In Christianity Today

I’m excited that Christianity Today picked up the Big Story! Yeah, that’s me on the left at La Jolla Cove.

Here’s a link to an interview that appeared in the July 2008 issue. They just posted it online today, but they didn’t include the graphics that are found in the print version. (Update: Christianity Today has graciously given me permission to post the print article online in a PDF format, “just this once.” A big thanks to CT, and I’m glad you’ll get to see the great art direction behind the article. Right-click here to download it.

You can also 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.

A huge thanks goes out to Andy Crouch for the interview. And for those even more interested, I’m also interviewed at an online magazine called StudentSoul.

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  1. Hi James,

    Found your site thru that CT article. Pretty awesome, man.

    Blessings. =)


  2. So glad to find your site with an explanation of The Big Story. When I finished the CT article I was wanting to see the 4 circles. Thanks! Such a simple and clear explanation.


  3. James, I have been searching for a way to speak the “living water” into the dry souls of this world. After reading your CT article and watching your Video clip I found myself amazed at the simplicity yet very profound way of sharing the message of hope with the 21st century world. I intend on learning more about the Four Circles. Thank you for giving your life to reaching students for Jesus! Romans 10:15 Blessings and keep up the good work!



  4. Ronnie, Fran and Lee — Thank you for your encouraging words!


  5. thanks for the link. great read… i’m really enjoying your book.


  6. Hi James!

    Thanks so much for this. I’ve been looking for a tool based on the narrative approach, and was so happy when I came across the CT article on the Big Story. I totally resonated with all that you have to say in the article b/c I’ve been on a similar journey in the last year or so.

    I was just wondering if you have the explanation-of-the-big-story pdf in other languages, like say Chinese? If not, is it possible to get it translated, and how?


  7. Carolyn Taketa July 3, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Hey James, I read the CT article and was intrigued enough to look at your video and postings here. I love the narrative approach; what a terrific alternative to the Four Spiritual laws that was used so often growing up in our Korean immigrant churches. I’m getting the book and thinking about how I could use it as tool to train our small group leaders on evangelism. Thanks for making this resource available…


  8. Sarah and Carolyn — Thanks!

    Wix — it hasn’t been translated into other languages, though someone from Brazil asked if it was in Portuguese. I’ll post a link describing how InterVarsity Press translates its stuff:


  9. Hi James,

    I’m a 20-something postmodern evangelical from Hawaii who heard about your diagram through the CT article. In my estimation, “The Big Story” is a terrific breakthrough in napkin sketch theology and I recently posted a review/endorsement of it on my fledgling amateur blog- still kickin’ it after 4 months! If you want to check it out or post a comment go to:

    While I don’t think that the bridge diagram should be completely thrown out (I doubt that you do either), I found your “4 circles” to paint much more complete picture of how sin pervades the world at all levels (personal, relational and systemic) and thus Christ came to bring redemption at all of these levels.

    Based on the books and films you recommend, we probably have a lot in common. The church we attend (my wife is on staff) is generally pretty conservative/traditional but we’re starting to become more missional. I’ve already forwarded your write-up to some of our other ministry leaders and I’m planning to take your diagram out for a “test drive” sometime soon. Blessings on your journey and keep up the great work!


  10. Wow, I just read your book, and whew, I needed that. I found it at such a good time. Thank you. I always knew/hoped that Jesus wanted us not only to love him, but to take care of each other and the world he gave us, but competing theologies were blurring this truth for me. The extreme religious right was scaring me, looking a little too much like a white man’s iran, but I couldn’t stand trying to tell people that they didn’t have to do anything to contribute to God’s plan but sign up and wait either. Both were just looking too hollow, I knew something was missing, and I was scared that I wouldn’t find Jesus’ real message. Amidst the so-and-so are going to hell, and the preachers who got disturbingly quiet when I blasted their works-is-the-devil theology with quotes from Jesus, where was the good news? That’s what I wanted! I still have a lot of questions that go way beyond your book, but I now see the hope of the good news. The kingdom is not about forming a american-party-of-god to enforce right living, or about just putting our heads in the sand and holding on to our golden ticket. It’s the mission of the body of believers to make things better. So thank you so much, and God bless!


  11. James,

    The article is sweet! congrats. I appreciated what you said at the end that at the end of the day, “it’s nothing new or I’d be a heretic.” I hope & pray lots of folks get there hands on your book & lead many to Christ. (which by the way, IVP still never sent us! We’ll get it eventually ourselves). And that pic of you in the sand with the rocks & the water is pretty great. You need to like frame that or something. Anyway, just wanted to encourage you. I respect & admire what you are doing!


  12. I’m director of a men’s ministry based in Kentucky,, that uses short radio shows and newsletters/blogs. We’re making a concentrated effort to connect with men in their 20’s and 30’s. Toward this goal, I was hoping James Choung has a video available in which he demonstrates the four circles napkin presentation of the Good News. Could you please apprise.


  13. Don, Ruth and Gracee — thank you!

    Gary, you can find the 3-minute video here:


  14. James,

    Thanks for this. Like a lot of great ideas, it’s one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that…?”-type things. I’m so glad you did.

    This just makes sense. The Gospel of the Kingdom is really good news, better than the church of my youth explained it. Please know you’ll have more and more people you don’t even know — like me — both using this “iconography” and being thankful to you for sharing it.


  15. Hi Brant — thanks for the encouraging words!


  16. Thanks James for all the hard work you’ve put into this and the book (just read it yesterday). I love the narrative format. The 4 Circles adds a lot to the whole, “Is your Gospel too small?” discussion. We need to call people to the mission as we call them to the Lord.

    I also read the readers comments in my most recent CT and some of them resonated with hunches that haunted me as I read the book. In a nutshell, the 4 circles fails to make a compelling case for the exclusivity of Jesus because we all know of people who make a huge difference without Christ. As an example, I am reading, “Me to We” and many people there are in the 4th Circle without the 3rd.

    My question for you or others reading this is, “Do the students you share this with accept the premise that you can’t jump from “Damaged by Evil” to “Sent Together to Heal” without “Restored for Better”? Don’t they supply you with numerous examples of people actively involved in making the planet better without Christ? Oprah Winfrey… Jane Goodall… Abraham Lincoln… Thomas Jefferson…David Suzuki… Bill Gates…

    Why do they need Jesus if they can do the job without him?

    I am thinking about the fate of our Mainline Churches that 100 years ago embraced the kingdom values of social justice but lost the core elements of atonement along the way. Their churches are empty now. How do we hold on all aspects of the gospel?

    I’m surprised


  17. Sorry about the confusion, the “I’m surprised” at the end of my last post wasn’t meant to be there. Earlier I was going to say, “I’m suprised your students you share this with accept the premise…”


  18. Hi Steve —

    Thanks for the reading the book and the encouraging words! And you raise a great question.

    I have to say at the outset: no presentation is compelling on its own. The Holy Spirit compels. Even so, presenting a gospel of eternal destinies alone isn’t compelling any more either. “You’ll spend eternity away from God” will often elicit a “So what?” response. “That’s what you believe, but I don’t believe that.” And you’re stuck. No diagram is compelling about the exclusivity of Christ in this way.

    But the diagram doesn’t shy away from it. It highlights the exclusivity of Christ because of the parallel lines, as I mentioned in the CT article. So it’s not a theology that says all religions are fine. And this is the postmodern challenge, and the hardest part for our irreligious friends to swallow. Many have turned their backs on us because of the parallel lines (while others have made their allegiance with Christ.)

    As for atonement theories, I’m not trying to wipe them away — as some critics claim. This is not merely a social gospel without individual salvation — it’s both and broader. (I think it gets the label sometimes because it does have concerns that are broader than where our soul goes after we die — which is sad, because Jesus seemed to have a broader agenda too.) There just needs to be room for others that are more holistic, while keeping the ones we have. I like Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement. The diagram isn’t devoid of atonement theory, but isn’t stuck on one.

    And sure, people make a huge difference without Christ, and sometimes for good. But that doesn’t negate our need for Christ. Other religions and philosophies offer their own version of salvation too — which feels effective to them. Does that take away from the argument that we need Jesus? As a teaching tool or an memory aid, this diagram does make clear that we can’t jump to the fourth circle.

    (As a sidenote, why did you put Abraham Lincoln on the list: his rhetoric is filled with Scripture and it seems that faith guided his principles immensely. Do I have that assumption wrong? And I’ve heard that Bill Gates’ philanthropy has been hugely influenced by his Catholic wife.)

    People can do good without Jesus, but they can do far more with him. But you’ve probably seen my argument from the book: history has shown that they will be far more effective, and leave a longer legacy if they have him. A have a non-Christian friend who works with a non-profit who says that he respect evangelicals, because they are the last to leave a hard place and the longest to persevere. How do they do that? Because they hear from God and obey.

    And in a more communal response, we join a movement that has been around for two millennia, with a history of society changing movements. We can’t do this on our own, we need help — from the Holy Spirit and his community.

    We ultimately minister out of who we are. And if we can minister out of Christ’s love, instead of our anger at injustice or our despair, we will not only be transformed, but like Jesus, we may have a chance of leaving a lasting legacy. But our transformation in Christ is crucial.

    When our staff and students share this message in San Diego, it’s always about being transformed to be an agent of transformation. It happens in the best and most effective way through Christ. And many have found the Story compelling.

    Let me know if I’m scratchin’ where you’re itchin’.


  19. Dear James, let me start by saying how very cool it is to be having a dialogue with the guy who wrote the book I read yesterday. A very good book too I might add.

    Another footnote… I Googled Lincoln – I admit it – and gathered that he was somewhat “spiritual” but not a card-carrying Jesus-follower (I’ll give you Abe if you’ll give me Gates?).

    OK. I’m 97% with you. Yes, no diagram is complete in itself. Certainly – for comparative purposes – the bridge illustration has always struck me as a solution that is a lot smaller than the problem. And yes – the atonement didn’t just pay the price for sin but also gives us the solution for it’s effects as well. Your diagram helps us to understand our part in being agents of kingdom infection.

    Let me try to tell you about the 3% where I’m fuzzy (usually I’m not so picky but because this is the Gospel…). Instead of saying, “We’ll never make it accross the gap by ourselves… straight to the last circle.” (p. 216) I wonder if there’s a way to say, “A few people like Angelina Jolie have in fact made the jump from circle 2 to circle 4 without going through circle 3. But the Christian world-view would say that authentic change happens from the inside out.

    This is where we could use your (excellent) line, “You need to BE the change you WANT. And the Christian world-view would say that to be transformed we all need to admit that we need that transformation. We have broken fellowship with God. We have sinned. Would you like to find forgiveness for your sins and experience authentic transformation from the inside out so you can go on to be an agent of transformation?”

    In a nutshell, should the arrow from circle #2 to #4 emphasize “authentic” transformation from the inside out rather than “you’ll be better at healing the planet than you were without Jesus” or “you’ll have a 2000 year old community to do it with”?

    The Gospel is – statistically speaking – the most successful idea-virus to ever hit planet earth with “over 2 billion served” worldwide. Thanks James for making it shine even brighter for the next generation.


  20. Haha, Steve. Sure thing. You can have Gates. =)

    Ah, and I see where you’re coming from. Yes, I love it. And yes, I definitely agree wholeheartedly with your emphasis. I brought in the other line of argument because some people are so justice-minded that they really want to know the outward benefits of the faith as well. Plus, your line of reasoning avoids the possibility of sounding arrogant and more exclusive, like “we have the best way and history proves it…” Your Canadian sensibilities (if the flag is accurate) is very appreciated. =)

    Thanks — I like the line “authentic transformation.” I don’t think I ignore this part, but I’ll also incorporate a stronger emphasis here in the future. But to be honest, I’d probably still use the other parts too. =)

    Thanks for the feedback!


  21. Thanks James. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this topic for a couple years but your diagram and book have been the most helpful resources because of the “simple without being simplistic” factor.

    From now on I’ll read NT Wright to learn about Jesus in his context and I’ll read James Choung to learn about what NT Wright is trying to say.

    Yes, I’m a Canuck. And we Canadians can’t tell people the Gospel without apologizing about 20 times for alluding that they might be “morally dyslexic”, “niceness deprived”, “goodness unencumbered” or “ethically underdeveloped.”

    But what do we do about *cough* sin *cough*?

    I’m not suggesting that we go back to Bible/monk flagellation-style repentance (great Monty Python reference by the way). And I don’t think we need to resurrect the “mourning bench” from Finney’s and Wesley’s crusades.

    But doesn’t the whole “change your mind” definition (what the word literally means) also require a bit more context? The change of mind is not just a mental shift of world-view but a sincere sorrow for and confession of relationship-breaking… (wait for it) sin. The tax-collector beating his breast in the Temple wasn’t saying, “Lord, have mercy on me, my perspective was inaccurate.”

    I agree with you that “faith” is not just a cognitive but a relational word. And I suggest that “repentance” is much the same. There’s a personal aspect to it in the way Jesus applies it to our relationship with God.

    There was a point in your book where I began to wonder if the Big Story in the order you tell it is best for Christians who are stuck in #3 and need to get into #4. And I wondered if unbelievers would benefit most if you could somehow land on circle #3 by talking about deep, authentic inner change (like Jesus in John 3 with Nicodemus) through confession of sin.

    You’ve been more than patient with me James. Thanks tons for a chance to dialogue with you. I’m sure there are others who need your time/talents so I’ll take a step backward and follow the other postings. God bless you for helping me so very much.


  22. Hi Steve! I haven’t needed any patience with you; this has been an enjoyable conversation.

    On repentance. . . actually, the tax-collector picture is really more a picture of sorrow than repentance. But St. Paul seems to make a distinction between sorrow and repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” So, though godly sorrow is a helpful part of inner transformation, it brings repentance — the change of allegiances. In that way, I do agree that it’s a relational word, but not in the way you’re initially suggesting.

    Also, just to be clear, I’m not trying to get away from sin — showing sorrow for our sins and sinfulness really helps us see what is true about us and the state of the world — but also make clear that it affects not only individuals, but so much more.

    On your questions of audience, I wonder if you had the chance to read the companion booklet, Based on a True Story? That’s written more directly to people who don’t know Jesus yet, where True Story was written primarily to Christians. If you had a chance to read that, I’d love to hear your take on that as well.

    Anyway — I’m glad you’re continuing to read Wright. I don’t think I do him justice, try as I might!


  23. […] You can also download a pdf version of his interview with Christianity Today here. […]


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