Mark Coppenger, pastor of the Evanston Baptist Church plant in Chicago, lectured for 45 minutes at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary about the very popular Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller. Like many others I have read the book, and was interested to see what Mark would say about it; even if he is pretty late to this party. I was hopeful that he would really interact with the book; perhaps Miller's 13 Paradigm Shifts. Mark admits the book was engaging, but he also says that anyone could write a book like it. It's just "stream of consciousness" writing. He makes this point a couple of times during his lecture; writing a book like this is easy, anyone could do it, you just let it all flow out. The funny thing is Mark himself slips into a stream of consciousness rant about the 60's for over five minutes. It is pretty obvious that not "anyone" can make a stream of conscious expression interesting.
Mark did make a good point early on. He said that in the book Don was being "real" (little r) which is easier than being "Real" (big R) meaning pointing beyond human experience to The Truth. I think that can be a helpful thing to discuss, and of course I agree with the premise. But I think the reason so many were intrigued with Miller's realness (little r) is because the church has been very good at pumping out the Real while not being very real.
Mark also accuses Miller of trying to present God as something "cool." But that is not Miller. It may be the hype surrounding the book, but Miller has clearly spoken against the idea that Christianity is something cool. In an interview with The Door Miller said,
I think the Gospel is the message that Jesus wants us to present, and we don't need to be God's marketing machine. We need to present the Gospel accurately because that's what God has asked us to do. I think if somebody passes from this life thinking that Jesus was cool, that's not very helpful. They need to know that Jesus was the Son of God who died to forgive them of their sins, and enter into a relationship with God. I think the church has bought into this idea that if we make Jesus look cool we win. But what these fellows are trying to do is make themselves look cool, not Jesus. They're looking at a culture that rejects the idea of Jesus, they say "But I want to be a Christian and I also want to be cool so I'll try to make Jesus cool." That's about you, not Jesus. We certainly need to repent of that.
The whole of the review seemed to be less of a real interaction with the book, or Miller's central ideas, and rather a reaction against it. His review consisted of 11 points explaining that Don Miller's spirituality is "blue like" eleven things. (I will only give you the bullets. You can listen to it all here.)
1. It is blue like "blue states." Miller's not a Republican, and points to what he sees as problems in the Republican party.
2. It is blue like a "blue light special." Here he accuses Miller of simply trying to market the Gospel.
3. It is blue like "blue blood." He accuses Miller of being an elitist.
4. It is blue like "blue jello." It's like nailing jello to... oh goodness you get it.
5. It is blue like "Blue Oyster Cult." Here he spends a lot of time, over five minutes, describing his experience of the 60s, and never makes a convincing connection to BLJ.
6. It is blue like "black and blue." He says Miller is showing all his wounds to his audience.
7. It is blue like "working blue." Miller uses crude language.
8. Wait for it, here it comes... It is blue like "Pabst Blue Ribbon." Yep, a reference to beer at the end of the book is a major problem.
9. It is blue like "blue ice." He says Miller, like an airline dumping frozen, blue waste over the landscape, dumps excrement on the landscape of Christian history and theology.
10. It is blue like a "blue screen." It's all smoke and mirrors.
I have to say I am disappointed with the review. Not because it is critical of BLJ, but because it seemed to superfically critique the book. It often boiled down to judging Miller's motives, rather than engaging his ideas.
Look, I am less interested in defending Miller, and more interested in a real interaction with another's words. Like with everyone I read Miller says things that I don't like. But he also says some things that are true and very timely. Maybe there isn't just a faddish love for the book; maybe there is also a faddish reaction against it.
If you have not read the book or heard the critque be sure to give each a try. Just be discerning with both.
Blue Like Jazz - Don Miller