Book Review: Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner

Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABCWishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To call Buechner’s ABC of theological terms quirky would be an understatement. The guy is somewhere between one current short of a fruitcake and a deep well of the most profound thoughts and understanding. One thing is certain: you would be hard-pressed to find a more witty yet genuine lexicon of theology.

There is much in the book with which I disagree, or find completely unhelpful, but there is also some wonderful depth too. Buechner has a talent for stopping you in your tracks and making you think “I like that”. Sometimes he manages to combine both wit and depth together such as his description of the point to some parables as “a silly question needs a silly answer” and then adds “with parables and jokes both, if you’ve got to have it explained, don’t bother.”

But for all this, I’ve not rated the book so highly because it is neither comedy nor in-depth theological reasoning. It fails then as a genuine ‘theological ABC’ as it claims to be on the cover. If I want Christian humour I’ll reach for Adrian Plass; if I want theological understanding I’ll reach for John Stott or C. S. Lewis. Buechner’s book falls in the gap between. I believe there are two more volumes in the series but I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy them – there’s too many great books out there already to read – but if they were gifted to me I would certainly enjoy them and not resent the gift at all.

‘Wishful Thinking’ is then, in my opinion, armchair, bitesize theology. This is a book to pick up as an amusing distraction while having a cup of tea. That Buechner could create such a thing out of theology is a remarkable (perhaps unique) achievement and one for which the author should be congratulated. I hope he was, back in 1973, when my edition was published.

View all my reviews

Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at


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