In yet another Pastor Ray-esque delcaration, Romans is one of my favorite books of the Bible (it was actually the book that my old Pastor Ray definitively named as his favorite, overriding all previous designations). It’s the most logical, rational, and universally applicable of Paul’s letters. In college when I led a Bible study for the first time, it was the one we did for the duration of our sophomore year, where I cut my teeth, Bible-study speaking.
I think I’ve mentioned here before the frustration that many people feel when they discover that the Bible does not contain a credal statement of what it means to be a Christian, and the beliefs and commandments and promises therein. Well, Romans is the closest thing there is. There are a couple of gaps, but Paul’s letter to the Roman churches is nearly a complete statement of his theology, the understanding of God that guided his ministry.*
Consequently, Romans is a book that is resistant to high-level critiques or reactions. It’s definitely one I want to revisit in greater detail in the future. For this post, I want to look at one of the outgrowths of Romans, the ‘Romans Road’. This is a series of verses strung together as a succinct statement of the Gospel used often in tract form as a witness to prospective believers. Here it is:
- Rom 3:10 | ‘As it is written: None is righteous; no, not one.’
- Rom 3:23 | ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’
- Rom 6:23 | ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
- Rom 5:8 | ‘But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
- Rom 10:9 | ‘For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’
- Rom 5:1 | ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
- Rom 8:1 | ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
I first encountered the ‘Road’ after I became a Christian, but they were among my first memory verses.
There is an understandable resistance to tracts such as these among many in the church. This kind of handout-style evangelism is impersonal at best and alienating at worst. They can be deceitful** or rude*** or absurd****. Tracts on their own (when successful in leading someone to commit to Christ) can lead to a shallow faith or, worse, a false belief that one is saved by the mere recitation of a prayer.
But I think there is a place for this type of outreach. Most of the negative tract stories come from abuse rather than flaws inherent in the principle of tracts. Like I said at the beginning, many people find the Bible to be an impenetrably dense collection of bizarre stories and, if they went to it looking for peace and answers, would come away confused and discouraged. Taking the key points and making them accessible (ofttimes with a fun diagram!) opens up the truth of the Gospel to more people. If a believer is trained well (tracts are not a means of apologetics) and is willing to walk through the tract with the recipient (preferably someone with whom they have a relationship already, but that may just be my own biases), it can be a vehicle for God to do great work.
* Elements of Paul’s theology (detailed elsewhere) that are largely absent from Romans include Christology (Philippians/Colossians), ecclesiology (Ephesians), and eschatology (Thessalonians).
** There are some tracts that are disguised as dollar bills, which when left on the ground entice people to pick them up as free cash only to be ‘disappointed’ with the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s not witnessing; it’s just littering.
*** There are many (mostly of older generations) who leave tracts in lieu of tips at the restaurant. This is despicable and rude and counterproductive.
**** For a while, ‘Testamints’ were all the craze — little breath mints with a cross and a Bible verse citation on them. Who even examines their breathmints? Has this ever worked, ever?