I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but you can actually talk about Christianity like it’s a story. Now you might be thinking, “I’m pretty sure in the past, Brian, you’ve mentioned that we shouldn’t talk about ‘stories’ in the Bible. We should talk about accounts, because stories are things we tell our children before bed, and accounts are things in history that actually happened.” Indeed, I have said that, but Christianity is a true story, and this is what Greg Koukl in his book The Story of Reality wants us to be able to understand. He wants to show Christians—so they can show other people—that Christianity is the true story of the way the world began, of how it ends, and of everything important that happens in between. Christianity is a story, but it’s a true story. It has meaning and explanatory power for our world.
You’ll notice the title of this book is The Story of Reality. That’s really the big picture of what Koukl wants to impress upon us in this book. He wants us to understand the big picture of Christianity. That it’s actually a picture of reality. When we talk about little points here and there in theology and the Bible, and about man and about Jesus, these are all individual pieces of a greater puzzle that really gives us a picture of the way the world is as it actually exists.
What I want to do today is give you an overview of the book. It has just started shipping, but I was actually privileged to get a pre-release copy, so I’ve read and it and I would like to talk with you about the content and why you should read it too. I don’t often recommend books but this is a book you should certainly read.
You know it’s interesting, when you ask many people: “What is Christianity? Tell me the big picture of Christianity.” They can’t do it. They maybe say, “Well, it’s about Jesus loving us, or it’s about God creating people, or we’re supposed to transform the world,” but they can’t give you the big picture. We don’t often talk about the big picture. Some churches will spend eight years in the Book of Romans but when do we ever zoom back out and say, “What is the big storyline of the Bible, and indeed, of all of history?” That’s what Koukl does in this book. He does that by breaking Christianity, and in fact, reality, into five main areas.
The first one is God. Every story starts somewhere, and our story, our true story, starts with God. Then our story says something about man—you and I. Namely it says that man is beautiful. He’s made in the image of God, but he’s also deeply broken, and lost, and evil. As a result of this willful acts of evil that man commits, he will experience the wrath of God.
We’ve got God. We’ve got man. And the third part of our story is Jesus. Up to this point, our story is not looking so good. Like many stories, if you were to read a book or go to a movie or watch a play, they start out well, but then something goes wrong. Something breaks in the story. It’s the same way in the true story—Christianity. God created the world and it was good, but then man sinned.
This is where the story takes a turn. It’s not looking so good. Everyone acknowledges that the world is broken in some way. One of the things, one of the notable lines that sticks out to me from this book, The Story of Reality, is when Koukl says that when man and woman sinned, “they broke the world.” I just had to sit there for a second and I’m like, “You know what? That’s true.” That’s a simply profound way to say what happened. It’s not just that things went wrongs. It’s not just that they disobeyed God, though they did those things. They broke the world and nothing was the same after that.
That sets us up for a not-so-happy rest of the story. Man has sinned against a perfect God, and there’s wrath because God is holy and pure and just. This is where the third part of our story comes in, namely Jesus. This is a literal person in history, fully God, fully man, who comes to rescue us at the cross. The cross is the fourth part of our story. You’ve got God, man, Jesus, cross. What was the cross? What happened there?
Koukl actually tackles and describes the atonement, where Christ paid for our sin, in what you could describe as a swap. He gets our sin. He gets the curses from the things we’ve done wrong, and we are credited with Christ’s righteousness. He didn’t just set us even with God. We are clothed in the very righteousness of Christ. God, man, Jesus, cross, and the last step in our story is resurrection. Because in the same way that everything started out good with God, and then man broke the world, and then Jesus comes, at the cross the story is not looking so good. The hero, the long awaited and lauded messiah, has been killed.
That’s where the resurrection sets all of that right. God vindicates himself in our eyes. Not that he ever needed to somehow prove his worth—He is above reproach in that way—But God, at the resurrection, demonstrates the fact that we can trust in the forgiveness of sins from the cross. The cross and the resurrection are a visible picture that really makes it reasonable for us to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of our sin.
Now what do I mean by that? Well, Jesus came to forgive sin and credit us with righteousness, as one of many things he came to do. At the core of the Gospel is that trade, that exchanging. Now how do we know that happens? We have to take that on faith. Hence the trust component. As an aside, faith is one of the words Koukl talks about in this book that needs to be used biblically and correctly. Perhaps we shouldn’t even use that word at all, which is a great point I believe. Read the book to find out more.
The cross, going back to that, and namely the resurrection, is where we see that what God said he would do, he is able to accomplish. “Destroy this temple,” Jesus said, “and I’ll build it back in three days.” You know what? He came back from the dead. We can take him at his word for other claims too, like that the Old Testament is reliable, like that those who place their trust in him will receive forgiveness for their sins.
Ending our story with the resurrection really is a happy ending. Like many stories, they start out well, something goes wrong, and then it’s all set right in the end. That is the Christian story. Isn’t it interesting that that is actually what the Bible describes? Isn’t it also interesting that that is what so many other stories, so many false stories, that we watch in media and read in books, that mirror that? There’s something in us that resonates with that pattern. Yet, the true story, the oldest story, the actual story of reality, is the original story that fits that pattern.
Now, some specific parts I like about the book and why you should read it: One, it does give you that big picture of reality, of Christianity. For some people it will be revolutionary. It will be a breath of fresh air to think about Christianity as a big picture, as a picture of reality. We often think about Christianity as something divorced from reality, when there couldn’t be anything more real than what is described in scripture and what the Christian worldview shows.
Two, along the way, at appropriate points, Koukl does what he calls “soft apologetics.” He’s describing the story of reality but there are natural places to talk about what other people believe. In a very gracious and winsome way, not that anyone would expect anything else from Koukl, he gives us a critique of the other options. We’re talking about the Christian story. Well what about other stories? Well it turns out they don’t explain reality. They’re not as persuasive by any means. They don’t fit the evidence. Why would we believe another story that doesn’t explain nearly as much of the world as the Christian story? Well, we shouldn’t.
I like the big picture aspect of the book. I like the soft apologetics, if you want to call it that, of just naturally, in the course of explaining the world and human experience and God, of calling out areas of that are persuasive about Christianity and very lacking in other worldviews. I also like how, sometimes in the course of a page or two, Koukl is able to able to make some philosophical point and then transition seamlessly to a theological point. All of this just feels so natural.
If there’s one thing you can get from this book, or really from just listening to Greg in general, it would be his tone and approach. There are so many people out there who put out great apologetics content, but one thing Koukl has going for him that I think puts him in a position all his own in this field is the natural way with which he talks with a grace and a winsome attitude to people. He can sometimes say things that are factually … you might find intolerant or condemning, but the way in which he says it, you almost don’t realize he said something controversial. You can feel and hear this tone in the book.
Hopefully, as you read this book, that will rub off on you Maybe not just the information will be absorbed by you but also the approach and the way he couches that information. I think that’s something that a lot of us, myself included, need to continually improve at. You should read The Story of Reality. It is an excellent book. It’s the big picture of Christianity, and more than that, it’s got an approach that I think we all should mirror when we talk with people.
Here’s my last point in commending this book to you. There is this trend today in Christianity and in apologetics to boil Christianity down to something that the most people can agree on. You might call it bare minimum theism or Christianity. Or it’s sometimes described as the mere Christianity type of movement or approach. This hearkens back to C.S. Lewis and that type of thing.
Often, in this approach to try and get as many people on board with how we view Christianity, we don’t discuss issues that are at the center of the Gospel, at the center of Christianity, like the atonement. What did Christ actually accomplish? That’s not something that everyone who calls themselves a Christian can agree on. But if Christ didn’t pay for sin, specific sins for specific people; if there wasn’t what we would call the penal substitutionary nature of the atonement; if I am not clothed in the righteousness of Christ because of my faith in Christ; if there wasn’t that trade, that swap, then so much is different that we can just sidestep if we say, “Well you believe in God. You believe in the Trinity. Hey, we agree on the big things.”
Well, the issues of atonement and the cross are very important too. Greg includes in his version of mere Christianity, in this book, the ideas that it’s really important that we get the substitutionary nature of the atonement right, that Christianity is incomplete, it’s lacking something essential, if we don’t understand what happened at the cross.
I’m encouraged that Koukl included this section because it’s something we need to understand when we’re talking with people too. We’re not just trying to convince someone of a worldview, as if they just need to check the right boxes. No, we’re trying to convince someone ultimately of the truthfulness and reliability of the Gospel. At the center of the Gospel is Christ paying for sin and crediting us with righteousness.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. I think it’s easily approachable. The chapters read very quickly. You can always read a chapter before bed no matter how tired you are or how little time you have. I think that’s important in a book, that it’s easily digestible in small pieces. It’s also easily accessible from a writing level and that type of standpoint too. You have no excuse not to get the book, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. Christianity is a true story. It is the story of the way the world is as it exists, and it’s persuasive. This book will equip you to understand that more fully and present that with other peoples. Go get it. It’s on Amazon. You can also buy it from str.org also.
I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a thoughtful time reflecting on what Christ came to do that ultimately started in the incarnation at what we celebrate as Christmas.
I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.