Monday, September 19, 2005

A Review of "Blue Like Jazz"

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.  


Anonymous said...

I think your review here will save me the price of the book!'s ideas not God's. Thinking back to how our Lord loved the sinner but hated the sin and was very pointed and quick to say so, it seems to me. Not that we are HIM, but are to be His representative. I always laugh when I see those who say other groups are legalistic...I have never met a person yet in my 53 years who was not legalistic about something...may be something different from my legalistic things...but truth is truth! No matter how liberal a person thinks they are, they still have a list of things others best not "cross"!! According to Revelation, a book John was told by God to write, which gives it a lot of weight in my opinion, we are told we must endure to the question is, how are those with such "light" theology going to endure to the end?? Seems we need to read THE BOOK a bit more...and in whole, not in parts only! This "group mentality" that has overtaken most of the Church world is scary to behold!

MColvin said...

Glad you got to read the book. I love your interpretation of it. I knew you would appreciate some of the humor in it. The guy has a similar sense of humor to the controller of this website! What impressed me most about this guy is that he does love the "fruit nuts". This is something that we sometimes overlook. God loves everyone and that has really been on my heart lately. In a Sunday discipleship study with 6th/7th graders we had a study last week about how "God loves freaky people too". It's so easy in this day to just overlook individuals who are deemed "different". I think Miller does a great job of approaching these people and showing them Jesus. The confession booth @ Reed really moved me. Not only for the cleverness of the idea, but for boldness in doing such. How many people do we see daily, at the mall, grocery store, pharmacy, or anywhere that we look at and think something negative about merely because of there appearance, speech, or smell. Instead, we should take Miller's approach that God loves this person too and if God loves them, we should too.

Sojourner said...

I should have added here that Miller often struck me as immature in his thinking and in his activities. That's what irked me most of the time.

MColvin said...

Not sure if he's immature in his thinking or if he just writes that way to reach a certain segment of the population. I related alot to this guy (maybe that says something about me). The unsaved of this world need to know Jesus and most will turn away from "preaching". I like that Miller presents Jesus in a way that makes these "different" people pay attention and at least for a moment, take consideration of Jesus. Get Jesus that moment and he can turn a hellbound sinner into a messenger for Christ.

Anonymous said...

I read the book for many of the same reasons that you confessed. I thought it was a good read. He reminded me of you a bit. What I got the most from the book is that we do need to love people first and then let Jesus work through our love.

Anonymous said...

Of course he sounds immature at times. This is a recounting of his journey. The good and the bad. He is explaining his thought processes at the time, and he in no way tries to say he has it all figured out now. I come from a very conservative background and this book challenged me. I'm uncomfortable around people who are not like me, but if I'm not willing to reach past that and build relationships with people who are different from me. How can I ever expect to witness to them.

You state in your concerns about Miller's book that, "They have to become people in pursuit of God, through Jesus Christ, and they have to have a zealous pursuit of godliness." Then what? If they never turn to God do you stop loving them? Do you turn away, shun them and give them up for lost? Your statement has the atmosphere of the conditional love that Miller is so critical of. You never shy from the truth or the Gospel but you don't beat people over the head with it either. I admit, I would find it very difficult to love a raging liberal "fruit nut" but that is wrong and I have to change that.