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True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In
Inter-varsity Press / 2008 / Paperback
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Caleb is asking questions about his Christian faith, and it's making a lot of people nervous - his friends, his pastor, even himself. Unsure of how a Christian faith can be dynamic in a damaged world, he seeks a better way of dealing with its seeming inconsistencies. What he finds is a faith that can be summed up with stick figures on a napkin. In plain, modern, and sometimes earthy language, James Choung relates a story that many Christians find themselves in and offers a visual model of the Gospel that is easily learned and reproduced. While the story and model are tailored to a social gospel approach, Choung also allows for other interpretations and applications of the model.
"Christianity seems like just another screwed-up religion!" Anna said. "Seriously, what has Christianity done for usor for the world, for that matter? They're just a bunch of hypocrites, that's what I think! Are they good for anything?" "I don't know, Anna," Caleb said. "I just don't know." Caleb has been a Christian for a long time. But he realizes that he can't bring himself to share his faith with anyone because it doesn't sound like good news anymore. Christianity's truth claims come across as hollow, arrogant and intolerant. Christians have a bad track record of hating and condemning those they disagree with. Worst of all, it feels like Christianity is just about "saving souls," giving people an escape ticket to heaven while the world falls apart. Is it only about Jesus forgiving our sins? There must be more to it than that... In this engaging narrative, James Choung weaves the tale of a search for a Christianity worth believing in. Disillusioned believer Caleb and hostile skeptic Anna wrestle with the plausibility of the Christian story in a world of pain and suffering. They ask each other tough questions about what Jesus really came to do and what Christianity is supposed to be about. Along the way, they discover that real Christianity is far bigger than anything they ever heard about in church. And the conversion that comes is not one that either of them expects. Join Caleb and Anna on their spiritual journeys as they probe Christianity from inside and out. Get past the old clichés and simplistic formulas. And discover a new way of understanding and presenting the Christian faith that really matters in a broken world.
James Choung started his educational odyssey at MIT, graduating in 1995 with a Management Science degree before heading off to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to acquire a Master of Divinity in 1999. Feeling more confused about God when he left seminary than when he started, he eventually wound up sitting at the feet of the wise gurus at Fuller Theological Seminary and graduated in 2008 with a Doctor of Ministry in Postmodern Leadership. Along the way, Choung helped plant an urban, multi-ethnic church called Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, and eventually became the pastor. He also served as intern pastor over international youth, college and expats in the English-speaking ministries of Onnuri Community Church in Seoul, Korea. Previously Choung served as divisional director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's San Diego Division. He kept busy with over 16 campuses and 220,000 students to connect with. But somehow he managed to write the book and companion booklet, , as well as maintain a speaking schedule traveling throughout the country shaking up ministerial minds on topics like leadership and evangelism. Today Choung is national director of Asian American Ministries for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, serving 168 staff and 4,646 students all over the country. He also teaches classes on evangelism and missional leadership development at Bethel Seminary San Diego. Choung lives with his wife, Jinhee, and their two little ones in Torrance, California. Visit James at his website, jameschoung.net.
James Choung (D.Min., Fuller Theological Seminary) is divisional director and interim area director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's San Diego Division.
"Christianity seems like just another screwed-up religion!" Anna said. "Seriously, what has Christianity done for usor for the world, for that matter? They're just a bunch of hypocrites, that's what I think! Are they good for anything?"
"I don't know, Anna," Caleb said. "I just don't know."
Caleb has been a Christian for a long time. But he realizes that he can't bring himself to share his faith with anyone because it doesn't sound like good news anymore. Christianity's truth claims come across as hollow, arrogant and intolerant. Christians have a bad track record of hating and condemning those they disagree with. Worst of all, it feels like Christianity is just about "saving souls," giving people an escape ticket to heaven while the world falls apart. Is it only about Jesus forgiving our sins? There must be more to it than that...
In this engaging narrative, James Choung weaves the tale of a search for a Christianity worth believing in. Disillusioned believer Caleb and hostile skeptic Anna wrestle with the plausibility of the Christian story in a world of pain and suffering. They ask each other tough questions about what Jesus really came to do and what Christianity is supposed to be about. Along the way, they discover that real Christianity is far bigger than anything they ever heard about in church. And the conversion that comes is not one that either of them expects.
Join Caleb and Anna on their spiritual journeys as they probe Christianity from inside and out. Get past the old clichés and simplistic formulas. And discover a new way of understanding and presenting the Christian faith that really matters in a broken world.
Brian McLaren started a genre of fiction in which a disenchanted evangelical meets a wizened ethnic teacher of a new sort of Christianity, prompting a second conversion to a faith that is more world savvy, compassionate and appealing. In Choung's version, a college student in Seattle named Caleb struggles to share the gospel (and a bit more) with his friend Anna. While the narrative runs the risk of falling into stereotype (and often does resort to evangelical catchphrases), Choung manages to make readers care about his characters' religious and romantic fates. Its best moments are Caleb's wrestling with the relationship between his Korean ethnic identity and his faith. Choung concludes the book in his own voice, with a diagram designed to help an individual share the gospel with another on the surface of a napkin. While the faith presented is indeed more passionate about the environment and social justice than many evangelicals are wont to be, the goal of a more effective one-on-one evangelism is hardly revolutionary. The book will appeal to readers of McLaren and others for whom vampire Christianity, a phrase Choung's real-life mentor Dallas Willard uses to describe a faith reduced to a bit of blood shed on one's behalf, has become untenable. (Apr.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
"The unchanging call for Christians to be salt and light, to be witnesses with an apt answer, is a great challenge in today's rapidly changing world. James Choung's winsome narrative, True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In, grapples with many questions of faith that seekers and also Christians wrestle with in this postmodern world. Choung demonstrates how as Christians we do not need a formula to be an effective witness for Christ, rather we need to honestly seek and engage the truth of the gospel in our own lives, and engage our friends with their questions, pointing them to the light and freedom of the gospel. Over the last three years as chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, I have found no part of the world untouched by the questions of life and death, faith in the midst of the problem of sin and evil in the world. And I have also found no part of the world that is not in need of the whole church to witness the power, the hope and the life of the whole gospel to the whole world--starting with the people closest to us."
"James has found a simple way to convey to both Christians and non-Christians that the good news is cosmically good--a diagram that does the best job I've encountered yet of placing our personal stories in the context of God's bigger story."
"The book is amply 'storified' and is a huge, huge step forward in evangelism. Pastors and parents need this book; youth ministers and college ministers need this book."
"It's the task of every generation to articulate and create languages and forms that connect with their generation. James Choung does this beautifully in his book, True Story. I highly recommend this book as a fresh articulation and narrative of what is truly the good news! This good news is not just what we're saved from but what we are called to! It's more than a fire escape . . . it's a revolution of justice, advocacy and radical compassion. I'm in!"
"This insightful book offers a way of presenting the good news that fully engages with today's complex postmodern issues and questions simply by refocusing on the original message of the gospel of Jesus our Savior."
"In True Story, James Choung has recaptured the world-saving, life-transforming message of the gospel. In a way that takes seriously both the biblical message and the reality of our contemporary world, True Story takes you on a true-to-life journey of rediscovering the hope of Jesus that answers the most vexing issues of our world. While holding to an evangelical's commitment to holy Scripture, James challenges and dismantles evangelicalism's restrictive lenses through which we understand the gospel. And the result is a refreshing, relevant and compelling presentation of the good news of Jesus for our needy world."
"Brilliant. . . . Tools like this can change the world."
"Another book on Christianity . . . but quite different--written as simply as possible, never losing sight of the big story that Jesus Christ is the ultimate. This is a book for today's generation, seeking truth, satisfaction and fulfillment. It is an ideal textbook for student ministry and youth pastors."
" True Story is for anyone serious about communicating the good news of Jesus in a thoughtful, biblical way which leans into--instead of running from--the pressing issues all around us in the secularized, post-Christian culture of the Western world."
"Christianity can become so obsessed with conversion that it loses the art, commitment and passion for conversation. They must go hand-in-hand. Choung does a fantastic job in engaging the skeptic and cynic to consider the invitation of the amazing narrative story and life of the triune God. Similarly, the call for the body of Christ to shed Christianity as a self-help, therapeutic religion and instead see it as a life of partnership and participation in the kingdom of God is another refreshing message. Honestly, I've never been a fan of diagrams, but Choung shares some incredible simple but profound illustrations that help elucidate the good news in a biblically faithful and culturally relevant manner."
"For a growing number of us Christians, the standard way we were taught to understand and share the good news message has felt inadequate. Choung's rethinking and recrafting of Christ's timeless call is exactly what we need today to present the gospel to a new generation of unconvinced people. His use of an engaging story to underscore the need for this fresh approach will motivate many Christians to learn this new approach."
"One of the most important theological conversations going on these days is about the shape of the biblical narrative. Not surprisingly, many leaders in this conversation are those working in the intellectual ferment of the college campus and at the intersection of church and the emerging culture. James Choung is one of these important voices, and this book opens up important new vistas regarding the story we find ourselves in."
"Choung's 'napkin theology' and its 'four-worlds' diagram promise to be for evangelism in the twenty-first century what the 'Four Spiritual Laws' were for the twentieth century."
"Is True Story a real-life drama or a simple diagram? I don't know, but I love it! James Choung has given us a gift that I suspect will greatly reduce the number of fidgety Christians and yawning skeptics out there. True Story reminds us that our news really is good, and helps us communicate that message simply and comprehensively using four simple circles. I love those circles and am already starting to use them regularly in conversations."
"James understands today's seekers and skeptics. He accurately describes their objections to Christianity and clearly addresses these objections in the Big Story. His invitation to join Jesus' missional community is both compelling and good news to all who hear it."
" True Story invites us into the great narrative of the Scriptures. Grappling with the tough questions, James Choung provides a blueprint that will challenge the unbeliever, the new believer and the longtime church member to discover the fresh and healing message of the gospel. This book calls us to a relevant and real faith that properly redefines the call to evangelism as an ongoing journey toward shalom."
"Amid the clutter of domesticated Christianity, Choung's book creatively reminds us all--academics, pastors, activists and grandmas--of the true revolution from which we come. Much of pop-Christianity is obsessed with the self-centered goal of finding our life, forgetting that Christ's call is to lose our life for others in order to find it. This book is an urgent cry not to settle for the dream of America over the dream of God, nor to allow cynicism to suffocate the hope that another world is possible. May True Story inspire us to continue to shout the Story with our lives--even in the most abandoned corners of the empire."
"Some conversations consist of shared ignorance or are simply surface exchanges. The conversation narrated by James Choung is neither. It is thoughtful, honest and authentic. It does not gloss over sincere and profound questions concerning the content of the gospel and the way it is lived out, but grapples with many issues that arise in the give-and-take of a discussion between friends. Here is to be found good news that relates to the here and now as well as to eternity."
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