Martin W. Bender
Donald Miller’s best-selling book Blue Like Jazz isn’t the type of book I’m typically interested in. It’s a diary of sorts, telling of the author’s shift from generic American evangelicalism into what seems like an “emergent” expression of the faith. For some reason the book reminded me of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. It may be the underlying criticism of the church or the crunchy granola tone, but there is definitely a sense of subtle west coast superiority that makes this southeastern feller want to bless Don’s heart.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. The writing is certainly better than mine with a smooth conversational pace. Reading it is a lot like how I imagine the talks in the book went since reading is just another form of listening. This is probably intentional. One of the themes in the book is that Christians need to listen, that Jesus himself was a listener, and in reading one is beginning the practice Don is encouraging us to do: listen to others.
Don has some good insights. American evangelicalism is certainly far too beholden to political conservatism. Hypocrisy does exist within the church. Pat answers to critics of Christianity abound and are frequently dispensed without the slightest concern for spiritual condition of the listener. His answers to these issues, however, seem to be to tune out rather than improve the situation (another indication of his friendliness to emergent thought). He assumes the problems within Christianity are insurmountable until he finds a church that happens to agree with his alternative practice of Christian spirituality.
The book also has some theological problems. Sin is not dealt with as a serious issue. Don comments that he did not perceive the community at the college he attended as immoral, although they engaged in continual immorality. He does, however, intone that conservative Christians are immoral because they do not embrace the same moral relativism he witnessed and seems to promote. This is problematic because Christianity is built upon the notion that a holy God will not leave sin unpunished. In a book on Christian spirituality the author ignores the very reason Christian spirituality exists.
I’m not saying to avoid the book. Remember, I enjoyed it. I am saying that theologically there is a fundamental problem with the author’s understanding of the human condition and the reasons for the incarnation. It would be a good idea to combine this book with John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin to ensure one remains balanced in their understanding of sin and Christian practice.