Review of Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller
To the casual observer, this book appears to be the random narratives of a man in his search for Christian spirituality. You find that he draws upon his experiences as he learns who God is and begins to have a relationship with Him. However, careful reading quickly shows that this man, Miller, is not just searching for God, he his searching for a different kind of relationship with God. Miller writes about a new kind of “Christian spirituality” that seeks to show the love of Jesus Christ. He discusses his ideas about reaching out to a lost people, feeding the homeless, and having a relationship with those the church has abandoned. While the initial reaction of the reader may be, “Wow, I want this kind of faith.” one must giver closer examination to Miller’s understanding, assumptions, and propositions.
Miller’s overall point of the book is summed up near the middle of his text when he says, “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.” (p. 115). This becomes the basis for Miller’s thoughts on Christian spirituality as he bashes Christianity and the church. So you may be asking what’s wrong with being upset at how the church has treated people, or yes, the church has abandoned people and we should love them. The problem is not in the desire of Miller and others to reach out to a lost and hurting people. The problem is how they go about doing this. Miller believes that we need to live in community with the culture around us and we need to make God’s word relevant to their lives. Miller and his friends do this by participating with and looking like the culture. They believe that for people to see Jesus, they must see how He can be like them. This is backwards thinking. The Bible tells us to be in the world, not of the world (John 15:19; Romans 12:2). We should be in relationship with the world, but for the purpose saving them (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15). For example, we are told to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey God’s word (Matthew 28: 19-20). What Miller shows as the love of Jesus Christ, is not an accurate reflection of the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not make disciples by hanging out at tax booths or the lake and talking fish and money (Matthew 4:17-19). No, he called his disciples from those places to follow him (Luke 9:23). Their lives were changed by the Word of God whereas Miller believes that the Word of God should be changed by their lives. While Miller encourages many good works, such as feeding the homeless, he neglects to emphasize the importance of spending time in the Word and bringing our life into accord with it. If we truly want to show the love of Jesus Christ, we will not just give someone physical food, we will give them the living water (John 4:13-14).
The second major issue in Miller’s book is about the mysteriousness of God. True, we will never fully understand God while on this earth, but this can be taken too far to say that we can’t understand God at all. Miller holds that we receive personal revelation of God through our experiences so he cannot be explained because how I have experienced him is different than how you have experienced him. This is simply not true. God has revealed himself through His Word (1 Samuel 3:20-22). It’s not hard to see God in our experiences, but this is not how He defines himself. The nature of God is seen in who He tells us he is (in scripture) and we see him act, as he has already told us, in life’s situations.
Lastly, Miller spends a great deal of his book bashing the church. His anti-establishment/organization attitude is very clear. This is seen in how he responds to any authority over him and his thoughts on the purpose of church. Nowhere in the Bible, does God appear or act chaotic. God is a god of structure. Not to mention, we are clearly commanded to be obedient to authorities over us (Titus 3:1; Col 1:16; Romans 13:1). If we cannot be obedient to someone in the here and now, how are we going to be obedient to a God whom we don’t physically see and calls to us change our entire life?
This review is in no way a comprehensive dissection of Miller’s book. I would encourage you to read it and discern the message being sent. Please talk to me about it if you wish. Most importantly, apply the measure of God’s word to the book and see if it stands up.