When I was a Christian, I managed to amass a large collection of tracts, short pamphlets designed to designed to get across a message. And in the case of those that I had, those messages ranged from pointed gospel messages to out-of-left-field messages disparaging certain Bible translations.
I’d do a lot with these tracts: leave them in public places, tuck them away in library books, and of course hand them out door to door with friends of mine — all of this after I meticulously branded the back of each one with not only the address of my church but often, this website’s address back when I wrote as a Christian. This branding was done by hand for thousands of them before eventually investing in a custom stamp. Yes, there was plenty else I could have done with my time; you don’t have to remind me!
I don’t recall finding too many other tracts in the areas I’d frequent back then, but over the past couple of years, I’ve found them with increasing frequency. But now I look at them from a completely different perspective — that of an outsider to their religious message, that of a skeptic, that of (to be honest…) the “target audience” of the tracts.
Rather than grab-and-recycle the tracts as I spot them, I’ll be bringing them to you, the RickBeckman.org & Secular Now audience, beginning with “Heaven or Hell: Which One Will You Choose?”
I’ll be quoting the tract and sharing my thoughts about it; you can read along with me over on the website of the Fellowship Tract League, its publisher, if you want.
The cover of the tract is straightforward enough: A picture of what I assume to be Earth, but with Heaven and Hell encroaching upon it from either side. Heaven is presented as bright, cloudy, and blue, while Hell is presented as darker, fiery, and red-orange. (Yes, the tract designers are as creative as Hollywood on this one. Make of that what you will.)
Based on the cover, if I had to answer the question, then I would say, what the hell is wrong with Earth? Why can’t I be happy here? Why do I have even think about a Heaven or a Hell when neither one of them look like they’d be at all interesting long-term?
Are you going to heaven or to hell? The Bible teaches that many seemingly good people are going to hell, because “…all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23) “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Sin has a price. The Bible states, “…the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)
Not all tracts do this, but this one provides very little explanation, opting instead to just barrage my sensibilities with Bible quotes. But does it actually say anything meaningful?
What is Heaven? What is Hell? Why is what the Bible says important? What is sin? Why do sinners go to Hell? Why are good people qualified with “seemingly”?
I could answer all of those questions thoroughly, but I have years of studying the Bible under my belt. Does everybody? No. For that matter, don’t Christians and the Bible teach that “spiritual things are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14) and that unbelievers won’t be able to understand their esoteric teachings?
Wouldn’t it behoove tract authors to explain things in the least spiritual ways possible, so as to make their message accessible to those whom they believe to be spiritually deficient? No? Just checking…
You might be wondering what happens to people who die in their sins. The Bible teaches that “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Hebrews 9:27) “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)
What does it mean to “die in their sins”? Who knows. They certainly don’t care to tell us here. Also, now we’re “appointed” to die? I thought we die because of sin? That’s what the tract said earlier. It already can’t keep its story straight.
What’s the “book of life”? What and where is the lake of fire? Do the tract authors think it is synonymous with Hell? Given the context, it’s obvious that they do, but if they actually knew their Bible, they’d know that Hell is not the lake of fire. Details, details…
Is there any hope? Yes! God sent His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, into the world to pay the penalty for your sins. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Who is God? How is it he’s able to have a son? What is Jesus lord over? How does Jesus dying do anything for us? What does “christ” mean? How does Christ dying for us prove that God loves us? Why isn’t it, “But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, he died for us.” That’d make for a far more straightforward, powerful narrative if you ask me.
The Bible tells us that God desires to save everyone. God is “…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9b) Jesus said: “…him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) Do you want to be saved? The Bible teaches that there are several things you must do in order to be saved.
Wait, wait, now there are “several things” I must do? Did this tract not just tell me that all I had to do was believe in God’s son?
Also, if it is God’s will that no one should perish but that everyone will be saved, but if there are people dying all the time who have never believed in Jesus, doesn’t that mean that God’s will is, well, ineffectual? Why should I care about a God who desires something but doesn’t even get his way? For that matter, why are Christians always going around saying “God willing” about things when his will is no more useful than ours?
First, you must realize there is nothing you can do to make yourself worthy of heaven. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…” (Titus 3:5)
Wait! You just told me that my belief lead to my salvation! Now it isn’t about anything I do?
Further, what’s so special about Heaven that I need to be worthy to go there? In a tract called “Heaven or Hell,” I sort of assumed that I’d learn a bit about Heaven and Hell…
Secondly, you must repent of your sins. “…God …now commandeth all men every where to repent:” (Acts 17:30) Repentance is a change of heart which causes you to turn toward God and away from your present way of life.
Holy crap! They actually defined a term! Poorly, but at least they tried. What does it mean to “turn toward God”? Am I just to let the other Christians in the world teach me by example? Does turning toward God involve picketing against human rights? Bombing abortion clinics? Sitting in business-ran churches for six hours every week? Giving up money I earned for the church all while it rails against socialism? Based on this tract, who knows!
And just what’s wrong with my “present way of life” anyway?
The third thing that you must do is to believe “…that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4)
Whoa, whoa, whoa, the third thing I have to do is believe? Why would I do the first or second step if I didn’t already believe? And why is belief so important to be mentioned solo earlier but is now the third step in this process?
And what? Dead & buried people don’t rise from the dead! Why should I believe this at all?
The last thing that you must do is to receive Christ as your personal Saviour. “But as many as received him (Jesus), to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” (John 1:12) “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
Oh. My. God. This tract can’t keep its story straight. Ignoring the mystery of “receiving Jesus” and the weirdness of being imbued with a power that allows you to “become the sons of God,” now I’m told that if I “call upon the name of the Lord,” I’ll be saved? What happened to the first several steps?
Salvation is free to all who will place their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The way to be saved is so simple! Yet many refuse to be saved. They will not accept Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin and its penalty. They refuse to believe that the Lord Jesus is powerful enough to save them by Himself. Do you?
The “finished work of Jesus Christ”? You mean dying? That’s literally all we’ve been told this Jesus did in this tract.
What is grace?
And why is not believing in Jesus equated with a “refusal” to believe? And then why is that refusal spelled out as being a refusal to believe that Jesus is able to save me without any effort on my part?
I’m refusing to believe this tract because it hasn’t told me why, and so far, the only people I think would believe anything because of it are people who are either already predisposed to religious thinking or who have a background in Christianity and use the tract as an impetus to take their faith further.
But without a background in church or Christian studies of some kind, this tract is fairly devoid of content.
Heaven or hell—which one will you choose? Jesus Christ awaits your choice. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36). Will you admit you are a sinner? Do you want to be forgiven and your life changed? Will you humble yourself and pray to God right now, asking Jesus Christ to save you? “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the death, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9). “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25).
First we’re told that “believing on the son” is all it takes to have everlasting life. Later, we’re told that we have to “confess the Lord Jesus” verbally while believing that he resurrected from the dead. This tract can’t go more than a few sentences in a row without confusing its message.
What is the wrath of God? I don’t believe in or on Jesus, but I experience no “wrath of God” in my life. If it’s purely hypothetical, then it isn’t a very effective threat, wouldn’t you agree?
Confess with my mouth to whom? Does it matter?
How do I pray and why does it need humility? Save me to the uttermost of what? In what way is Jesus interceding and why?
If you have decided to trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour after reading this tract, please write and let us know.New Life Baptist Church
P.O. Box 65-203 S Salem St.
Boston, In 47324
Thanks, New Life Baptist Church, but no. Your tract raises more questions than it even pretends to answer, and those that it does try to answer, it can’t even keep its story straight on.
If someone isn’t familiar with Christianity and its concepts, this tract isn’t going to provide them with any useful information.
If someone is just vaguely familiar with Christianity and its concepts, this tract might persuade them to believe. But it’s a belief borne out of gullibility or ignorance, not out of understanding.
And if someone does have an understanding of Christianity and its concepts, then they might just decide to point out the problems that this tract suffers from, but they sure aren’t going to believe in Jesus because of it.