I was challenged recently by a friend to give a defense of tract-bombing. To be honest this is not something that I have given a lot of thought to in the past. I have by and large just accepted it as a valid means of communicating the gospel and left it at that. So I will here attempt to give a basic defense although I acknowledge from the get-go that there does not seem to me to be a lot that can be said. The whole discussion seems to me to be one that for the most part will be settled by the presuppositions the reader already has before entering any dialogue.
First off I will define my terms. For those not familiar with it the term Tract-bomb is used mainly in reference to undercover mass distribution of tracts. This is generally done door to door in urban areas during the night. The practice is of course limited to those countries that are “closed” to the gospel and/or Christianity in general.
And then one must define what a good tract is. I would rather not use a tract without a heavy emphasis on biblical quotation and explanation. It must contain a clear message of the glory of God, the depth of our sin and rebellion against Him, His plan of salvation thru Christ’s atoning work and the necessity of repentance and a total turning from sin. Without all these present and clearly laid out with scripture I think we would have an incomplete gospel message.
The first question one runs into is, “Are tracts in general even biblical?” Well, if you mean are they mentioned and supported by scripture then the answer is no. Undergirding the use of tracts is the presupposition that any form of communication is valid for the proclamation of the gospel. The belief is that if the gospel is communicated clearly then the means used does not matter.
While I do believe that the gospel can be validly communicated via different means I do think that in scripture there is a primacy given to preaching that we cannot avoid. One may object that this primacy is there because no other medium of communication was possible and there is truth in that. However despite that when studying the scriptures and God’s working throughout the ages we see Him raising using preachers again and again. When England was in great spiritual decline God sent John Wesley and his Methodist circuit riders to proclaim His truth again. During a time when very few were going forth to spread the word God raised up Count Zinzendorf and his Moravians to head the charge. And into modern times God’s preferred method seems to be the preacher who is lifting up his voice and proclaiming the glory of the King.
You may have noticed that not very much has been said that seemed to nail things down or even perhaps give an argument with substantive force behind it. This is because most of the arguments that will be made in this debate are arguments from silence and are really not that strong. It is an assumption that tracts are a legitimate means of communicating the gospel just as it is an assumption that preaching is the primary means that God uses for proclaiming the gospel. When I say assumption I mean that it is a conclusion we come to that seems probable from reading scripture and viewing the works of God but is not explicitly stated anywhere in scripture.
In the beginning I said that the debate would I believe be largely settled by the presuppositions held prior to entering this discussion. Since each side is primarily resting on assumptions that are not explicitly stated in scripture it will be hard for one side to convince the other of the truth of their claims.
There are a few differing views of this topic amongst Christian. There are those who look at scripture and see only verbal preaching and thus claim that the only valid method is preaching. This is of course an argument from silence. Because people preached does not mean that other forms of communication are invalid. This is a leap of logic.
Then there are those Christians who acknowledge the validity of tracts but say that they are not to be separated from the preaching. To walk up to someone out of the blue and hand them a tract without verbal communication of the gospel is not the biblical way of evangelism. They make the assumption that tracts are OK to use but further assume that they are not legitimate to be used by themselves. This is another argument from silence and it is hard to critique as there are no substantive arguments to critique.
Then there are those who see the primacy given to preaching in the scriptures but also believe that any method of communicating the gospel is a valid one. Whether on the internet or in the form of an audio CD or thru a tract God will use them to convict and draw men to Himself. This is the position that I hold to but like the previous two it is hard to defend or critique or argue for because it is based on assumptions and not hard biblical data. There is no scripture verse that says that any method of communicating the gospel is valid. There is likewise no scripture verse that restricts this proclamation to spoken words.
Thus we seem to be left in a quandry. Not any position can be established securely. Neither can any position be critiqued strongly simply because of the absence of any arguments. The scriptures are strangely silent.
It seems to me from viewing the work of God throughout time that though He does primarily work thru the preaching He also is not loath to use written forms of communication. I know those who have been saved thru reading tracts. There are many who have been saved thru reading the scriptures without the aid of a man to explain things to them. Thus it seems logical to me to assume that these other methods are valid.
The friend who challenged me to write this made this statement (slightly edited for clarification), “It is our duty to boldly proclaim the truth and not run and hide while we tract-bomb.” So the question logically flows out of this, “Are we called in times of persecution to proclaim the truth in the market square boldly knowing that we will die for it or are there other means we can use?” Based on my reading of scripture I do see the mandate to be bold about your faith in personal witnessing but I do not see the demand that we throw our lives away. Scripturally I can readily see that advising a believer in a closed country to witness boldly one on one is biblical but to tell him that he must needs stand up and preach in the open knowing that this will bring torture and/or death is something I do not see. Boldness is commanded. As is wisdom. There are times God may lead a man to witness in such a way that will surely end in death but that I believe is the exception rather than the norm.
In conclusion it seems to me that once the door is cracked and other methods of gospel communication are recognized as being valid there is no legitimate stopping point before recognizing their total legitimacy in every situation. One cannot critique it without resting on bare-boned assumptions. While I do see several reasons outside of scripture to validate them I cannot build a scriptural case for tracts. Out of these assumptions logically flows the practice of tract-bombing in closed countries. It is boldly proclaiming the gospel to masses of people who otherwise would never hear while giving the Christian a fair chance of escape.
I am sorry that I could not write a more conclusive analysis. The lack of substantive arguments related to this issue has tied my hands from being too conclusive. To overstate an argument I view as more of an error than understating it. In spite of this I hope that this has been informative if even slightly. If you are just plain old confused then I hope this leads you to scripture and to the history of God’s working thru the church for the answers.
May we never tire of proclaiming the glory of our King!!!