Those Old Words

Buechner is lecturing on preaching.

I think most of what I did at Exeter, those nine turbulent years, of trying to teach religion to these people who hated it, was to try to say, "Look, these words, which seem so bankrupt and so unreal and irrelevant and wooly-headed, and old fashioned really stand for realities, which are just as real today as they were then." One of the people who was my instructor in this, my master in this, was Paul Tillich to whom I owe more perhaps than to any other theologian. He was so wonderful at taking, especially I always think of the words sin and salvation, which are such particularly bankrupt words, and they've been used so often. To say, "Look, when we're talking about sin, we're not talking about sex. We're not talking about murder, we're not talking about theft, and we're not talking about bad things. We're talking about..." and then he said all the things he said about sin as separation from yourself, self-doubt, self-hate, separation from each other, the inability to speak to each other, to know each other, fear of each other, and separation from God. "That's what sin's all about," says Tillich. All of a sudden whether I buy the Christian faith or do not buy it, at least I know that it's talking about something that I stand up to my neck in. And that's part of our task, all of us I think, is to try to get behind those old words to what they once meant.

  • from a lecture on preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary's Henderson Conference in 1986