Here is a new and noteworthy collection of sermons by one of our most celebrated Christian apologists, Frederick Buechner. Ranging from sermons delivered in the 1950s to the late 1990s, this anthology lives up to its subtitle, presenting a half-century's worth of thinking aloud about the Christian way. Buechner, who has described himself as a part-time Christian and a part-time novelist, offers the reader many windows into the oftentimes hidden world of Christian truth.
The collection begins with a sermon called "The Magnificent Defeat" concentrating upon the all-night wrestling match between Jacob and God at the ford of the Jabbok. The encounter leaves Jacob crippled and helpless but as Buechner describes it, in the end Jacob sees "something more terrible than the face of death-the face of love." (Page 7). Thanks to Buechner's vantage-point, one can sense authentic surprise, like that the original Phillips Exeter Academy student-congregation must have felt at hearing the news that out of defeat can come blessing.
Herein the reader will find one of Buechner's best-loved sermons, "A Room Called Remember" and many apt observations that will inspire further contemplation and study. In all of these sermons, the reader is invited to notice that "The Kingdom of Heaven is only twenty minutes down the road, for Christ's sake." (Page 153). One of the most poignant passages in the book is in the intensely personal "The Longing for Home". As Buechner reminisces about sense of security he found as a child, in his grandparents' house on Woodland Road in Pittsburgh, we identify with the feelings of homesickness and yearning that lead the seeking soul into God's presence.
There is a breathtaking sweep of subjects here, ranging from the existence of God and the importance of being kind, to AIDS, terrorism and nuclear war. In "Faith and Fiction", Buechner explores the truth in Biblical and other texts creatively, and offers a beautifully descriptive paragraph-long definition of faith, culminating: "Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting. Faith is journeying through space and time". He champions Charles Dickens as well as the influence of Leo Tolstoy and Anthony Trollope, about whose similarity to God's interaction with us, Buechner says, "Be still the way (they are) still, so your characters can speak for themselves and come alive in their own way". (Pages 173 & 174).
Buechner's words draw us into an alternative, need we say better, world-view, which may best be described by Buechner: "Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy are only from God." (page 7)
Frederick Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the acclaimed author of more than twenty-five books. A graduate of Princeton University (1947) and Union Theological Seminary (1958), Buechner served for a time with his mentor George Buttrick at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where, as he has said, "My job...was to present the faith as appealingly, honestly, relevantly and skillfully as I could." He continues to do this, brilliantly, in Secrets in the Dark. Buechner's Nobel lectures delivered at Harvard in 1969 were published as The Alphabet of Grace, and his Lyman Beecher Lectures of Yale became Telling the Truth (1977).