When reading the Bible synchronically, one naturally locates great themes of the gospel message within a minimal amount of Biblical propositions. Some call these gospels-in-a-nutshell. Apart from the classic example of John 3:16, the majority of these gospels-in-a-nutshell are found throughout the New Testament epistles. However, we cannot simply reduce the gospel to fit into a nutshell. The gospel story is more like an oak tree. And, the epistles that include such gospel propositions are actually doctrinal reflections on the grand gospel story. For example, in his first letter to Timothy, Paul personally reflects on the power of the gospel in his own life. He says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” This statement is indeed true and deserving of full proclamation. “But it is not the only thing we say to the world. Those verses need unpacking and that is what the gospel story does. In the context which Paul was speaking, 1 Timothy 1:15 is a fine encapsulation of the gospel message, but it is not the only possible summary of the gospel message.” We should certainly summarize the gospel message for our context, but those summaries remain contextual. Only in light of the gospel story will succinct doctrinal reflections on the gospel make sense. Both reading the Bible diachronically and synchronically is recommended for a wider and deeper understanding of the gospel in all of its grace and glory.
Note: This section was largely adapted from Porterbrook’s booklet, “Evangelism.”