Donald Miller’s (b. 1971) book Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (2003) is a harsh rant against biblical Christianity.
The thesis is that the Christian faith is vague and non-resolving and lacking in boundaries like jazz and that the believer should be a free spirit, having the liberty to follow his own impulses and live pretty much as he pleases without “rules” and “dogmatism.”
This dangerous book is very popular and influential. It has sold over a million copies and can be found at places like Family Christian Stores and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Christian Bookstores.
Miller calls doctrinal statements “formulas” and says they are “created by their authors to help us, but they do more hindering than helping” (Searching for God Knows What, p. 206). He criticizes the “formulaic methodology” (p. 217). He wonders if all the time spent developing doctrine from the Bible would “be better spent painting or writing or singing or learning to speak stories” (p. 217).
Blue Like Jazz is a basically a manual for rebels.
At a book signing event, one enthusiastic reader of Miller’s Blue Like Jazz said: “I love Blue Like Jazz because it’s, like, a Christian book, but it doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself” (“A Better Storyteller,” Christianity Today, June 2007).
Another said: “I’ve already bought Blue Like Jazz 13 times. But I gotta have all these to give to people. I’m a Jesus girl, but I also like to go out and do tequila shots with my friends. This is a book I can give to those friends.”
In discussing his involvement in church in his youth he writes, “I wished I could have subscribed to aspects of Christianity but not the whole thing” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 30). He says, “In order to believe Christianity, you either had to reduce enormous theological absurdities [i.e., Garden of Eden, universal flood] into children’s stories or ignore them” (p. 31). He wanted to believe the gospel “free from the clasp of fairy tale” (p. 35). Thus, he wants to pick and choose what parts of the Bible he would believe.
Miller claims that terms such as “inerrancy” are relatively new to church history and that “much of biblical truth must go out the window when you approach it through the scientific [literal] method” (Searching for God Knows What, p. 160).
Miller tells how that he refused to be restricted by the teaching of traditional-type churches. He wanted to drink beer and watch raunchy movies and talk trashy and run around with atheists and other rebels. In discussing his involvement in church in his youth he says, “I wished I could have subscribed to aspects of Christianity but not the whole thing” (p. 30).
A FALSE COOL PARTY JESUS
Miller’s Jesus is a cool, gentle, party Jesus who loves to hang out with any worldly gang and show them unconditional love. Miller says that he hated it when preachers “said we had to follow Jesus” because “sometimes they would make Him sound angry” (p. 34).
In fact, Jesus was angry sometimes even in His incarnation (“he looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts,” Mark 3:5), and He will be very angry in the future when the wrath of the Lamb is poured out upon mankind as described in the book of Revelation and many other places in Scripture!
At the conclusion of Blue Like Jazz, Miller gives the following “gospel invitation.”
“I want you to know Jesus too. ... If you haven’t done it in a while, pray and talk to Jesus. Ask Him to become real to you. Ask Him to forgive you of self-addiction, ask Him to put a song in your heart. I can’t think of anything better that could happen to you than this” (pp. 239, 240).
That is a false gospel and a false christ. There is nothing about repentance from sin, nothing about the necessity of Christ’s blood atonement, nothing about the new birth. Just talk to Jesus, but what Jesus? The apostle Paul warned that there are false gospels, false christs, and false spirits (2 Cor. 11:1-4).
We agree with the following review of Blue Like Jazz by Shane Walker:
“Jesus is presented as a nice fellow who meets one at the campfire and swaps stories. He’s a listener, a friend, accepting, warm, kind, and gentle. And Jesus is all these things. But the meta-narrative of the Bible, also reminds us that Jesus is terrible. He is the judge, the king, the warrior, the avenger (Rev. 19:2). The good news is not merely that Jesus wants to listen to your story, but rather that he wants to save you from his just wrath.
“The postmodern convert who comes to Christ the friendly listener has yet to meet the authentic Jesus. He’s met the aspects of Jesus that are most comforting to contemporary Westerners, but he has never experienced the stripping bare of all fleshly dignity before the reigning king of the universe. And this nakedness before God is necessary for salvation.
“Likely, right now someone in your church is reading Blue Like Jazz or some similar book. It will resonate with them in style and content--it is cool and Christian. And it is extremely unhelpful. The only antidote seems to be twofold. The first is to reintroduce young Christians to the biblical Jesus: the person who died an agonizing death for their sins, who will tread the winepress of the wrath of God, and who listens to their prayers. The second is to begin the battle against the cool. The godly must begin to prove in the pulpit, in writing, and in their lives that Christianity is the deadly enemy of the cool. And the cool is the Western postmodern entertainment driven culture that has tutored our children and ourselves for the last fifty years.”
LOVING THE WORLD
When Miller decided to attend a raunchy secular college in Portland, Oregon, where most of the students are atheists and agnostics and they use drugs and openly fornicate and sometimes run around naked, a Christian friend sat him down and warned him that God did not want him to attend there. That was good biblical advice (e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 3:5; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17), but Miller ignored the warning and felt that the wicked atmosphere was a liberating experience. He writes: “The first day of school was exhilarating. It was better than high school. Reed had ashtrays, and everybody said cusswords” (p. 38).
Miller says that “flaming liberals” also love Jesus (Blue Like Jazz, p. 110). He described a group of atheistic, drug-using, fornicating, thieving hippies that he once spent time with as “purely lovely” and says they taught him about “goodness, about purity and kindness” (pp. 208, 209). He said that this taught him that there is light and truth outside of Christianity. He concluded, “I had discovered life outside the church, and I liked it. As I said, I preferred it” (p. 210).
Miller describes a house where he lived in communally with a group of other single men in Portland in connection with an emerging church there. They called the house Graceland, not because of the grace of God in Christ but because they love filthy Elvis Presley, and Presley’s hedonistic mansion was called Graceland (Blue Like Jazz, p. 178). One occupant of the emergent household was a communist; another posed nude for the brochure of his advertising agency; another was “a womanizer, always heading down to Kell’s for a pint with the lads” (pp. 178, 179). When they played Nintendo, they would “yell profanities at each other.”
Miller describes how that he was “a fundamentalist Christian” for “a summer” (Blue Like Jazz, pp. 79-80). During that short time he became “a Navy SEAL for Jesus.” But his description of fundamentalism is a convenient straw man. He said that in those days he got upset when preachers talked too much about grace, as if biblical fundamentalists don’t believe in and preach much about grace. He says he was self-righteous in those days, as if Bible fundamentalists are a bunch of self-righteous Pharisees, which simply isn’t true. I have been walking in fundamentalist circles for 35 years and have met countless humble, godly, Christ-centered Christians who know that they are merely sinners saved by grace and that they have no righteousness apart from Jesus and that they are not better than anyone else. Miller says that during that summer he and some of his friends made a contract not to watch television or smoke or listen to music and to read the Bible every day and to memorize certain long passages of Scripture, then he describes how that he gave all this up because he “got ticked at all the people who were having fun with their lives.” This gives the idea that Bible-believing fundamentalists separate from the world only because they don’t like to have fun and they only read the Bible every day because they are forced to. I realize that the term “fundamentalist” is very broad, but in my experience I can say that the fundamentalists I know read the Bible because they love the Lord and want to know His thoughts and walk in His ways and they separate from the world because they want to please the Lord that saved them and they don’t want to be caught in snare of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Miller disagrees with those who reject mysticism and claims that “you cannot be a Christian without being a mystic” (p. 202).
He says, “Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe” (p. 205).
This is the dangerous and unscriptural mystical approach, which downplays the importance of biblical doctrine and exalts intuition and feeling.
In the acknowledgements to Searching for God Knows What, Miller thanks New Age meditation proponent Daniel Goleman). Lighthouse Trails observes: “Goleman (author of The Meditative Mind) writes favorably about mantra meditation and Buddhism. He was the editor for a book titled Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health” (“Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller,” Lighthouse Trails).
For more about the extreme danger of contemplative practices see the book Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond, which is available from Way of Life Literature.
WANTING NO GUILT ABOUT EVANGELISM
Miller says that one thing that drew him to Imago Dei, an emerging church in Portland, Oregon, was the fact that the pastor didn’t see evangelism as “a target on the wall in which the goal is to get people to agree with us about the meaning of life.” Rather, “He saw evangelism as reaching a felt need” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 114). He liked this because he had always felt guilty for not “telling anybody about Jesus except when I was drunk at a party.”
Miller thinks that we are to build the kingdom of God on earth today, and his view of that encompasses anyone that is involved in “social justice.” Under the “Activism” section of his web site Miller links to radical leftist organizations such as the ACLU, Greenpeace, and Moveon.org. His note accompanying the links says these organizations are doing the work of God, which is a reflection of a particularly dense spiritual blindness.
STRANGE VIEW OF HELL
Miller tells about one of his housemates named Stacy who wrote a story of an astronaut who has an accident while working on a space station and has to spend the rest of his life circling the earth in a special space suit and suffering a lingering death. Miller concludes, “Stacy had delivered as accurate a description of hell as could be calculated” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 172).
Thus, he describes a “hell” without fire or torment, and a “hell” that has an end.
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