Jack Chick Goes to the Giant Drive-In Movie Screen In the Sky

lifeJack Chick has died.

The Independent Baptist cartoonist who created hundreds of amusingly bizarre Fundamentalist witnessing tracts and comic books. Such classics as The Death Cookie, Reverend Wonderful, Doom Town, and the Crusaders and Alberto comics.

As strangely entertaining as his tracts and comics were, they were written primarily to attack the bugbears shaping the hysterical, psycho-Fundamentalist worldview. They attacked contemporary Christian music, modern Bible versions, Dungeons and Dragons, Halloween, and of course the largest subject of his attention, Roman Catholicism. Chick blamed Roman Catholicism for every major ill the world has ever known, from the emergence of Islam, all the major historical wars, both secular and religious, and even the Holocaust.

vaticanOddly, some of his tracts were a bit prescient when it came to addressing issues within the church and culture. For instance, Reverend Wonderful, published in 1982, tells the story of a big Christian celebrity, conference speaking minister with the multiple degrees and the fawning fans going to judgment for his ecumenism. And Doom Town, published in 1991, with the raging flamboyant, S&M clad sodomites demanding their rights against a debonair Lot who looks a lot like Ricardo Montalban from Sombrero.

I first encountered Jack Chick comics when I was helping my dad do electric work. He had been called out to a trailer park to re-wire a window air conditioner that kept tripping a breaker. While he fiddled with the wiring, in between fetching him tools from the truck, I nosed around the living room. On the coffee table was a pile of Chick Comics. One of them was about the rapture and featured a screaming nurse running out of the nursery at a hospital shouting something like, “Doctor! All the babies are GONE!” As a kid who attended a squishy, compromised Methodist church, it freaked me out. Equally disturbing, looking back now upon that moment, were the collection of Playboy magazines sitting on another table nearby.

It wasn’t until the Lord was pleased to save me during my freshman year in college that I began to warm up to the messages of Chick tracts. A number of my new Christian acquaintances loved handing them out, even leaving them in the restrooms, and other public locations around campus. Still, I remained a bit ambivalent to using Chick’s tracts, primarily because of those folks I knew who used them.

The Chick tract users I encountered had staggeringly awkward interpersonal skills.  A particular Chick aficionado I knew in college was a “non-traditional” student who was in his mid to late 20s and lived down the hall from me in the freshman dorm. He had stacks of Chick tracts and comics in his room he handed out all the time. However, he was notorious for getting into angry shouting matches and the occasional fisticuffs with other students. Another guy I would see around handing out Chick tracts always wore his mall security uniform, even to church on Sunday. He had a fixation with spiritual warfare and fancied himself to be a Bob Larson-style demon hunter.

Even the world had a cultic fascination with Chick tracts given the many knock-off parody versions they produced, and one group of folks even made some live-action movies of their favorite Chick potboilers, for example, this version of Dark Dungeons, Chick’s anti-Dungeons and Dragons tract.

eatenRegrettably, Chick brought much more unnecessary scorn and ridicule upon the Christian faith than he did genuine converts with his tracts. A lot of that had to do with the fact that he was an odd, paranoid recluse who holed himself up at his Boyle Heights residence away from the public. Christianity Today ran their obit of him yesterday after the news broke of his death. They ran this picture from 2007 with the article:

chicktracksAssuming that is him, and the fellow looks similar to other elusive, Bigfoot like photos I’ve seen of the guy, you have to wonder what’s going on with a hyper-fundamentalist KJV onlyist with crazy old hippie hair. A person who willingly cloisters himself away from the world cannot be considered a reputable minister of the Lord.

[UPDATE: An astute reader pointed out that the long haired fellow in the picture is not Jack Chick at all, but author Robert Fowler, who wrote a book entitled, The World of Jack Chick that I need to put on my wish list now. Chick Tract ministries released a statement about Chick’s death and has a more recent picture of him. He was just a paranoid recluse, not a long-haired hippie paranoid recluse].

Conspiracy theories is the one truly disturbing element that shaped Chick’s worldview that was illustrated in his tracts. He was heavily influence by John Todd, a bizarre man who claimed he had been born into a witchcraft family and had risen to the ranks as a satanic priest. According to his wiki page, he was criminally investigated for having sex with under-aged girls in 1976. After his release from prison, he began making the circuit around fundamentalist churches telling his conspiracy stores about the Illuminati and satanic take overs of the world. Chick ate the stuff up and drew a number of tracts around his claims like the Dark Dungeons tract mentioned above and the Angel of Light comic.

Todd disappeared a for few years in 1979 when his stories came under scrutiny. He was later arrested in 1987 for the rape of a college graduate and molesting two girls at a karate school where he worked. He died in a mental institution in 2007.

A lot of Chick’s material arose from the insanity of conspiracy cranks who later were exposed as frauds. Along with Todd was a woman named Rebecca Brown who told elaborate tales of spiritual warfare that she alleged came from a woman named Elaine who had been a satanic high priestess in the same coven where Mike Warnke was said to have been. Warnke was never in a satanic coven. And of course there was also Alberto Rivera, the “ex-Jesuit Priest,” who gave Chick the bulk of his anti-Catholic conspiracies he presented in his tracts.

But in addition to being guided by spiritual con-artists (which should make you wonder about Chick’s discernment), it is the theology advocated in his work that is probably the most disastrous. Chick promoted the typical man-centered, fundamentalist Gospel in his tracts and comics. Salvation was never a work solely done in the hearts of rebellious sinners by the divine act of a gracious God, but it was a product of “decisional” regeneration on the part of the person making the “right choice” about Jesus just in the nick of time before he died. In one theologically terrible tract entitled Set Free, Chick presents the heretical ransom view of the atonement that makes Christ’s death a ransom paid to the devil in order to set hapless, otherwise innocent people, free from diabolical clutches.

While I can admit there is a unique Americana that exists with his tracts and cartoons and the cult following they have produced over the last 40 plus years or more, they represent a troubling corner of evangelicalism where a deformed Christianity has spawned that is energized by conspiracy hokum and historical revisionism. That generation of Christians who have fed upon Chick’s twisted work, if they are even saved to begin with, are biblically anemic and have no genuine discernment to fight off real, soul destroying error.

Chick is someone who should be warned against. I put him in the same category as Beth Moore, Benny Hinn, and Bart Ehrman.

Probably the best overview of his life and work is found at LA Magazine who did a big story on him in 2003 but have reworked it and republished it this week after his death.

Check it out HERE

David Daniels, his assistant, gives a eulogy for Chick in this video.

Peter Ruckman: The Crank as Artist

lifePeter Ruckman died. In a Chick tract-style nightmare, he was stripped naked and hauled by a gigantic angel to stand before a glowing outline of Jesus as the universe watched his entire life play out on a enormous drive-in movie screen.

Ruckman was the grandfather of 20th-century wild-eyed, kooksville KJV Onlyism. He was to KJVOlyism what Rousas Rushdoony was to modern theonomy and L.Ron Hubbard to Scientology. A despicable character who was both unfit for the pulpit and unqualified to be called a minister of God, Ruckman’s brawling rhetoric spawned at least two generations of worthless, pugnacious, “bad attitude” fighting Baptists whose doctrines have become a malignancy upon Christ’s Church.

He had an overheated type-writer from which his fevered mind birthed a number of his false doctrines he published in rambling, often times incoherent commentaries, so-called “Bible studies,” and of course his monthly Bible Believer’s Bulletin screeds.

I was first bewitched by Ruckman’s written materials when I was a stupid, untaught new Christian in college. As a recent convert to KJVOnlyism, I secured his book, Problem Texts, that attempts to provide an explanation for every apparent contradiction in the King James Bible. I thought it would help me answer skeptics on my school campus. It only helped to keep me mired in error and made Christianity a laughing stock. Probably the most bizarre of his books is called Black is Beautiful in which he writes about UFOs, government conspiracies, and other paranormal activity. A full review can be read here, Refuse Profane and Old Wives’ Fables.

A commenter on another blog reminded us how Ruckman illustrated all of his book covers. In fact, his crude chalk drawing style is copied for a lot of the lame, seizure-inducing KJVO websites that look like they were created using Windows ME “Paint,” we see on the internet today.

Here are some of his better gems,

liarslibraryhypercalvinismI think he is confusing garden variety, biblical Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism.
The donkey ears are a nice touch, though.

mythologicalmarkrapturesclownsvilleI think this is his take on the Brownsville Revival, which took place in Pensacola

masterpieceHere’s another version,

satanA number of years ago, one of his sons contacted me out of the blue to fill me in on a particularly aggressive KJVO opponent I had been tussling with on my blog. His son was an amiable fellow, and though he was not in agreement with a lot of his father’s ministry, he said that his dad was the real deal, believing everything that he taught and producing the volumes of printed material all on his own.

As “real” and sincere as he might have been, his stuff will only lead a person to spiritual disaster. I can only pray his wretched teachings will fade from the collective memory of the faithful in the Christian church.

Remembering Ken Sarles, My First Theology Prof.

sarlesI stepped off an airplane in Burbank back in 92 as a wide-eyed, naive, hayseed graduate of Arkansas State University and a newly accepted Master’s Seminary student. I was so excited to be in LA preparing to study under sound preaching and teaching. I thought I knew a lot of things about the Christian faith, but suffice it to say, I was still really ignorant.

My first ever class on my first Tuesday morning at 7:30 AM was Theology I, taught by Ken Sarles.

Ken was a brand new teacher at TMS that year as well. He had just moved to LA from the Dallas area, where he had taught as an assistant professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary.

A week or so before classes started, I received a list of all the books and syllabi I was to purchase before attending my classes. Ken’s syllabus was a massive, 500+ page monster that scared me to death. Included was his intro that explained the class course work that would involve writing up papers on various theological topics and a number of reading assignments.

We were to be given three or so major tests during the semester. They were to be “open book,” but in a Q&A style format. He likened it to the kind of questions we will receive from church lay people. We were required to write a 500 word response to each one that covered all the material we will learn in class in a cogent and concise fashion that we could draw from in our future ministries.

He also had us purchase Louis Berkhof’s systematic theology. It would be our principle text book for the course and we were to have at least 100 pages or so read before the first day of class.

As overwhelmed as I was with my 100 pages of reading and a 500+ page syllabus, after he introduced himself and worked his way through the standard preliminary remarks all profs give their classes on the first day, I became transfixed as we dove into the opening material on the doctrine of God.  I soaked in his lectures like they were life giving nourishment. I had never heard teaching like that before. Ken was the first “Calvinist” I really had as a teacher. Sure, I had read books on Calvinism and my college pastor back in Arkansas had introduced me to the doctrines, but Ken made them come alive for me in his lectures by rooting my convictions in Scripture and a proper handling of theology.

Ken filled his material with citations from the Puritans. Until then, all I knew about Puritans was that they were religious hypocrites that dressed in black and white clothes and burned innocent women as witches. Instead of dour, grim-faced killjoys, he showed us how the Puritans had a high view of God and a deep, abiding love for His Word. It was around that time that Sola Deo Gloria publishers were reprinting a lot of Puritan works, so when I had any (rare) extra money, my library quickly filled up with books by Thomas Watson (my favorite Puritan), Christopher Love, Jeremiah Burroughs, and host of others.

During our several week study on the doctrine of God, Ken cited heavily from Stephen Charnock’s two volume work on the Existence and Attributes of God. Hearing him utilize Charnock’s material in the context of our theology class stirred in me a love for his deep and profound sermons. If I remember correctly, I was blessed to find a set of those books on sale at CBD, or some other discounted Christian book seller. Charnock’s two books occupied my personal study for a number of years off and on as I plodded my way through them.

Ken was also the first person I can recall who gave a serious critique of the growing seeker-friendly approach to church growth. He called it the purple church syndrome. The church, being red, mixes with the world, which is blue, and thinking it will have a great advantage of reaching the lost by their attempt at “relevance,” only turns purple as the church members really become worldly in their amusements. He foresaw the whole mega church fad and predicted how those big churches will eventually grow more and more worldly as they attempt to maintain the huge number of people they have drawn in with their entertainment.

I tried to take every class Ken taught, but my schedule made that difficult. I missed out on taking his charismatic studies class, which I understand was a riot because he made it so fun recounting the absurd stories that came from charismatic circles. Eventually, family trials took him back to Dallas toward the end of the 90s, and though I didn’t have the opportunity to take his other classes, I cherished the ones I had taken.

Recently, I learned that Ken passed away into the presence of the Lord. He had succumbed to the cancer he had been battling. He was a relatively obscure individual. Apart from the number of men who learned from him at TMS during his years there, as well as, his circle of friends back in Texas, he never wrote any major books, wasn’t a blogger, or a well-known preacher or conference speaker. However, he certainly had a hand in aiming the trajectory of my own personal walk with the Lord, and I thank God for that.  I rejoice that he now fully realizes all of that wonderful doctrine he taught me.