Flannery O'Connor's demonic characters bear witness to Christ

If O'Connor's stories are shocking, that's only because the gospel is, too.

At a Bible study several years ago, I overheard a group of men and women questioning why it’s easier to talk about our successes than about our suffering. My inner theologian wanted to step into the circle and say, “Because we misperceive the subversive nature of God.” We assume that success shows God’s favor toward us, but often the truth is that God’s friends suffer.

Practical theologian Michael Mears Bruner reminds us of this reality. He counters the modern assumption “that God’s main purpose is to work for the glory, happiness, and satisfaction of humanity.” Instead, the gospel asks us to follow a “bleeding, stinking, mad” Christ. Such a message has always been hard to understand, which is why Bruner relies on Flannery O’Connor’s startling figures and shouting prophets to make his point. Unlike much O’Connor scholarship, which mistakes the stories as ends in themselves, Bruner’s book points be­yond the stories to the Christ that O’Connor proclaims.

Bruner talks to readers as a teacher would to students, charitably and ap­proachably. He refutes other critics hum­bly, acknowledging his own weaknesses as a scholar and admitting his personal biases. Yet this humility does not keep him from debating inaccurate interpretations of O’Connor’s work. The nearly 20 excursuses are fantastic miniature articles that correct problematic readings of her stories and elaborate on fine points that other scholars haven’t considered.