Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Review of Miller's Blue Like Jazz


I read Blue Like Jazz today...here are my reflections

  1. First, there is this honesty that precludes critique and excludes repentance. The whole book is filled with shocking honesty. It is almost James Frey-like, and I get the idea it is to cut off criticism from the outset. You see, that is the difference between self-deprecation and real sorrow over sin. If you point out your faults before anyone else does then you can just say, "yeah, I already knew that!" Also, it is easier to laugh about. If honesty is so dadgum good, where is Paul's? Sure, he was honest about having sin. But come on, not one single detail...just the struggle. That tells me that honesty does not enjoy a status of being always a good thing.
  2. Almost all "I" and little "He"
  3. His stories of living in community were inspiring and motivating.
  4. The content of the gospel got little press.
  5. Since when is autobiography an acceptable genre for Christian Spirituality? This may be the most distrurbing and dengerous part of the book. It only makes sense that a book on Christian Spirituality would look closely at the best resource for such a subject...the Bible. Whip me, beat me and call me a fundamentalist but I am stickler for looking to the Bible for help in these matters. Anecdotes of a personal nature might be helpful but they are shifting sand. Perhaps it would be easier to understand this book as one Christian's Spirituality instead of Christian Spirtuality.
  6. This book more than any in a while has caused me to ask the question of whether I lean towards mercy or justice.
  7. He seems to have it in for the Republican Party way more than the Democratic Party. And he assumes that evengelicals who "support" the Republican Party are naive and he equates the two. This straw man gets beat to death. I am an evangelical and I wholeheartedly will support any party that wants to end abortion. If that makes me naive, so be it.
  8. Also, he leads the reader to believe that the only involvement in governemnt and politics for the Christian is prayer and protesting. This is troubling. Political theory, the intellectual marketplace of ideas and theological tenets are not independent of one another. And beacuse of this truth we must not write off the policies and actions of others without discussion of them. To simply state that feeding the homeless on the street in America is more merciful and biblical than economic systems which make it possible for them to produce wealth and participate in the marketplace might fit on a bumper-sticker but it might not be true. I bring this up because it passes faddish witty quips off as intelligent statements. He may be right. But he has done little to show it or prove it.
  9. The whole book comes off as adolescent ranting. Do not get me wrong there is a lot of maturity too. But the tenor and tone of the book is marked by a tiresome immmaturity. this book will only sound profound to a college student or someone who thinks like one. I have elsewhere read that this book says old truths in a different way. That is true, there is not a whole lot of novelty here. But you can translate the "saying it a different way" to "saying it like a kid."
  10. I do not know if it is a good thing or not but the book reminded a lot of the last book I finished, Bob Dylan's Chronicles. Now to Miller that is probably a compliment. Maybe it is and should be. I liked Dylan's book but the writing style had an undistinguishable order to it that made it hard to know where he is and what he was talking about. That will be very attractive to the Postmodern-emergent types. To me it just felt lazy. The one word sentance is powerful when employed scarcely. Miller uses it everywhere. Literally.

Would I recommend the book. No, probably not. I especially would not reccomend it to less than discerning readers. College students are snatching this book up left and right. I am not surprised. Let's face it, the book sounds rebellious and cool, after all it is called Blue Like Jazz. The fact is that this is a poor book on Christian Spirtuality. It is a funny book and an poetic book. But it is not a book on Christian Spirituality. A good book on Christian Spirituality is Schaeffer's book, True Spirituality.

I do not fear books by Spong and other heretics. I fear books that have lots of truth but will still lead young Christians down the wrong path. This book will be very attractive to young believers who suffer from an aversion to authority, fall in love with what is cool easily, and love different for different's sake.

(update: I lead a Bible Study on Thursday Night of young couple's where I always learn more from them than they do from me. Last night was no exception. A girl named Allison gave me a quote (not original to me) that helped me think more about this book and why I did not like it. The qoute is, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking about yourself less." Blue Like Jazz failed miserably if this qoute is right on.)

(another update: I read in Philippians 3 about this group of unbelievers who "glory in their shame" I am not convinced I know what this means. But it did get me thinking about how some people in giving their "testimony" seem to glory in the shameful acts they committed before they beleived the gospel. They use humor liberally or they speak about past sins in a trite way. Perhaps, that is why the "honesty" of Blue Like Jazz irked me so. Maybe he did not mean to sound so trite but it was very easy for me to walk away feeling as if he was.)

6 comments:

Jason E. Robertson said...

Great review!

Joshua Sowin said...

Since when is autobiography an acceptable genre for Christian Spirituality

About the time Augustine wrote his Confessions, I would guess.

Brendt said...

I read/reviewed this book some time ago, and had some similar thoughts.

* You read it in one day? Man, I read slowly! ;-)
* Regarding #5, I wouldn't discount autobiography as acceptable. After all, isn't blogging often autobiographical and God-blogging often about Christian Spirituality?
* That said, the dearth of Scripture in the book was unsettling. Were the book moreso, "here's what has happened to me, and here's Scripture that taught me in the process", that'd be more helpful. However, it seemed that Miller avoided providing any distinct help for his readers even more than he avoided Scripture.
* I had a similar feel as #9. I said in my review:
All of these issues, however, are not the strongest impression with which this book left me. I think part of this may be that Miller hangs out with college students too much. When I was in college, my Christian friends and I would often have (what we considered to be) deep theological discussions late into the night. But “upon further review”, we didn’t really talk about anything significant.

With Blue Like Jazz, Miller strikes me as a depth-wannabe.

m b redmond said...

joshua sowin said..."About the time Augustine wrote his Confessions. I guess."

That's a nice parting shot. However, feel free to compare the following randomly selected quote from Confessions to any one of Miller's...

"My heart, O Lord, touched with the words of Thy Holy Scripture, is much busied, amid this poverty of my life. And therefore most times, is the poverty of human understanding copious in words, because enquiring hath more to say than discovering, and demanding is longer than obtaining, and our hand that knocks, hath more work to do, than our hand that receives. We hold the promise, who shall make it null? If God be for us, who can be against us? Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, shall it be opened. These be Thine own promises: and who need fear to be deceived, when the Truth promiseth?"

First, notice how chock full of the Scriptures this section is. Miller's was anything but. Second, notice how God-ward it is, Miller's was anything but.

The fact is that Confessions is an Autobiography (a prayer) and is called that at places such as Amazon.com, etc. However, Blue Like Jazz is not. It is self-described as Christian Spirituality.

Perhaps there are some who are ready for Autobiographical works to be condider Theological works. I am not one of those people.

Joshua Sowin said...

It wasn't meant as a "parting shot," only as a fact. I would consider Augustine's Confessions "Christian Spirituality" (whatever that category means). Is it not spiritual? Is it not Christian?

I'm not saying I like Blue Like Jazz--I haven't read it and doubt I would like it. But I don't have a problem with it being autobiographical. Experience is important, although it is not authoritative.

m b redmond said...

Joshua Sowin said, "Experience is important, although it is not authoritative."

But when someone writes a book as Christian Spirituality that is in the main, autobiographical do we not have the experience now taking the place of where the Word once was. Again, to deny that experience/autobiography is helpful would be dumb. I believe it is helpful for believers. However, it does not follow that such works are to passed off as works on Christian Spirituality. At the very least, a work on Christian Spirituality would have as its goal a setting forth of paradigms and insights gleaned from the Scriptures so Christians might walk in the Spirit, manifesting the fruits thereof. Autobiography, which is so often self-serving and is a terrible form for such objectives.

Thanks for the comments brother, you are making me think and possibly others...