July 19, 2018

The Gospel in Literary Terms

By Chaplain Mike

“When I forget why the gospel matters, I read Frederick Buechner.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

And here is one example of why I agree with that testimony. The following excerpt is the thesis statement of Buechner’s book, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale.

The Gospel is bad news before it is good news. It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob. That is the tragedy. But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is the comedy. And yet, so what? So what if even in his sin the slob is loved and forgiven when the very mark and substance of his sin and of his slobbery is that he keeps turning down the love and forgiveness because he doesn’t believe them or doesn’t want them or just doesn’t give a damn? In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen. Henry Ward Beecher cheats on his wife, his God, himself, but manages to keep bringing the Gospel to life for people anyway, maybe even for himself. Lear goes berserk on a heath but comes out of it for a few brief hours every inch a king. Zaccheus climbs up a sycamore tree a crook and climbs down a saint. Paul sets out a hatchet man for the Pharisees and comes back a fool for Christ. It is impossible for anybody to leave behind the darkness of the world he carries on his back like a snail, but for God all things are possible. That is the fairy tale. All together they are the truth.

• Telling the Truth, p. 7f (emphasis mine)


  1. In modern America, the notion of art, of the fairy tale being more true than the truth has been lost in our quest to make everything a money making proposition. Just look at how art programs, music programs, reading readiness programs, etc. are being slashed in schools and our society. Only those things that make money, that can be counted are worthwhile. Once you make art a quantifiable commodity whose only purpose is the bottom line, you’ve lost art and with it, the beauty and deeper truths it holds.

  2. I don’t know how to say this. These are things that some of us know and feel, but can’t say.

  3. love buechner – “listening to your life” is on my nightstand …

  4. Its a fairytale of resurrection and new life, both now and in the world to come.