Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blue Like Jazz - Book Review

Miller's book is less a treatise of emergent thinking as a conversational and diary-like experience. He values transparency and authenticity and is transparent himself as he talks about his own failings with honesty and humor. This thing he calls Christian spirituality (because Christianity has bad PR) is personal and introspective. One thing I like about Don Miller and the emergents in general is how they want to get rid of the cliché in the church and that is often needed.

But this introspection has them turning to narrative truth instead of propositional truth and you find sensitive passages like this one: "...for so long religion was my false gospel. But there was no magic in it, no wonder, no awe, no kingdom life burning in my chest." In other words, no feeling there. The postmoderns that we call emergent, love to talk about their feelings and experiences and here is another exchange where he's talking about a friend who is thinking about God and Christ: "She wanted God to make sense. He doesn't. He will make no more sense to me than I will make sense to an ant." "I love this about Christian spirituality. It cannot be explained, and yet it is beautiful and true. It is something you feel, and it comes from the soul."

There is a lot of heart talk and not much head talk. Truth be told they mistrust the head and intellect. At one point he writes "My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect" and it make me chuckle because not once in this entire book does he discuss his intellect in relation to this Christian spirituality. Where the head can't understand the heart feels wonder. And if those are reversed he will simply label it "religion" and try to get the heart (feelings) back.

He doesn't touch on the cross much and what the atonement is for (this is a contested area in emergent circles) but he does touch on the Bible and doesn't seem to think much of its answers. In a period of doubt he writes "I suppose what I what every Christian wants...I wanted tangible interaction. I believed if I could contact God, He would be able to explain who and why I was." And approaches God in prayer to say "I'm sorry God...I don't really know who I am, who You are, or what faith looks like. But if You want to talk, I'm here now."

As for the missional aspects of his existence it is strained through this paradigm: "For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical system that can be experienced but not explained. And I could not in good conscious [sic] tell a friend about a faith that didn't excite me. I couldn't share something I wasn't experiencing. And I wasn't experiencing Christianity." And speaking of apologetics he says "Ravi Zacharias says that what the heart is really longing to do is worship, to stand in awe of a God we don't understand and can't explain." Would Ravi say that we don't understand and can't explain God? I doubt that, because if he did what would that mean for his apologetics enterprise?

And for all this probably the worst thing about this book is the amount of silly, immature thinking enclosed. I don't know how wide Miller is in his thinking but this book is about an inch deep and you will come across passages like "It never occurred to me that if Christianity was not rational, neither were other religions" and "America is one of the most immoral countries in the world" and in a surprised way that "we have a sin nature, like the fundamentalist Christians say." By my reckoning Don Miller was in his early thirties when he published this book and I would be ashamed to say things like I'm afraid to read the Bible because I don't want to become like Pat Buchanan. Though he talks about truth, for Miller, and the emergent Christians he's aligned with, it is really about the experience. And what happens when those experiences cease and the feelings subside?


Anonymous said...

I actually LOVED the book. I think that the author is very relatable to many Americans who have lost their sense of purpose and are confused about the roll of God in their lives. I do not think the author is "an inch deep," but rather phrases his commentary in a manner which people understand and can make sense of. I learned a lot about myself, about God, and about my relationship with God from the wisdom presented in the novel.

Gerald said...

Good Review, Brian! That was very helpful.