From Tracts to the Gospel as such
I’ve been asked to create an evangelistic tract that updates how we share the gospel. Something that differs from Chick tracts, the Four Spiritual Laws, or the Romans Road, all of which propagated separation from God as our fundamental reality. I’ve been asked how we might share the gospel of union with Christ through the Incarnation.
I think I’ll pass. I think the major flaw in tract evangelism is that it doesn’t trust the gospel story as such. Such tracts tend to replace the narrative of the Gospels with a set of propositions, laws, steps, or hoops rather than starting with Jesus’ actual life, death, and resurrection.
If we’re not going to give people a pocket edition of one of the four Gospels, perhaps we could at least use one of his stories. I might use the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the Prodigal Son, or the Lost Sheep. What if these parables really do comprise the gospel as the New Wine, welcoming them to burst the old wineskins of our dogmatic assumptions. Take the parable of the Lost Sheep:
“Until he finds them…”
The Good Shepherd & the 1% (Luke 15:1-7)
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
The gospel I grew up with imagined that only those who give their lives to Christ in this life (through confession of faith) would enter the kingdom of heaven. In other words, only those who become Christians before they die are “saved.” By that criteria, what percentage of humanity could we calculate as making it through the pearly gates? That depends on whether you count all those who identify with Christianity (e.g., all 1.2 billion Catholics, 1 billion Protestants, and 350 million Orthodox) … under 50% of the global population. Or perhaps we’d only include Evangelicals who agree that “you must be born again” through a profession of faith in Christ. Then we’re talking about 619 million. Not even 8%.
When I read the parable, Jesus seems to envision the whole flock as his, including the lost. And he imagines the latter group as just 1% (perhaps even THE infamous economic 1% that we often condemn as most lost).
Further, he doesn’t believe the 1% will be lost forever. Regardless of how badly lost we get, no matter how deep the chasm is into which we’ve fallen, no matter even if we fall into the abyss of death, how does Jesus conceive of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99% to seek and save the 1% … and even better, the one lone sheep that is impossible trapped and tangled. The Good Shepherd continues this search until he finds them. Not ‘until they repent’ or ‘until they die’ but until he finds them.
If we can be honest with that text, it is one of the great examples of Christ’s vision for ultimate redemption. He will pursue every last one of us until he finds every last one of us, and he will return home with the sheep and there will be great rejoicing. At least one day. For now, this scandalous grace seems unwelcome. It’s bad news for the self-righteous (on the ideological left or right) who believe that redemption is somehow an injustice. How sad for “the older brother.” But how wonderful when you’re the one being pulled from the ditch.