I’m up late with a laptop on my lap. I’m back in America visiting my family for a month and there hasn’t been much meaningful conversation going on around here. I watched the second episode of a Criminal Minds cliffhanger, which I shouldn’t have done…but I just finished reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, which has put me in a very strange state of mind. It didn’t help that today I dug up a lot of old memories recorded in scrapbooks and photo albums that are still stored here in my parents’ house.
I didn’t want to read Blue Like Jazz because I had this feeling that everyone else was reading it or had already read it. All the cool people,that is. I figured I’d read it and then say I’d read it and then tell everyone I met why they didn’t need to read it.
I was disturbed by his writing, so I got out the laptop to look up some conservative reviews about Donald Miller. I didn’t *want* to like his writing, so I thought I’d feel better if I found some experts who could tell me the flaws in his theology or his life or his choice of Bible versions.
I did a web search on “John MacArthur and Donald Miller” –I got a hit and I found what I already knew would be there. You can count on John MacArthur to find and highlight the flaws in this kind of postmodern book. But I did notice one thing–in his comments about Mark Driscoll “the cussing pastor,” whom Miller refers to in his book, MacArthur states that “His soteriology is exactly right, but that only makes his infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society more disturbing.” (see entire article by MacArthur here)
I had no idea what soteriology was, and so…in very post-modern fashion, I did a web search on that too. Simply put, soteriology is the study of doctrines of salvation. Now I love John MacArthur’s commitment to Biblical truth, and you can’t find many people who exegete the scriptures better than him–but, really, did he have to use such a big word to say this guy has it right when it comes to the doctrine of salvation? This is the most critical part of Christianity. The doctrine of salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of belief for followers of Christ. Did he have to use a word that most people don’t know the meaning of to say that this guy really does know what it means to be saved?
MacArthur is like me. He doesn’t want to agree with these people. He doesn’t even want to admit that their doctrine of salvation is correct, so he hides behind a word that most of us have to look up. But who can blame MacArthur? or me? The postmoderns are so unlike him. These postmodern Christian renegades have such offensive habits. Their churches are so unorthodox. It seems they don’t even try to get it right when it comes to living out a godly life.
But the long and short of it is, Donald Miller is writing to people like me–who grew up in the 70s and 80s and watched a lot of tv. I’m homeschooling my kids. I hope they won’t turn out like me and be almost 40 years old with thousands of commercial jingles and scenes from tv shows and movies stored in my head, which resurface and replay themselves at the strangest moments. Miller is writing to those of us who had to question the externals, had to listen to Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins (or had to look for Christian music that sounded like it)–and, yes, those of us who are overly concerned with being cool.
I have several books by John MacArthur on my bookshelf at home. They look good sitting there. I haven’t read them. I keep intending to get to them…I’m sure they’ll be good for me somehow. I read Blue Like Jazz in two days. I couldn’t put it down. It had an effect on me at a deep level, despite my determination to find fault with it. It was not what I expected. I didn’t agree with everything in the book. I do think it matters how we speak and act. The music I listen to and the books I read and the movies I watch do influence me. I don’t think I should listen to or read or watch something that causes me to violate the principle found in Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
So what is it that Miller writes in this book that strikes a deep chord? What is it that resonates in the heart of this homeschooling, stay-at-home mom who is getting less and less cool the older she gets? It’s the simplest thing. And the most profound thing. It’s what us rigid conservatives often fail so miserably at. It’s Love.
Donald Miller knows he’s a sinner. He knows every other human being who has ever lived or who ever will live, is a sinner. And because he knew that and admitted it, he opened the door to Jesus (I’m sure Mr Miller would hate for me to put it that way, though. It was a complicated conversion.) He tends to align himself with “liberals” and finds himself often at odds with “conservatives.” I recently heard he said a prayer at the Democratic National Convention–and he didn’t even close his eyes! (The video is here) In the book, he admits that it’s hard to love conservatives, but he knows he has to, so he’s trying. He admits a lot of things that most of us conservatives keep pharisaically secret. He talks about how his housemates got on his nerves. He confesses to having doubts about his faith while serving as a Christian youth leader. He tells stories about a time when he lived out in the woods with hippies. And he tells about the encounters he had with people at a notoriously liberal college. To put it simply, he lets it all hang out.
I’m not sure if this is exactly what you could call a book review. I can’t decide how many stars I would give this book and I feel like giving it a PG rating (pastoral guidance recommended). I’m keeping the book but instead of giving it to any of my doubting and/or ultracool friends, I think I’ll just do the thing that I agreed with and know to be right. I’ll keep the LOVE part and throw out the rest.