I’ve talked a little bit about evangelism in a couple of the previous entries in this series. Regular readers know that I subscribe to the idea of evangelism as hospitality, and I find sales pitches like the ones that are packaged in Chick tracts to be repugnant, if for no reason other than their relentless use of scare tactics.
Trying to scare your audience into Heaven is not a hospitable act, and therefore it’s not good evangelism.
That’s a point that I’ve probably belabored enough in the past, but I just wanted to bring it up again because the tract I’m looking at today has something to say about the connection between salvation and evangelism, although I don’t think it’s what Chick intended.
In Flight 144 we meet the Davidsons, an elderly couple who have been missionaries in Africa for 50 years who are now returning to the US in order to raise funds for their fifth hospital. They’ve also kickstarted five schools in addition to that, so in the parlance of the evangelical community, I’d say they’re doing Kingdom work. Those kinds of projects are phenomenally good for helping to improve the lives of people, and they exemplify how we might feed, clothe, and care for Christ through loving each other. If the parable of the sheep and the goats is to be believed, God would welcome the Davidsons as faithful servants who acknowledged Christ in all they did.
Unfortunately for the Davidsons, Chick doesn’t agree with my assessment of their character. The plane that they’re flying home on crashes over the Atlantic, and everyone aboard dies. The cheerful young believer whom the Davidsons sit next to gets whisked off to Heaven immediately, while they’re taken by their angel to stand in judgment. God gives them the cold shoulder because they never focused on evangelism in any of their ministry throughout their lives, and so the Davidsons are cast into hell.
I get that the point of this tract is to emphasize the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Chick hammers that home very well.
The setup here is one big contradiction, because while the tract is so busy making the point that we can’t be saved by our works, it sets up the work of evangelism as a necessary component of salvation. Because the Davidsons never explicitly proselytized anyone during their lives, God’s not happy with them. Conversely, the young believer they sit next to on the plane says the only person he ever evangelized to was his cellmate in prison. That’s a very modest bit of work, but it’s still something worth celebrating within the Church, and I don’t want to detract from the illustration.
Nonetheless, this is the only distinction we’re offered between the Davidsons and their single serving friend. They’re all Christians (though the Davidsons do not explicitly name Christ, what we read about their actions suggests that they have a deep love of him), so according to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, there shouldn’t be an issue. Instead, God lays a smackdown on the Davidsons because they relied on their works.
Now, while there may not have been any explicit proselytizing going on in the Davidsons’ schools and hospitals, there most certainly had to have been a great deal of evangelizing. You don’t care for people in need without demonstrating the love of Christ (actually, let me amend that to ‘you can’t care for people without demonstrating the love of Christ’). Chick’s God doesn’t care about that though.
What Chick’s God cares about is whether or not you explicitly say to people, “Hey, listen! Hey, listen! You have to follow Jesus or you’re going to hell! Hey, listen!” That’s why the young believer gets a pass; even though it was meager, he did the one work that Chick’s God does, in fact, give a damn about.
That’s not salvation by grace through faith, folks. That’s salvation by grace through faith plus this one other thing. The fact that one other thing is the same thing that Chick tracts are designed to do (and make you feel guilty for not doing) must be entirely coincidental, I’m sure. Of course, with this tract’s story, it’s apparently not enough that you’re made to feel guilty about not proselytizing; you’re also supposed to be scared if you aren’t doing it too.