Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

When people hear that I'm a librarian, they inevitably ask me whether I've read "Great New Book" by A. Popular Author. The answer is always no, as most popular contemporary literature does not interest me, certainly nothing on the bestseller lists, and so I always feel like a bad librarian or like I'm letting someone down when I can't commiserate with them on popular-book-of-the-day. This extends into Christian themed books as well, like that "purpose driven" stuff that was all the rage for five minutes and now floods our library's used book sales with unwanted copies. So naturally when I kept hearing "Blue Like Jazz" over and over, I shunned it like a bad disease and went back to reading my non-fiction or whatever vastly unknown book I was reading, likely put out by a small-distribution Mennonite publishing house.

But then, when someone whose beliefs are close to mine (I think) recommended the book, I dug in to see what the fuss was about. Plus, it's a memoir, and I enjoy those.

It was difficult (though not impossible) to put the book down, as it initially felt like it was all going to lead up to a great revelation in Donald Miller's walk with Jesus, one that would drastically change his views and motivate him to enlighten the masses through his writing ability. But that never seemed to happen. It was disappointing when he would suddenly take a sharp turn and spend a page mooning over a girl he likes (and he likes a lot of girls.) In fact, Miller talks about things he likes and doesn't like a lot. He is most deeply critical of other Christians. He also makes the occasional shallow comment that is disjointing, and takes away credibility from his more thought-provoking insights.

Still, Miller did have some good observations about contemporary culture that carry some weight, like how people tend to idolize and even emulate people without having any idea what these individuals believe. And how mainstream evangelicals have come to define themselves almost solely by their politics. No argument there.

I was hoping he would mention Anabaptists and how we might fit into the picture, but he didn't mention us except for his thought that a friend might have become Amish because he was courting instead of dating. Sigh.

Finally, there was one paragraph that I gave a hearty amen to, and that was where a friend was telling Miller about the new "postmodern church" that will be "relevant" to people, to which Miller replies that only a church that believes in Jesus and the power of his Gospel can be a relevant church. Without that, a church with fancy web pages and modern music is just a tool of Satan to get people to be passionate about nothing. Right on.

But by the time I had finished the book, I was acutely aware that this was the most postmodern commentary on Christianity that I may ever read. And the church Miller now attends has rock bands and very fancy web pages, and also strives to be "relevant."

I'd like Miller to write a sequel to this book in twenty years because his thoughts as a mature Christian might be a interesting contrast to the identity-crisis in Christ that he described in Blue Like Jazz.


  1. When I saw the title I thought you were going to talk about music. See what I know?? :) Even so, it doesn't sound like anything I would appreciate. Maybe in 20 years you can write a review about the sequel. :)
    God bless.

  2. I think I had that book, but it was one of the few books I could not bring myself to finish; a disjointed sort of book that ties to make Christianity "cool" for young people.I gave it away, need I say an more?


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