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Based on an interview with David Crandall, former head of Gospel Literature Services
Nailing his 95 theses to a door is not what made Martin Luther’s ideas famous. A printer did.
Spurred by the recent invention of the printing press, Luther’s writing quickly spread throughout Europe—with over a million copies of his tracts in circulation by 1524. In fact, it can be fairly said that tracts have become the primary vehicle for disseminating God’s Holy Word to the common man.
Even in the age of the Internet, gospel literature is taking God’s truths to the nations as never before.
Dr. David (“Doc”) Crandall has seen firsthand what the printed word can do, and the opportunities just keep growing. As the former head of Gospel Literature Services (GLS), one of the largest translation and distribution networks of Christian literature in the world, he saw the effectiveness of tracts and other printed material to win souls for Christ.
Doc’s passion for gospel literature began during his days as a student in seminary.
“As I read about the great revivals of days gone by and read about the Reformation, I saw how gospel literature played a huge role,” he says. “I think the greatest invention of all times is the Gutenberg press.”
It is far more productive to start with Jesus as Creator than to start with Jesus and the Cross.
His passion was fueled when the church he pastored sent him to Togo, West Africa. There, while standing on a street corner, he and other missionaries passed out gospel tracts to the crowds. In one hour, he alone had passed out 1,000 tracts.
“And it just showed me how hungry the world is for the gospel. After we had passed out all the tracts, we didn’t find one on the ground,” Doc recalls. “That was a life-changing experience for me.”
Through his 41 years of ministry, Doc, who now heads up Answers in Genesis–Worldwide, has found gospel literature effective in numerous ways. It is able to reach countries that are closed to missionaries. In countries where nationals get in trouble for talking with Christians, tracts can be distributed and read in private. And they can be easily passed around—an average of seven people read the same gospel tract.
Doc says gospel literature is also effective in reaching people in regions that traditionally are not Christian. “Many peoples of the world may not be interested in becoming a Christian,” says Crandall, “but they are interested in knowing what Christians believe. In the process, you are presenting the gospel to them.”
While Doc has found the rest of the world is very receptive to the gospel through tracts and booklets, people in the United States are reluctant to take them. But he sees one exception— when people experience tragedy.
Whether in New York City after 9/11 or in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Doc and teams of volunteers found that people were eager for gospel literature. One Friday after the terrorist attack in New York, GLS, in cooperation with the New York newspaper The Daily News, distributed 500,000 tracts inside the paper. The tract answered important questions, such as “Why would a loving God allow such tragedies?”
The Brooklyn Tabernacle, along with other New York City churches, used literature from GLS (in association with Answers in Genesis) for street evangelism. Thousands of copies of the tract, translated into 15 different languages, were distributed. Through this outreach, they saw 600 people saved in one weekend as a direct result of gospel literature.
Doc was convinced early in his ministry about the need to teach the Bible chronologically and to incorporate the creation account into his evangelism efforts. When handing out gospel literature, Doc has seen that it is far more effective to start with Jesus as Creator than to start with Jesus and the Cross. For instance, in Bangladesh, they don’t know who Jesus is. Doc explains, “You don’t want them to just add Jesus to their god-shelf. You want to make sure that Jesus is taught as their God, the Creator.”
Creation evangelism has proven to be effective in most cultures and is nonthreatening to groups that have a creation story, like Muslims.
Many recipients of gospel literature enjoy reading what the Bible says about creation and other events in Genesis, such as Noah’s Flood, which have striking similarities to stories in many cultures.
Genesis is also a good place to start because the people in most of these countries have little or no background in Scripture. They need to hear the story from the beginning, not beginning in the middle.
“If you’re going to present the God of the Bible, you need to begin sharing that this is the Creator God,” says Doc. “Then you can develop your other doctrines from there.”
While Doc had always advocated teaching the Bible chronologically, Ken Ham’s book Why Won’t They Listen? opened Doc’s eyes to the importance of teaching about origins when spreading the gospel through literature.
Over the years, Doc has incorporated “creation evangelism” in numerous ways during his travels to 80 countries. While at GLS, he partnered with Answers in Genesis to distribute tracts and booklets about creation and the Creator who became our Savior. Two examples were a massive effort to give away 500,000 pieces of literature at the Summer Olympics in Australia (2000), and an effort to give away hundreds of thousands more in Greece (2004).
Through Answers in Genesis–Worldwide, Doc now spreads the creation message around the world. Recently, he completed arrangements to have material translated into 75 different languages.
As in the days of Martin Luther, gospel literature is allowing Christians to “proclaim the good news of His salvation” and “declare His glory among the nations and His wonders among all peoples” (Psalm 96:2–3, NKJV).
The Bible is the most printed, most read book in history. Yet printing is only one step in placing God’s Word into people’s hands. The labor of translation is also strategic.
Here are some highlights of how the good news has spread into other languages since the Reformation:
1530s—William Tyndale’s English translation prepared the way for other English versions of the Bible, including the King James Version (KJV).
1534—Martin Luther finished translating the entire Bible into German.
1629—The book of Matthew was translated into the Southeast Asian language Malay.
1663—John Elliot translated the Bible into the Natick Algonquin language of North America.
1793-1834—William Carey and his associates translated the Scriptures into over 40 Asian languages.
1809 & 1816—The International Bible Society (IBS) and American Bible Society (ABS) were founded in New York City. ABS provided the first pocket Bibles for Civil War soldiers and supplied Bibles to hotels and Pony Express riders.
1823—Robert Morrison translated the entire Bible into Chinese.
1887—John Ross translated the first Korean New Testament.
2006—United Bible Societies distribute 393 million Scriptures in one year.
Today—Much translation work is left to be done. According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, of the nearly 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, more than 2,200 languages lack access to even one verse of Scripture. Only 429 language communities have access to the entire Bible in their native language.