Better late than never

blue like jazzLast week the Associated Press put out over the wires a news story on Donald Miller and his bestselling book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. The story was picked up in a number of newspapers’ religion sections over the weekend leaving many readers wondering what took so long.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an absolutely appropriate news story, but you could have written this story about Donald Miller at least a year ago, if not earlier. Christianity Today did a cover story on him back in June 2007, and even that was overdue. That said, the AP story captures Miller’s message nicely and what has drawn so many people to his writing:

Donald Miller still loves God and Jesus. Don’t misunderstand him.

His problem is with Christianity, at least how it’s often practiced.

“It’s a dangerous term so I try to avoid it,” says Miller, who considered giving up his career as a Christian writer and leaving the church in 2003 because he couldn’t attend services without getting angry.

For him, the word conjured up conservative politics, suburban consumerism and an “insensitivity to people who aren’t like us.” He sat in his boxer shorts and banged out a memoir of his experiences with God, stripped of the trappings of religion.

When I was an undergraduate, this book was all the rage amongst Christian and even non-Christian communities. Why are other authors in Miller’s area of thinking not mentioned in the story? A friend of mine who is an undergraduate passed along the names of Lauren Winner and Ann Lamott, but feel free to leave us a note with the authors (and links!) that are part of this movement.

The article does not act like Miller is the only one out there. The ideas Miller is writing about are bigger than one person. The story correctly notes that the writings by Miller and others like him are in response to something out there in the culture:

Some experts say Miller and authors like him are in sync with a generation of young adults who very much believe in God, Jesus and the basics of Christianity, but are struggling to balance their conservative Christian upbringings with a culture that embraces a go-along-to get-along philosophy.

“People like Donald Miller are speaking almost like a prophet of a new age and describing the landscape in a way people who feel comfortable in that landscape really couldn’t articulate before,” says David Kinnaman, a researcher for The Barna Group and author of Unchristian.

Critics call Miller’s works casual and glib and say he strays from biblical truths when he downplays homosexuality.

One such critic, Shane Walker, says Miller forgets to remind readers that Jesus is also a judge and avenger who “wants to save you from his just wrath,” according to his review for 9Marks, an organization designed to help local churches re-establish their biblical bearings.

Overall, the AP report on Miller is nicely done and captures both his viewpoints and the viewpoints of those who disagree with him succinctly and thoroughly.

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  • Julia Duin

    Daniel – Try Nexis! My brother Steve Duin, the Oregonian’s metro columnist, has done loads of stuff on Donald Miller.

  • Charlie Clauss

    Some of the recent work by Barna points in these kinds of directions. Here is a link to a CT story.

  • Travis Mamone

    I’m a HUGE Donald Miller fan, so I was happy to see the article in my local paper’s Religion section. Yet I couldn’t help but think, “Where were you for the past two years?” I guess it takes a while for the AP to catch up sometimes.

    Love Anne Lamott, too! Anne, Donald, if you out there reading this, please have tea with me.

  • Eric Chaffee

    Hi Daniel,

    When I was an undergrad, in the early 70′s, there was a virulent strain of anti-establishment outlook going around. It nearly persuaded me to leave the church, until I realized this: if there had been no church there when I was a child, I would have missed out on things I considered very precious. So I ‘clung to the wreck.’

    Yet Miller’s perspective is very understandable. A worship community which is narrow and self-focused is likely to be found rather worthless. People are awakening from the need to do church, into a dawn of the need to be church. (My own equation on this is simple enough: church is community. If I desire community, I must practice it as an ideal.)

    To this end, I have found my way onto a very broad-minded site from which I frequently receive a delightful and stimulating array of spiritual samplings by email, called the Nondual Highlights. These are beautifully selected quotes from world religious thinkers, grouped by a few editors into gem-like strings of pearls. (Go to to sign up.)

    Or, if you would rather examine the topic first, go to wikipedia and read about nondualism. It’s the happening spiritual thrust. And it spans a full spectrum of approaches. Keep your eyes on this topic. It’s nondenominational, yet powerfully coalescing in human consciousness.


  • Bruce Tomaso

    Sam Hodges profiled Miller for the cover of The Dallas Morning News’ late, great Religion section back in July 2006.

  • J-Tron

    I would say that Rob Bell’s work is fairly complimentary to Miller’s. It’s not the same. Miller write memoirs of short essays, while Bell writes what amounts to theology. But Bell’s “Velvet Elvis” has that same sort of feel to it as “Blue Like Jazz” gave me, that sense of the Church as something larger and richer and more relational than what I was long ago force fed to think. Both of them give me hope for the future of evangelical Christianity.

  • bethany

    seriously! everyone I know was reading that book in like 2004. After we had all freaked out over Traveling Mercies in 2001-2. I’m not usually way ahead of the curve, but this is ahead by, like, 4 years. Sad, AP.

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