Remember those cartoon evangelism tracts by Jack Chick, who most famously wrote “This Was Your Life” and other comic-strip-oriented literature intended to help save souls?
Perhaps now, as the Facebook post implied, Jack Chick himself is that man in silhouette before the giant robed faceless God on a throne, awaiting entrance into the clouded kingdom.
Alas, Jack Chick left behind a legacy of wild and harmful Christian speculative fantasy.
This Was Your Life
Chick’s “This Was Your Life” was one of the first tracts I ever read. At the time my family was attending a conservative/fundamentalist church, one in which women wore head coverings in addition to their natural long hair. Post-service conversation must have been dull. So child-me meandered into the lobby. I found reading material? Hurrah! But it was boring: evangelism tracts full of words. Wait! What’s this? Comic-strip tracts?
I was intrigued. I read the only ones they had. Later more copies ended up in that certain drawer in my mother’s desk. We never passed them out. They were there in case of tract-evangelism emergency, along with more-staid offerings like “The Four Spiritual Laws.”1
Of course, our tracts included at least one copy of Jack Chick’s “This Was Your Life.”
In “This Was Your Life,” a worldly man dies and an angel takes him to heaven. He skips directly to the Great White Throne judgment predicted in Rev. 20 (after the Millennium, whatever that is). God sits there, a giant faceless robed figure looking somewhat like a 1950s propaganda poster. The Lord calls for nervous protag: “Next! Review his life!”
All of heaven watches a giant movie screen review every sinful moment of protag’s life. It starts with his childhood (he is rather ugly even as a baby), then moves forward. Heaven’s archives single out egregious sinful moments such as: telling a dirty joke, lusting after a woman, and going to church but caring more about a ballgame. “Bunk,” protag decides, “I don’t need Christ! There’s nothing wrong with me! I’ll make it MY way!”
None of this part is unbiblical. Scripture does say that at God’s judgment, “The dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”2 A separate book, “the book of life,” records names of the saved—just as the tract shows.
An alternate-universe version of the story follows: protag repents and believes in Jesus, lives a transformed and godly life, then exits Earth and heads into eternity saved.
The world of Jack Chick: faith, fantasy, fallacy
“This Was Your Life” is highly fanciful speculation, with only a few biblical details fudged:
- Protag undergoes a kind of unconscious “soul sleep” until God’s future judgment.
- When protag awakens to the word “Arise!”, this refers to the future resurrection. But he ascends in a ghostly form out of his body. Resurrection = bodily. There’s no in-between.
Other tracts went even further afield, with questionable to outright false notions, such as:
- Humans can cast curses or be cursed (other than being under the curse of God’s wrath).
- “Harry Potter” books teach people to use Ouija boards (the books never mention these).
- If you die without evangelizing enough, you’ll feel bad about it in Heaven.
- The Roman Catholic pope is the Beast of Revelation 13.
- Non-Christians frequently say, “HAW, HAW!”
Far more interesting is Chick’s fantastic ability to show things and engage speculations that Christianity or else his own culture—or “Chickverse”—would ordinarily forbid:
- It’s okay to draw or look at images of God on the throne (but what about Exodus 20:4?).
- It’s okay to draw or look at images of sexy women (within certain parameters).
- It’s okay to draw or look at images of demons or Satanic(?) creatures, complete with traditional bat-winged things as well as vampires, ghoulish witches, and werewolves.
- It’s okay to write/draw fanfiction about Heaven, Hell, and false religions’ origin stories.
This leads to a fascinating contradiction:
- Chick Tracts preached against—and were set in a Christian subculture that discouraged—good things like fantasy, and bad things like lust, obsession with demons, and deception.
- Chick Tracts showed some of the most fantastical imaginings of biblical ideas, while also showing images that (by their own logic) could promote idolatry and lust. Meanwhile, the tracts contained plain lies against other people, not only Roman Catholics and Muslims, but fans of fantasy stories such as “Dungeons and Dragons” or “Harry Potter.”
So what should we make of Chick’s legacy?
For me, the tracts were a curiosity. I enjoyed reading the ones I’d found. But even as an older child, I never tried to give them to anyone; I doubted they were suitable for that. But other people report these tracts really messed some people up. Or perhaps rather, the toxic and un-biblical Christian subculture they associate with the tracts messed them up.
And make no mistake, this kind of fundamentalist culture is harmful. To “evangelize,” its members promote slander of already-false religions’ backstories (when mere comparison to God’s word would do the job). This culture says “thus saith the Lord” when in fact the Lord has never saith (about the Beast being Catholic, the Rapture, legalistic notions, and King James Version-only-ism). And this culture implicitly promotes hypocrisy by saying, “It’s okay for Jack Chick to draw fairly awesome cartoons for fantastical stories and falsely claim they are fact, but you’re not allowed similar stories even under the label ‘fantasy.’”
At the end, I cannot render final judgment: Jack Chick went to hell, or Jack Chick went to Heaven. But I do suspect he’s in Heaven. Because crazy Christians sometimes do mean well. Yes, even if they claim Catholics eat “death cookies,” or “Harry Potter” fans worship Satan.
Like Catholicism and fantasy novels themselves, Chick Tracts are an absurd mess of grace and idolatry, truth and lies, and artistic skills that reflect God versus artful lies that do not.
What is your experience with Chick tracts or the Chickverse, particularly given these tracts’ bizarre role in Christian fantasy?
- The Chickverse runs according to these basic rules:
- There’s a spiritual war on for the souls of men and women.
- God and angels are good and look good (muscled, stern faces, feathered wings).
- The devil and demons are bad and look bad (horns, fangs, wicked grins, bat-wings).
- Human beings are neutral and trapped in between.
- Additional forces conspire to ensnare their souls—forces including but not limited to Halloween, spells, the Occult, Roman Catholicism, Islam, and bad Bible translations.
- Believers die and pass into a cloudy heaven forever. Unbelievers die and are thrown into the lake of fire. (Chick’s images for these were appropriately iconic and horrifying.)
- Everything is moving to an End Times, including rapture, tribulation, and judgment.
- Revelation 20:12. ↩