This is a very ‘non-technical’ book review of the book by Donald Miller entitled Blue Like Jazz.
If you are looking for a review that will parse Miller’s theology, this is not the review for you While I will deal with some of that in a general way, that is not the point of his book, nor is it the point of my review here. Since this is my first book review anyway, (my Harry Potter approval excepted) this will be unpolished, non-scholarly, and therefore, perhaps, it may be actually useful to you.
Let me first tell you my motivation for reading this book. I read this book because a good many other people are reading this book. I like to be “in the know” on such things. I want to read what other Christians, and especially my church members, are reading so that we can talk about the good and the bad. There is my motivation. I have no agenda with Donald Miller. I had not even heard of him before I read this book.
Blue Like Jazz is basically a book about Miller’s life and how it has been shaped by his Christian experience. It is written like a conversation. Almost as if you were sitting with Miller, and I want to call him Don because I know so much about him now, and having coffee and he was telling you about himself. If this helps, I would personally be alright with that conversation.
The thing that I admire about Miller is that he tries very hard not to be ‘judgmental’ of people. He enjoys hanging out with ‘fruit nut’ types. (His words, not mine.) He likes artists, weirdoes, and hippy types, and he seeks to cultivate genuine relationships with them. He even spent time at Reed, which is like the revolutionist, hippy, ‘fruit nut’ Mecca. His stories are hilarious, and often touching. I could relate to much of what he said.
In his relationships, Miller seeks to ‘share Christ’ by sharing himself. (My words, not his.) He cannot stand ‘selling Jesus’ as one would sell something on an infomercial. He wants to be authentic, understanding, compassionate, and he wants to be himself. In his writing, he is extremely self-depreciating in a very likable way. It’s hard not to like the guy.
Here is the issue with Jazz that I think is worth talking about. Miller want to reach the ‘fruit nuts’ of the world by loving them. I think that he is right about that. If his book is accurate, he seems to have seen some success in that area. (He is a member of the Imago-Dei Church, about which I know nothing other than was Miller wrote about in his book. Perhaps an enlightened reader can help me here.) But here is the catch for me personally, and here is the area with which I struggle: How long can we be engaged with ‘fruit nuts’ before we have to talk about sin? It’s easy to be friends with people as long as you do not assert truth with a capital “T”.
I think that Miller feels the same tension. This is evident in the fact that the people who he likes the least are Fundamentalists. (Though I think he would like me. I am pretty charming, once you get to know me.) He doesn’t like Fundies because of the rules. He has a pretty big disdain for rules. He equates fundamentalists with rules and legalism, not doctrine and love for God. He views fundamentalists as a people who offer only a conditional love. That is, they love you only as long as you toe the party line by keeping the rules, once you break those rules the love is withdrawn: the rules such as smoking, drinking beer, dancing (in some circles), watching rated-R movies, and cussing. You can’t win the fruit nuts if you aren’t willing to put up with a little cussing and beer drinking and pipe smoking. You even have to be patient with fornicators.
Admittedly, the man has a point (not so much about having to put up with sin, but that we have to pointedly and tangibly love those who are not Christians). I know that my fundamentalist friends just passed out, but that’s okay. When you wake up and read the rest you’ll feel better. We have to love the ‘fruit nuts’, and we must treat people outside the church with redeeming grace. They just can not stay fruit nuts. (Being non-fruit nut does not mean becoming a voting Republican.) They have to become people in pursuit of God, through Jesus Christ, and they have to have a zealous pursuit of godliness. This is something that only the Holy Spirit can bring about. Rules just won’t cut it.
Miller’s book made me think, laugh, and sometimes he seriously irked me. In the end, I will say that if you want to, you should read the book. It is no theological masterpiece, but I think that it will give you a feel for the mindset of the “emerging church” types.
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