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

I’ve collected quite a few subscriptions in my RSS Reader over the years. I skim through most of them, but it’s been a great way for me to quickly find great articles, helpful reviews and useful resources.

I recently came across a recommendation in one of these feeds to read Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale. The review was so positive that I immediately found a copy at my local library. I couldn’t wait to get started on it. The reviewer even declared that this was essential reading for church communicators and included some promising quotes from the book.

After reading it myself…I’m going to have to disagree. Or at least give a less enthusiastic review. I think the glowing review, the title of the book and my expectations were just all out of whack on this one.

Telling the Truth is not at all what I thought it was going to be. I’m probably too analytical for a book like this. As I read it, I kept thinking that people who like to call themselves “creatives” would probably be the ideal audience.

The book can be summed up with the follow passage from chapter 1.

“The Gospel is bad news before it is good news. It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob. That is the tragedy. But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is the comedy. And yet, so what?….In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen to him just as in fairy tales extraordinary things happen….It is impossible for anybody to leave behind the darkness of the world he carries on his back like a snail, but for God all things are possible. That is the fairy tale. All together they are the truth.”

Now, the book was worth reading if just for this paragraph. (I love this passage.) It’s just that this quote comes early on (pages 7 and 8). The book had me here. I was sold on it…but then I was left hanging as it never provided any deeper analysis than that. The remaining chapters (2, 3 and 4) cover the topics in the subtitle of the book: Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale respectively. To be honest, I didn’t find these chapters very helpful. They serve more to provide examples (mostly literary) of their respective topics than to reveal how the Gospel functions in that way. That’s not to say that this aspect of the Gospel isn’t mentioned. It is. It’s just not done until layer after layer of other examples are used first. And when it is, it doesn’t go much deeper than the above quote.

It’s probably an expectation thing for me. I’m sure some people will love everything about this book. But for me, it’s a great premise that failed to really expand the main idea.

Now with that said, I’m glad I read it. I think the concept of Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale is a powerful one. And a few sections of the last chapter in particular are inspirational and helpful to minister’s charged with communicating the Gospel.

In this case, the title (almost) says it all. It’s not a bad read. But if you’re looking for practical applications. This isn’t it. The book has a great premise and will inspire. But it doesn’t go much deeper than that.

Author: Erik

Erik lives in Bethalto, IL were he serves as the Executive Pastor at Cornerstone Church. He and his wife, Bethany, have two boys (Parker and Kent). He's an Apple fan and all around techie who loves Angry Birds and Words With Friends.

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