I love books that sketch out the big picture – seeing the forest is so vital to understanding the trees. In recent years several books have been given to sketch the big picture of the Bible, presenting its story in broad strokes from beginning to end – “Biblical Theology,” we call it. This book is somewhat similar, but it’s more apologetics than Biblical Theology. And the purview is (if you can imagine it) just a bit larger.
The Story of Reality (ambitious as the title may appear!) is not quite “a history of everything.” The agenda concerns not so much the story as the context and rationale for understanding everything in the story. “Worldview” is Koukl’s subject of attention, a worldview shaped by Scripture and commended to those who are not yet convinced. Koukl attempts to demonstrate that the biblical worldview is comprehensive, coherent, and one that answers all the questions necessary to a worldview that is true to reality. And along the way he compares this to alternative worldviews, seeking to show their comparative inadequacies.
Koukl demonstrates, refreshingly, that the story of reality begins not quite with creation but with the God of creation, the God who made all that is. From here he moves to the dignity of man, God’s image, and then to the fall, the event that explains the brokenness of our world, the plight of humanity, and the problem that cries for resolution in this story. From there he goes to the person and work of Christ and to the two opposite ends for believing and unbelieving humanity respectively. The story throughout is explained always with an eye to the big picture, each chapter very brief, and always on a “popular” level that is easily accessible for all readers.
Koukl gathers his argument around these five headings:
- Introduction: Reality (a discussion of worldview and its essentials)
The initial section (Introduction) is an excellent discussion of worldview and the questions necessary to understanding reality. In this context he poses the question, “What is Christianity?” and insists that “the correct answer” to the question is this: “Christianity is a picture of reality.” Christianity certainly is that, but I doubt that many would be entirely satisfied with this as “the correct answer” to such an important question. But what this answer affirms is true, nonetheless, and it helps set the stage for his goal of establishing a (the true) Christian worldview.
Koukl rightly affirms that “Christianity is the Story of how the world began, why the world is the way it is, what role we play in the drama, and how all the plotlines of the Story are resolved in the end.” This sounds at first like Biblical Theology, but the story he traces out is not so much the Bible story itself as the larger logic of that story and how it alone offers a worldview that is true to reality and that answers all necessary questions. Again, this is more apologetics than Biblical Theology.
The section on God (Part 1) has some very refreshing observations on God and creation that shape the whole story from the outset. Koukl’s emphasis that “the Story” is not about us but about the personal God, the creator, is important, and it helps establish his assertion that “the point” of the Story is God’s rule, his kingdom. The way he states this point at times, however, may give biblical theologians pause:
This [God’s rule] is what the Story is about. The main theme is not love or redemption or forgiveness or even relationship. Those are all important parts of the Story, to be sure. They serve the theme in important ways, but they are not the main point of the Story. The idea that God owns everything and has proper authority to rule over everything he has made is the main point.
“Yes – but” is the response many will want to give at points like this. We might agree that God’s kingdom is the overriding theme, but even so, that kingdom is so prominently a redemptive kingdom that this sharp distinction may seem a bit over-drawn. Still, Koukl’s point that the Story must be understood within the context of God’s universal rule is massively important and vital to a worldview that is true to reality.
Part 3 on Man has some wonderful observations also, particularly, I thought, with regard to human dignity, value, and beauty. But when Koukl came to address the problem of evil, I was both surprised and disappointed that he opts for a version of the free-will defense. His expositions of the person and work of Christ (Parts 3 and 4) are sound and clear, and the emphasis on “the great exchange” is always welcome, but I would have preferred a more pronounced clarification of Christ’s death as substitutionary in order to make that emphasis more pointed. Finally, his emphasis on heaven and hell (Part 5) as the two outcomes for humanity is welcome and important in a study like this, but we would expect a book telling “the story of reality” to culminate in a clearer presentation of the restored created order itself – the new heaven and the new earth – without which the story of reality is not complete. In this respect the book is more individual-oriented rather than story-driven.
The Story of Reality has much to offer, and I found myself at many points thinking that this or that observation was excellent, insightful, or otherwise important in some way – as I mentioned, especially in the earlier sections of the book. Koukl explains concepts very clearly and simply – another obvious strength of the book. There is much about this book that I happily commend, even if the above-mentioned frustrations would keep me from giving it first place.
On the whole, Koukl certainly succeeds in telling “the story of reality,” and that is always an important service to the church and to the world.
Fred G. Zaspel
Buy the books
The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between