you hand it to them on the street, because of its length. So we are faced with a decision: Give them a bite of truth and watch them eat it, or give them the whole meal and watch them refuse it. For me, the decision is easy. A bite eaten is better than a meal rejected.
Second, let us consider the variables
One size does not fit all when it comes to Gospel tracts. “God’s Simple Plan Of Salvation” is a very popular English tract which has met great success over the past several decades, but when translated into Khmer it became (in the words of a veteran missionary here) “God’s Anything-But-Simple Plan Of Salvation.” It obviously worked great with some people, but did not with others. There are too many variables among the people of the world to expect to be able to use one tract world-wide. A different approach is needed for an uneducated populace than for an educated one. Is your target audience rich or poor? Are they young or old? Are they religious or non-religious? Are they devout Buddhists or nominal Buddhists? Each person is different, so each person must be dealt with differently. I understand that the Gospel cannot be changed, but the package in which it is presented can be. For example, Jesus did not offer living water to Nicodemus, and He didn’t tell the woman at the well that she had to be born again. He had a different way of sharing the same truth with these two different individuals based upon concepts to which they would relate. He had a totally different approach with Pharisees than with lepers. At times He put forth lengthy discourses, and at other times He spoke just a brief word. He considered the variables and adjusted accordingly.
There are also logistical variables to consider. If you want to distribute tracts by the thousands, obviously you will need to print less expensive tracts. Generally speaking, less expensive tracts mean shorter tracts. A longer tract which presents the Gospel fully will cost more money to print. When writing a tract, you will have to decide if you will just print it regardless of its length, or if you will edit the tract down to a certain size before printing. When a printing ministry offers to print a tract, they almost always have a template which must be used. Oftentimes the size specifications are very rigid, which is understandable. However, that is a variable that will dictate how much of the Gospel message you will be able to include in the tract. Another logistical variable is the language itself. In some languages you cannot put near as much writing on one page as you could in English. Also, in many third world countries, everyone over 40 has bad eyesight, so large print is a must.
Third, let us consider the vision
What is your vision for the area in which you are distributing tracts? Are you going to be there for a long time? Or is this evangelistic thrust a one-time thing and then you will be gone? I think these are important questions to consider with regards to what type of tract you distribute. If I was going to be dropping tracts from an airplane over remote villages of the Amazon Forest with no plans to go there for follow-up, then yes, I would want to use tracts that shared the Gospel message in its entirety. However, if I was going to be laboring for many years in one city, interacting with the same people and building relationships, then I think brief tracts which introduce concepts and truth would be perfectly legitimate.
In our ministry, we provide many kinds of tracts for our soulwinners. Usually, each person carries a big stack of various inexpensive tracts. These are thought-provokers, and they are meant to be distributed indiscriminately. These tracts are probably not enough for the average person to get saved simply from reading the tract. They are kept short on purpose so that people will read them and so that we can afford to print a lot. While EVERY tract presents Jesus as the Savior, many of these tracts do not explain salvation in its entirety and will leave a person with some questions. Of course, every tract has our contact information on it. Also, we go soulwinning in the same areas many times. We believe that God’s Holy Spirit can and will cause these little seeds to take root, and then God will coordinate the next step, and the next, and the next.
Does every tract have to present the entire Gospel message? In my opinion, no. I do believe that every tract should at least introduce Christ as God’s Son and the Savior of the world, but I do not believe that every tract has to contain a full explanation of salvation in order to be a valid or useful tract. I will give some illustrations of different kinds of tracts and approaches that may be taken in an upcoming article in this series.