Blue Like Jazz

I mean not to make this blog into “Book-Review Central”… I think the 3 books I have thrown at you recently are The Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen), Metamorpha (Kyle Strobel), and The Bruised Reed (Puritan Richard Sibbes).  Well, surely some of you have read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz – Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.  I started it yesterday and am 140 pages into it after only two sittings. 

 Here’s the thing: Donald Miller is an amazing writer.  I appreciate his ability to enjoyably engage our post-modern very spiritual culture with the relevance of Christ.  Now, I’m not sure where Miller stands with regard to “postmodernizing the gospel” in our attempt to reach our postmodern culture… but he is refreshing, interesting, and intelligible nonetheless and, so far, I have only read his affirmation of the centrality and truth of Christ.  I am thankful for the words God has gifted him with.  Let me give you an example of his work and why it is effective for our postmodern culture (and why many of us should tap into his words for reference sake, at a bare minimum).

Rather than declaratively stating that the Bible teaches us that God has written a story about a King redeeming a people broken and in need (which it does tell us in epic fashion)… instead, Mr. Trendy Writer (which he doesn’t want to be called) uses the fourfold elements of story that are consistent throughout good literature (appreciated asthetically by our artsy culture): setting, conflict, climax and resolution.  What he says is that the reason why we naturally resonate with stories or movies – is because the best of them have a setting that is realistic, a conflict that is all-encompassing (subliminally reminds us of our lives), a climax where the conflict is addressed, and a resolution of some sort (even if not what we expect – most of us still assume life will resolve in some way).  Why does that fourfold ‘package’ continue to be defined as good literature (proven by books purchased and movies watched)?  Why do these elements make sense?

Miller says it is because they reflect the cosmic story where the setting is our struggle in this broken world, the conflict is realizing that the dark struggle is not just in the world but inside our very souls, the climax is when belief in salvation through Christ “happens to us” and the resolution is the kingdom transformation that will come presently and in the future.  In his own words:

There it was: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution.  As silly as it seemed, it met the requirements of the heart and it matched the facts of reality.  It felt more than true, it felt meaningful.  I was starting to believe that I was a character in the greater story, which is why the elements of story [all stories] made sense in the first place.  The magical proposition of the gospel, once free from the clasps of fairy tale, was very adult to me, very gritty like something from Hemingway or Steinbeck…  Christian spirituality was not a children’s story.  It wasn’t cute or neat.  It was mystical and odd and clean, and it was reaching into the dirty. 

Now, I am not in favor of a postmodern gospel, just as I could do without a modernist gospel.  The gospel is trans-cultural.  It transforms the postmodern spiritual individual into a socially active Kingdom-minded follower of Christ, even as it transforms the modern intellectual individual into a Truth-defending but gracious believer.  We don’t modernize or post-modernize the gospel (we don’t enculturate it), but we MUST take the gospel in an intelligible way to the culture we are in – be it postmodern or modern, be it rural or urban, be it homogonous or heterogonous (we DO trans-culturate it).

So far, Blue Like Jazz is like a window into such a philosophy of ministry.  Thank you Donald Miller.  After reading a book with absolutely NO Scripture quotes or references… I come away wanting to know the God of grace who has/can touch my world in Christ.  I come away repenting of my self-obsession.   And I come away excited about the relevant truth that is just that… TRUTH.

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3 thoughts on “Blue Like Jazz

  1. Rich says:

    Great book. I read it a couple of years ago. His pastor, Rick McKinley of Imago Dei is one of my favorites also and he is worth reading as well. Both he and Miller stand on very firm ground with the Gospel in my opinion. They aren’t trying to post-modernize it at all. They are definitely not in the Doug Padgitt, Tony Jones, Brian McLaren camp.

    If you like Blue Like Jazz, you’ll love Searching for God knows what. It’s not as much a memoir(like Jazz) as it is his ministry philosophy. It is one of my all time favorite books. His writing is so real and easy and he does a wonderful job of weaving his theme throughout chapters without the reader hardly noticing. So there is obvious hammering of any one idea.

  2. weakchristian says:

    Thanks Rich. Seems I’m just a few books behind you on the relevant trail. Hi to the family and blessings on the band… Give a hello to your bro and fam as well.

  3. thebigpicmin says:

    Dear Weakchristian,
    I haven’t read “Blue Like Jazz” but it sounds like an interesting read. As crazy as it sounds about all I read these days is my Bible. That has been a well spring for me for many years. I just don’t have time to read other books.

    Lately I’ve started delving into Revelations and other prophetic books. I’m praying that this is not too presumptuous, but I’d really appreciated your feedback any of my recent posts:

    06.03 Godly Church Leader’s Prayer
    05.25 Letter to Church Leaders
    05.22 The Church Servants Slide – Seeker To Presumer Performer
    05.18 Real Communion Services
    05.09 Top Level Sins
    05.04 The Church Leader’s Dilemma: Follow Paul Or Accept Pay
    04.30 Stop Trying To Argue With God!
    04.26 Good And Bad Preachers, Know God’s Distinction
    04.25 The Church Nourished From The Face Of The Serpent!!
    04.23 Preparing The Road For The Rider On The White Horse

    May God Bless Your Ministry

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