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Leadership 2009


Big-Picture Evangelism
A new tool that emphasizes transformation and not just decision.

James Choung is director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's San Diego Division. His book True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In (IVP, 2008) introduces an evangelistic tool called "The Big Story." The four-circle diagram explains the gospel in four phrases: designed for good, damaged by evil, restored for better, and sent together to heal. asked Choung about his diagram and why he believes the church must share a broader gospel message.

How are the four circles of "The Big Story" different from The Four Spiritual Laws?

The Four Spiritual Laws was a great tool a generation ago. It was really an attempt to help nominal Christians. It was an invitation back into a relationship with God through Jesus, but it seemed to make everything about the individual. "The Big Story" tries instead to recapture a more communal, social focus. It also emphasizes transformation more than decision and the "mission life" more than just the afterlife.

We hope that, through these shifts, "The Big Story" will capture a larger picture of what the Bible is saying, what Jesus is saying. We're trying to present the biblical worldview in as simple a way as possible.

Is there a danger of shortchanging the atonement in this diagram?

I don't think so. The atonement doesn't just cover a person's individual salvation. I love the way Colossians 1 puts it—how all things under heaven and on earth are reconciled back to God through Jesus' blood shed on the cross. So I just think that it actually expands the atonement. It makes it even better news, even broader in its scope. It means that everything that isn't right on the planet can actually be put right through Jesus' blood shed on the cross.

Some evangelists have reduced evangelism to a question of heaven or hell. Why is it important to convey that the gospel is more than just fire insurance?

Augustine urged "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." What we deem essential is what we consider the gospel. So if we make the gospel only about where an individual soul goes after death, then we consider everything else non-essential. Then everything we do will be geared toward helping people make decisions so that their eternal destiny is safe and secure (which is important), but all the other stuff that Jesus taught just gets thrown away. Dallas Willard calls these kinds of people "vampire Christians" because they don't care about Jesus' life or teachings. They just want Jesus for his blood.

How can pastors motivate their church members to reach out?

There really isn't any replacement for a pastor modeling it. I'm not saying that all pastors have to be gifted in evangelism. In fact, it's almost better if the pastor fails a lot, because that makes him or her seem really human—just someone trying and taking risks, which is what you want the people in your congregation to do. Don't try to over-program it. Just share. By the grace of the Lord, one person may actually come to faith. Once that happens, share that story. Let the story make an impact. It's very hard to rouse people up about evangelism for a sustained period of time. You can do it in the short term with a great talk by a gifted speaker; but if you're not out there doing it, and sharing stories about doing it, the enthusiasm will die quickly.

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