This past Saturday a knock came on my door. I opened the door to two slightly nervous young men. One of them immediately took the lead, introducing himself as the representative of a new Baptist church just starting up in the area. He then held out a tract for me to take. I glanced down.
“Oh,” I said, eyebrows raised with surprise, “a Chick tract.”
“You know them?” the young man asked.
“Uh, yeah,” I replied. Unfortunately I had places to be or I might have engaged them further. But that was the tip of an iceberg I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with at the time.
For the last forty years Chick tracts have been drawn and distributed by a mysterious, reclusive fundamentalist Protestant named Jack Chick working out of his base in southern California. They present one of the nastier forms of fundamentalist Christianity. A couple years ago I blogged about Jack Chick’s beastly little tract “Somebody Goofed”. Like most of Chick’s work, that one should win an award for tastelessness, not to mention its gross distortion of Christian doctrine.
Anyway, the young man handed me a tract I hadn’t seen before. It was titled “Flight 144” (see the entire tract here) and it tells the story of an elderly couple who are now returning home after spending a career building hospitals for poverty stricken Africans. As they fly back they meet a young man who just became a Christian and who believes that Jesus saved him from his sin. By contrast, this couple think their works save them. (Needless to say, all the characters are gross caricatures.) The plane crashes and the elderly couple go to hell while the young man goes to heaven.
Yes, it really is that bald. Here are some excerpts for those too lazy to click the link:
After the couple continues to talk about their “good works” instead of the saving work of Jesus and the need to save souls, their young friend gets serious, realizing that they are, in fact, not saved:
The young man goes to heaven, but the missionaries are condemned to hell.
I’m going to make a couple observations about this nasty little tract.
First, Jack Chick’s gospel shares little with the gospel of Jesus. For Jack Chick, helping the poor and oppressed is “fine”, but it has nothing to do with “saving sinners” (aka “the Gospel”). It is quite ironic that Chick should quote from Matthew in support of this view when the Matthean Jesus is so thoroughly works-centered. When Jesus gets around to explaining how you distinguish the saved (the sheep) from the lost (the goats) he points not to sinners saved but rather to the hungry fed, the thirsty satiated, the stranger invited in, the naked clothed, the sick comforted and the imprisoned visited. (Matthew 25:35-36) Yes, you do have to bring these passages into a systematic conversation with the writings of Paul as you seek a doctrine of salvation, so I’m certainly not suggesting that Jesus was saying works save you. But he does seem to be pointing out the shape of salvation. And regardless, you can’t simply ignore what Jesus says as you proof-text from select places in the Pauline corpus to support your view.
Second, Chick’s account of salvation by grace is, ironically enough, in danger of turning salvation into a work, the work of having the correct soteriology (or doctrine of salvation). The tract depicts the Davidsons (the missionary couple) being damned because they fail to have the right doctrine of salvation and they errantly believe that their works contribute to their own salvation.
There’s an old saying that goes like this:
Jesus + anything = nothing
In other words, if you try to add anything to the atoning work of Christ as a condition for salvation, that addition negates the salvific benefit of the atoning work of Christ. It would appear that Jack Chick is a proponent of “the equation”. Thus, the Davidsons end up in hell because
Jesus + good works for African villagers = nothing
But then the same equation applies to Chick himself. In other words, if he adds anything to the work of Jesus then he too has nothing and is damned. Alas, that includes adding the requirement that one must have the appropriate doctrine of salvation to be saved by Jesus, to wit:
Jesus + a wholly graced based doctrine of salvation = nothing
And so we have our ironic conclusion that Jack Chick is damned as surely as the Davidsons because each sought to add something to the atoning work of Christ as a condition of salvation.
At least the Davidsons built some hospitals along the way.