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.