Friday, April 13, 2012

Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, by Frederick Buechner


Buechner examines the arc of the gospel using the well known genres of tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale--that is, bad news, good news, and transformation or fantasy. He begins with the tragedy of sin and the fallen world, pictured in Christ's shed tears over the death of Lazarus.  From there, he movies on to the comedy of God's grace, pictured in Sarah's laughter when an angel informed her that she would bear a son in her old age. He then ties in the elements of fairy tale, familiar to us from Grimm and The Wizard of Oz, among others.

This was a pleasant and poetic little book.  At just under 100 pages long, it's a quick read, and Buechner's fiction writing roots show through in the highly narrative style he adopts.  He takes liberties with the details of the Bible stories he retells, but they're minor enough that they don't hinder the underlying themes, and obvious enough that readers are unlikely to get confused (for example, he describes Pontius Pilate as a stressed out leader who's just given up smoking).  

I don't agree with all of Buechner's statements--some of his descriptions of the tragedy of the gospel (that is, sin and the fallen world) seem to undermine the sovereignty of God, and his discussion of the gospel as comedy (the unexpected and ridiculous love of God) borders on irreverent or unclear.  He describes the gospel as a a cosmic joke, not because it is untrue or a prank, but because is undoes the sequence of expected events--that is, sinners deserve wrath.  Given modern usage of 'joke' and 'comedy', the terminology could be confusing.

The general point of the book seems to be that the gospel is not just a bunch of theological facts, but a story that preachers must experience for themselves before they can share it with others.  All of which is well and good, but the fluffy, touchy-feely language could easily be mis-read by those with fuzzier theology and a rather amorphous idea of truth.  Even though Buechner does not appear to run afoul of orthodoxy here, it could be (mis)read as an endorsement of postmodern liberal theology.

Bottom line:  This book shouldn't be the basis for any substantive theological ideas, but it's useful for gaining an over-arching perspective on the story of the bible as a cohesive whole.  An easy (and quick) read.

No comments: