Buechner Paraphrases Jesus’ Life Deeply

Buechner reviewFrederick Buechner.[1] 2014. The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story.Brewster: Paraclete Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

At one point several years back, I received a mailing from an offset printer in Michigan, Thomson-Shore. Traditionally, publishers ordered a batch of several thousand books where type was set and each page printed a set number of times. Then, another page had the type set and was similarly printed. This is a cheapest way to print books when you know how many books are needed and you need thousands of books.[2]  In this mailing, Thomson-Shore included a sample of their work, a short book by Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus.


Buechner invites us to reflect on the face of Jesus. He writes:

“See it for what it is and, to see it whole, see it too for what it is just possible that it will become: the face of Jesus as the face of our own secret and innermost destiny: The face of Jesus as our face.”(xv)

For those theologically inclined, Buechner is using the imago dei(the image of God) as a mirror into our souls. He does this by paraphrasing the life of Jesus as revealed in scripture and other writings.

Background and Organization

Frederick Buechner is a graduate of Princeton University, an ordained Presbyterian pastor, and a prolific author. He writes in six chapters:

  1. Annunciation (3-12 pp)
  2. Nativity (15-39)
  3. Ministry (43-81)
  4. Last Supper (85-108)
  5. Crucifixion (111-134)
  6. Resurrection (137-161; v-vi)

The longest chapter is on Jesus’ ministry. These chapters are preceded by an introduction. The book is 4 by 6 inches, double-spaced, and making liberal use of white space, which publishers will recognize as a format typical of poetry and devotionals because it is easy on the eyes.


Buechner’s voice is important in interpreting Jesus and the reading experience, something not typically commented on in reviews.

Consider the opening paragraph in the chapter on the annunciation:

“Before Abraham was, Jesus said, I am. [John 8:58] Who can say what he meant? Perhaps that just as his death was not the end of him, so his birth was not the beginning of him.”(3)

We do not expect this cite to begin a discussion of Mary’s encounter with an angel informing her of Jesus’ coming. Yet, Buechner speaks here with a deeply theological interpretation of divine sovereignty: as creator, God stand’s outside of created time and space speaking in a divine present encompassing our past, present, and future (4). This cite arises late in Jesus’ ministry and presents a divinity claim—I amis the name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush—for which Jesus was almost stoned.

A more typical paraphrase of the life of Jesus might be found in the Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.”

In the Creed, we are given basic facts of Jesus as revealed in scripture; in Buechner, we are introduced to deeper reading and interpretation of the scripture itself.


Frederick Buechner’s The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story is simply written, but is far from simple minded. Paraphrasing the life of Jesus, Buechner reveals a complex Jesus not well understood by his peers and even less well understood by ours.


[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Buechner. [2]Today, most books are printed individually in a machine resembling a huge photocopy machine, a process known as print on demand. Print on demand is more expensive, but allows books to be published in relatively small numbers. Offset printing normally presumes that you are willing to print large numbers of books and maintain an inventory.

Buechner Paraphrases Jesus’ Life Deeply

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