I recently posted a semi-book review of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. The book, and a few of the comments made me start thinking, and I thought that I might share some of my thoughts with you here. After all, this is a blog.
The strength and the trouble with Blue Like Jazz, henceforth dubbed BLJ, lies in the area of relationship and behavior. I will attempt to unpack what I mean by that in this post. It is a perennial struggle for the Christian who wishes to share the greatness of Jesus Christ with others.
Relationship is essential if you want to have any sort of influence on anyone. If you are a condescending jerk, no one is going to listen to you. Or, if you yourself are so completely different from someone else, it is hard for them to understand where you are coming from. You have to be able to relate on some level or real communication cannot take place. We need to be able to relate and to communicate. But, and here is the hard part, we have to do these things without compromising God’s standard of holiness. We cannot take a pragmatic, the ends justify the means approach.
The Bible teaches us that relationship and communication are something that God sees as essential. Think of the doctrine of the Trinity. We have the One God eternally existing in Three Persons. He is the model of community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always been in community. The Father loves the Son with an infinite love, and all that He has created, He has done to extol the virtues of His beloved. The Holy Spirit loves the Son as well, and His mission on the Earth is to exalt Him and to teach us to love and praise Him.
You may be thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with relating and communicating?” I would submit to you that it has everything to do with relating and communicating. How did the Father demonstrate His love for the world? What did you learn in Vacation Bible School? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Father gave us the Son, and He gave Him to us in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). God is communicating and relating to us through Jesus Christ. That is why the doctrine of the Incarnation is so very, very important, glorious, and essential. That is why the early Church fathers declared emphatically that Jesus is “God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.” You can find this in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD. That is why Isaiah declared that we would call Him the “Immanuel”, which means “God with us.” “In these last days (God) has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews. 1:2).
Jesus Christ was born of a virgin woman, laid in a feeding trough, suffered from cold and heat, pooped his diaper, nursed at the breast, scraped his knee, talked to girls, and probably even had zits. Furthermore, He experienced rejection, love, betrayal, loneliness, fear, hunger, pain, and intense suffering. He ate bread, He went to weddings, He sat around with the guys, He caught fish, and He told stories. Such wonderful stories! And He loved. He loved so greatly that it broke His heart. He wept. He wept over Jerusalem and He wept over Lazarus. He was a carpenter by trade. He walked our walk that we might walk His. “For we do not have a High Priest (that’s Jesus) who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
God speaks to us through Jesus. God dwelt with us in Jesus. Jesus related to us and communicated to us through stories, parables, and pain. He related to us so that we might relate with Him. It is a beautiful thing that God would condescend to speak to us and dwell with us and suffer for us and die for us and then bid us live for Him.
But notice the qualification. The one great qualification of Hebrews 4:15: yet without sin. Jesus related to us without sinning. He called the sinner Zacchaeus to himself without sinning. He loved the prostitute who wiped His feet without compromising His witness. Jesus got His hands and feet dirty, but He kept His soul clean.
I find that in BLJ, Miller longs to relate to people. But I find that he tries to relate, at times, at a level that compromises his integrity and holiness. Swearing is not something that a Christian ought to do, ever. We are told to put away “filthy language” and “coarse jesting” (Colossians 3:8, Ephesians 5:4). Several times in BLJ such “trivial” sins are mentioned, and in my opinion, passed off as being harmless. (Other examples are drunkenness, marijuana smoking, and etc.) There is nothing funny or harmless about those things, and I do not think that the way to reach people involved in those things is to giggle and say, “Yeah, I have done that too, but I quit because Jesus is cool.” Think about these words from the Apostle Paul, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For they you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Ephesians 5:3-6, emphasis mine).
We are certainly to love people with compassion, kindness, and with patience. We ought to make every single person feel special because they are special. They are made in the Imago-Dei, the image of God. That’s what makes them special. Paul does not say, “Don’t love them” or “Don’t treat them with extraordinary kindness” but rather “Love them as people, but do not do what they do.” Love does not give us warrant to live sloppy, unholy lives. Love “rejoices in truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). It does not give us leave to curse and swear and smoke and get drunk so that the world will think that we are cool. That is, quite simply, not the legacy that Jesus, Paul, nor any Apostle has left us.
My point in writing this is to say that I believe there are places in BLJ where Donald Miller demonstrates brilliant, Christ-like love. (I liked the booth at Reed as well.) But there are other elements of the book that I found distasteful and unwise. I felt that he pushed the envelope and flaunted his freedom in Christ. Paul teaches, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13). We have to be careful and wise. Carelessness in words and refusing to take sin seriously can lead others down dark, dangerous paths.
So, that is the long version of the good and the bad of what I have been thinking. Be relational like Jesus. Communicate to others the greatness and wonder of God as Jesus did. But do not participate in sin in the process. Stoop to be humble. Stoop to be gracious. But do not lower the standard of holiness and thus shame your Master.
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