Last time we looked at a tool widely used in Australia, and the next of our ‘iCatechisms’ has the same basic approach — but with a few big tweaks. It’s dubbed ‘the big story’ and has been developed by James Choung, who is currently the national director of evangelism for InterVarsity (USA).
There are also other videos where you can see James presenting it himself. ‘The big story’ uses four key phrases: designed for good, damaged by evil, restored for better, sent together to heal. These are supposed to correspond to the Bible’s narrative development (creation, fall, redemption, mission).
James claims that ‘the big story’ gives us several shifts in perspective:
• From decisions towards transformation
• From individualism towards community
• From afterlife towards mission-life
‘The big story’ invites direct comparison with Two Ways to Live, especially with its stick-figure graphics and four circles.
Like 2WTL, it’s a summary of ‘the Christian worldview’, and like 2WTL, it sets the stage with the whole of creation — but really tries to capitalise on this. ‘The big story’ is not only a more recent variation on 2WTL (30 years more recent) but potentially a more ‘prophetic’ one.
While young Westerners these days may not have much sense of personal sinfulness, they’re talking a lot about ethics and good and evil, as James identifies in this 2008 interview. ‘The big story’ attempts to build common ground over this shared awareness of evil and desire for social change. He says:
The so-called “Millennials” (Generation Y) on campuses today [are] a civic generation. They’re ready to volunteer, because they really think they can change the world. … And our evangelistic approaches that have worked are far more civic as well, such as dealing with the AIDS pandemic or sex trafficking. Our best approaches mix a global concern with spirituality… The overriding spiritual question today is: What is good? What will really help the planet be a better place? And our faith better have an answer for it to be relevant today.
We are not just agents of evil, but also victims of evil. Evil is not just personal rebellion in our hearts, but something bigger threatening all of us. And ‘the big story’ deals with this by talking about the cross and resurrection in terms of victory (the old-school Christus Victor view of atonement).
If ‘the big story’ works as intended, it teaches us that each of us also plays a part in the evil we see around us, so we can’t ultimately change anything on our own. We really do need Jesus for a better world, the world God has always wanted.
The big positive of ‘the big story’ is the way it brings out the mission of God (missio dei). It clearly presents a goal for the Christian life, and it sets this within God’s own purposes for the world.
Q: What might this American innovation have to offer campus ministries in Australia? Elsewhere?
The next question is, what does this shared life of healing actually look like? How is this meant to take shape?
Of course, ‘the big story’, like the rest of these iCatechisms, is supposed to be a first port of call, nothing more. But we need to ask, like last time, why begin with one angle and not another?
Neither ‘the big story’ nor 2WTL give any real sense of what it looks like to live as a Christian. The Spirit just doesn’t get a look in. And although ‘the big story’ is supposed to move us in a more corporate/collectivist direction, the community of faith only gets a passing mention, and there’s no mention of the fact that God reveals the new order within that community itself.
And this shows another limitation of both ‘the big story’ and 2WTL: for all the emphasis on biblical theology and the grand narrative, there’s no mention of God’s promises and the people of the promise, Israel. Both catechisms present a cosmic story with a cosmic Christ, but it’s a story cut loose from its Jewish history. And without that, it’s hard to express the vision of ‘a blessing to all nations’, which is truly seen in the unity of those nations reconciled in the church (check out Paul’s words to the Ephesians).
I guess the way we start out will always set us on a particular path.
If you could say that 2WTL produces diligent students of the Bible, you could say that ‘the big story’ produces compassionate activists. Yes, it’s important to consider how we begin and what we do, but what about who we are?
What our generation needs is not just Bible people or civic people but church people, people who are dedicated to the life of God’s people, people who love unity as much as they love truth or service, people who are burning to live by the Spirit. I’m talking about discipleship and Christlikeness. This is the most urgent need in many parts of the world, as you can see in the 9-a-day campaign by Langham Partnership.
Q: What might this look like in a digital catechism? Is it simply beyond the scope of these iCatechisms?
The next of our iCatechisms is the most recent and, you guessed it, another different angle.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.