From Four Laws to Four Circles
It may not be a coincidence that when James Choung, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, set out to help college students explain the gospel to their friends, he turned to the most beloved tool in an engineer's arsenal: the napkin diagram. Choung, who now serves as the divisional director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in San Diego, has spent his life in ministry on and around college campuses, where Christians today are met with a paradoxical and perplexing combination of suspicion and openness. The Christian Vision Project's big question in 2008 is, Is our gospel too small? Choung is working to persuade skeptical students—and their Christian friends—that the answer is "No."
Can you summarize the "Big Story" that your four-circles diagram is designed to tell?
I call the diagram the Big Story because it sums up the plot points of the larger story in which we live and breathe. The most essential parts are the phrases: designed for good, damaged by evil, restored for better, and sent together to heal. They follow the biblical narrative: creation, fall, redemption, and mission.
As I'm drawing the four circles, I'll tell a story like this: The world, our relationships, and each of us were designed for good, but all of it was damaged by evil because of our self-centeredness and inclination to seek our own good above others'. But God loved the world too much to leave it that way, so he came as Jesus. He took everything evil with him to death on the cross, and through his resurrection, all of it was restored for better. In the end of time, all will be fully restored, but until then, the followers of Jesus are sent together to heal people, relationships, and the systems of the world.
The diagrams you use in your book, True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In, join a long line of evangelistic tools. What motivated you to create a new one?
I used many of those tools when I became serious about my faith in college, and found that I was the only practicing Christian in my fraternity. When someone was either curious or drunk enough, I wanted to have something ready to share. Sometimes the conversation would go nowhere. But other times, one of these diagrams would actually help someone make a decision to follow Jesus for the first time. And we'd both be surprised!
These tools obviously aren't magic wands that will automatically cause someone to pledge allegiance to Jesus. But they are aids that offer a clear explanation in a memorable format. And when we're nervous, having something to hold on to will help us be clear in what we present. Even if we don't use the tools themselves, they give us helpful reminders to know what's essential in a presentation and what's not.
I think of them as modern-day iconography. Icons and stained glass windows helped preliterate Christians understand biblical stories and themes. Evangelism diagrams have the same function today: they help us understand the core message of the faith.
Your version, though, has a different emphasis from some previous diagrams.
Well, what was missing from the diagrams I had learned was anything substantial about one of the most important themes in Jesus' own preaching: the kingdom of God. I was reading a lot about the kingdom of God, in the Bible and in recent scholarship, but when it came to sharing the core message of the faith, I'd always fall back on an evangelistic diagram that didn't include it. And it dawned on me: Even though there are tons of books out there about the kingdom of God, very few people will be able to share it with their friends unless they are given some tool or aid—some icon—that will help them remember the key points. So even though I'm not a fan of canned presentations, I felt that creating a diagram was essential to help us understand a bigger picture of the gospel that Jesus taught.