Berry College in the 1970s was truly a community. Its rather small student body fostered close friendships.
Even unacquainted students greeted each other when passing on campus. Likely, they knew each other’s name.
Being identified as Christian, and practicing the faith in worship, discipleship groups and other activities, was easier than not doing those things.
There were denominational and nondenominational Christian organizations — and for a while a rather cultish charismatic group arose. But there was no Campus Crusade for Christ, as apparently no one saw a need with the existing Christian engagements.
Yet, one day a CCC group from a larger university descended on our scenic campus and tight-knit community in an effort to gang-save as many people as possible. Their tool of choice was Bill Bright’s famous evangelism tract, “Four Spiritual Laws.”
By evening, the outside evangelizers were gone, but several yellowish rectangular tracts were scattered about campus. I picked one up in the student center and took it back to the dorm.
Stopping by my friend Bill’s room, I thumbed through the four-step transactional conversion process. It began with acknowledging one’s separation from God and ended just few flips later with a signature page — just like Jesus did when calling his first disciples.
“What if all relationships were this easy and transactional?” I mused to my fellow religion and philosophy major friend. The conversation and imagination took off from there.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if dating relationships were this simple?” I said, revealing a top-of-mind topic that we were still trying (OK, struggling) to figure out.
Two young minds (with just enough heightened theological awareness to be dangerous) went to work — resulting in the spoof tract we titled, “Four Physical Laws.”
An empty manilla folder and a pair of scissors led to the cover. And then the mimicking four laws were purposefully over the top a bit.
We even included simple graphics to match the original product — showing the “separation of you and me” as opposed to “you and God.”
And like Bill Bright’s, our tract reminded the potential convert not to trust feelings alone (wink, wink) — offering the assurance, “You love me.”
The fun, we thought, was over after sharing it with a few friends — including my one attempt to act like it was a serious presentation with a young woman I knew well.
She was mildly amused. However, we didn’t get past law two and she remained unconverted.
The Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech visited our campus each Monday. When I showed the tract to Al, just for a laugh, he asked to borrow it.
At that time, the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board was just across the downtown connector from the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. Before the denomination’s fundamentalist takeover, it was filled with creative, effective people concerned about meeting serious needs across the nation with Christian compassion.
There was a good presence of humor there as well. So, one of the employees made several (more professional looking) copies of the spoof tract to share with others.
Al brought copies to Bill and me the next week. My remaining copy is pictured here.
Despite the silliness involved, it actually makes a valid point. While such efforts can be meaningful starting points, transactional faith is not enough.
Sign-on-the-line Americanized Christianity is often more focused on what one gets than what one gives as a result of encountering Jesus. It calls for taking enough of the cross to access heaven but not the associated denial of self-interest.
Transactional faith allows for closing the deal rather than continually hearing and heeding Jesus’ radical call for inclusive love beyond one’s comfort.
Jesus offered just two spiritual laws that he deemed the greatest. They need no expansion. In fact, he said, these two encapsulate all the laws and prophetic teachings.
It seems we are always looking for ways to reduce or improve on what Jesus called us to be and do.
In reality, such reductions and diversions are mere attempts to replace the demanding and ongoing call to “follow me” with more instant and controlling affirmations of “believe this” or “sign here.”
“Christendom has often achieved apparent success by ignoring the precepts of its founder,” wrote H. Richard Niebuhr as the opening sentence in his book, The Social Sources of Denominationalism.
That was written in 1929. The same could be said in 1977. And in 2023.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, … Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” Jesus declared in Matthew 22:38-40.
Those are the two spiritual laws offered by Jesus. They don’t need our refinement or replacement; they just need our faithfulness.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.