Book Review of Donald Miller’s, “Blue Like Jazz”

Posted: January 17, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Book Reviews
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Donald Miller writes on behalf of all “Christians” who have been confused and disgrunteled over the caricatures of Christianity that impose a squelching environment for people to live out their faith. There are many Christians who are discontent with Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, and looking for a home. The “emergent” church has captured many of such folks and “Blue Like Jazz” has become a cult classic of sorts for many in this movement, alongside the works of Brian McLaren and Dan Kimball.

While I have some issues with the “emergent” church, I certainly understand the sentiments of many who don’t feel at home in Evangelicalism. Modern American Evangelicalism has become too superficial and contrived for many X’ers and younger. They want something deeper, more authentic, and don’t find it in many of the churches across this land.

Donald Miller fits the profile of a young man who wants deeply to live out his faith and doesn’t feel accepted or at home in many of the churches across this land. He shares his stories of Spiritual growth while living with roommates, sharing his faith on the campus of Reed College, and more.

There are a few quotes that did challenge me to examine my own heart:

“…I wasn’t experiencing Christianity. It didn’t do anything for me at all. It felt like math, like a system of rights and wrongs and political beliefs, but it wasn’t mysterious; it wasn’t God reaching out of heaven to do wonderful things in my life. And if I would have shared Christianity with somebody, it would have felt mostly like I was trying to get somebody to agree with me rather than meet God” (p. 116)

Paul told Timothy to be ready to give an answer for those who ask about the hope in us. John Piper has commented that this is not propositional evangelism that is being advocated, but rather people coming to us and enquiring about our faith. There is a big difference in such an insight. It means that we should be living our faith in such a way that it is noticeable and causes others to flock to us with questions. Don Miller talks about how he felt that his faith wasn’t being experienced and that it would feel somewhat disingenuous to tell people about God when one isn’t excited about Him. The fact is that faith is not mere intellectual assent and should be working deep in our hearts. This will look like something and people will notice. Our piety should be marked by passion and delight in God. Where such is absent, then sharing our faith will be, quite frankly, lame. It would be similar to me talking about my children in a dull fashion if someone should inquire. If they see no passion, no shine on my eyes, they will conclude that I don’t really care about my family. We must never talk about God in such a way where He is simply the answer to 2+2, or simply the answer to all philosophical queries. God is our treasure and we should brag and boast in Him with our countenance and in what we say.

Commenting on what Miller finds in many churches, he says:

“I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus. I was a salesman for a while, and we were taught that you are supposed to point out all the benefits of a product when you are selling it. This is how I felt about some of the preachers I heard speak. They were always pointing out the benefits of Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It’s not that there aren’t benefits, there are, but did they have to talk about spirituality like it’s a vacuum cleaner. I never felt that Jesus was a product…Not only that, but they were always pointing out how great the specific church was. The bulletin read like a brochure…I felt like I got bombarded with commercials all week and then went to church and got even more” (p. 131).

I totally understand Miller’s discontent with what he saw. Christians are pretty bad with over-hyping and sensationalizing stuff in the name of making Jesus more appealing. Do we really need to take our ques from Wall Street? The fact is that Jesus is a treasure of infinite worth and doesn’t need our well intended packaging. I want my church to be marked by whole hearted passion that delights in Jesus and at the same time makes room for lament and times of despair in ones life. Our worship should span the wide range of human emotion. We mustn’t always be happy clappy in the name of a contrived joy to make Jesus look like a satisfying product. Jesus is who He is and we are who we are, and in times of encounter let us be real and display the authentic work of His love and Spirit in our lives…whether it takes the form of laughter or lament.

There are items in this book that I have some reservations about, but I always try to point out things that challenge my own thinking and my own heart. In that sense, this book is a challenge for all, especially those in ministry, to really do some soul-searching in our own relationship with Jesus and how it impacts our lives.

 

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