The Big Story, Part 2

Thank you all for your comments on the original video. I appreciate the encouragements. And I’m thankful for those who offered suggestions and input. Most of your objections are already covered in the upcoming books, True Story and Based on a True Story. At the same time, I can see the need for a bit more clarification at points.

So, here’s the sequel. In the original video, the presentation ends with a question. It asks the listener to identify with one of the four circles. And then stops.

This video is what I might say afterward. I include all four responses in this one video (instead of making four different videos), but normally I would just present one and then invite someone to follow Jesus. Many of you felt that the original presentation was lacking in certain ways, and rightfully so, because it wasn’t complete. It was hard to capture the entire presentation because it’s supposed to be more like a conversation, but here’s my attempt to close the loop.

Hopefully, I won’t need to make this into a trilogy.


Update: The Big Story was featured in Christianity Today, and they have graciously agreed to let me post a .pdf version the article, “just this once.”

Update 2: The training document has been updated and reposted.

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48 Comments

  1. James, I came across your name in the comments section of David Fitch’s site where someone referenced your name, so I googled and found you. I really like what you’ve developed here and have linked to you on my website. Great, creative thinking. Thanks!

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  2. Hey James!
    Just wanted to say congrats on the new book. I checked it out on Amazon. I also saw the original video a while ago, I think on youtube. God’s definitely blessed you and opened up some exciting doors for you, and it’s cool to see that happening.

    BTW, I’ve always liked the look and feel of your site, so I loosely designed mine on inspiration from yours.

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  3. really like the concept, James. One suggestion – use a different shape instead of the inner ‘circle’ – and I suggest a triangle (representing at least to believers the triune nature of God). This will help in the imagery to avoid the ‘doughnut’ / ‘life-ring’ and will make the place of God stand out more in the diagrams.

    Shalom

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  4. Hi GordonG — That’s a great idea. Where you were a few months ago? =). Anyway, graphically, it doesn’t look as nice, but I like the symbolism. If you end up trying the diagram with a circle, let me know how it goes.

    By the way, how did you find out about this diagram?

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  5. G’day James
    Came across a reference to your material in the comments of David Fitch’s site.
    Shalom

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  6. Thanks for letting me know. And all the way from Australia as well! Peace and joy to you.

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  7. my husband (bryant) just discovered this and is in complete awe- it’s like his holy grail of gospel narrative. we’ll definitely be using it with our friends and future friends. praise God for this!

    (bo yun kim introduced this to us- we were volunteer staff under her leadership at ucla)

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  8. James,
    I came across your work on IVP’s site and found the link to both of your Youtube videos. While as a believer I appreciate your call for people to follow the example of Jesus in loving one another, I must say that your presentation falls woefully short in adequetely explaining the true nature of the gospel. It seems as though you are overly focused on the social component (which unfortunately has been too long overlooked by many) while missing the primary message of the cross and resurrection which is forgiveness of sin. Your failure to even mention hell, sin, and eternal punishment misrepresents the incredible magnitude of the grace that God has given to us through the salvation that Christ offers. In avoiding some of these things and not taking the time to better explain the forgiveness component of the cross and resurrection which is the primary function (just read Romans) your presentation comes off more as, “let’s make the world a better place with a little of Jesus in the mix.” Further, and I am not sure if you did this purposely or just mispoke, at one point in your second video you said that we all will be living on the new earth and that is just not true. Scripture is VERY clear that only followers of Jesus will be dwelling in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9-27). Overall, your presentation really is not the gospel. It has parts of the gospel scattered in with some humanism. You seem to be calling people to try to make the world a better place through following Jesus’ teachings and example, rather that calling them to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). I apologize if I sound uncharitable or unloving for this is not my aim. I simply am a brother in Christ who cares deeply about the gospel and acurate proclamation of it for the sake of those who hear.

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  9. Hi Trevor –

    Thanks for your thoughts. I hear your heart, and the desire to protect the truth and integrity of the gospel. And in that, there can be little blame.

    But I’d be interested if you felt the same way after reading my book (or even the booklet). I may not use the words you’re talking about, but the concept of “sin” is woven deeply into this presentation, even more deeply than the individualistic version that’s captured in the American church. Is our sin only relative to God? Can there be other results of sin?

    Also, I’m interested in what you think Jesus called “the gospel”? Often, Christians today limit it to “Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so that we can go to heaven when we die.” But that in itself is a small “part of the gospel,” as you say. It’s still true, but not the whole picture. In Mark 1.14-15, Jesus seems to be quite clear about what his gospel is. I think lots of people let Paul interpret Jesus, when I believe it should be the other way around.

    On the point about people who live in the new earth and new heavens — yes, I do believe it is for the followers of Jesus. This presentation is an invitation to those who hear this presentation is to step into a hint of the new earth and heavens — the Kingdom of God — and to enjoy it fully in the time to come.

    But I do find the charge of “humanism” an interesting one. Is it just because this gospel also finds a “sent together to heal” component for the world that all of a sudden it reeks of secular humanism? Or have we pushed the gospel into too individualistic a sphere, away from the troubles of this world, so that as Oliver Wendell Holmes once quipped about Christians, that they are “too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good”?

    I definitely love the Bible and all the good stuff found in it. And I think Jesus has called us to so much more than “waiting for heaven.” If we look more deeply at it, especially in light of its cultural context, we’ll find that the gospel is far larger than we think.

    What do you think?

    P.S. Eric Peterson and the Southeast Region of InterVarsity has revised this presentation by including more biblical terms for their Bible Belt context. I think you’ll probably find this more to your liking, and I can send a copy of that to you, if you’re interested.

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  10. Hi James,
    Some of my friends who chose the Gospel track at an IVCF retreat earlier this semester showed me a diagram that I hadn’t seen before, which seems to be a simplified version of yours. I really like your presentation, but in Internet discussions I’ve found many people who share Trevor’s views. From their comments (including the common accusation of ‘tree-hugging hippy’) I’ve begun to think that many people are confused by your choice of the phrase “healing the earth” and the like, and think that on the systemic level you’re talking only about environmental issues (while my impression was that you were focused at least as much on social issues, which after all are what Jesus seemed most interested in). Anyway, just a heads up on what might be confusing terminology.

    The revised version you mention sounds interesting too. (Though I can tell you right now that if it doesn’t include a clear message of final judgment based on whether you believe in Christ, it’s not going to go over well with many conservative evangelicals. “Nice, but not the Gospel.”)

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  11. Thanks Abigail. You’re right — the term has been confusing for some, though it seems clear that I’m focusing on more than the environment. It seems that many are reacting against what they perceive to be a “liberal” agenda, instead of hearing what it might have to say. It’s unfortunate. But for their sake, I use “healing the world” more in this second video.

    Haha — they’re also calling me a “tree-hugging hippy”? Oh man… =)

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  12. James,
    Thanks for the kind reply. I know it is hard to read tone in print, but I just want to make sure that you know that I am not seeking to be a jerky blogger type, but rather want to engage in sincere discussion as a brother.

    That being said, you are absolutely right about many things especially the over emphasis of American Christianity on the individual nature of the gospel. The NT seems to have a fine tension of the individual nature and group nature of the gospel and its affects on our lives. As to your point about Mark 1: 14-15 I would agree that this is a key text and in fact Jesus says, “repend and believe in the gospel.” I do find it interesting that in your presentation(s) you seem to shy away from the very word that Jesus uses, repent. So it seems that when we look at it in the rest of the flow of Mark’s narrative that this gospel that Jesus is calling us to believe in is laid shown to us by Mark through the driving point of his account – the suffering, crucifiction, and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of those who would repend and believe so that their sins would be forgiven.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to overlook Jesus’ way of life or teaching becuause as he said, in him the Kingdom is at near. Yes, Jesus through Jesus the Kingdom of God entered into our world, although it has not been fully realized yet and will not be until he returns. And I absolutely agree with you that as believers we are sent TOGETHER to bring restoration to people first to God and then to eachother.

    Your presentation comes off as humanistic in the sense that you say that we can’t heal the planet by ourselves but we need Jesus’ resources. It is not that we need Jesus’ resources, rather we need Jesus himself working through us and that can only happen when we repent and believe in his perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection for our sins. I guess it is at that point that your presentation, in my opinion, lacks because you do well to focus on the other restorative aspects of the gospel but the central aspect of the gospel is just not very clear.

    Another point I was encourage by in your response to me was the point you made about not just waiting for heaven. I believe that true believers are active and their fruit is the evidence of their salvation as Jesus said. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals (in particular) today are depending a prayer they prayed as evidence of their salvation rather than looking at life transformation. And as for contextualizing the gospel, I agree that this is vital to communicating to the people around us. The one thing I would be careful of though is letting culture dictate our message. Culture is man-made and often works against God’s Word so we must seek to redeem the positive aspects of culture in order to point people to Christ. However, at the same time, the Bible transends culture so we should be very wary of presenting the gospel in a way that avoids using the very words that God chose to use himself, such as sin. Should we explain sin and these words in a way that people can understand? Absolutely!

    So, in sum, I appreciate your heart for the gospel and I just wanted to respectfully point out where your presentation could be a little clearer because those points matter.

    Respectfully,
    Trevor

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  13. Trevor,

    I appreciate your gracious spirit! It’s clear that you’ve been shaped by Jesus not only in mind, but also in heart. And it’s refreshing to interact with you!

    As for “repent and believe,” it’s actually woven into the presentation, particularly the second video. All of this is worked out in the book. “Repent,” in the Greek is metanoia, or literally, “change of mind.” It’s wasn’t such a religious term back with Greek speakers; it speaks of a changing of allegiances. Josephus, when he was trying to convince a rebel Jewish faction to lay down their arms and to rejoin the Jewish nobles, asked them to “repent and believe.”

    “Believe” is also bigger than how we use it. It’s pistis in the Greek, and means, “to put your trust in.” It’s not so much about believing a truth statement, like “1+1=2” or “the sun is hot,” but it’s much more relational. It’s about banking your life on it.

    So I use different language to speak of “repent and believe” to recapture its original context: change your allegiance and bank your life on this good news. “Trust him and let him be the leader” is how I put it in this video.

    Ah — and about Jesus’ resources. I think it would be more accurate to say it’s “humanistic” if we think we can change the world on our own. But we’ll need Jesus’ resources, which includes all that you talk about. And more. It’s also talking about our need for the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s call in our lives. My language is a riff on Dallas Willard’s language of “Kingdom resources.” And the death and resurrection of Christ is a crucial piece of this. (Check out my post, “Loving Good Friday” to get a sense of what I”m talking about.)

    And I fully agree that the gospel message and its truth transcends culture. Absolutely. But the language we use to describe it is often bound by culture. Language is always interwoven with culture. And the gospel-truth rose up out of Jewish culture and Hebrew language, and then was invaded with Greek philosophy and its language.

    The word “sin” in our culture needs to be expanded, even though it’s a true concept. People think about breaking the Ten Commandments or breaking the law — which is also all true. But sin is so much deeper than that. It infects our being and makes us act in ways we wish we didn’t. It’s a life-inclination — far more than just breaking a rule or two.

    So actually, my use of some words and not others is not to avoid the topics, but to communicate these biblical ideas more clearly to an audience that may misunderstand these words at face value. My heart wasn’t just to connect with this culture, but also to recapture what was originally in the Bible, in its original culture and context, and then share that today.

    I love that you want to see life transformation and not merely a “prayer prayed.” And that’s what I hope this gospel presentation will mark out clearly from the beginning: that the Christian life is meant to be communal, transformational and missional.

    P.S. I posted the revision of the Big Story that uses more biblical language. It was made for InterVarsity chapters that are in the Bible Belt. I’d love to know what you think.

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  14. James,

    In reading the comments again I just want to comment that I really appreciate the 4th step of being sent together to heal. I think this does a great job not only of avoiding the me-ism that can easily infect gospel presentations (making it seem a smaller message that is only about making sure I go to Heaven) – but it also captures and insppires the imagination of a generation that is looking around at a messed up world and asking “What can I do to fix this?”

    I also appreciate that it ends up not as a declarative sermon but with a question, so that it becomes a component of a 2 way conversation.

    I deeply appreciate what you’ve offered us here.

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  15. James,
    Thanks for the candid and heartfelt interaction. I really do appreciate some of the aspects of your presentation because we have so often failed to highlight the social component of the gospel as well as the together component. However, I think we continue to have a few basic differences in our understanding of the essentials in a gospel presentation. If you are ever in the KC area speaking I will be sure to come out to meet you. Peace in Christ.

    Trevor

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  16. Rick — Thanks!

    Trevor — thanks for the conversation. Even if we disagree on a few points, I’m glad to call you brother!

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  17. I work for Campus Outreach and am putting together an Evangelism training packet for our summer training project with college students. I have been doing some research on evangelism and ran across your webpage. I wanted to leave some comments and ideas to spark conversation

    I thought your presentation was good, but could be better. I love the the worldview concept. Almost every evangelism tool is missing that. I also love that it does promote an individualistic gospel, but a corporate gospel, which is what jesus preached in the kingdom. Also liked the change of mind (repentance) and the trust Jesus (believe).

    Critiques. I think this will work well with a certain audience, those who are engaged in the world and are eager to make a positive impact on society, culture, and the world. Might miss those outside of that circle, who are consumed in themselves.
    Second, it is missing personal sin/responsibility. You hit on it with change mind concept, but nothing before that to convince someone that they are utterly sinful…so someone could hear this and say that is awesome, pray a prayer and start getting involved in following Christ, then later realize wait a minute…” I am suppose to stop lusting? You never told me that, didn’t know that was a sin to repent of.” Might feel a little duped there. If there was more to the presentation to really help convict someone of their need for Christ as their savior it would be much better.
    I feel that his presentation was meant to offset how other evangelism tools focus only on individual relationship with the Lord, The way of the master, for example. The problem with these is they might lead someone to say a prayer, but it be false conversion…they say a prayer just because they want to get out of heaven, not because they are broken before a holy God. But I wonder if the pendulum swung too far back the other way and is missing the personal conviction, hell, sin to us from Adam, Jesus imputes righteousness

    Other issues. Our culture is moving deeper into Postmodernity and lots of people i share with. Do not even believe in the bible as God’s word because of the deconstruction of language. I think this tool doesn’t address that well.

    One more thing, I live and minister in a region where lots of people have prayed a prayer to receive Christ at some point, but they do not love God and live like he does not exist, except on Sunday. But they are sure they are believers b/c when the received Christ they were told their salvation is genuine. i think this tool doesn’t address that well either. For that I use the “chair analogy and James chapter 2” as well as “The Test of True Belief,” which our ministry designed.

    Just some thoughts. I would love to have some more dialogue as I am studying through, critiquing, and trying to develop the best method of evangelism training in our culture today.

    ohh one other thought. I am a big fan of Randy Pope’s evangelism training. His whole premise is that most tools are presentations and are 1 dimensional. Sometimes you might have a two dimensional tool, dialogue in one conversation. But the ideal is 3-D evangelism. Meeting with one person over a period of time studying the bible and discussing topics that make Christ hard to follow for people in our culture. You can google him to check out his resources…Life Issues and The Answer

    peace brother

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  18. Kevin — thanks for the comment and conversation starter. These are thoughtful remarks, and yes, no presentation is perfect. But we’ve found different conclusions that the ones you’ve stated as we’ve been field-testing this for over the past two years on college campuses.

    First (and on a similar note, your last objection), the diagram has been particularly helpful with those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus but aren’t on the mission. It can unfortunately be argued that many who call themselves Christians are consumed with themselves. Having a distinction between the third and fourth circle has proved particularly helpful — and our staffworkers report that conviction often sets in.

    But for those who are not followers, a civic-minded gospel presentation seems to have more pull than others around. Everyone agrees that the world is messed up, and people are willing to admit that they’d wish for a better world. It’s then that we can communicate even with those who are consumed with themselves.

    On the second point, you’re right to say that our presentation doesn’t make someone feel utterly sinful. But it does deal with sin in a more powerful way than breaking a set of, to them, arbitrary set of rules. It deals with our sinful inclinations — our self-centeredness — and than even lust here ignores the oppressive objectification and abuse of women throughout the planet. Yes, it hurts God. But it also has dangerous earthly effects.

    On the third objection, I would agree that the diagram doesn’t deal with the Bible. Therefore, to relate to postmoderns, you can’t use the Bible as an assumed authority. Instead of objective truth, postmoderns place a great deal of authority on experience. So by relating to their experience of a broken world, and how they contribute to it, we can begin to talk about spirituality and faith in a way that makes sense to them.

    But this diagram also does debunk a postmodern myth: that all roads lead to the same place. The parallel lines is a challenge to postmodern thinking, saying that this can only be done through Jesus. But the concerns here are very postmodern, about the world we live in.

    So I hear where you’re coming from, but our data seems to point to the opposite. I’d love to hear what you think about this response.

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  19. […] Here’s a link to an interview that appeared in the July 2008 issue. They just posted it online today, and they didn’t include the graphics that are in the magazine article. But you can see a three-minute version of The Big Story in action, and if you’re still interested, you can also take a look at its sequel. […]

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  20. I really like the Kingdom focus of the presentation. I agree with prior comments that it would probably be helpful to at least make sure everyone knows what the personal “damage” is – damaged by evil is self-inflicted evil. It’s not that our parked car has been hit. Someone once said, “We are betrayers. We betray others, and we have betrayed God.” So we’re actually driving the car in the demolition derby.

    The other element which I think is overlooked is that of future judgment. Although PoMo’s do not like the idea, am hard pressed to think of any Biblical presentation of the Gospel which does not include judgment. So you have the present down cold – this is our present world, and our mission in it. You also have the past down cold – this is the effect of past evil on our present world. If you could find some way to present the future world – one in which Jesus returns to set everything to rights, to judge those who have persisted in making it wrong, and to receive those who have joined Him in His mission of making it right (thereby making it clear that there is no such thing as “Christ the Savior” who is not “Christ the Lord”).

    I don’t know that this is really ready to go to press yet – after looking over the download, it would probably be much better to clarify exactly why Jesus did die, instead of a discussion of various theories of His death. I think if you dig a little deeper, penal substitution has been the general concensus of the church, and is the most Biblically tenable. The “moral influence” theory, in particular, does not belong in a Gospel presentation, because it leads sinners to seek to be better people without being born again. Either way, you, as an author, are teaching and shepherding. You need to take responsibility for what you teach, and then TEACH it, not survey what other teachers have come up with.

    While I think there is room to make better, I think your presentation is a very valuable teaching tool, and it captures what has been lost in prior tools. I thank you for your service. I hope that people are challenged and encouraged by your presentation.

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  21. […] a fuller understanding of his method and a real presentation, I went to his website and found this video. He starts with the fall and explains how we were designed for good. The perfect world was made for […]

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  22. Hi J. Kru — thanks for your words here.

    Perhaps there’s a way to do the end times better. I agree with you theologically, of course. And the first draft of the Big Story basically had “consummation” at the end — what you and N.T. Wright talk about “setting everything to rights.” But our unbelieving friends felt that it was utopian, out of touch with reality. And we got into needless arguments here. So instead, we focused on the mission of the last circle, while mentioning how in the end, all things will be made right, but in the meantime…. So this was a rhetorical choice. We still include it, but mostly as a sentence or two instead of the main idea of fourth circle.

    Also, our listeners don’t seem to be hung up on which atonement theory we talk about. I’ve never been stopped there to explain further. So I like to riff off of Colossians 1:15-20, where all things on earth and under heaven are reconciled back to God through his blood shed on the cross. This diagram gives room for the various biblical images of the atonement.

    For atonement theories, I now point to a book I just read: A Community Called Atonement by Scott McKnight. I think he’s got a great way to talk about and live out the doctrine of atonement.

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  23. […] the links to see the original videos of the Big Story — part 1 and part 2 — or the training […]

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  24. James,

    My professor at Western Seminary asked if someone would read your book “True Story,” and let him know if they thought he should include it on his book list next semester.

    I am thinking those in my class who read N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard would appreciate this addition. Those who like John Piper, D. A. Carson and R.C. Sproul will say it’s Gospel light (not enough wrath). And those who like Paul Zahl will count the number of times you talked about grace and it seems a bit grace-light as well.

    That said, I have been feeling out of touch with the students I work with and the message found on your ‘napkins’ and in your book (I’m half way though) was in my mind— heaven sent.

    Thanks.
    KT

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  25. James, Thanks so much for a wonderful tool for communicating the Good News. I’d be interested in seeing the “Bible Belt” version, but as a pastor serving squarely in the Bible Belt, there are many, many… perhaps a majority of people I minister to every week, who would be more likely to connect to this original version. I think more of us in the Bible Belt would do well to re-think how we communicate the Good News in today’s world, and not so much hang on to an older, church-establishment, church triumphant mentality. I’m definitely going to pick up the book, thanks for using the creativity God gave you!
    Grace & Peace,
    Chris

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  26. […] sharing this video on his blog, Choung received lots of feedback and suggestions and created version 2, which continues from the prior […]

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  27. Dear James.
    How wonderful to see the younger generations taking the gospel and using langague that fits the mind set and cultural changes that shape that generation.
    I am so sorry that Trevor is bound up with being theologically accurate that he can’t communicate winsomely to people his own age. I’m seventy-five and have been in our precious Lord’s service for over forty-five years.
    He continues to grow more precious to me every day As long as I’ve studied His word the scriptures seem inexhaustible.

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  28. Hey James.
    A – type of – atheist here.
    Just read your interview on the CT site. As a complete postmodernist I too take the ‘any local truth is the valid truth’ view. I am hungry for the Christian response to this question, because as a lapsed Christian myself I see it as THE most troubling theological difficulty in the world today. I have an intellegent strict evangelical friend. She can’t connect with me on this point either. You seem to be ‘asking’ people to repent, and she says the same too. But ‘ask’??? (I reply.) What if they don’t listen? The postmodern mind simply will not accept the classical Christian view that such types are condemned. This is seen as waaay too unjust.
    I often think that if I was a Chritian, I’d be an apologist. I seem have a mind that can attempt answers to such questions. My friend begs me to become one. :)

    Thank you for reading, and a good site this is.

    Chris.

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  29. And hey. If you’d wish for a chat with a postmodernist ex-Christian (who still holds a piece of respect for the faith of his four year old) hit me back.
    You – through all my huntin’ across the web – seem to be closest to my form of scepticism. Though not quite. On a deeper level you are being pounded for sacrificing ‘grace’ for ‘works.’ This is a theological debate I can’t be involved in save to say that (as a postmodern outsider) your side is most likely to secure a connection with the world as we know it.
    One of THE most difficult propositions for the outsider to get to grips with is the idea that, say, lust leads to eternal carnage; that what Christians tell us is ‘sin’ actually leads to a place as bad as hell.
    It is all about sin, actually – at least the Christian concept. My religious friend tells me (lovingly) that my behaviour will lead me to an undesired end. There is nothing in what she says or that I’ve encountered that ever leads me to that conclusion. Immoral, sure, and injurious (just maybe) to humans. But leading to hellfire…??? All this is theory rooted in the holiness of God. This to me is the money question, and absent a sufficient answer, all falls by the wayside.

    Just some thoughts.

    Sincerely.

    Chris.

    PS. And as to the ‘Bible as an assumed authority.’ (Kevin: May 17) Postmodernism defined is: “There are no absoutes…save the one just stated.”

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  30. Hi Chris —

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments! And all the way from New Zealand as well! Very cool.

    It sounds like your questions revolve around the word, sin. And it seems like you have the most trouble with the idea of some sort of eternal damnation — a punishment put upon us on top of the “injurious” results of some of these things. And you find a great disconnect between these so-called sinful acts and the idea of hell. Is that right?

    Just wondering before I jump in …

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  31. James, I’m an avid reader of N.T. Wright and also a pastor who is trying to incorporate the themes of the Kingdom/People of God into preaching and practice. This is really good stuff. Thanks for sharing it. (It’s way more motivating than “decision oriented” evangelism).

    I’ll be interested to observe the dialogue between you and Chris, assuming it takes place on this page. (Chris, I visited NZ for a week many years ago and have always said if there was one place I could go back to again … it would be there!)

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  32. Hello Rick.

    Nice to hear from you.
    Thank you for your comments. Parts of your United States are surely beautiful too – as my ex girlfriend tells me…

    (Sorry for the delay James…just no time just at the moment.)

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  33. […] 2: A sequel has been made to this video. Check it […]

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  34. Great thread folks. Chris’ questions about eternal hell are excellent ones that every Christian I know has had to wrestle through. Speaking personally, I continue to try to reconcile what the Bible says about God’s love and hell.

    I don’t have definitive answers… just a couple of ideas.

    I suppose one place for me to start is with the caricatures. Just as the cloven-hooved red-track-suit image of the devil and the old white-haired grandpa-in-the-clouds image of God and the streets-of-gold and pearly-gates image of heaven are persistent yet inaccurate… the whole dantes-inferno image of hell may also be worn-out, unbiblical and living a bit past its expiration date.

    I think a good place to start stripping away the caricatures is to say that heaven is simply the place where God is and hell is the place where God is not.

    Then the question that I wonder about is simply, “If God exists… would he or should he force people to be with him in heaven?” I think God would be less than loving if he were to force people into his presence forever.

    The way I read the Bible, God doesn’t seem to punish people by sending them to hell… it seems like a natural consequence of not being in the presence of God. You see, God is limited by reality and logic like you and I. He can’t make a square circle. He can’t just overlook wrongdoing and remain just at the same time. And he can’t allow sinners into his presence without an atonement covering.

    Why? Because the natural result of a sinful being entering into the presence of a holy God is to be consumed in the same way that walking off a building causes you to fall… in the same way that opening a hot furnace causes you to be burned.

    Hell is God’s merciful way of allowing sinners to be separate from him. The pain of hell and the saddness is the result of God’s presence no longer being there as it is on earth. I am prepared to suggest that the conditions may be very wonderful otherwise.

    Just food for thought…

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  35. Hi Chris and Steve —

    Steve, I met a friend of yours, who was also your best man at your wedding. I think he’ll be in touch with you!

    Chris, I don’t know if I’m answering your question rightly, since I haven’t heard back from you. But since Steve sent something, I feel like it would be good for me to continue …

    I agree with what Steve has to say.

    I think I would add that C. S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.

    “All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.”

    So, our present life is a preparation of the one to come. And being with God when our time on this planet is done is one of service, love and worship. If you haven’t been doing that now, I doubt this place is where people who don’t want to worship God want to be.

    And an afterlife without God is where others are: living for themselves without regard for others, without love, without care. It’s will be a nightmare. Will there be pits of fire? Perhaps. But living with these kinds of people (or in avoidance of them) for eternity without any hint of a good God will definitely feel like the hell of our worst fears.

    But people are preparing themselves for these ends, now.

    What do you think?

    Reply

  36. Chris, I thought of something else …

    If you’re choosing between Jesus and something “immoral” but loads of excitement and fun, I encourage you to choose Jesus. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. You will find a deeper, more life-filled life when you choose Jesus’ way.

    Seriously, Jesus is the smartest guy who’s ever been on the planet. And if you read his stuff, he really knew how people ticked. And if he’s calling us to “holiness” in some capacity, then it’s not so that we would just get in line, it’s because he loves us too deeply to let us settle for something less than the best.

    His vision of life for us is actually far more life-giving than even what we tend to dream for ourselves. We tend to dream too small, looking for what we want, instead of having vision for being the kind of people who can love deeply and sacrificially. The kind of people who actually become the kind of good they want to see in the world.

    Here I go quoting Lewis again: “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

    How do you feel about that?

    Reply

  37. Joseph Marshall May 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    This is a great dialogue. Earlier you wrote, “P.S. I posted the revision of the Big Story that uses more biblical language. It was made for InterVarsity chapters that are in the Bible Belt. I’d love to know what you think.”

    Unfortunately, this resulted in an Error 404 :(
    Could you re-post the link for us?

    Reply

  38. http://bit.ly/b7vA8g @jameschoung feeling like im in the 4th circle. gotta look over my SIGNED copy of your book!

    Reply

  39. Hi James,

    This is an old post, I hope you get this comment.

    I’ve watched both parts of this video. My first thought was – ‘The resurrection is completely missing’. My second thought was: ‘The concept of judgement is completely missing’.

    In the book of Acts, the resurrection is central to the gospel that the apostles proclaim. The resurrection is never missed out, in both Jewish and Gentile contexts. If this video is attempting to summarise Christianity, why does it omit what was so central to the apostles in their proclamation to a world which was completely unfamiliar with Christianity?

    Reply

  40. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m a little confused, however. The resurrection is definitely in the first video. Are you sure you saw Part 1?

    http://www.jameschoung.net/2007/09/17/the-big-story/

    Reply

  41. Hmm, you’re right. I don’t know how I missed that.

    Actually, maybe I missed it because it seemed so tangential to the whole presentation.

    Reply

  42. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for checking that out. As for “tangential,” that also could be up for debate. If, in a post-Christian culture, we have to set up the context more because people don’t know the Bible as well, then you could argue that the center seems to take up less time. But if it’s actually the climax of the plot, even though it doesn’t take up much time, it’s still the center. As my colleague Rick Richardson says, the cross and resurrection is the historical center within a narrative frame — and that narrative frame is often missed in current ways to share the Gospel. As the presentation says, the cross and resurrection makes a “new world possible” — and a new life possible within that narrative frame.

    But I hear you. Three minutes isn’t a long time, and I’m cramming lots of stuff in to keep it short. It usually takes me 10-15 minutes to share this in person.

    Reply

  43. The video was great! I enjoyed watching and listening on it.

    Reply

  44. […] the broken systems and ideologies I read about are not only abstract. That part of the gospel, the world two, affects people, who respond to it in real ways. When I listen to these responses, I’m hear a […]

    Reply

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