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True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In Paperback – April 25, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Finally someone has come up with a simple evangelistic approach that reflects the wholeness of the gospel. . . . The simplicity of Choung's circle diagrams is a welcome, refreshing, and much-needed approach." (Al Tizon, PRISM, May/June 2009)

"Although designed to help college students articulate a complete gospel, many in our churches will also benefit by reading it." (Rodney Stent, The Lamplighter, May 2009)

"Choung delivers a compelling, fresh look at what we consider the gospel - the good news surrounding Jesus Christ. He directs us to look anew at the way Christ shows us how to live and, from within a comfortable, fictitious setting, radically calls for a new definition of the gospel truth." (Kevin Alton, Journal of Student Ministries, November/December 2008)

"Through True Story, you'll learn an effective, authentic strategy for telling the story of the Bible to non-believing friends." (Catherine Newhouse, Ignite, Winter 2009)

"I suggest that all Christians read this book with an open mind. Even if you remain suspicious, you'll find tools here to draw people into discussion about faith in God and purpose in life." (Evelyn Bence, FaithfulReader.com, July 2008)

"Emphasizing relationship over religion and loving over lecturing; this book will give you the confidence to share what you love about Jesus and let Him handle the rest." (Dawn Paisley, Book Bargains and Previews, July 2008)

". . .highly recommended for community library Christian fiction collections." (James A. Cox, The Midwest Book Review, July 2008)

"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." (Andy Crouch, Editorial Director, Christian Vision Project)

"James Choung gives us a penetrating look into ourselves and our faulty reasoning. He challenges us to go beyond 'Sunday School' answers and wrestle with pain, sorrow, death and other strong issues that seem to be potholes on our journey of faith." (Tom Hodges, YouthWorker Journal, July/August 2008)

"Some of the strengths of this book:
  • Very helpfully shared the gospel through story dialog
  • Communicated the gospel relationally
  • Communicated the gospel holistically (heart, mind, soul and strength)
  • Demonstrated a biblical rethinking of the gospel, instead of the current prepackaged version that often leaves so much out
" (John Smulo on SmuloSpace (johnsmulo.com), May 24, 2008)

"There is much to be commended in James Choung's True Story. Choung does not merely argue for the Bible's historical trustworthiness; he rightly relies on the Bible's content. Instead of beginning with 'something is wrong with you,' he begins with the fact that 'something is wrong with the world.' By beginning with the cosmic picture of a world gone bad, he is able to foreshadow the gospel that ends with a world renewed." (Trevin Wax on Kingdom People (trevinwax.com), May 27, 2008)

"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." (Scot McKnight, on JesusCreed.org)

"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." (Sam Metcalf, president, Church Resource Ministries--U.S.)

"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." (Doug Birdsall, executive chair, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization)

"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." (Manfred W. Kohl, vice president, Overseas Council International)

"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." (Eugene Cho, lead pastor, Quest Church, Seattle, eugenecho.com)

"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." (Allen Mitsuo Wakabayashi, author of Kingdom Come: How Jesus Wants to Change the World and campus staff for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

"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." (Peter T. Cha, associate professor of pastoral theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

"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!" (Dave Gibbons, founder and lead pastor, NewSong Church, and CVO, Xealot Inc.)

"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." (Eddie Gibbs, senior professor, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, author of ChurchNext and LeadershipNext)

"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." (Ken Fong, senior pastor, Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles)

"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." (Shane Claiborne, lover, author, recovering sinner, founding partner of The Simple Way, author of The Irresistible Revolution)

"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." (Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Assistant Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary)

"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." (Terry Erickson, national director of evangelism, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)

"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." (Don Everts, author of Jesus with Dirty Feet and (with Doug Schaupp) I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus)

"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." (Leonard Sweet, author of The Church of the Perfect Storm;; podcaster of the weekly "Napkin Scribbles" podcast)

"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." (Brian McLaren, author/activist (brianmclaren.net))

"Brilliant. . . . Tools like this can change the world." (Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 233 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (April 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830836098
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830836093
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Choung starts out with a simple goal - to describe a new way to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. What makes his book so good is that he recognizes the complex questions people have about the gospel. He retains the central truths that we are separated by sin from the God we were created to be in perfect fellowship with and that the finished work of Christ is the only way to restore that fellowship. He adds on to those truths some others that were previously seen as "Christian history" (what was God like before Creation was created? how did sin enter the world?) and some others that were seen as "Christian Living" (if I'm saved by grace, why should I go to the trouble of doing good? what should I/the church do about Sudan, the environment, or human trafficking?). He sees that individual sin leads to corrupted relationships and communities, and he communicates a gospel of salvation for individuals and healing for relationships and communities. Other writers in this genre (McLaren and Claiborne come to mind) go too far promoting the corporate aspects of sin and salvation to the detriment of the individual responsibility for sin and need for salvation. As I read Choung's book, I didn't feel like the gospel I love was being changed, diminished, or diluted - I felt like it was being strengthened by showing the big picture of why the gospel is truly good news for individual humans and the whole world.
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As an avid novel reader, this book definitely stands out among the throng of Christian books that fall under the "self-help" category, each approximately 200 pages long. Following the lead of the master story-teller, Jesus, James Choung has chosen a wise path of providing a parable of his own to illustrate a lesson he's learned as a Korean-American Christian himself.

As someone who has been disillusioned by the hypocrisy that runs rampant through the church and needs to find satisfaction in a bigger picture like the one Choung artfully provides, I would recommend this story to anyone in a similar situation. Instead of simply reiterating many of the criticisms that non-Christians and Christians alike direct towards the Church, James Choung provides a more hopeful alternative that challenges the reader to take steps forward to truly bring heaven onto Earth.

I would also recommend this story to anyone who thinks Christianity is bogus because of the crap that the Church both allows and instigates, and I would politely but strongly urge them to see if they can imagine themselves fitting into this larger portrait that James has painted.

On a less Christianese note, this book is a relatively quick read with welcoming language and familiar situations, and, in the tradition of C.S. Lewis, uses a small story to tell a bigger one. Though it's primarily lesson-driven, the plot makes the book a much more comfortable read than a textbook-like alternative would. If anything, reading this book can only help you in the long run, so pick one up and see what you think =)
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When I first picked up Choung's book, I was excited.

Choung was proposing a new way to present the gospel - a way that showed the kingdom nature of Christ's work. A way that resonated with the cries of this generation. A way that connected Genesis to Revelation. This all excited me.

Choung knows college students: he knows how they speak, he knows what they feel, he knows their values. He raised important questions - the kinds of questions students typically ask about the gospel. He was raw and vulnerable about his own personal journey from the American Consumerism gospel to the "True Story" model. This excited me even more.

I thought his critiques of the church were fair: we don't show how the gospel gives us a passion for justice. We tend to give people a pie-in-the-sky carrot, and dangle it in front of them. And when he began writing, I saw that my gospel presentation for students and his aligned perfectly: he begins with how we FEEL the problems in the world, which I think is spot on.

But then, piece by piece, things began to fall apart.

Why? Because while Choung successfully describes many elements of the Christian gospel, he ultimately gives us something which yes, appeals to the sensibilities of unbelievers - but no, does not actually come to us as "good news." I could go into great detail, but I think it all could be summed up in a question: "Choung - do you think a Catholic would have a problem with this gospel presentation?"

The answer is: No. Why? Because Choung never once uses the word, or the concept, even, of "justification" in his gospel presentation.
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Working in college ministry, I have felt the difficulty in telling the true Gospel (God's story, and not a watered down, me-centered one) and also in contextualizing it in a way that increasingly skeptical students can connect to. I loved True Story for what is at the heart of the book: an excellent Gospel diagram to help us share our faith Biblically. For more than 2 years, my students and I have been using this diagram with skeptics, seekers, and Christians. Here are a few reasons why Choung's diagram is excellent, and True Story is a great read for anyone:

It starts where they start.
Fewer and fewer people these days begin with a concrete idea of God or truth. But most have a deep sense that all is not right in the world. Choung's diagram begins with our discontentment. Because it begins with the world as we experience it, it is easy to bring up naturally in a variety of contexts. I've been able to share it while discussing the AIDS crisis in Africa, watching the evening news, and even after a student simply had a hard week of school. Choung's diagram shows that indeed things are not what God designed them to be, and connects the large-scale problems in the world and our lives to the sin problem in each of us.

It involves whole-life transformation.
Choung's diagram invites personal change through redemption in Christ, but also makes clear that "getting saved" is the beginning of a life of grateful participation in God's mission. Too often in our desire to protect sola fide, sola gratia, we shortchange our message. Our Gospel explanations leave out Paul's words in Eph. 2:10 (that we are saved by grace alone in order to overflow in good works) and Jesus' in Matt. 5:14-16 (that our good works will lead others to glorify God).
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