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

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  3,110 ratings  ·  236 reviews
A fresh, creative look at the underlying meaning of the Gospels that stresses the many dimensions of God's relationship to humanity. ...more
Hardcover, 112 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by HarperOne (first published October 26th 1977)
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Average rating 4.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,110 ratings  ·  236 reviews

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May 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
There are two kinds of really good books - the first you devour as quickly as possible - marathon reads... The second you savour, slowly nibbling and sipping at the edges, stopping and pondering. This is one of the second...
Alexis Neal
Mar 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 100-books, religion
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 Gri ...more
G.M. Burrow
Jul 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: theology, literary
Buechner has many valid points, many brilliant ones, some that make us scratch our head, but all fascinating. He writes somewhat like Rosenstock-Huessy—that almost stream-of-consciousness prose that rolls and tumbles and spins and defies an editor’s pen. The only time the spell falters is when he throws out an image simply too startling for us to swallow, and then we realize that he might have been making it up all along. Still, an insightful and provocative read.
Alexandria Skinner
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If art is a creation which captures some deep essence of truth, and in which the whole transcends the sum of its parts, then this masterfully-told story is art of a mythical and poetic form rarely seen in our Western society -- a society in which we tend to focus on the logical and empirical than the equally legitimate range of human experience in the poetic and mythic. Buechner helps draw us back to experience some of that poetic and mythical quality, and even understand some of the jokes that ...more
Stephen Hicks
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
This little book was short and sweet, but incredibly powerful as well. Buechner isn't the first person to put the Gospel in new lights so that we may reignite our reverence for it, however, his style and straight-forward prose hit harder than most that I've read. He gracefully works through the Gospel as tragedy (showing the inevitable evil that exists in this world due to man's vitiated nature), the Gospel as comedy (an unforeseeable act whose irony is profound, such as a perfect God saving a c ...more
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I love how Buechner can mashup biblical and literary characters with a 20th-century setting. Humor and compassion come through clearly.
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
103. Tellin the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, by Frederick Buechner. 97 pages. Pastor Roger McQuistion tossed me this book during one of my church meetings with him. It is written from the POV of a writer who is also a preacher. I found it captivating because it uses literature to make its points. He begins wit Pilate as a cigarette-smoking nihilist who has a picture of Tiberius in his ‘office.’ When Chris is brought before him, he asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Of course, ...more
Autumn Kovach
Jan 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Such an interesting book about the gospel but in a completely different light. I find reads like this very refreshing as it reminds me of a childhood truth in a new way. A good book to digest slowly and revisit.

Some favorite quotes:
"take up your cross" means simply take up the burden of your own life because for the time being anyway, maybe that is burden enough."

"There is the one who can't stop thinking about suicide. The one who experiences his own sexuality as a guilt of which he can never b
Drew Darby
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I don't know if I'm just sentimental, or if it's just the state I'm in spiritually, but this little book about preaching was very moving for me, especially the section on the Gospel as tragedy.

Beuchner is an excellent storyteller, and anyone who reads this book, I am sure, will come away with several memorable stories to mull over, even if the manner of storytelling may have at times felt a little quaint or dated. Having been a high school English teacher myself, the story of the teacher discus
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, theology
Second read:
As good as the first time!

First read:
I finally finished it!!!! After many starts and stops in the last six months I managed to read all 98 pages.

My problem with reading this wasn't that it didn't interest me, rather, it was that I kept rereading everything I had previously read. Every reread, something captured my imagination yet again.

I just love Buechner's language. It never fails to move and encourage and excite me. He pulls things into a completely new, startling, beautiful per
Jan 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Simply the best book on preaching I've ever read. Buechner uses the simple device of tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale as three pathways to the same destination: honest, truthful, and authentic preaching that is grows out of one unshakeable principle: that the preacher must tell the truth. This is not a book that will help you tune up your sermons, or add a few techniques that will make you a better speaker. Buechner urges the preacher to always be truthful (and not afraid), and to be amazed at th ...more
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
So much going on in this very short book, it seems impossible to review without studying further. I don't know that I always agree with Buechner, but I appreciate the spirit of what he writes. I love how he highlights the idea that great books, classics, in all their varieties and genres spotlight aspects of the truth - show it's many facets. And that books are always part of a larger community of writing - one book leads to another, to another, there are books within books - it's a book univers ...more
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book every few years. It reminds me to take Wonder seriously. It is small, and rooted in the mid twentieth century which I find charming. But the idea that before there is good news there is tragedy and that it is the comedy that isn't expected--the baby born to an elderly person, the first being last, the prodigal son--it is comedy, good news. And re-embracing the fairy tale instead of making the gospel rational. Looking for the peace that passes understanding instead of just the pe ...more
Matt Sheffield
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-reads, 2016, 5-stars
Well written and engaging. I recommend this to every preacher of the joyous message of Jesus for Buechner's insistence that they tell us about the truth that is too good to be true; about the prodigal love of a Father who can't wait to throw a good party; and about the smelly and uncomely beggar who turns out to be a powerful wizard. This book is like water in a desert for a hyper-rationalized, dour, or wonderless religion. ...more
Dec 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
changed my life. reads like poetry and cuts straight to the soul.
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
A truly wonderful little book. Written to preachers, but I think it relates to anyone who tells the truth of the gospel with their life and art. I underlined many passages of this book. Excellent.
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Grant was correct: This was an equally great book (of a different nature) from Buechner.
Sep 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I once asked a good friend of mine what single book I should read in order to best understand the gospel. His response - "any great work of fiction". My friend and Frederick Buechner both understood the inevitable human tendency to lose the childlike, imaginitive eyes we are called to open in order to see the gospel truth in it's fullness. In telling the truth, Buechner uses three lenses through which to retell the gospel.

Tragedy. The gospel is tragic because it is the story that humans fail, th
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've heard and seen Buechner quoted for years, but this is the first book of his I've actually read. And it was a delight.

Although this is nonfiction, his prose reads like literature. This book was recommended to me as a resource for preachers, and it is that...but it also isn't. It's not a practical "how-to" kind of resource, at all. It's a lot more beautiful and complex than that, and it inspired me to think more deeply about the scope of what I'm being asked to communicate every time I'm inv
Samuel Kassing
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’ve never read Buechner before but this man can write. His prose are beautiful and he describes things with a unique quality and depth.

This little work looks at the Gospel through three unique lenses. Tragedy, comedy and fairy tale. There are certain passages that I’m going to come back to because of how profoundly beautiful they are. Definitely worth a read. Profound, sobering and funny all at the same time.
Daniel and Rebekah Eikum
Dec 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: growth
This book changed how I think about the gospel much like Notes from a Tilt a Whirl changed the way I think about creation. A lot.

The gospel is truly the best story which meets all our deepest aches, laughters, and imaginations. Tragedy, comedy and fairy tale. So perfectly simple and profound.

I bought a copy for our house! (I had borrowed it to read it.)
Luke Evans
Wow. Wow.
Jonathan Penn
Mar 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A hidden (from me) gem. The gospel is:

Tragedy - we are naked wretches
Comedy - super surprising
Fantasy - inevitable and unending joy
Jonathan Hiskes
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorites. His riff on Sarah's laugh at the opening of part three is one of my favorite passages in all of literature. ...more
J. Alfred
Buechner is the best in history, in my opinion, at exploring the psychology of the theological mind from the inside. And this book is a pretty interesting diagram of how that all works.
If that sounds interesting, you should read it.
Sean Goh
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
A little dense and meandering at times, but the last paragraph (reproduced at the end) serves as a good round-up.
Peppered with brilliant phrases here and there, some quoted below.
What is truth? Life is truth, the life of the world, your own life, and the life inside the world you are. The task of the preacher is to hold up life to us, by whatever gifts he or she has of imagination, eloquence, simple candor, to create images of life through which we can somehow see into the wordless truth of
In this book, American writer and theologian, Frederick Buechner, discusses how we can read the Gospel through new eyes. His writing is beautiful, as there is an art and poetry to how he describes the Gospel as tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale.

In regards to tragedy, Buechner says that, “Before the Gospel is word, it is a silence, a kind of presenting of life itself so that we see it not for what at various times we call it – meaningless or meaningful, absurd, beautiful – but for what it truly is
You mean this book has been waiting for me all my life and none of you told me about it??

I'm enchanted. Obsessed. My book is covered in sticky tabs marking passages I want to savor. This is the culmination (but hopefully not the end!) of several years of reading literary apologetics. I've been on this quest ever since I left my position teaching English at a public high school. Ostensibly, I left because I was pregnant with my third child. In reality, I was pretty demoralized about the relentle
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Buechner's poetic manner of 'telling the truth' was difficult to adjust to, at first. To be honest, poetry intimidates me more often than not, less because it is poetry and more because I'm afraid I'll miss it. Academic books and journals give themselves to note taking, as they deal with the kind of ideas that we can manipulate with our minds if not our hands. But poetry and sermon deal with presuppositions and even pre-presuppositions, so as Buechner talks about the truth of the Gospel in trage ...more
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Frederick Buechner is a highly influential writer and theologian who has won awards for his poetry, short stories, novels and theological writings. His work pioneered the genre of spiritual memoir, laying the groundwork for writers such as Anne Lamott, Rob Bell and Lauren Winner.

His first book, A Long Day's Dying, was published to acclaim just two years after he graduated from Princeton. He entere

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“It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name....That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.” 92 likes
“You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there--the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall. All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home, which is no less shimmering and white as it falls. The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence. It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.” 64 likes
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