I would never have picked up this book on my own, but a young friend recommended it earnestly. He was distressed when, after a brief internet search, I commented that it might be associated with the emergent church movement, and he wondered if I’d read it. Now I have.
Blue Like Jazz is the beautifully-written, almost dreamlike story of Don Miller’s search for God, meaning, and reality. He presents the gospel and many theological concepts by sharing stories about his life, his personal spiritual discoveries, and his friends. His goal is to share the song that began when his soul was set free, and the truths that were disclosed when ‘Jesus happened to him’.
Don Miller confesses to being ‘self-addicted’—like the rest of us, of course—but, although he recognizes this flaw, he still bases his book on himself, his story, and his experiences.
Even truth revolves around himself. In fact, this is how he determines truth: “What she was saying was true. I knew it was true. I could feel that it was true.” Therefore, for him it is true.
Don expects his experiences to influence us enough that we, too, become convinced that it is true. As I read, I wondered why we should pay any attention to the written word of Don Miller about Christianity since Don seems to pay so little attention to God’s written Word about Christianity. He does not enjoy quoting the Bible. Toward the end of the book I understood the problem: Don Miller, even after spending considerable time in ministry, did not know the Bible. In fact, he wrote that, at the time, he had never read the entire Bible!
Of course then, it’s no wonder that he has to turn inward for his ideas, that his theology is a bit shaky, and that he greatly admires (or envies?) some of those who live ungodly lifestyles, actually preferring them to God’s people.
Even so, there is some value in this book.
- Blue Like Jazz shows the searching and discoveries of young intellectuals, out to find their own path in Christianity, and it determinedly proclaims the relevance of Jesus, even in our post-modern culture. Thus it could be of benefit to such seekers and to those ministering to them. Even so, is it right to begin evangelism by ‘throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality?’
- Blue Like Jazz also expresses familiar Christian concepts in such unconventional terms that they seem new. This could startle the complacent into a new understanding of God’s Word…if they already know it. Unfortunately, Miller will not teach them Scripture.
All that being said, many godly people I know would be highly offended by the concepts, the language, and the behavior of the author. These people have, through the Holy Spirit and a lifetime of reverent living, learning, loving, and serving, gone far beyond the crassness and confusion of Don Miller in Blue Like Jazz. They might even consider his ‘fresh’ approach an infringement on God’s holiness. And they are right.
Here’s a mild example of truth spoken in a way that makes me cringe. “…if we are created beings, the thing that created us would have to be greater than us, so much greater, in fact, that we would not be able to understand it.” This is true, but our holy God is neither a ‘thing’ nor an ‘it’.
Because of such irreverence as well as inappropriate episodes and attitudes, I do not recommend Blue Like Jazz to Christian teens. It’s not worth the time of most older Christians either. However, if someone is called to understand or minister to young ‘self-addicted’ intellectuals, this book could be helpful. Young people, exploring the world of ideas, will probably find Blue Like Jazz very appealing, but I suggest that they could learn a whole lot more from books well-grounded in God’s Word.
I am not surprised that Tim Challies, the well-known Reformed reviewer, expressed a viewpoint similar to mine.
Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library and have expressed my own honest opinions.