Evaluating Frederick Buechner

A voracious reader, there are scores of writers from whom I benefit. I tend to read the classics. But there are some contemporary writers, more or less, I adore. One is Buechner. He died less than a fortnight ago. And he wrote some great stuff. His sermons are good, too, at least the ones I’ve been able to listen to.

Differences: He attended a liberal seminary. He studied Tillich. He studied neo-orthodox theologians. He (I think) imbibed much of their teachings. That, in my view, is deeply flawed. Read them, sure, bur recognize that they departed from the biblical gospel. Experience is not the canon; Scripture is.

Similarities: What I continue to adore about Buechner is his commitment to Shakespeare, to Milton, to Dante, to the literary pen whose wielder is steeped in the authority of the Scriptures and the individual witness of human experience.

Some of Buechner’s books have made me weep because of their honesty and transparency. His world could wrench tears from you.

They’re like (and this was Buechner’s favorite piece) Lear when he was going mad amidst the storm (literal and existential) in the play bearing his name.

Buechner wrote about his struggles in ministry, in marriage, in the writing life, in academia, in battling his demons, in wrestling with how the greatest literature is used by God redemptively.

Takeaway: There are very few authors with whom I could say, “Yes, I agree. 100% I’m with you.” That’s certainly not the case with Fred Buechner. But in terms of his telling the truth via literary and lyric genres, and doing it from a worldview saturated with the biblical worldview, one could do worse than reading the oeuvre of Fred Buechner. He quoted Solomon and Shakespeare in the same breath. He went way left, in my view, on many issues, but he wrote well, almost as if he were the fool, almost as if he were telling the truth to the mad, mad world.

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