January 27, 2020

Blue Like The Color Of My Face

dmiller.jpgChallenge to Critics of the Emerging Church: Don Miller makes frequent reference to Imago Dei Church. Here’s their sermon page. Have you listened to any EC preachers? Why not listen and see if the “no propositions/no truth” portrayal is true.

I know that Don Miller’s writing has the potential to provoke and irritate, but two recent reviews of Blue Like Jazz make me wonder why reformed critics are so upset that a guy like Miller is writing his thoughts/journey down for us to read.

Joe Thorn reported on Mark Coppenger’s recent analysis of Blue Like Jazz at Southern Seminary. You can read his post, listen to the lecture, and decide for yourself what you think of Coppenger’s take on Miller.

My interest was piqued when a lurker sent me this link to a much more personal take on Miller from a “reformed philosopher”. Here’s a thesis statement: “I just want to give a smattering of the anti-rational, anti-christian, and anti-substantive claims of Don Miller…” You’d think Miller was presenting a paper in philosophy colloquium and ended up renouncing the existence of God.

[Update: More Miller discussion at the same site here and here.

This kind of analysis of Miller is like shooting fish in a barrel. Miller isn’t a theologian, he isn’t a reformed theologian, and in Blue Like Jazz he isn’t trying to be particularly acceptable to theological critics. Miller’s book, Searching For God Knows What is a more comprehensible apologetic presentation, but none of his books are written to withstand the criticisms of the Society of Reformed Philosophers.

In fact, I’m left wondering if the author of this post understands that there is a whole genre of Christian writing that could be destroyed in mass by the critical eye of trained theologians. It’s a matter of asking if the “regular guy”, or the “poetic guy” or the “subjective guy” gets to write a book, or only the “seminary trained graduate degree guy”.

Years ago, I took a class in Apologetics where the professor gave Francis Schaefer a pretty thorough working over. I realized that Schaefer wasn’t a world class scholar, but he wrote books that seemed to imply he was. The problems with those books made Schaefer fair game.

Don Miller isn’t writing “Escape From Reason.” He’s writing about what he learned living with hippies and how to confess your sins to non-Christians while dressed like a monk.

Miller’s writing is creative, highly subjective and, at times, quite frustrating if you want all the points marching in a line. He’s more poet than teacher; more Jack Kerouac than Wayne Grudem. The theological watchblogs have a universal contempt for these ways of writing, and can easily express that contempt with fisking of various statements by Miller et al that don’t conform to what serious reformed theology requires.

If I were in a Systematic Theology class, and the professor started banging away at Miller on a regular basis, I would have to wonder what Miller had said or done that got under the professor’s skin. I might wonder if Miller, in all his sloppiness, hadn’t touched a nerve that made theologians wonder if the outline of Jesus on the PowerPoint might not be missing something vital and existentially powerful.

Worse, Miller states somewhere that he comes from a reformed background. And to top it all off, he’s popular with the emerging church. There’s no way for Miller to win. But then, he’s not trying to speak at the next meeting of ETS. He’s writing an intensely personal, and consistently human account of his own journey to faith and where it’s taken him. It is a story of people, and how his own faith in Jesus has affected his interactions with people.

The reformed critic can point out twenty things wrong with Miller’s view on homosexuality and capital punishment, but when it comes to helping me love sinners and sit at table with them like Jesus did, Miller wins hands down.

Call it a postmodern disdain for propositions, because that is probably just what it is. Miller’s books are about life lived, not life analyzed. (Of course, if your life IS analysing ideas, then we have another problem. See Mark 10:17-23 for details.) His writings are about the inner experience of confused and doubting pilgrims, not just the certainties of the debater. If the reformed critics are upset that Miller occasionally tracks across their property, I’m sure their offense is based on all the right propositions. The better question is this, however: Where is Miller going when he trespasses? What or who is he following? It seems to me he is close on the trail of the Jesus-experience many of us have sought after.

I gave my son a copy of Blue Like Jazz last week. He read it in two days. As a result, there is a change in him. There is something there. There is a seriousness to his faith and an interest in taking Jesus with him to college this fall that is noticeable. Miller’s contagious joy and simple accounts of living the life has made my son want to live that life as well.

I’m going to give my boy every Miller book I can find. I won’t criticize reformed theology, and I am sure the time will come that I may give him those books as well. But for where he is- at much the same place as Miller when he came to the campus of Reed College- Miller is just right.

This post isn’t a complaint about the reformed critic who criticised Miller. I’m sure he was right on target in much of what he said and there is much lacking in theological consistency in Mr. Miller’s work. What I will say is that you are missing the point. YOUR point is well made. Mr. Miller’s point, that Jesus, like jazz, resolves the unresolved notes in human experience, is worth hearing. I need to hear it more often, and Miller’s account of his life gives me hope for my own.

Comments

  1. Jazzy, iMonk. 🙂

  2. mcrossman says

    Thanks for pointing this out Mr. Spencer. I’ve read the book “Blue Like Jazz” and while I was able to point out numerous theological problems I was still touched by the book. Don Miller as you said was merely talking about his spiritual journey and I for one was encourgaed by what I read and I think that was his whole goal. Not to have Earth shattering revelations, but merely to encourage other Christians as they try and follow Jesus. Thanks again

  3. Miller gave a really good interview [MP3] w/ Relevant Magazine recently. The idea that Christians don’t do a good job of loving people underlined several of the questions on politics and culture.

  4. Having been made aware from the blogs that it was at best suspect,I read Blue Like Jazz expecting to find all sorts of problems. Or, maybe, a few really big problems. Wrong on all counts. It is a truly engaging book about the struggles of a reasonably intelligent, very articulate, caring young man trying to figure out what it means to live a life with Christ.
    The only thing that bothered me in the least was his occasional snide remarks about Republicans, but I understand where he is coming from. Theologically, the book might be hard to pin down at first, but on reflecting, I think it is fair to say that he is at the very least a Monergist. The Church he attends, Imago Dei, has a very reformed statement of faith, and it is basically an offshoot of Mark Driscoll’s , as far as I can tell, and he cites Driscoll in the acknowledgments.

  5. Someone recently told me about a moderately prominent reformed minister who just finished- and loved- the book.

    I noted that Miller does name drop a bit, and the two I picked up were Josh Harris and Mark Driscoll.

  6. rcoateswdc says

    I hate that book. I hate that book. I hate that book.

    About ten years ago, I got a copy of I Claudius because I heard it was a good book and Robert Graves a great writer. Three pages in, I because so enraged because of the breezy style and anachronistic commentary that I hurled it across the room. It subsequently found it’s way into the garbage can and I NEVER throw books away.

    Blue Like Jazz failed the I Claudius test. It too found itself hurled across the room because of I found it simply irritating and insulting to my faith. Yes, it might be a true picture of how 20-somethings think about their faith. But that doesn’t mean it’s good.

    I can’t bring myself to throw it away. I want to believe that someone will give it a good home, but I fear I am going to have to euthanize it.

  7. Abraham Kuyper had some strange theology at times, too, and it would be a shame if people didn’t listen to the good things he had to say because of it.

  8. You mentioned giving other Donald Miller books to your son. I highly recommend “Searching for God Knows What.” In my opinion, it’s the best Miller book because it actually delves into the Gospel. It’s more than a personal account of faith (although I am a HUGE fan of Blue Like Jazz).

  9. My son has all of Miller’s books – we just got “To Own a Dragon.”

    He agreed that he would tell what he thinks about “Blue Like Jazz” on my blog if I paid for this book.

  10. i was hoping for more in blue like jazz as well. i was hoping there would be a bunch of irrefutable proofs for christianity that i could latch onto. my faith has been dwindling out of existence and i this is one of the last christian books i read in hopes of finding some sort of reason to go on with christianity. i thought if there is just one idea in here that is solid i could latch on to that and everything would be okay. i don’t need to hear god’s voice, see a miracle or have some relationship with jesus… i didn’t need to figure out why there is evil in the world, why god holds us all responsible for being sinners even though there isn’t much we can do about it, or even why he is sending a bunch of my good friends to hell… i just needed a proof, a theology that worked. one of those theologies that no punk on the internet could shoot down. i am sorry to say that donald miller didn’t give me that, but then again neither did jesus. they both just said a couple of things that some people think are enlightening and others think or heretical. mostly people just argue about what they said or didn’t say. i think i am going to watch some tv.

  11. “i just needed a proof, a theology that worked. one of those theologies that no punk on the internet could shoot down. i am sorry to say that donald miller didn’t give me that, but then again neither did jesus. they both just said a couple of things that some people think are enlightening and others think or heretical. mostly people just argue about what they said or didn’t say.”

    not that I’m saying he’s Jesus or anything, but the comparison’s funny – and somewhat true. iMonk said something a while ago that resonated within me: Would i believe/say/do what I do now if I spent 3 years walking with Jesus? Maybe what we’re missing is that our church no longer looks like her groom.

    steve

  12. During my reading of Blue Like Jazz, I was inspired to help start Fuse. I’ve since read every Miller book, sans the newest one, and seen him speak once. I could not be more impressed.

  13. Pitch perfect commentary, IM. But praisingfool has it right; from where I sit, Blue is like a double off the fence, but Searching is a bases-loaded shot, a must-read. I’m reading Through Painted Deserts now; I’ll confess, it’s not much more than a Texas Leaguer, but the first two, yeah, they rile up my conservative sensibilities at points, but the honesty and freshness of Miller’s walk with the Lord are wonderful to witness. 3 thumbs all the way UP!