The Big Story, Part 1

2008 Nominee for Outreach Magazine’s Apologetics Resource of the Year. The book — True Story — is available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Free study guide available for True Story from InterVarsity Press.

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Here’s my attempt to explain the Christian faith… in three minutes. Crazy, right? InterVarsity asked me to do it, and here’s the result. I wanted to present a more holistic faith — something closer to the gospel that Jesus taught. This was unscripted, and of course, many details will be painfully left out in such a short amount of time. So it’s not anything close to a perfect presentation. But it forced me to make it concise, so I appreciate the assignment — though I would never share it this quickly in person.

This material is adapted from my books: True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In (for believers) and its companion booklet, Based on a True Story (for seekers). Both are coming out through InterVarsity Press in April 2008, and you can find a blurb on the book at the IVP website. Half of the royalties of the book will go back to the ministry of San Diego InterVarsity, so please pick up a copy when it comes out!

I’d love to know what you think of this. And if you like it, would you click the image (though not directly on the play button) and rate it at YouTube? Or post it, if you like. It would help get the word out.


The Big Story, part 2 (January 31, 2008): A sequel has been made to this video. Check it out!

In Christianity Today (November 25, 2008): 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.”

Bible study (February 24, 2009): Christianity Today published a bible study on the Big Story. It’s not free, but available for download.

Free study guide (June 15, 2009): InterVarsity Press released a free, downloadable study guide for True Story. It’s ideal for small groups.

Training reposted (June 14, 2010): The training document is updated and available again.

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122 Comments

  1. I’m usually not a fan of such succinct summaries of the Christian faith, but this is an excellent job James! In fact, I like these videos so much that I’ve posted them on my blog (with appropriate citations, including links to your blog and your book).

    Have you read N. T. Wright’s book Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense? Your videos could be used as a summation of the main thesis of Wright’s book. And particularly the way that Wright addresses the dissonance we experience between the way the world is and our longings and hopes for something better by using the language of “echoes of a voice” which “we dimly perceive but deeply long to hear” and which cause persons in every generation to ask the same questions: (1) Why do we long for justice? (2) Why do we crave spirituality? (3) Why are we drawn to beauty? (4) Why are relationships often so painful? (5) How will the world be made right?

    Clearly, Wright believes that the Christian faith answers these deep questions and longings, and the rest of his book is an attempt to show how and why.

    You make a similar point in your first video when you note that, in our response to what the world is like, “all of us long and ache for a better world.” And then you say, “Isn’t that interesting, because hunger seems to point to the fact that food exists, and thirst points to the fact that water or drink exists. So our longing and aching for a better world seems to point to the fact that either a better world did exist or will one day exist.”

    I recall C. S. Lewis making this argument, and if I remember rightly, Lewis wanted to say something similar to your point: that the fact that we do, indeed, experience longings means that there is something in creation that will fulfill them. (I note that Wright is more careful to say that these longings don’t necessarily prove fulfillment, much less the existence of God.)

    How do you respond to the charge that this line of reasoning is a form of the pathetic fallacy which fails to entertain a third possibility: that human beings (perhaps tragically) have certain longings which will never be fulfilled, perhaps because there is nothing to provide such fulfillment?

    Since this is often an objection raised by atheists and skeptics, it seems to me that this is an important question to address. I’d love to hear your take on this. Thanks!

    Reply

  2. […] that he tackles is updating or improving the Bridge Illustration.  The whole article is here at The Big Story | Tell It Slant . “Choung’s ‘napkin theology’ and its ‘four-worlds’ diagram promise to be for […]

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  3. Hey Bryan, I’d love to hear James address this too. I’ve always felt that the “echoes of a voice” apologetic in Lewis and Wright’s material personally compelling; however, I’ve found it limited in my evangelistic efforts (unless perhaps the person is an active seeker or has a lot of downloaded church “memory”).

    Maybe it’s a method that works well for picking the low fruit of people almost there already? I wonder what James’ experience is with college students.

    While no philosophical discussion is compelling outside of a loving relationship, I’ve appreciated opportunities to ask questions about the connection between morality and worldview. One example is racism. If a person is a “rationalist” (as Bill Mahrer likes to call athiests and agnostics) then on what basis would they say that racism is “wrong”? If I am an athiestic-darwinist-moral-revlativist and find myself mistreated on the basis of the color of my skin, how do I respond in a way that is consistent with my worldview and does not “borrow” values from other worldviews?

    If I am offended and demand that person change their racist behavior what is to stop them from saying, “I am simply expressing myself according to my feelings/beliefs. How dare you impose your morality on me?” Can’t they argue, “I believe in survival of the fittest and that ‘might makes right’ so unless you can stop me this is what I am going to do.” It’s a deplorable response (the very fact that it is deplorable is interesting) but isn’t it consistent with the worldview that Mahrer and Dawkins and Hitchens promote?

    These discussions don’t work themselves into a 5 minute presentation but I’ve always found that the socratic questioning approach to be helpful. Sometimes we are so geared up defending the challenges associeted with our worldview that we fail to ask the kinds of questions that help others to see the problems inherent in their own ways of thinking.

    Reply

  4. Trey & Russ — Thanks!

    Bryan and Steve, sorry about not getting to you sooner. It’s been a busy ministry season, but I appreciate the thoughtful discussion.

    I’ve definitely read N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian. I agree with Anne Rice’s comment that this might be the Mere Christianity for our generation. It’s an excellent book, and Wright has influenced me quite heavily.

    And thanks for your question. I’ve actually hadn’t had any push back on the college campuses here in San Diego. In all the times I’ve shared this, I have never been stopped at longings, and most people have allowed me to continue with the rest of the story. Where most people stop me is when I share that Jesus is the only path: they want to see the healing of the world, but don’t see the need for Jesus. That’s the real sticking point.

    The one person who did push back was a Christian friend of mine, who’s also a Ph. D. candidate in NYU”s philosophy department. He made the same critique, which is why I let Anna’s character in True Story push back on the same question, and say that we long for things that aren’t good for us. And Caleb responds that they still exist. But that doesn’t exactly answer your question.

    I’d ask for an example. I find it much easier to interact over something concrete.

    I do have a couple of first thoughts: first, longings by definition aren’t realized yet. So it’s hard to prove whether a longing will eventually find satisfaction or not — all we experience is the longing. But the longing is powerful. Second, unmet longings don’t make much evolutionary sense: it would seem to spiral us into despair and depression, taking us out of the “survival of the fittest.”

    But I agree that arguing over philosophy doesn’t really get very far. It’s too easy to keep it in the abstract, and so I’d really want to know if they really have this question as a barrier to faith. What unmet longings are they frustrated about? And I’d ask God for discernment. *grin*

    Let me know if I’m scratching where your itching.

    Reply

  5. Hi James,
    Thanks for the video – it makes so much sense, I really appreciate it.

    I posted it on our church website for comments. It’s interesting that in the UK we are coming from a slightly different direction and face different issues that you seem to in North America.

    I love the starting point of our broken world leading to an invitation to join the revolution through following Jesus.

    Thank You :)

    Reply

  6. lol @ ‘your flag’ – I’m from Slough in UK (About 25 miles west of London)

    Reply

  7. Hi Ally — I fixed the flag problem. Sorry about that.

    And I’d love to hear more about the differences in direction and issues that you see.

    Reply

  8. Hi James, thanks for the Union Flag :)

    I guess the biggest difference is that Christianity seems to be much more marginal in UK (even more so in other countries in Europe) than it is in the United States.

    I do realise that the US is BIG! and has a wide range if ‘flavours’ of Christianity.

    I don’t like labels much but can’t seem to write this without referring to some, so forgive me if the following is a little clunky and simplistic …

    The dominant ‘flavour’ in the US seems to be conservative evangelical thought with strong emphasis on personal salvation. The main purpose of the cross is to ensure personal salvation and give us passage to eternal life.

    This is one reason why I love your illustration – it places the emphasis on the ‘global’ aspects of the gospel (The Big Story). It ends with an invitation to join the revolution by following the way established by Jesus.

    Perhaps the best way to illustrate the differences is to read the few comments left on the the post on our website:
    http://cippenhambaptistchurch.com/the-gospel-in-four-circles/
    It illustrates the challenges we face, as theologically, we have moved from an emphasis on the ‘atonement’ aspects of the gospel – but can’t yet articulate fully the message of hope that God offers.

    Reply

  9. Hi Ally —

    Thanks for pointing me to your site! And yes, the comments were interesting, and some did seem to focus on things I’m not saying.

    I’m sure cultural differences are at play: we find college students from a wide variety of spiritual (and non-spiritual backgrounds) really care about this presentation — because they all feel the burden of a broken world. They want to do something about it. So at least in America, there’s an optimism in the younger generation that has been missing for a while. As an Xer, we just wanted to be known in our communities. College students these days really want to change the world.

    Thanks for giving me a glimpse of your conversations. Many blessings on you, Ally!

    Reply

  10. Thanks for checking out our comments.

    Isn’t it interesting; the different conclusions and reactions individaulas have to the same information :)

    I agree that cultural differences have an enormous part to play – in fact the post on our website about your video comes at a time when we are exploring massive questions about how we articulate our faith and demonstrate what life under Gods rule is like.

    We are a work in progress :-)

    Reply

  11. […] details one way we can tell others about our faith and mandate to be Jesus in this world. Here is a link to the original blog post. Let me know what you […]

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  12. […] Author James Choung has written 2 books including one that has stirred much discussion called True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In. Recently on his blog he published his take on sharing the Gospel on paper. I have embedded it here, and you can read more about it at his blog http://www.jameschoung.net/2007/09/17/the-big-story/. […]

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  13. […] new Four Spiritual Laws James Choung is very bright, likeable and committed young Christian leader. He has suggested a new outline for […]

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  14. I am a firm believer that followers of Christ are to care for creation, and I am discouraged by the way we haven’t excelled in creation care; but I have a question about the fourth circle in your gospel illustration. I love your illustration, and the way it includes the big picture of how God desires to restore his creation; I just need help understanding the fourth circle. Are you implying that Christians are to restore earth to it’s “new earth” state? I don’t see, in scripture, how this fits with the verses about the Day Of The Lord (i.e. 2 Peter 2:4-9). Or are you teaching that we are to be reconciled to God, to each other, and then go out into the world to live and teach that reconciliation bought by the blood of Christ? I see that fitting more with scripture. What are you teaching about here? Can you help me understand how it fits with scripture?

    Reply

  15. P.S. – Thanks! :)

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  16. oops, sorry… i meant 2 Peter 3:10-13. Wow, I really got the wrong one the first time :)

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  17. Hi Chris — definitely the latter. That’s why the fourth circle is a jagged line instead of a smooth one.

    If you want more information on the theology behind the diagram, definitely check out “True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In” or even the booklet “Based on a True Story.” They’ll spell this stuff out in much greater detail.

    Reply

  18. Thanks, James. God Bless.

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  19. RT @VincentArmfield Check out this refreshing take on sharing the Gospel with a napkin… http://bit.ly/gg4li

    Reply

  20. […] Is this the bridge illustration 2.0? Check out this video and tell me what you think. […]

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  21. James, thanks for this, I just discovered it while searching for a new ‘model’ of presenting the gospel. I love what you’ve come up with.

    I wanted to post the story on a website – do you have any graphics available of the circles that I could use?

    Reply

  22. Hi Ethan —

    Sure thing. Do you have an email where I can reach you?

    Reply

  23. Thanks, James, for a great idea. However, after talking it over at some length, my wife and I thouhgt of a lot of people we know from other religious beliefs and backgrounds who would say something like, “That’s great for you, but Buddhism, et al. provide great resources as well.”

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  24. Hi John. Thanks for the feedback.

    I hear what you’re saying, but that’s why we put the parallel lines in the diagram — that Jesus’ identification of the underlying problem and his way of dealing with it is really the only and best hope for the world. And since most people see the problem and like, at least, the result of the solution, you can have a conversation.

    If you’re merely talking about heaven and hell, then most postmoderns will say, “That’s great for you, but I don’t believe in hell. And how can you say someone else is going to hell? And there are a lot of problems in the world, and Christianity seems to be more of a cause than a solution.” Then you’re still stuck, and you have no commonality nor trust to even have a conversation about spirituality and faith anymore.

    That being said, no presentation is perfect. Not even this one! =). And until people can see Jesus in us and how we’re actually doing good so that our light shines, then no presentation will be able to overcome that.

    Thanks for your thoughts! What do you think?

    Reply

  25. […] is an artistic spin off of James Choung’s diagram The Big Story, customized for Christ’s Church of the Capital District.  I want to […]

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  26. James,

    I just did a painter’s version of your diagram, customized for my church’s vision. Hope you don’t mind – I gave you all the credit. http://root48.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/the-big-story-2/

    Reply

  27. Korea army chaplain park August 29, 2009 at 1:50 am

    Dear James!
    Thanks much~
    We are pruod of you! :)
    I`m every day~ enjoy!
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    Reply

  28. James, I have a question for you. Why are we (at least many, if not most Presbyterians) so reluctant (and even afraid) to claim evangelism as the Great Commission?

    A few years ago either Presbyterian Today or Presbyterian Outlook published an article which identified two reason why Presbyterian churches are not growing: 1) Presbyterians are not having as many children as they once did and 2) Presbyterians are not reaching out to other Presbyterians or Christians who have moved into their communities.

    What was missing (at least for me) was any mention of the fact that we Presbyterians do not reach out to the non-churched, which the Barna organization indicates as the fastest growing demographic as it relates to church attendance or growth. While the non-churched percentage is growing larger and larger each year, attendance at church and church membership is decreasing each year.

    Barna claims that, of the 325,000 to 350,000 churches and faith groups in the U.S., 85 percent have either plateaued or are in decline.

    I would appreciate your take on this.

    Thanks, Earl Stewart, Grace Presbyterian Church, Temecula, California.

    Reply

  29. Hi Earl —

    Your analysis is sound. I’m just not sure what the question is.

    Could you fill me in a little more? At first guess, the Great Commission (Mt 28) is not just about evangelism, but also about discipleship and mission. It seems to be about, in the very least, all three. In the original language, “make disciples” is the main verb in that passage , with “going,” “teaching,” and “baptizing” as modifiers of that main verb. So it seems that if we’re making disciples, we’re introducing people to Jesus, we’re helping them grow in Jesus with means they not only have to care for their own spirituality but also what that means in the world in justice and mission.

    Is this scratching where you’re itching?
    James

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  30. James, your scratch is not deep enough. Your reply does address my question, but not completely. PCUSA statistics do not present a positive picture of we Presbyterians as it relates to evangelism, which I contend is at the heart of the Great Commission. We do many good things in the name of mission and nurturing members in the faith. But, many in the PCUSA want to call everything we do evangelism, when it is not. Otherwise, our declining statistics would paint a different picuture of the PCUSA; a church I love. It seems to me that if more of us pastors would take the Six Great Ends of the Church more seriously than we do, I would not be raising this issue. Many Presbyterians I talk with, including church elders, have either neither heard about the Six Great Ends of the Church (p. 1 in the Book of Order), do not know what they are, or have never heard messages on them. I am afraid that too many of us want to brush aside the concern I have raised. I hope you are not one of them. Peace. Earl Stewart

    Reply

  31. Hi Earl —

    Sorry for the delay. My second son, Nathan, was born on the 11th. And we’ve been enjoying our time with him.

    If I’m hearing you right, you want to reclaim evangelism as a value for the PCUSA, and I think that’s a great thing. It also sounds like you’re running up against some obstacles. I grew up in the PCUSA (though I don’t attend a Presbyterian church now), and I have never heard of the Six Great Ends. What are they?

    Anyway — I wrote True Story to encourage people to talk about their faith, so I hope I’m for evangelism, though I would like us to share a larger, more biblical, gospel. =)

    Blessings —
    James

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  32. @jameschoung showed YouTube video of The Big Story during #urbana09 seminar http://bit.ly/4VJ5oS

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  33. http://tiny.cc/thebigstory – a really interesting explaination of dealing with the troubles in this world and how we can help

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  34. @sdmcbee we re-thought the circles to reflect Creation fall redemption restortion: http://www.jameschoung.net/2007/09/17/the-big-story/

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  35. RT @pdavidy8: @sdmcbee …the circles to reflect Creation fall redemption restortion: http://bit.ly/4VJ5oS // very nice

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  36. […] to watch James use this illustration to tell the gospel story in three minutes? Go here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)John’s Gospel at the FringeGlaring […]

    Reply

  37. James, you say “we need Jesus’ resources to become the kind of good we want to see in the planet.” You make it sound as if the real point to life on earth is to make it a better place, when we confess that man’s chief end is to glorify God. It seems you are domesticating God to serve creation.

    Yes, the gospel has implications on the pain and suffering that we see in the world. Yes, the gospel, when lived out, will make an impact on relationships, poverty, politics, and the environment. BUT, the gospel does not primarily exist for these things. It is the power of God for the SALVATION of everyone who believes. It is about how sinners can be reckoned righteous with a holy God. We are not sent to heal, we are sent to make disciples.

    Brother, I understand what you’re trying to say, there’s lots that this world needs, and lots for Christians to do. But your diagram hints at a gospel that is NO different from the liberal social gospel of decades past that sought to strip Jesus and the gospel from the singular aim of calling sinners to repentance.

    Reply

  38. Concerned, thanks for responding. (I feel like I’m writing an advice column now. =p). But before I write back, did you get a chance to see the second video? Or read my book, True Story?

    http://www.jameschoung.net/2008/01/31/the-big-story-part-2/

    If so, then I’ll write more. I just want to know what you’re responding to before I write back.

    Reply

  39. […] Even worse, perhaps, is that they accept a watered-down Gospel. Take InterVarsity’s The Big Story–in it’s admirable intention to include the Kingdom in a Gospel presentation, it leaves […]

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  40. Hi James,
    actually, I apologize, but I haven’t read the book, nor did watch Part II fully. But, I don’t think I would change much from my initial comment. In part II, you say, “through Jesus we can become the greatest lovers in the planet and in so doing, we can bring the greatest amount of good.” Again, I see you viewing Jesus as a means of getting done some kind of man-centred project, like social justice or the removal of evil. These are important, but they are not the point. Jesus is not a leader of a movement, and his purpose is not to teach us a new way of looking at things. He is Lord and God and the Father is ultimately searching for worshippers, not do-gooders.

    thanks for being to interact. Please don’t take anything I’m saying as some sort of attack on you, brother.

    Reply

  41. Hi Concerned,

    Thanks for being gracious in your response, and I always appreciate thoughtful feedback, so this conversation is a delight.

    And I agree that the gospel is about salvation. And in the original biblical languages, this word also means “healing” or “deliverance,” and is often used not only from eternal judgment but from earthly situations as well.

    But to say that this is the same as a liberal social gospel feels extremely unfair. For in that project, the uniqueness of Jesus and his work on the cross and his subsequent resurrection lost their centrality. This way of presenting the gospel in no way seeks to undermine Jesus’ centrality in the history of redemption, but affirms it and expands the range of his work.

    I don’t see it as an either/or, but a both/and. A gospel that isn’t merely concerned with souls — though that’s important — but one also concerned with the new creation — the Kingdom of God. The path of redemptive history is a new heaven and a new earth: one where all is made right. It has social and individual implications, all which is explained better in the book.

    Jesus did call for “repentance” of individuals, but he also made clear the implications for our relationships and the world around us. As you, no doubt, agree. Doesn’t Jesus claim that salvation came to Zacchaeus’ after he said he would give away half of his possessions and repay anything he’s cheated (Luke 19.8-9)?

    That’s why I asked if you saw Part 2 or read the book, because it does talk about the need for repentance and forgiveness to restore our relationship with God. But the Christian message is also a restoration of all things (Col 1.15-20), not just souls. And when all things are restored — people, relationships, systems — then it does bring great glory to God, because that’s the way it was supposed to be. God is making all things right, and isn’t that where everything is heading?

    What do you think?

    Reply

  42. Hi James,
    some good thoughts there, and lots that I say a hearty Amen to. Yes, the Greek “sozo” can and does refer to other forms of rescue, but but wouldn’t you say that what is taught as ultimate is certainly the saving of our souls from hell-fire. Jesus speaks of hell more than any other Biblical figure. Jesus came to deal with sin, and this the sure guarantee of all who believe in him. Physical healings and deliverance from other temporal earthly problems are not guaranteed, however.

    You’re right, the implications of our justification is very wide indeed, affecting relationships, systems, and environment, but the gospel is primarily the antidote for a single thing: sin. My fear is that if we muddy the waters of the gospel, we will fall into trap of viewing Christ’s work as essentially ethical, not salvific in nature. Jesus becomes the best model of how to do things, rather than a Lord to whom we bow in worship.

    Creation groans for its newbirth, only in as much as the sons of God are revealed (Rom 8:19), which means our adoption as son and the redemption of our bodies (v. 23). In other words, the full realization of the kingdom and all its fruits will all be a matter of course as disciples are made of all nations and we are resurrected in the end. I think what may be going on is your postmillenial view of the eschaton – that the works of the redeemed have a large part to play in the arrival of the kingdom of God. (is this accurate?). I have more of the view that our plans and strategies for the world have very little resemblance to what the new creation is going to look like.

    On the matter of Zacchaeus, Jesus could not have been saying that Zach earned his salvation through his generous gesture, but rather that his generosity was evidence of a saved and transformed heart. Zacchaeus got saved in the fig tree, not in his house.

    You’ve got me thinking though … I’ll have to consider more deeply the relationship between our faith and our works in the coming kingdom.

    blessings!

    Reply

  43. Concerned,

    Sorry about the delay, but thanks for being so gracious in conversation!

    Reply

  44. Don't know if it's the content or his mild-manneredness (?) but this video blessed me. http://bit.ly/9ZQeOm #Gospel #Kingdom #Jesus

    Reply

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