Reynolds Price isn't a churchgoer, he tells us right at the start. He grew up in the South without ever hearing a sermon condemning segregation, he's drawn to a kind of mysticism of which he thinks institutional churches have always been understandably suspicious, and he can't live with the way churches condemn gay people. So he thinks of himself as an "outlaw Christian."

But a Christian nevertheless: some­one who believes Jesus was raised from the dead, someone who tries to follow him as best he can. Price has even had a vision. Years ago, facing radical surgery the next morning for a cancer of the spine that was likely to be terminal, he found himself suddenly by the Sea of Galilee, facing Jesus. "Your sins are forgiven," the Lord said. "What about curing my cancer?" Price asked. "That too," Jesus said and disappeared. Price has been paralyzed from the waist down since his operation, but the cancer hasn't returned. Make of it what you will. Price is more inclined to report than to try to explain.

As a novelist, poet and, for more than 40 years, a teacher of English at Duke University, Price brings a storyteller's sensitivity to reading the Bible. As a southerner, he's also a product of the part of our country most in love with narrative. In A Palpable God (1978) he translated a range of biblical stories and commented on them; in Three Gospels (1996) he translated Mark and John and added his own telling of the gospel story. In Letter to a Man in the Fire (1999) he wrote to a young man facing death from cancer, discussing whether God exists or cares.