The last two Chick Tracts I’ve looked at have dealt with questions of pop culture. The first, Dark Dungeons, critiques tabletop role-playing games as some kind of gateway drug to devil worship, and the second, The Last Generation, gives a very skewed view of the apocalypse (I mean, it doesn’t even involve any astronomical bodies hitting the Earth!). The one I’m looking at today has a much smaller scope; it tells the story of a group of angels and a group of guys in bedsheets fighting over how to put people in the path of a guy who’s scheduled to die in a few weeks so that he either does or does not hear the gospel.
We open with a briefing by some angels discussing how they’re going to reach the target, Charles Bishop. They have two avenues of attack: one of Bishop’s employees, who they say shouldn’t be counted on because he’s “weak in the Word” and a sixteen-year-old girl who happens to be friends with Bishop’s daughter. If these angels were betting spirits, they’d put their money on the girl.
At the same time the angels are discussing battle strategy, a group of demons (they just look like guys in bedsheets to me) are having a similar meeting. Only they’re discussing how to keep the employee, Dobbs, and the girl, Cathy, from talking with Bishop.
My first problem comes from a phrase that the lead bedsheet guy uses to explain how they’re going to keep Dobbs in check: “He’s ashamed of the gospel!”
Why the blue bloody blazes are demons using Christianese? What’s worse, this is the culmination of the demons’ reasoning for why Dobbs will be easy to derail; he’s “weak and gutless” but that’s nothing compared to the fact that he’s “ashamed of the gospel.”
I’m not entirely sure why demons would refer to the core belief of Christianity as the gospel, which we typically translate as “good news,” when from an infernal perspective, it’s anything but.
Anyway, the opposing teams go to work spreading their influence among the pieces on the field (because this is, at heart, a chess game; there doesn’t seem to be any concern on the part of either side for the human drama that’s playing out before them). The angels get busy browbeating Dobbs with guilt that he hasn’t tried to proselytize to his boss in the two years he’s been working for him. Meanwhile, bedsheet-guys get to Dobbs’s wife and convince her that if Dobbs tries to talk about his faith with his boss, then their whole livelihood will be in jeopardy (not an unreasonable thing to fear when the method that your husband is considering is handing over a tract with no context to explain his actions).
So Dobbs, who’s being guilt tripped by his worse angels and abused by his shrewish wife (because in Chick’s cosmic framework, that’s the only character option besides meek and Godly for a woman), ends up missing an opportunity to just have a conversation with Bishop when his boss just happens to see him praying over his lunch.
Okay, the point of this scene is supposed to be highlighting how Dobbs is a coward who’s “ashamed of the gospel” because he prioritizes his security over his commission. Alternatively, I’d say that this is a scene where Dobbs fails to have a real conversation with his boss about something his boss is showing genuine interest in, because Dobbs’s only context for evangelism is through making propositions. He’s not ashamed of his beliefs; he’s never been taught a graceful way to share them.
This is primarily because any sort of propositional approach to evangelism is inherently ungraceful. It’s a sales pitch. Dobbs, since he’s not a salesman, doesn’t want to make a sales pitch. And he’s made to feel guilty about this.
The question of how Christians go about evangelizing is one that creates a great deal of anxiety. When I first became a Christian and was told that I was supposed to be sharing my faith with everyone that I could, I got really nervous. Faith is a deeply personal thing, and talking about personal things face to face with people causes me all kinds of anxiety; it’s why I prefer written communication and think the internet is one of the greatest inventions of humanity. More importantly, I am not a salesman. I do horribly when I have to make a proposal about anything. Throw on top of that the pressure of someone’s immortal soul hanging in the balance, and I’m likely to go to pieces.
Heck, even in situations in the past where I’ve felt confident about making the kind of propositional argument that Chick’s promoting here, I’ve regretted it after the fact. There was one evening that I spent with some good friends a few years ago where I laid it all out for them, and the end result for me was despair that I had failed. My theology’s evolved quite a bit since that episode, and if we ever revisited the conversation I’d have very different things to say, but I’ve also come to the conclusion that propositions are not the way to go. I wouldn’t make arguments, because an argument with enough care and craftsmanship can support any position.
No, I’d just talk and listen. We’d probably still disagree, but that wouldn’t be the point of the conversation.
See, one thing that I failed to recognize when I had the original conversation was that it took place in my home. I had friends over, and we talked for hours, and even though there was lively debate, there was no hospitality.
In the larger view, that’s something I feel more ashamed of than any instance where I wasn’t actively trying to proselytize.
So back to Chick: all the warring between the angels and the bedsheet-guys ends up coming right down to the wire, and even though the angels succeed in getting Cathy to make her pitch to Bishop, which he finds convincing, he ends up dying unsaved anyway. His reasoning: he’d lose his friends if he became a Christian, probably because he’d be called to make propositional arguments all the time.
I guess Bishop didn’t want to be a salesman either; too bad he and Dobbs never got a chance to talk about that.