A Review of “Telling a Better Story” by Joshua Chatraw

Like all things in the modern era, apologetics has changed. The truths are, of course, the same, but the ways in which we help people to see and wrestle with those truths has needed to change. Historically apologetic arguments have often been used as a tool to win debates and has relied on rather simple explanations of logical formulations. The world has changed, however, and what we need now is an apologetic approach that aims at opening the door to conversations where unbelievers may consider the claims of the gospel. Dr. Joshua Chatraw, in his book Telling A Better Story,  has provided  us a solid apologetic method that is perfectly attuned to our modern landscape.

“No one escapes the need for stories,” says Chatraw (5). We live and think within the framework of storytelling. So, we tell stories about the world, about why it is the way it is, and how we can fix it. These stories, in turn, have a way of turning around and explaining something about us too. We all have stories and it is through these stories that we have an opportunity to connect with others. As Chatraw writes:

Stories, both big worldview stories that remain unarticulated by many and the small micro-stories we interact with in our daily lives, provide a way into their world – and a bridge into sharing God’s story. (7)

Telling A Better Story teaches readers how to connect to those stories and how to direct people to consider God and His story. “This book is about engaging the deepest aspirations of our secular friends and asking them to consider how the story of the gospel, as strange as it seems to them at first, just may lead them to what their heart has been looking for all along” (7). It points in a new direction apologetically; viewing apologetics more as a conversation tool in evangelism and less as a weapon in arguments.

The book is broken down into three parts. Part one focuses on setting some context both regarding the history of apologetics and the development of modern arguments. He notes the changing perception on religious belief, the emphasis on the material world and the lived experience of daily life. He wants to help readers to understand the time in which they live in order to make apologetics effective again. “We must habituate ourselves to understand foundational questions and assumptions of life and the human experience not before but instead of gumption into ‘winner take all” arguments” (41). As an example, Chatraw discusses how the cosmological argument, often thought to be a “knock out” argument, isn’t very effective at engaging people in these days. It’s not, he says, because the argument isn’t sound or practical, but rather that most people simply don’t care about it. “People can take…or leave [the cosmological argument] without much effect on their day-to-day lives” (41). Understanding our context enables us to more effectively utilized apologetics in conversation.

Part two highlights specific “better stories.” These are the everyday stories of our modern existence and the ones that will most deeply connect with individuals. These are stories about meaning, self, happiness, inclusiveness, and reason. Here Chatraw does more than just give us topics, he actually outlines a grid through which readers can process and think bout the various stories in our culture. He helps readers to learn how to step inside someone else’s “story,” in order both to understand it and find common touchpoint, and then point people out of their story to the truth that they are seeking in God’s story. Chatraw calls this “inside out apologetics,” and he demonstrates its effectiveness across each of the five topics of part two.

Part three, finally, wraps up the book by exploring common objections to the Christian story. Here, he focuses particularly on the arguments that Christianity is “oppressive,” “unloving,” and “untrue.” He responds helpfully to each critique but without losing the conversational style he has encouraged throughout the book.

This is a fantastic book. It is a breath of fresh air in apologetic reading these days and helps apologists focus more on people than on arguments. Very few, if any, people are won to the faith by being “owned” or “burned” or beaten in a battle of logical arguments. But if we can use apologetic skills to engage people winsomely in conversation then we have a chance to help them see clearly the truths of the gospel. Chatraw’s method is highly attractive to me as an evangelist and as a counselor. As I think about how to share with people who disagree with my faith or how to engage people who seem entrenched in differing ideas, this book presented me with some great ways of effectively opening conversation. It helped me to remember principles of compassion and dignity as I engage, and to see apologetics as a tool for conversation.

Full disclosure, Josh is an old friend. We were, for many years, in seminary together and members of the same small church. I have great respect and appreciation for this brother. But if I had never known him I would still highly recommend this book. It will challenge you to think differently about unbelievers – especially in a time when all disagreements turn into arguments. It will also help you to learn new ways of communicating your faith with unbelievers. This is a great work with diverse implications for pastors, Christians, evangelists, and even Biblical Counselors.

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