Friday, December 30, 2011

A Review of Blue Like Jazz

A conference we're at just, sad to say, promoted Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller’s relatively ignorant perspective on Christianity to over 1,000 Christian students. We actually just trashed our copy of the book on Tuesday (it's been a while since anyone has been talking about it). Miller believes Christianity is like Jazz music in that it is experiential rather knowable, spontaneous rather than planned, creative rather than structured and more like falling in love than making a decision. He believes Christianity to be more about personal expression than following Christ’s mandates.

Gary Gilley notes the following problems with Blue Like Jazz: “The strange name of this autobiographical tale borrows from Miller's appreciation of the free-spirit characteristic of jazz music. As jazz music is almost impossible to score, being the language of the soul, so Miller sees the Christian life as the meanderings of the soul with few boundaries, rules or restrictions. Christian spirituality is "music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it. What is disturbing about Miller is his lack of biblical understanding (he admits that he has never read the Bible through, reads the Bible most often out of duty and is usually bored, and goes long stretches of time without scriptural input (pp. 80, 175). His spiritual turning points inevitably come through movies, secular literature, lectures, encounters with people, or God “speaking” to him and others (pp. 48, 85, 136, 230)—but virtually never from the Word.” “…he lavishes praises on freeloading, pot-smoking, homosexual “hippies” who love unconditionally as they steal food from the rich and give to the poor (themselves and him) (chapter 18). Miller makes it abundantly clear that he loves to smoke and drink and finds it somehow amusing and authentic that his pastor is a prolific curser. It is the hippies, drug addicts and Unitarians who have taught him love, not the Bible or evangelical Christians. And he makes it all sound so attractive. The biblically-oriented life is dull, full of rules and judgmental people. Jazz-spirituality is where it’s at. Just do your own thing. Never mind the directives of Scripture, just as long as we all love Jesus—that’s all that matters."

Although there are nuggets of truth in what he says (and there are in all lies) his post-modern, what ever feels good do it, replace standards with preference perspective of Christianity, although popular to today’s postmodern mentality, is far from the Christianity described in scripture. He proposes mystical Christian experience over living life centered on the truth of God’s Word. He describes this perspective on p. 115, saying, “For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained” continuing on p. 202, "You cannot be a Christian without being a mystic” and concluding on p. 205, the need to "climb outside my pat answers," because "Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid.” He encourages people to disregard doctrine saying, “At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow.” He has very liberal values and rejects core Christian values of life and sexual standards, criticizing Christians for opposing abortion and gay marriage. He is extremely critical of other Christians, sometimes correctly so, but always contradicting the scriptural command to love and accept our brothers in Christ and interestingly, falling into the same judgmental attitude about them that he accuses them of. Blue Like Jazz is the type of book that appeals to the flesh and to this society’s desire for freedom from God’s standards but the loose, chaotic and un-biblical theology proposed is dangerous to anyone desiring to grow in their faith. 

Compare Miller’s theology to 1 Tim.4:12-16, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Christians are called to love God with all their minds (Mk.12:30) and I would strongly encourage you to use the mind God has given you (1 Cor. 2:16) and the wisdom he offers (James 1:5) to be able recognize bad theology when you see it. Please develop a sense of discernment so you do not fall for ignorant at best and deceptive at worst "Christian" books. They might seem appealing (especially to your flesh) but you should be smarter than that (and the Holy Spirit in you definitely is smarter than that)! This is the kind of book that will validate an immature Christian's carnal mentality and habits so they feel like they've always been on track rather than pursuing godliness. Dangerous for sure. 

Get a better understanding of how to not fall for junk like this in the following MP3 (get the notes here). Hope this helps!

Disclosure: I've only read parts of the book (I had a hard time figuring out a justification to spend any more time on it) while Erin read most of it. I've also read a bunch of reviews. I hope this analysis is helpful.

The MP3:

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