Bible Gateway interviewed Gregory Koukl (@gregkoukl) about his book, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything in Between (Zondervan, 2017).
Why is your book titled The Story of Reality?
Gregory Koukl: First, I wanted to offer a kind of primer on Christianity’s basics—the essential elements—but I didn’t want to write a theological textbook. Rather, I wanted to show how the important pieces fit together in a fascinating drama—a story, of sorts. I also wanted the reader to enjoy the journey, so I adopted a storytelling “voice” for the narrative. I wanted anyone who picked up the book to feel I was talking directly with them; that I was personally walking them through the account of how the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between.
Second, I wanted to continually press the point that what I describe in the book is not my personal spiritual fantasy, my religious wishful thinking, or my make-believe-to-make-me-feel-happy kind of story. The Story doesn’t start out “Once upon a time” for a reason. It doesn’t mean to be telling a fairy tale. Rather, I wanted the reader to understand that this is the Story of the way the world truly is; that the things the Story describes actually exist and the events in the Story really happened (or, in some places, are yet to happen).
Nowadays, people have a habit of relativizing religion, reducing it to “your truth” versus “my truth” versus “their truth,” and that’s the end of it. But as I say in the book, “If the Story is not accurate to reality, it’s not any kind of truth at all. So it can never be ‘my truth’ or ‘your truth,’ even though we may believe it. It can only be our delusion or our mistake or our error, but it can never be our ‘truth.’” I want people to see that Christianity claims to be true in the deep sense, and if it isn’t, then it solves nothing at all.
Since the Christian Story is so dependent on the Bible, how do we know we can trust the Bible?
Gregory Koukl: My approach is not to simply tell our Story and claim it’s true because it’s in the Bible. Rather, I give the biblical view of reality and include reasons why people should think the Bible got the Story right. It’s what I call “soft apologetics”—thoughtful reflections that are friendly appeal to common-sense insights we all have about the world that point to the truthfulness of the Christian take on reality.
I also wanted readers (especially Christian readers) to see that the two biggest objections to Christianity—the problem of evil and Jesus being the only way—are not the problems for us that people think they are; that a proper understanding of the Story shows how these two fit together perfectly, complementing each other in a remarkable way. One of our deepest concerns about the world is, “What went wrong?” The Story answers that question, and gives the singular solution: God’s Rescuer.
So in a sense, then, the Story itself gives credibility to the Bible’s claim. It has tremendous explanatory power. When my daughter was eight, she asked me why we believe our Story is true. I simply said, “Honey, we believe the Story because it’s the best explanation for the way things are.” It’s an accounting of the way the world actually is.
In The Story of Reality, you simplify the Christian Story into five elements. What are they and why did you select them?
Gregory Koukl: I wanted to engage my reader in a way that was memorable and accessible. The structure is simple. The book is built around five words that tell the most important details of the Christian Story in the order they took place: God, man, Jesus, cross, and (the final) resurrection—beginning to end. These words identify the theological backbone to the Christian story. They include all the essentials but they also sketch the plotline of the Story.
You write that every person, Christian or not, has a worldview, and that every worldview has four elements. What are those four elements?
Gregory Koukl: A worldview is simply someone’s relatively organized understanding of what the world is actually like. Everyone has a belief system in his or her mind, a story about the way they think the world actually is, even if they haven’t thought about it much or worked out all the details. Every religion, every philosophy, every individual outlook on life tells a story of reality.
Worldviews have four elements that help us understand how a person’s story fits together: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. “Creation” tells us how things began, where everything came from (including us), the reason for our origins, and what ultimate reality is like. “Fall” describes the problem (since we all know something has gone wrong with the world). “Redemption” gives us the solution, the way to fix what went wrong. “Restoration” describes what the world would look like once the repair begins to take place.
Why is it so important that the beginning of the Christian Story start with the person of God?
Gregory Koukl: Every story has a beginning. The first words of our Story go like this: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” First, notice that the Story begins with a person, not a thing. That’s because God existed before He made anything else, and He Himself was never made. God is eternal. God is also the very first piece of the Christian Story because the Story is all about Him. He is the central character, not us. The Story is not so much about God’s plan for our lives as it is about our lives for God’s plan.
What are some competing stories about the origins of our universe? How do they fall short?
Gregory Koukl: In the Christian Story, mind and matter—invisible things and visible things—are both real. The Christian view is not the only way of viewing the world, of course. It has competition.
According to the first alternative, “matter-ism,” matter is all that exists. The only things that are real are physical things in motion governed by natural law. That story starts, “In the beginning were the particles,” or, as one famous person put it, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” No God. No souls. No Heaven or Hell. No miracles. No transcendent morality. Just molecules in motion following the patterns of natural law. This is the story that most atheists, most “skeptics,” most humanists, and most Marxists believe is true.
The second alternative, “mind-ism,” is that Mind is all that exists—a Divine Mind. This story starts, “In the beginning, Mind,” and this is where the story ends, too, because there is nothing more. God is in everything—people, animals, nature, the cosmos—simply because he is everything (‘pantheism”). Indeed, the particular things we’re aware of—even ourselves, curiously—aren’t even things at all. Only the one thing, the impersonal God, is real. All else is an illusion called maya. Some Eastern religions promote this picture of the world, as do versions of the New Age.
Here’s one serious problem with both of those options. Almost everyone agrees the world is not the way it ought to be. It’s called the problem of evil. Yet neither of these alternatives can even make sense of real evil, much less answer the challenge. In matter-ism (materialism), there can be nothing wrong with the world since there is no right way for the world to be in the first place. Everything is just matter in motion and that’s that. In Mind-ism (monism) there’s a different route to the same problem. There cannot be a problem of evil, even in principle, since in Mind-ism even morality is maya; illusion. In neither story, then (if we’re to be consistent with their principles), can the issue of evil be raised. But in real life the problem comes up all the time. That’s the difficulty.
In all of creation, is there something that makes humans special? What does that mean for moral values and human rights?
Gregory Koukl: What the Story tells us about man (humans) is something virtually everyone already knows: human beings are special. We’re creatures (we’re not little gods), but we’re also more than creatures. In fact, we’re the most wonderful creatures in the world next to God. Our souls—our invisible selves—bear the mark of God Himself. We’re like God in that we bear His image. Our value is built into us, and nothing and no one can take it away.
Our innate, built-in human value is the reason we have binding duties or obligations towards each other that we don’t have towards any other kind of thing. It’s also the reason we have unalienable human rights. If man’s God-given, special value falls, then unalienable human rights fall, too. If man is not special, if he’s not deeply different from any other thing, then there’s no good reason not to treat him just like any other thing when it’s convenient for us to do so.
If God is good, then why do we experience evil in the world?
Gregory Koukl: People are tempted to think (understandably) that if God were really good He’d never allow any evil in the world at all. But I don’t think a perfectly good God would never permit any evil, and neither would others, I wager, if they thought about it. Rather, I think that a good God always prevents suffering and evil unless He has a good reason to allow it. That’s the crux. Sometimes (at least in principle) God might allow some evil because doing so will prevent a greater evil, and sometimes He might allow evil because it will produce a greater good (I give common-sense examples of both in the book). What might that look like in our Story?
The Story teaches that God created man to share friendship with Him and share in His happiness. Though it’s hard to be completely certain about things like this, I have a suspicion that only someone with deep freedom (one who makes decisions for reasons that are his own) and who’s also a moral being (can experience goodness) can have a meaningful friendship with God. If friendship with God and sharing in His happiness are good things (and it seems they are), then making a creature who could enjoy these things is also a good thing, even if it comes with a liability. There’s a risk.
Man had freedom to choose the good, but this same freedom also allowed him to choose the bad. This is called moral freedom. Put simply, something good made something bad possible (though not inevitable). Humans, however, didn’t use their freedom well. Instead of using it to honor God in friendship, they used it to rebel. When God’s children disobeyed their heavenly Father, they damaged everything. When Adam and Eve rebelled against the King of the universe, they broke the whole world. This is why there is evil and suffering. Bad things happen in a world that’s broken.
Note two things, though. First, trouble, hardship, difficulty, pain, suffering, conflict, tragedy, evil—they’re all part of the Story. Indeed, the problem of evil is the reason there’s any Story at all. Second—and more important—our Story is not over yet. Evil did not catch God by surprise. He had a rescue plan, and He’s still in the process of working out His plan.
What reasons do we have to believe that Jesus really existed and that he was really God?
Gregory Koukl: Our reasons for believing Jesus existed and also that He was who He claimed to be—the God who came down—are the same reasons for believing any fact of history: the documentation is substantial and it passes all the tests of historical reliability. Scholars—both liberal and conservative—overwhelming agree that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of history and the Gospels, on the main, tell His story accurately.
Show me any other person who appears in the historical record with such regularity who turned out, in the final analysis, to be a fiction. Why so many mentions regarding Jesus from such a wide variety of sources (Pliny, Tacitus, Lucian, Josephus, to name a few)? Because Jesus of Nazareth was a man of history, who made a profound impact on history. There’s no good reason to doubt that Jesus existed, or to think the real Jesus was completely different from the one depicted in the Story.
What’s the one thing you would most want a reader to take away from your book?
Gregory Koukl: I want readers of The Story of Reality to understand Christianity in a way they never have before. Most Christians who’ve been around for a while have their Story in bits and pieces, but have never seen how powerful it really is when assembled as a whole. I want them to see how well it fits together and how it offers tremendous explanatory power regarding the world as we actually find it. I want them to see how it resolves the problem of evil, and why God’s solution—the God/man Jesus—is the only solution. I also want them to see why they can be completely confident that Christianity is actually “true Truth,” as Francis Schaeffer used to put it. God really does exist, Heaven actually is real (along with Hell), Jesus really did live and He did the things the historical records—the Gospels—say He did, the resurrection of Christ really happened, and there really is hope each of us can count on for “the kind of perfect world our hearts have always longed for.”
But I want non-believers to see that, too. Every time I sat down to write, my chief thought was reaching out to the moderately-interested skeptic in a way that would not offend him with condescension and empty slogans, would hold his interest and get him thinking, and would help him see that a chief reason for taking the Christian Story seriously is that it simply is “the best explanation for the way things are.”
Bio: Gregory Koukl holds MA degrees in both apologetics and philosophy. The author of Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, he’s spoken on over 70 university campuses and hosted his own radio talk show for 27 years defending “Christianity worth thinking about.” Greg is founder and president of Stand to Reason (str.org) and serves as adjunct professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University.
Thousands already have! Try your 30-Day free trial today!
Remove banner ads and expand your Bible reading experience using our valuable library of more than 40 top resources by becoming a member of Bible Gateway Plus. Try it free for 30 days!