I consider him to be a teacher into whose school every theologian must go once. Woe to him who has missed it! So long as he does not remain in or return to it!
Karl Barth, ‘A Thank You and a Bow: Kierkegaard’s Reveille’, Canadian Journal of Theology 11:1 (1965), pp. 3–7 (p. 7)
Thus spake Barth in 1963 about the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard; but I could easily say the same (sort of) about Jack T. Chick, the American cartoonist who preached a rather hard-line version of the gospel via his (in)famous Chick tracts, and who died last week on 23 October.
I’ll admit I’m a fan of Chick tracts. It’s true that many find them distasteful for a variety of reasons, including the fact that a significant number of them could be described fairly as ‘hate literature’. But personally, I enjoy reading them because they’re like the South Park of Christian print culture. They’re not to everyone’s taste; and many will find them nothing but offensive; but I have a genuine soft spot for them.
Why? Well, when I first started professing Christianity as a teenager, I was greatly encouraged by Mr Chick’s output. There’s a logic to his approach: unless you believe in Jesus Christ, you are going to hell—no exceptions! And so, if you don’t believe in Jesus, you need to hear the good news slamming against your eardrums or read the message of the King James Bible compacted into a dozen or so pages filled with demons, drug addicts, homosexuals, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and evolutionists, all facing the righteous wrath of the risen Jesus. As a Christian teenager and very much in a minority at school, the knowledge that I could be the one whom God would use to snatch someone from the fires of hell was nothing short of inspiring, even if it failed to cultivate tact in my evangelistic activities.
Whatever I think about Chick’s theology these days, the fact is that his tracts reinforced for me the idea that the Christian faith was true and could be defended as such. As a teenager, this gave me the confidence to know that my attempts to persuade my friends that their eternal fate was of great importance had a strong foundation in God’s inerrant Word (though I used the NIV rather than the KJV; Chick forgive me). And dare I say this confidence persists in me now, albeit shaped beyond the Chickensian? Even though my theology has deepened or developed or stretched over the years, I am certain that the mystery of faith—that Christ has died, that Christ is risen, that Christ will come again—is true, and defensibly so. Perhaps incomprehensibly, I can say that Jack Chick played a large part, along with those who nurtured my faith in the early days, in convincing me of the rationality of the Christian faith.