reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Reading: Blue Like Jazz

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |

Ok, so my blog posted the pciture twice, I dunno why.

I will confess, after I read the first chapter of this I was expecting to hate this book. Really. A lot. When someone starts off their book by saying "I never really got on with God as father because my father wasn't so good" it is not likely to win me over. Strangely, I don't think we're at liberty to say "that idea of God doesn't work for me." I had a very nasty encounter with a shepherd once....

Anyway, I warmed up to it a lot. I think we need more books where people tell us how being a Christian "works" and doesn't work for them. And that is exactly what Miller does. There is an awesome chapter on grace, which reminds me of the lesson we all need to learn - that grace is grace, and that means you don't have to pay God back for it. There is a great chapter on being cool and the emptiness of it, which is great, because I think a lot of "cool" people will read this book. After all, I'm reading it. And a great chapter on loving people - even people we don't like and who we disagree with - we love.

However, while there was some great stuff, there was other stuff that worried me. I think this book is interesting, but there is more in it that would stop me giving it to people to read than would get me to recommend it. Let's start small and head toward the biggy -
1) He uses Gandhi as an example of Christian love. Philip Yancey does this too, and always find it very confusing. Gandhi was a Hindu. No doubt a very good person in wordly terms, but a man who followed false Gods, and said that Jesus was not divine. He is NOT therefore an example of Christianity, whatever other good things he might be. Ok, that's a little one.
2) the chapter on worship and mysticism is so skewed as to be actually misleading. A little bit, dare I say it, dangerous. Miller says that we need to learn we can never understand God, so basically says stop trying. Just experience God. "The wonder of God happens above our arithmetic and formula". Now, sorry to be a stuffy old fuddy duddy here, but isn't the Gospel about knowing God? Isn't it about truth? Yes, God cannot be fully understood, but Miller seems to say that means we should stop thinking. Just let God ignite the kingdom life within you - forget about understanding it. In fact, he equates seeking to understand "the kingdom" as "empty ritual". Which I' sure is very nice for all doctrine professors at Bible colleges. And people who seek to teach the Bible like me, and those of us who discuss predestination till 3 in the morning. That's not an attempt to map God so I can tie him down, it is an attempt to get my wonder and experience to be defined by his awesome truth. Not, as Miller suggests, to just stare into the sky and let God touch you. Mysticism without truth is emptiness. And dangerous emptiness if it leads people away from wanting to know the truth.
3) which leads on to my 3rd and biggest criticism. This book is all about the faith Miller has worked out by the way he feels. He says on a number of occasions "I know this is true because I felt it." Admittedly he has a token pop at an experientially led religion in one chapter, but the whole book rests on what he has worked out from what he experienced. There is hardly any Bible at all, if any. Now, Miller seems to have a good enough grounding and good friends who tell him truth and to obey it. But sadly, this method of "it works for me" could lead us anywhere. I think we need more books telling us how Christianity works for people, but in the end, if it's not about submitting God's word which is outside me, rather than following my own instincts, it's not Lordship.

Miller, doesn't like Christianity. He likes Christian spirituality. But a spirituality is not Christian that is not clearly guided by the truth of the Gospel outside and beyond what works for me. Which is why, ironically, this book doesn't "work for me" in the end.


Blogger andyd said...

I love your blog Mo. You help me narrow the book pool by your reviews. A book where someone suggests he knows something by feeling it? I won't be reading that.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Ashley said...

Yo Mo. Interesting thoughts. I read this book a couple years ago and loved it. I think it's because I find the author really honest about "where he's at" - no facades. I agree with you about the "whatever works for me and makes me feel good" mentality. We need to be led by truth regardless of how it makes us feel. Although I get excited about things that draw people closer to Jesus. I think this book has done that for a lot of people. It's not a theology book and I agree with you...there are areas that are perhaps a little dodgy? I feel like I have been learning lately to really appreciate and dwell on whats true, lovely, right,.. in these things. There are a lot of people around here that have read (and love) Wild at Heart. A book you commented on before. Immediately when I hear that book mentioned I start thinking about the theological errors. However I'm realizing that to many, who have read few if any Christian books, it's monumental. I've decided I want to dwell on the good and truthful parts of these books. I don't want to minimize the importance of truth and having a right view of scripture and God, but I've been really challenged lately in my new American enviornment to consider how I respond to these things.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Kath said...

hmm I'm torn because this was the book I wanted to write. And because yes we need to acknowledge truth etc. I think it was a fair analysis. But. I dunno, it's a cool book,it's helpful for the ultra post modern person that I am, helpful to have someone articulate the stuff I feel a lot of the time, and hey I read the Bible for the truth I long to line my feelings up with. It's just cool to hear anothers human perspective one life. Really we all MUST read books that make us think about life. That we don't agree with, and we should recomend them to others because we trust that God can help them discern between truth and rubbish. Lets help people think for themselves rather than presenting people with a narrow 'approved' book list. So I guess I'm more with Ashley, and slightly scared by Andy's blanket 'never reading that', and liking your honest critic of a book that is cool in places and weird in others... But it's late and I may be talking rubbish! keep thinking mo! it's good to ponder your thoughts!

2:16 PM  
Blogger Brittney said...

sorry mo--::sheepish look:: i'm going to have to say i disagree as well. this book was huge for me for a lot of reasons. i think that's because the author makes himself an approachable christian because he's honest.

i don't think there are many super approachable christians in the world.

this has changed the way that i handle relationships, especially with girls i meet one-to-one.

when i'm approachable, they're honest and i can point them more towards truth.

blue like jazz really helped me break out of expecting people to be honest with me when i was presenting myself (non-intentionally) as someone who did all of the things i was telling them to do all of the time. obviously...i wasn't. impossible. i wouldn't have said this was true, and in ways, i don't think i realized this was true--until i read the book.

i don't think this was meant to be a deeply theological book. my understanding of why it was written, was to give people a real picture of what it's like to be an infallible human, experiencing the grace of God.

5:54 AM  
Blogger andyd said...

More of an "I appreciate the way Mo thinks" than a blanket I won't read it Kath. I tend to speak in extremes and have a real bug bear with the "I felt it was true" approach to Christianity, I've seen it trip up far too many people so it bothers me. I certainly agree about not seeking an "approved" book list, people do indeed need to draw their own conclusions rather than be "told" what to think, boy oh boy is that dangerous! I may read this book, like I say I do tend to talk in extremes, but don't get me wrong I am NOT advocating a burning of all books one does not agree with. The "feeling" issue just happens to be something that lights my touch paper as I said above.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Oooooh. Controversy on my blog.

Thanks folks - all of your thoughts have really made me think. No need to be sheepish Brit, we can disagree and still be friends!

But I stand by my original summation, that while there are good things in this book (and I did point them out Ash) I still wouldn't recommend people to read it. In fact, speaking as someone who is a pastor of people both in spare time and as ajob, I would still actively discourage people, especially young Christians from reading it.

The thing is, we seem to be saying - Miller doesn't say much that's wrong, so let's not be too critical. I agree with that. My problem is his method, rather than his results - like Andy I believe the approach is not just "a bit unhelpful" but actually damaging to people's faith. The similarity between this book and Wild at Heart is that "me" is right at the centre - it's all about me and how I feel - about myself, about God. Of course this appeals to the post-modern reader, as that is the essence of postmodernism - the important thing is how I view the world and feel about it. But actually, that doesn't matter that much. That's much less comfortable to learn, which is why, for example, John Piper is much harder to read that Donald Miller. I did enjoy reading this book - but I realised half way through because it encouraged me to make myself God. And dressed that up as spirituality. The most dangerous trick of all, is to take self idolatry and dress it up as real religion.
I would go as far as to say that it encourages self worship. As I said in my review - this comes out particularly in the chapter about worship, which basically says, I don't want to know the truth ("silly arithmetic") about God, I want to experience him. Erm..false dichotomy anyone?

Kath - no need to listen to my "approved reading list"! I just throw my thoughts out there - although I won't be recommending this to any Relay workers soon.

Ash - I can see how this book might be helpful to people's walk with Jesus. Shooting from the hip, I can't see that Wild at heart would be at all - as the message of the book seems to be "sin as much as you like, God made you that way."But, your mileage may vary.

And everyone? What do you mean that this isn't a theological book? Any book that talks about God is a theology book right? And any book that talks about God without using the Bible we'd usually say is a bad theology book, right? So what's different about this one?

Big up


PS Andy - my advice is still "use your time to read something better" - but my list of approved books is yet to be taken up as a reading list by any major institution ;)

1:31 AM  
Anonymous ash said...

This blog is getting long, isn't it? It's been a couple years since I've read BLJ and WAT, so I feel like I'd have to reread sections to address the things specifically brought up. I would say that I didn't walk away after reading BLJ feeling encouraged to make myself God. I don't think this book was meant to be read in the same way you'd read say Systematic Theology. It's pleasure reading...a guys thoughts...his experience and encounter with a living God. That's what I mean by saying its not a theology book. I wouldn't put it on a required reading list for Relay or Stint. But I do think its a great book to read. That's why it's so important to train people how to read and understand the they can discern what's truth and what's not. Is this book really so misleading that you'd encourage people not to read it?

12:33 PM  
Blogger Brittney said...

i kind of like this blog of opinions. i say write more controversial blogs!

maybe one about....

george w. bush and i'll give my dad the site


2:45 PM  
Blogger Kath said...

oo good discussion, sorry if i was a bit harsh on you andy, agreeing with the annoyance at 'I feel it so it must be true' Christians, but am clearly one of them myself... but trying to escape thinking like that! doh. I reckon I need to hear this kind of stuff more in a - 'woops I spend to much time basing life on my feelings and not enough thinking about the true nature of reality and lining my feelings up with that', type way. Can anyone recomend a good book that helps you do that?

4:46 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...


excellent question. (by the way, do you and andy know each other IRL? If not, kath, andy, andy, kath)

the fact is, I don't know a good book like that - one that says, here is the joyful messiness of living Biblically and here's why.

I wonder if Finding Joy by Marcus Honeysett might be it, but IVP haven't sent me my free copy yet. Grrr.

Brit. That would be fun. Maybe you could just give me your dad's email address and I could get my thoughts on Dubya to him directly.

Ash - I wouldn't recommend it, no. But actually, I have probably been a bit harsh. I wouldn't say to anyone "read this". But if I saw someone was reading it I wouldn't try to stop them, probably just say "There's some things in there I disagree with, what do you think?"
If I see people reading WAH I tear it out of their hands burn it in their presence.

5:58 AM  
Blogger andyd said...

Mauriuce...please if you're going to share anti-Bushy views with Brit's dad I HAVE to see that, none of this private email, there's nowt better than a good rumble! =o)

I don't think I have met you Kath, have I? In this small world of UK Christian student work that would have to go down as a rather grand achievement I would have said! =o)

8:54 AM  
Blogger thebluefish said...

Oo now I'm torn as to whether to get this one or not... probably not, too many other books to read already.

Reminds me I must get my review of Finding Joy online soon.... decided I wouldn't wait for the free copy cos I'm expecting to buy loads of them anway!

7:55 AM  
Blogger étrangère said...

This is an interesting discussion, and I would tend to Mo's line (if I've got you right) on not banning books but actively discouraging people from reading what will not build them up in their view of God in Jesus. I was going to contribute more constructively to this brilliant discussion but got distracted onto saying this: Mo, it is CRUEL to speak of IVP PPS books in the online-presence (not to be confused with onmipresence) who have been BEREFT of them! Help me brother: I'm trying to respond to this trial with contentment, but tripped up on reading your words :( As for the IVP website, it taunts me from across cyberspace...

3:45 PM  
Blogger étrangère said...

oops, that should have read "...omnipresence) of those who have been..."

3:48 PM  

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