Frederick Buechner Influenced Millions With His Insightful Writing and Quotable Lines – Baptist News Global


One of the most prolific Christian authors and the most quoted writers of the 20th century died on August 15 at age 96.

Only the late CS Lewis could have topped Frederic Buechner in writings that made their way into sermons and Bible studies from the pulpits of mainstream Protestants to Evangelicals to Roman Catholics of the day.

Frederic Buechner

“Sorrow for sentence, he is the finest American non-fiction writer of the 20th century and had a profound influence on many of my dearest friends,” wrote Kenneth Tanner, pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Rochester Hills, Minnesota, on Facebook.

“His writings have influenced many. I remember a guest reading his papers and crying in the reading room,” wrote David Malone, dean of the Calvin University Library and curator of Buechner’s personal and professional papers.

Buechner (pronounced “Beek-ner”) was one of two influential Freds ordained evangelists by the Presbyterian Church (USA) “who had very different ways of doing evangelism than are often found in the church,” Malone added. “The other was Fred Rogers.”

While Fred Rogers reached tens of millions of American children through television with his message of kindness, compassion and selflessness, Fred Buechner reached tens of millions of adults with his message of faith despite doubt and hope through grace.

But like Fred Rogers, Buechner spoke most often about listening to your life, urging readers to pay attention to God’s constant work in their lives.

Buechner spoke most often about listening to your life, urging readers to pay attention to God’s constant work in their lives.

It resonated deeply with Alan Wright in his work as a hospital chaplain in Dallas. In the third volume of Buechner’s memoirs, tell secrets, the author admits that someone had called out to him for omitting some of the most difficult moments of his life from the first two memoirs. So in tell secrets, he wrote about his father’s suicide and his own daughter’s battle with anorexia.

“Buechner explained that it was a gift from God that our minds are not always able to remember perfectly,” Wright noted. “If we remembered perfectly, we would never stop crying. I always remembered this when I visited patients and facilitated groups. I also keep in mind that some of us remember too perfectly and that can make life difficult.

Despite his fame, Buechner remained down-to-earth and approachable to those who contacted him. In story after story on social media, August 15 recounted a pastor or seminarian writing or calling the author or spending time with him at a conference or retreat.

Thomas Ray Steagald, a former United Methodist pastor in North Carolina, lamented Buechner’s death: “Just yesterday, while arranging my study, I came across a wealth of correspondence between him and me, dating back to 1979. I was at seminar. I was in utter despair, miserable and potentially self-destructive when I found out The Alphabet of Grace. Or he found me. This book saved my life and I wrote to him to tell him exactly that. Grace upon grace, he replied—two handwritten pages that took me an hour or more (with help!) to decipher. The book also saved my ministry, which I have tried to tell him about in other ways over the years.

Tanner, the Minnesota pastor, wrote, “I first found out about him as a freshman in college in 1983, not because he was affected, but rather I suspected that something like providence would gathered. And I say it with all integrity: this man saved my life.

“I didn’t know anyone who thought so much about the kind of things that drove my inner life and certainly no one who articulated my inner world with the kind of simple eloquence and bloody honesty of his resonant voice.”

So, “I was amazed the first time I called him and he answered the phone and acted like someone important had called,” Tanner wrote. “His voice was always patient and welcoming. I have a letter from him during my college days that I cherish that included the question, “I wonder what kind of writer you’ll be?”

“He wrote words too personal to be shared by others, but too honest to be ignored.”

Bobby McKay, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Brookhaven, Mississippi, summed up Buechner, “He wrote words too personal for others to share, but too honest to ignore. The way he created words and stories made the reader want to know him and even felt like his story was part of theirs.

Buechner was not only an acclaimed author of 40 books, he was instantly quotable. His stories, his sentences, his thoughts fit perfectly into the sermons.

He wrote of himself: “I find I need to put things into words before I can believe them to be entirely real.”

This process also gave life the Christian scriptures like Buechner putting “things into words” gave a modern voice to the holy texts.

“Often Buechner would work with a scripture that I thought I had already studied thoroughly,” said Charles Qualls, pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Virginia. “Yet when he finished telling it, I wondered why I hadn’t seen a fraction of the same insightful things.

It was the powerful testimony of the words of another pastor that set Buechner on the path to his unusual form of Christian ministry.

Buechner was already an accomplished author – he began work on his acclaimed first novel as a senior at Princeton – when he found himself in a pew at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, where the Legendary pastor George Buttrick said on Sunday, “Christ is crowned in the hearts of those who love and believe in him amidst confession, tears and great laughter.

Buechner later explained: “I was so taken aback by the ‘big laugh’ that I found the tears welling up in my eyes.”

These words sparked in him a desire to learn more about Christianity, so he sought advice from Buttrick, who referred him to the nearby Union Theological Seminary. Buechner later wrote that Buttrick made this reference with reservations, telling the young writer, “It would be a shame to lose a good novelist for a mediocre preacher.”

At Union, Buechner studied with Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, and he became anything but a “mediocre preacher.”

He was ordained an evangelist by the same Presbyterian church where he first heard the call that led him to seminary. He founded the religion department at Phillips Exeter Academy before devoting himself full-time to writing. Even then, he continued to preach and lecture at schools such as Harvard and Yale, and he held teaching positions at Tufts University, Calvin College, and Wheaton College.

The legacy of Buechner’s words carries beyond his death – especially in the countless clergy who heard the voice of God’s call through his writings.

The legacy of Buechner’s words carries beyond his death – especially in the countless clergy who heard the voice of God’s call through his writings.

“I was introduced to Buechner while I was in college,” said Darren DeMent, associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. “This introduction came at a time when I was trying to figure out which direction I was going in life – trying to discern my calling, but I didn’t yet have that language at my disposal. Read Buechner gave me this language.

Andrew Daugherty, pastor of Pine Street Baptist Church in Boulder, Colorado, testifies that Buechner was the “secular saint” his 19-year-old evangelical Baptist soul needed most.

The Alphabet of Grace was the first Buechner book I read in my introductory spiritual life course at Belmont University,” he said. “While I was wondering if I would become a pastor or not, I read the best career advice I have received to date. I will never forget reading his words originally published in this book, “I heard that you were entering the ministry,” the woman said from the end of the table, not wanting to hurt him. “Was it your own idea or were you badly advised?

“It was the same story Bill Leonard recounted with such a teacher’s spirit and such a pastor’s heart during my preview visit to Wake Forest University Divinity School a few years later. I knew right away where I wanted to go to seminary. I have felt it.

“From Belmont to Bill to Buechner, ill-advised or not, this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It started with Buechner’s response to his own budding vocational call: And the answer that she couldn’t have heard even if I had given it was that it wasn’t an idea at all, neither mine nor anyone else’s. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itch in the feet. It was a stir in the blood at the sound of the rain. It was heartbreaking at the sight of misery.

Buechner may have written his own epitaph with these words: “The life I touch for good or for ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling or how far my touch will be felt.

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