Telling the Truth (1977)

The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale

Book Description

To understand what the gospels are all about, writes Frederick Buechner, you have to understand their unblinking reflection of everyday reality. There is no place here for either saccharine, happy endings, or soft-boiled hope. Rather, the gospels record the tragedy of human failure, the comedy of being loved overwhelmingly by God despite that failure, and the fairy tale of transformation through that love. If we understand this, we begin to understand much more. We realize that Pilate is an old man who drives to work in a limousine but smokes three packs a day. We see that the parables are divine jokes about the outlandishness of God who does impossible things with impossible people. We perceive the "once upon a time" of the gospel as a continual now, renewing itself over and over and over again. With grace and beauty, Buechner introduces us to this vision that, once found, cannot be forgotten. Telling the Truth is for the preacher who must pull the little cord that turns on the lectern light, must look out over the people and the silence, must begin to speak of a truth beyond telling. It is for the woman who wants to understand how people believe what they cheerfully acknowledge is a tragic, comic fairy tale. It is for anyone who believes that faith, like art, can hold a special mirror to human experience. Buechner says it best: "Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him preach this overcoming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that 'catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears,' which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have."


"You don’t have to be in the habit of going to church to listen to such a literary minister; you don’t have to be a believer to be moved by Mr. Buechner’s faith."
John Irving

"When I forget the power of the word, I read Frederick Buechner.  When I forget the deep relief of telling the truth, I read Frederick Buechner.  When I forget to look for the holiness all around me, I read Frederick Buechner.  When I forget why the gospel matters, I read Frederick Buechner."
— Barbara Brown Taylor

"Frederick Buechner is one of my favorite writers, and has been for a long, long time."
— Anne Lamott

"Frederick Buechner is one of our finest writers."
— Annie Dillard

Telling the Truth is a fresh, creative look at the underlying meaning of the Gospels that stresses the many dimensions of God's relationship to humanity.