Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, by Donald Miller


Let me start out by saying what this book is not. 

It is not a theological treatise.  It is not a doctrinal text.  It is not a creed, a credo, or a statement of faith.  It is one man's description of his spiritual journey and some things he's learned along the way.  In that sense, it's not terribly different from Tender at the Bone, Girl Meets God, Traveling Mercies, or any other memoir.  I would not encourage people to use this book as their own personal bible.  But then, I doubt Miller ever intended it to be used that way.
Taken for what it is--or what I think it's meant to be, anyway, which is a collection of Miller's own ruminations and conclusions--it's not a bad book at all.  Miller is a decent enough writer, frank and self deprecating, and I suspect any introspective reader will resonate with his struggles and neuroses.  I found his chapters on romance particularly compelling, as he discusses frankly his introversion, selfishness, and fear of rejection. 

As I mentioned, this is not a treatise, and it's not long on theology.  Miller focuses more on love than faith--most likely in an attempt to rectify the reverse imbalance in many evangelical churches--which could sound to an unwary reader like a sort of works-based salvation.  Fortunately, Miller is absolutely adamant that men are by nature utterly sinful and capable of every sort of evil.  He does not shy away from this belief, but continues to hammer it home throughout the book.  He knows he needs a savior, and he makes it as clear as he can that his readers need a savior, too.  (The specifics of salvation could be clearer, but at least he's starting in the right place.) 

Perhaps it is this focus on the depravity of man that keeps the book from veering into the sort of arrogant condescension that seemed to run through Velvet Elvis.  Miller seems acutely aware that he is self-absorbed (to write a book like this, you almost have to be), but he genuinely bemoans his selfishness and frankly and humbly confesses his sins to the reader. 

Like Bell, Miller offers some criticisms of the American church--the way it politicizes religion and fails to genuinely love those who are different--but the book is more about his mistakes than it is a criticism of others'.  The language is a little fluffier than I like--some of the terminology distinctions seem silly or even misleading to me ('Christian spirituality' rather than 'Christianity', just offer them Jesus, etc.). 

But all in all, it's an inoffensive enough book with some helpful reminders of the depravity of man and convicting admonishments to love our neighbors better.

No comments: