Jay Johnson's version of Tolstoy's Gospel in Brief

Continuing the discussion from New Article: Struggling and Searching? Lessons from Leo Tolstoy:

I mentioned in the previous thread that one of Tolstoy’s post-conversion works was a harmonized version of the gospels called The Gospel in Brief. Like Thomas Jefferson’s famous chopped-up Bible, Tolstoy’s version left out the miracles and, as the Amazon description puts it, “makes accessible the powerful, mystical truth of Jesus’s spiritual teaching, stripped of artificial church doctrine.”

Many years ago, I began a harmonized version of the gospels as my morning devotional. Coffee in hand, surrounded by commentaries and translations, I wrote it out with a fountain pen in multiple notebooks. My goal was the opposite of Tolstoy and Jefferson, however. With the exception of the genealogies and later additions (e.g. the longer ending of Mark), I included every verse and a series of essays on the historical context of the gospels. Here’s a sample. Hope everyone enjoys! Happy New Year!


Edit: Oops! Forgot to include the sample. From the intro:

Living in a predominantly Christian culture, all of us – even those of us who don’t identify as Christian – think we know who Jesus is. We grew up decorating Christmas trees, singing carols, and watching Charlie Brown specials. Many of us attended church as children; others were dragged there as adults by well-meaning friends or relatives. People knock on our doors to “witness” to us, promise us on TV that Jesus will solve our financial problems, and accost us on the street with invitations to “accept” Jesus into our hearts. Our politicians vie for Jesus’ endorsement, our athletes credit him with their victories, and, of course, we suffer the daily parade of social media posts purporting to inform us of Christ’s opinion on every political issue of the day. We are so saturated with God-talk and Jesus-speak that it obscures our vision like a fog.

Consider this my small contribution toward dissipating that fog. Christianity can’t be understood apart from Jesus, but few of us seem inclined to dust off the Bible, if we own one, and discover him for ourselves. In any case, why should we? We already know the story. We’ve absorbed it by osmosis…


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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