Attempting to describe Frederick Buechner’s writings through a series of themes is a bit like trying to reduce art to three primary colors. As Brian McLaren writes, in his foreword to Buechner’s book Secrets in the Dark: “I have no desire to analyze what makes Buechner’s writing and preaching so extraordinary. Neither do I want to account for Bob Dylan’s raspy mystique, the peculiar beauty of a rainbow trout in a riffle, or a thunderstorm’s magnetic terror. I simply want to enjoy them. They all knock me out of analysis and smack me clear into pleasure and awe. So, in Buechner’s case, please spare me the burden of analysis and permit me the pleasure of observation….” Or from Walter Brueggemann: “Buechner uses words with such transformative power that any comment on them is like the moon palely reflecting the sun.” There is no question that Buechner’s writings defy analysis. Fortunately, Dale Brown’s The Book of Buechner: A Journey Through His Writings does a wonderful job of identifying a set of common threads through Buechner’s books, and our presentations here on some of Buechner’s themes rely heavily on Dr. Brown’s great work. So here are seven themes that, while not comprehensive, will provide you with an introduction to Buechner’s writings and the messages embodied therein. Click on a title below to visit that theme.
Perhaps the most unifying theme throughout all of Buechner’s writings; Buechner exhorts us to “pay attention” because God is constantly at work in our everyday lives.
Buechner provides us with a nuanced but practical perspective on faith, through both his fictional characters and his own memoirs and sermons.
Virtually all of Buechner’s books deal with life’s many challenges – the human condition, with all our frailties and imperfection. But despite ourselves and whatever we do, God is always there to support us through His grace.
Buechner portrays many of his fictional characters as searching for something beyond themselves – searching for meaning, or searching for God, perhaps without even realizing it.
“I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell.” (Telling Secrets)
Buechner is known for not being overtly prescriptive, dogmatic, nor “preachy” in his writings. He more typically asks many questions and provokes thought more than he draws harsh lines in the sand. Nonetheless, Buechner has quite meaningful and compelling messages regarding what it really means to follow Christ.
Buechner’s characters embody both the reality that we are all sinners, but also demonstrate how faith reveals itself, and how God is revealed, in oftentimes surprising places.