Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to read a couple dazzlingly popular books by emerging church icons. I started with Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and finished with Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. This isn’t intended as a review or critique, really—I’m sure you can find those in plentiful supply elsewhere. These are just a few of my general impressions on Blue Like Jazz.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, so in order to end on a positive note, I’ll mention my concerns first. Really, it’s one major concern: Don Miller is very dependent on sentimental experience as a means to truth. At several points, he makes bold statements with the supporting evidence being that he has a really strong feeling or impression. In particular, his chapters on love were dragged down by this. God bringing a Bible verse to his mind was cited as a reason why learning to accept others’ love is one of the most important things to learn in life. (Naturally, the intent of the verse in context doesn’t support his point.) On the subject of “feeling loved,” Ed Welch provides a much deeper, more helpful, and more biblical response in his exceptional book When People Are Big and God Is Small.
In addition, Miller seems to think of love as simply making others feel accepted. He’s right in saying that this is a major part of love—“love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4)—and that most churches fail to do this (I’m terrible at it!). However, he misses out on the fact that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (v. 6). Full and genuine love cannot be divorced from the truth of the gospel. It seeks to conform others to the image of Christ. It is something that can only be expressed by followers of Christ. The hippies that Miller mentions have only a piece of the puzzle; while they sound like really cool people, the sad truth is that their love—as nice as it is—is only an empty shell of the love that the biblical authors had in mind. It seems to me that Miller lets his feelings replace biblical truth as his authority on the nature of love.
With that said, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I disliked the book. In fact, it is insightful, convicting, honest, and well-written. I often saw myself in Miller’s frank depiction of his own faults. This book reminded me of how important it is to build and maintain friendships with others; it convicted me of how often I fail to love others, whether in the church or outside of it. I was glad to see Miller standing firmly for right doctrine in most cases even while some in the emerging church seem to be straying from the truth. Finally, this is a good book to give to unbelieving friends, particularly those who have been “burned” by so-called Christians who have failed to follow Christ.
Stay tuned for my impression of Velvet Elvis.