Telling a Better Story | Book Review


In an increasingly post-Christian America, apologetics — the defense of the Christian faith — is a necessary component of evangelism and discipleship. Christians need to “be prepared to give an answer [Greek, apología] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). How they can do so well is the subject of Joshua D. Chatraw’s excellent new book, Telling a Better Story.

Apologetics has a bad rap in some quarters. Chatraw tells the story of a student at a Christian university who asked him, “What is your best argument for Christianity?”

When Chatraw answered, “It depends on who I’m talking to and what the situation is,” the student seemed unimpressed.

He was looking for a “knockout punch,” a “winner take all” argument. Here’s a pro tip: Those arguments are vanishingly rare, and anyway, what we want to win is a person, not a debate.

And then apologetics seems far removed from the concerns of everyday life. Chatraw describes the kind of apologetics in which many Bible-believing Christians were trained as “Building Block Apologetics.” The foundation of the pyramid is “universal logic,” rules of thinking that validate a “general theism,” on top of which is “historical evidence” for the Bible. The capstone is “the message of the gospel.” The problem with this kind of apologetics, which moves from the abstract to the concrete, is not that it’s false but that it’s irrelevant to most people. It answers questions they’re not asking and leaves little room for genuine conversation.

Rather than a “knockout punch” or a “rigid system,” Chatraw offers a “way” of doing apologetics that he calls “Inside Out Apologetics.” He explains, “The goal is for both sides to be willing to ‘try on the other story’ and see how it ‘fits’ rationally, psychologically, and experientially.” For the Christian, this involves internalizing certain questions and applying them prudently in conversations:

Inside:

  • What can I affirm [in the other’s story], and what will I need to challenge?
  • Where does this story lead, and is it internally consistent and livable?

Outside:

  • Where do competing views borrow from the Christian story?
  • How does the Christian narrative better address our experiences, observations, and history?

Chatraw cites Paul’s Areopagus speech as an example of an inside-out approach (Acts 17:22–31). Inside: “[Paul] quotes pagan sources and affirms where Athenian thinking is correct,” but he also “challenges their culture by using one of their own beliefs to demonstrate that God must be independent from his creation.” Outside: Paul invites the Athenians to view life through a Christ-centered lens: God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

If Acts 17:32 is any guide, inside-out conversations do not guarantee conversions, either for Paul or for us. They do lead to more productive conversations with those willing to invest the time, however. And that’s what budding Christian apologists should aim for.

The bulk of Telling a Better Story demonstrates how an inside-out approach might work in conversations about five common cultural assumptions in post-Christian America:

  1. I don’t need God or religion.
  2. You have to be true to yourself.
  3. The ultimate goal of life is to be happy.
  4. It’s okay to be spiritual, but not to say that your religion is the only way, or attempt to bring it into the public square.
  5. We’ve progressed beyond faith and myths to reason and science.

I don’t know about you, but I see variations on these assumptions every day in my social media feed. These are the questions people are asking, and therefore the questions Christians need to be prepared to discuss.

Of course, once you commit to having a conversation with someone who does not share your Christian faith, you’re committing to hearing their pushback on that faith. Chatraw rounds out his book with three common objections to Christianity: it’s oppressive, unloving, and untrue. He concedes— rightly, in my opinion — that our skeptical friends sometimes have a point. Christians have not always acted Christianly: liberatingly, lovingly, rationally. There are nonetheless reasons to believe, and to act on the belief, that the gospel is true.

Telling a Better Story concludes with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “Christ is the truth in the sense that to be the truth is the only true explanation of what truth is.” In post-Christian America, it is important that we Christians “speak the truth” as we answer the questions of our unbelieving neighbors. More importantly, however, we need to “embody the truth.” This, as Chatraw puts it, is the “greater apologetic.”

Book Reviewed
Joshua D. Chatraw, Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, December 22, 2011


DECEMBER 22: Happy Winter Solstice Day!

POT, MEET KETTLE: “The Accidental Universe: Science’s crisis of faith.”

That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

“We had a lot more confidence in our intuition before the discovery of dark energy and the multiverse idea,” says Guth. “There will still be a lot for us to understand, but we will miss out on the fun of figuring everything out from first principles.”

YEP: “Call It Christ’s Mass and Let Best Buy Keep the Holiday.”

AZUSA STREET, 100 YEARS LATER: “More Than 1 in 4 Christians Are Pentecostal, Charismatic.”

COME ON IN, THE WATER’S FINE! “Baptists, Pentecostals Seek Common Ground.”

OR PERHAPS EUROPE HAS MOVED AWAY FROM FOLLOWING? “Christianity is still the largest religion in the world but followers have moved away from Europe.”

BECAUSE VIRTUE ISN’T GOING AWAY: “Why We Need a ‘Stuck with Virtue’ Science.”

BECAUSE SOCIOLOGISTS HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO: “Sociological rules of Christmas gift giving.”

QUESTIONABLE RELIGIOUS STATISTIC: “Study: Atheists distrusted as much as rapists.”

GOOD FOR THEM! BUT DIDN’T SCROOGE CONVERT? “Atheists aim to change image of penny-pinching Scrooges.”

CRAP OR CONSCIENCE? “Manure Makers, Yes; Catholics, No.”

ANTISEMITES, RACISTS, CONSPIRACY NUTTERS: “The Company Ron Paul Keeps.”

IVY LEAGUE PERVS: “The Postmodern Pedophile: Meet the academics who try to redefine pedophilia as ‘intergenerational intimacy.’”

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, June 6, 2011


The June 2011 issue of Christianity Today includes an interesting article, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” that examines contemporary evangelical views on the historicity of Adam and Eve from scientific and theological perspectives. Here’s a link to the American Scientific Affiliation articles mentioned in CT.My own fellowship, the Assemblies of God, is wrestling with these kinds of issues, which is why I found the article so interesting. The national office is hosting a Faith & Science Conference, June 27–28, 2011, in Springfield, Missouri.

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Assemblies of God / Convoy of Hope relief efforts continue in Joplin, Missouri.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Relief Efforts Continue in Joplin, posted with vodpod

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“Republican Candidates Seek Values Vote at Faith and Freedom Conference.” I don’t like the term values voters. Everyone has values, after all. The important question is, from a political point of view, whether they have the right ones.

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Newsweek ponders the secret to Mormonism’s success.

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“Would Captain Kirk Race for the Cure?” Obviously not! That would be Dr. McCoy’s job.

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“Actually, that’s not in the Bible.” A nice examination of “phantom scriptures,” that is, a “scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.”

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“Jim Tressel should make us rethink sports evangelism.” As a Christian, I’m disheartened from this fall from grace. As a USC Trojan fan, I think, “It’s about time.”

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“‘Christian’ Colleges, the Gospel, and Identity,” Gene Fant writes:

If the word “Christ” doesn’t appear in the hiring principles, the curricula, the governance policies, or student outcomes, when how exactly is an education “Christian”?  If the words “Scripture” or “Church” likewise are absent, then I have a hard time seeing exactly what is “Christian” about the identity.  If the historical creeds are absent from any sort of voice in defining the identity, then what is “Christian” about it?

Makes sense to me.

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Jack “Dr. Death” Kervorkian died over the weekend. Wesley J. Smith, one of Kervorkian’s leading critics, reflects on his death here and here. He then reviews various media obituaries for Dr. Death, mostly negatively: Bloomberg, New York Times, Washington Post, and Barbara Walters on ABC News.

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Margaret Feinberg asks “A Question of Civility: Why We Can’t Resist the Urge to Compare someone to Adolf Hitler?” What do you mean “we,” Margaret?

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