Justin Buzzard. The Big Story: How the Bible Makes Sense out of Life. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013. 192 pp. $13.99.
Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? Do I have a purpose? Answers to such questions make up our worldview, and our worldview drives the course of our lives whether we’re aware of it or not. For many of us, however, the stories of which we’re a part are simply inadequate to answer these kinds of questions.
In The Big Story, Justin Buzzard upholds the story of Scripture as the only one able to “explain all the beauty and all the brokenness we see in this world, to make sense of our desires, dreams, and disappointments” (11). He urges readers to consider the story they’re living in, to recognize the gaps and failings of competing worldviews, and to embrace “the old and ongoing story of the Bible.”
Much to Like
Buzzard, lead pastor of Garden City Church in Silicon Valley, California, presents the Bible’s narrative in five acts: Jesus, God, creation, rebellion, and rescue.
Beginning with Jesus is the right decision, one unfortunately passed over by many books attempting to show the power in the story of redemption. He is, after all, the main character in this unfolding drama—and the whole point of the story. Whether for him or against him, everyone must somehow respond to him. His presence is too disruptive for us to remain neutral or silent. Buzzard makes this point clear: “People have to respond to Jesus because . . . he doesn’t leave things as they are; he both attracts people to himself and meddles with their lives” (17).
Anyone who has put his trust in Christ understands this process. Again, Buzzard writes, “Jesus doesn’t adjust to us, and he doesn’t submit to our whims. We adjust to Jesus and submit to him. Jesus is King, not an accessory” (115). Once again, Buzzard is exactly correct: King Jesus lovingly hates your status quo.
Throughout the book, Buzzard’s desire for the lost to come to know Jesus shines. He rightly reminds his readers that what they think about God is “the most important thing about you. . . . What you believe (or don’t believe) about God drives how you live” (25). He desperately wants folks to see their place in a story that, first and foremost, begins with God:
We often insist on living as if we are the beginning, the origin, the primary character. We live life under the banner of “In the beginning, me.” But the Bible doesn’t begin with “In the beginning, Justin,” or “In the beginning, [insert your name here].” It boldly states, “In the beginning, God.” (28)
Clearly, there’s a lot to like in The Big Story. Buzzard does a good job with key elements of the Bible’s narrative and keeps the reader moving at a brisk pace. Likewise, he does an excellent job conveying the necessity of an urgent response.
The Big Story faithfully focuses on eliciting a response to Jesus. Buzzard comes across as incredibly passionate in his desire to see people know his Savior. However, I fear his passion sometimes muddies the waters when it comes to the deepest problem facing humanity: sin.
To be clear, Buzzard isn’t systemically soft on sin, and there are places where strong language is employed—it’s “like a malignant tumor, one we are born with” (74); it’s “sickness” and “rebellion” (92). Nevertheless, the overwhelming view of sinners presented throughout the book is one of “broken” people who “do not yet know Jesus.” They are described as trying to fill their “emptiness with something other than God” (32) or choosing “to build [their] identity on things that hurt [them] and make [them] feel small and . . . dissatisfied” (57). People need to know that “the only being who thinks more about you than you, is God. And when he thinks of you, he thinks, very good” (59, emphasis original).
While there’s certainly some truth to this point—idolatry is indeed the root of all sin—it’s equally true that unrepentant sinners are far more than “broken people.” The uncomfortable reality is that, apart from Christ, we're actively rebelling against God—not merely running away from him, but waging war against him. As Paul puts it, left to ourselves we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). This, I suppose, highlights a methdological flaw in Buzzard’s book: it was unclear at times whether he was using certain language in reference to redeemed, repentant sinners or to unredeemed, unrepentant ones—those still in rebellion, still under the wrath of God.
To write a book with two distinct audiences in mind—Christian and non-Christian—is no easy task, but Buzzard has done a fine job. Believers in particular will find helpful tips for using “the big story” to frame evangelistic conversations. Non-Christian readers should benefit from its generally solid overview of the major beats of the story of redemption. This is a good book that will hopefully be used to strengthen many and bring others to their knees in faith before Jesus.
Aaron Armstrong is the author of Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World and Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty. He is a writer for an international Christian ministry, serves as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Ontario, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.