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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Blue Like...

Blue Like Jazz has been a fairly popular book, and despite being three years old, it is still #15 on Amazon’s Religion and Spirituality list. So, we figured, why not a Team Hammer book review?

"I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened."
- Donald Miller, author of “Blue Like Jazz”

I write straight, serious stuff all the time. This will be a different format, a la David Letterman. Well, not that funny, but his format. How so? It is obvious that Donald Miller doesn’t get jazz. He seems to think it has no resolution and no restrictions. Well, Mr. Miller, here is a restriction – you’ll never hear a jazz band, in the middle of a number, launch suddenly into the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Pachabel’s Canon, or The Flight of the Bumblebees, despite their clear possession of the necessary tools. As for resolution, I've gotten to spend some time in Jazz bars, and it was always very clear when the song was over – not because it ended (that would be a silly thing to say), but because of the way they ended. Everything was resolved!

Thus, since Donald Miller’s book cannot possibly explain how anything is like Jazz – since he doesn’t get Jazz – I have a top ten list of the things that this book is Blue Like…

10) Blue Like…Blue States.

Donald Miller claims that his spirituality is not political, but then goes on to assault Republicans at every turn. His website has links to, the ACLU, the Wellstone Foundation and Amnesty International. Not surprisingly, the unborn find no time from him, and neither do missionaries. His site also used to note his favorite books, which included Cornell West. If you’ve never heard of Mr. West, he was a professor at Harvard who quit after the President of the University said the Mr. West should produce some scholarly writings and not rap albums. Donald Miller and his spirituality are completely political, and of the “progressive” variety.

9) Blue Like…Blue Light Specials.

This book decries marketing, yet is itself touting a marketing ploy and full of marketing ideas. He repeatedly uses the theme, “Do this and they’ll listen to you.” How different is that than “The Purpose Driven Church”? There is, of course, no call to repentance in Donald Miller’s christianity (small c intentional via Hammertime), but there are messages such as diss yourself, reject authority, and don’t criticize others. That’s not a movement, that’s packaging.

8) Blue Like…Blue Blood.

Blue Bloods were the societal elites who did not have to work and hence, did not get tanned skin like the peasantry. In the continual hypocritical theme, Miller claims to be of the people, but cannot help but disparage many groups – big haired evangelists, bus ministries, backyard Bible clubs, abortion protestors and basically anyone who is involved in the local church. Miller is an elitist who loves to smear those whose ways are beneath his level of cool.

7) Blue Like…Berry Blue Jello.

You just can’t nail this guy down. What is he really trying to say? He disses placard carrying abortion protestors, but carries one to fight global warming and big business. Judging people is bad, he says, then says that John the Baptist was great for calling the Pharisees snakes. Watch that glimmer, see that shimmer, cool and fruity…

6) Blue Like…Blue Oyster Cult

This is the 60’s mantra. No authority, no condemnation of sinful living, Republicans are bad, peace, love, beer and f-bombs are cool. Mr. Miller, most adults in the 60’s didn’t like what was going on – Nixon was reelected, after all. Your audience is small – too small to be the pulse of the country.

5) Blue Like…Black & Blue

Miller loves to “show his wounds”. This is so culturally pleasing and so vapid, as seen in the recent Oprah book club incident. Miller is wounded by his church, by his father, by modern Christianity…boo hoo. In fact, victimhood is so de rigueur that it has become trite. To quote from Black Hawk Down:

NCO “Drive, drive!”
Soldier in HMMWV “But I’ve been shot!”
NCO “We’ve all been shot – now drive!”

We’ve all been shot, Mr. Miller. Now get in and drive.

4) Blue Like…Working Blue

Seinfeld refuses to Work Blue, and is hilarious. So is Bill Cosby. The vast majority of stand-up comedians, however, will throw in some profanity to try to raise the racousness of the crowd – dropping an f-bomb for a laugh. Simply put, Working Blue is cool with Donald Miller, as if he is trying to establish his “cred” or some nonsense. Trite, yet again.

3) Blue Like…Pabst Blue Ribbon

Alcohol has smashed millions of families and killed tens of thousands in the US alone each year. Why Miller feels the need to promote beer drinking is beyond me. I’m not saying he can’t have a beer – I’m saying that the message of Christ needs no such thing attached to it. Yet again, he seeks to endear himself to his market – which, as we have seen, does not include ladies teaching VBS.

2) Blue Like…Blue Ice

That’s the stuff that falls out of airplane toilets, crystallized by the low atmospheric temperature. If it hits ground in that form – yuck. He dumps blue ice all over Theology, Ethics, the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, Doctrine, and generally the details of Christianity. “Lighten up” is his message. He identifies the church as culture despisers, but says, “lighten up, embrace the culture, go with the flow.” Miller’s Generous Orthodoxy is so generous that it excludes nothing from it. Instead, he glorifies Ani DiFranco, a lesbian activist and artist who champions abortion and radical leftist ideology. Miller loves DiFranco, but bashes Martin Luther. He has so much blue ice for everyone I wonder if he’s ever left any on a plane he’s ridden.

1) Blue Like…Blue Screen

The weather man does not have a map behind him, he is pointing at a blank blue screen. He is also looking at himself on a monitor. Miller’s christianity is just like that. He isn’t pointing to a sacrificial way that he has walked that we should walk – he instead is pointing at nothing and looking at himself and saying, do it my way! Oddly enough, all of Miller’s ideas conform to what most middle to upper class white people with false or weak Christianity want to do – brink beer, ignore sin, dress down, talk rude and diss Jerry Falwell. His message of, “if you want to reach people, do this” has a “this” that consists of exactly what his target audience wants to do. It throws away historical Christianity and the church – not in order to sacrifice something he loves to get something better, but to get rid of what he doesn’t like. He tries to typify the generation by his Reed College buddies, and it is a joke.

Donald Miller wants us to grow a goatee and be cool. God wants a life of godliness and a heart for others. God doesn’t want cultural acceptance, but a culture of Christ. When the apostle Paul hit a city, there was either a revival or a riot. When Miller hits a city, it’s gonna be mellow.

Of course, there is some appeal in Miller’s book because he bashes some of the obvious excesses of individuals and a minority of churches. Most of the appeal is because the book appeals to our sin nature. That’s it.

Winston Churchill quipped that if you’re not a liberal in your 20’s, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative by 30 then you have no brains. Donald Miller is 31.

It’s time to grow up.

Evangelical Casualties IV - The Proposed Cure

At first glance it may seem that our three evangelical casualties of restless experientialists, entrenched intellectualists and disaffected deviationists have little in common. However, I propose an cure for their ailments which may be unexpected.

What they all need is simply to dedicate themselves to a little bit of old time religion. By old-time, I don’t mean what the hymn writer of “Give Me That Old Time Religion” was thinking. They were thinking about 1870 or so. I am talking older – like 1650. Specifically, I call those who have been reacted to modern evangelicalism in the above ways to dedication of themselves to the spiritual and practical principles of the Puritans. Now, I know the word “Puritan” has negative connotations, but that is due to our culture, not historical fact. What might the Puritans have for these groups?

For the restless experientialist, the Puritans offer the stress on God-centeredness as a divine requirement that is central to the discipline of self-denial. Second, the insistence on the primacy of the mind and on the impossibility of obeying biblical truth that one has not yet understood. Third, the demand for humility, patience, and steadiness at all times, and for an acknowledgement that the Holy Spirit’s main ministry is not to give us thrills but to create in us Christlike character. Fourth, the recognition that feelings go up and down, and that God frequently tries us by leading us through wastes of emotional flatness. Fifth, the singling out of worship as life’s primary activity. Sixth, the stress on our need of regular self-examination by Scripture, in terms set forth by Psalm 139:23-24. Lastly, the realization that sanctified suffering bulks large in God’s plan for his children’s growth in grace.

For the entrenched intellectualist the Puritans offer a series of points that are counter to this malady – though you may not have known it. First, true religion claims the affections as well as the intellect. Second, theological truth exists for the purpose of practice. Theology matters, as I have said, for it is the science of blessedly living forever and the science of living to God. Third, conceptual knowledge kills if one does not move on from knowing notions to knowing the realities to which they refer – in this case, from knowing about God to a relational acquaintance with God himself. Fourth, faith and repentance, issuing in a life of love and holiness, that is, gratitude expressed in goodwill and good works, are explicitly called for in the gospel. Fifth, the Spirit is given to lead us in close companionship with others for Christ. Sixth, the discipline of discursive meditation is meant to keep us ardent and adoring in our love affair with God. Seventh, it is ungodly and scandalous to become a firebrand and cause division in the church, and it is ordinarily nothing more reputable than spiritual pride in its intellectual form that causes men to form parties and cause splits. The Puritans would have diagnosed today’s fixated Christian intellectualists as spiritually stunted, not in their zeal for the form of sound words but in their lack of zeal for anything else; and the thrust of Puritan teaching about God’s truth in man’s life is still potent to ripen such souls into whole and mature human beings.

Finally, for the disaffected deviationists, those who will read the writings of Puritan authors will find much that helps their malady. They will read of the mystery of God: that our God is too small, that the real God cannot be put without remainder into a man-made conceptual box so as to be fully understood; and that he was, is, and always will be so bewilderingly inscrutable in his dealing with those who trust and love him, so that ‘losses and crosses’, that is, bafflement and disappointment in relation to particular hopes one has entertained, must be accepted as recurring elements in one’s life of fellowship with him. They will see the love of God: that it is a love that redeems, converts, sanctifies, and ultimately glorifies sinners, and that Calvary was the one place in human history where it was fully and unambiguously revealed, and that in relation to our own situation we may know for certain that nothing can separate us from that love (Rom 8:38), although no situation in this world will ever be freed from flies in the ointment and thorns in the bed. They will understand further of this divine love, and that it is the salvation of God: that the Christ who put away our sins and brought us God’s pardon is leading us through this world to a glory for which we are even now being prepared by the instilling of desire for it and capacity to enjoy it, and that holiness here, in the form of consecrated service and loving obedience through thick and thin, is the high road to happiness hereafter. Following this, they will read about spiritual conflict, the many ways in which the world, the flesh and the devil seek to lay us low. Fifth, they will discover the protection of God, whereby he overrules and sanctifies the conflict, often allowing one evil to touch our lives in order thereby to shield us from greater evils. Finally, they will know about the glory of God, which it becomes our privilege to further by our celebrating of his grace, by our proving of his power under perplexity and pressure, by totally resigning ourselves to his good pleasure, and by making him our joy and delight at all times.

By ministering to us these precious truths the Puritans give us the resources we need to cope with the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ and offer the casualties an insight into what has happened to them and can raise them above self-pitying resentment and reaction and restore their spiritual health completely. We need the Puritans, all of us – John Owen, Richard Baxter, Thomas Fuller. If you like a more modern writing style, J.I. Packer would do nicely. Try the Puritans on, those of us who are very sick and those of us less so, and you will find that the fit is almost always one which you want to wear again and again.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Evangelical Casualties III - Disaffected Deviationists

The third category of the casualties and dropouts of the modern evangelical movement are the disaffected deviationists, many of whom have now turned against it to denounce it as a neurotic perversion of Christianity at best, or used it to denounce Christianity as a whole at worst.

Here, too, is a breed we all know too well, and who likely are among those who occasionally visit Team Hammer. It is distressing to think of these persons, both because their experience to date discredits our evangelicalism deeply and also because there are so many of them. Who are they?

They are people who once saw themselves as evangelicals, either from being evangelically nurtured or from coming to profess conversion from within the evangelical sphere of influence, but who have become disillusioned with the evangelical point of view and have turned their back on it, feeling that it let them down. Some leave it for intellectual reasons, judging that what was taught them was so simplistic as to stifle their minds and so unrealistic and out of touch with facts as to be really, if unintentionally, dishonest.

Others leave because they were led to believe that as Christians they would enjoy health, wealth, trouble-free circumstances, immunity from relational hurts, betrayals, and failures, and from making mistakes and bad decisions; in short, a flowery bed of ease on which they would be carried happily to heaven - and these great expectations were in due course refuted by events. Hurt and angry, feeling themselves a victim of a confidence trick, they now accuse the evangelicalism they knew of having failed and fooled them, and resentfully give it up; it is a mercy if they do not therewith simply accuse and abandon God himself, though this is often the case.

Modern evangelicalism has much to answer for in the number of casualties of this sort that it has caused in recent years by its naivety of mind and unrealism of expectations. But here again, the ministry that can aid these casualties is the same that will aid the restless experientialists and the entrenched intellectualists.

- My final post in the series will give an overview of this ministry.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Evangelical Casualties II - Entrenched Intellectualists

The Entrenched Intellectualists are a familiar breed within evangelicalism, though not quite as common as the restless experientialists. Some of them seem to be victims of an insecure temperament and inferiority feelings, others seem to be reacting out of pride or pain against the zaniness of experientialism as they have perceived it, but whatever the source of their syndrome the behavior-pattern in which they express it is distinctive and characteristic. Constantly they present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God's truth for whom orthodoxy is all.

Their leading interest is upholding and defending their own view of that truth, whether Calvinist or Arminian, dispensational or Pentecostal, national church reformist or Free Church separatist, or whatever it might be, and they invest themselves unstintingly in this task. There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. They see, truly enough, that in our anti-rational, feeling-oriented, instant gratification culture conceptual knowledge of divine things is undervalued, and they seek with passion to right the balance at this point. They understand the priority of the intellect well; the trouble is that intellectualism, expressing itself in endless campaigns for their own brand of right thinking, is almost if not quite all that they can offer, for it is almost if not quite all that they have.

These brethren need the same ministry that their restless experientialist counterparts do - though it may be difficult to see what it may be. Be patient - I don't intend twelve days between posts to get to that answer!

Next - the last group: disaffected deviationists.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

And in that vein, I present Team Hammer's Musings, in a picture:

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Pretty nifty, huh? You can do your own blog over at Snap Shirts.

Via Saurly Yours.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Evangelical Casualties I - Restless Experientialists

Evangelical Christianity has, over the past hundred years or so, failed in ways that can be both defined and seen in the results. In an effort to support my definition, I will first present the evidence of the failure, followed by the prescription for improvement.

The church has failed in how it relates to individuals in Western society. The external evidence of this has been suggested on many fronts, but whatever the reflection of the failure may have been, the results of it are seen in three groups of people. We shall call them the restless experientialists, the entrenched intellectualists, and the disaffected deviationists. These are not organized groups of opinion, but individual persons with characteristic mentalities that one meets over and over again.

First, the restless experientialists are a familiar breed, some of whom are certain to stumble by this blog. In fact, they are so common that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainment, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of Psalms 42, 88 and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.

It is no counter to these defects to appeal to the specialized counseling techniques that extrovert evangelicals have developed for pastoral purposes in recent years; for spiritual life is fostered, and spiritual maturity engendered, not by techniques but by truth, and if our techniques have been formed in terms of a defective notion of the truth to be conveyed and the goal to be aimed at they cannot make us better pastors or believers than we were before. The reason why the restless experientialists are lopsided is that they have fallen victim to a form of worldliness, a man-centered, anti-rational individualism, which turns Christian life into a thrill-seeking ego-trip. Such saints need the sort of maturing ministry that I shall present at the end of this series.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Thoughts on Intellectual Property

Dennis Prager is adamant - if you use an idea that you first heard from him, you should essentially cite him in your conversation. I disagree entirely. If I am turning in an academic paper, or attempting to publish a work for income, I agree. However, in verbal conversation and blogdom, I think it is actually counterproductive.

Here is why: If I propose an idea, and note that I got the idea from Josef Stalin, I expect to receive a very different response than if I note that I got it from Teddy Roosevelt, John Locke, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Plato or Christ. In each of those cases, the response is more likely to be a result of the source of the position than the actual position.

Mark over at The Moderate Liberal tries (he says) to consider GWB ideas as if they were proposed by Clinton. However, I don't think we are able to separate our consideration of ideas from the emotions we have about the personality.

Thus, I am a plagiarist. Sometimes I will hijack an entire block quote and use it as my own here. Why? Because I seek people's reactions to the idea, not the personality. I suppose I should add a disclaimer on my site that mentions this. Incidentally, if I used Google Ads to try to make money from my blog, I would have to stop this practice.

Upcoming Series

I have two series that I am unpacking.

The first will be about the casualities of evangelical Christianity over the past 100 years. I am certain that some of my occasional and regular visitors fall into these three categories of casualties.

The second will be a discussion of grace again, but from a different perspective. The previous 'Grace' series was about discipleship and grace. This one will be more elementary - what grace really is.

I believe that the two series are connected in this - the failure of the message of the second has led to the casualties of the first. Stick around and see if you agree - or not.

Honor: An Addendum

From the SOTU last night:

Our men and women in uniform are making sacrifices--and showing a sense of duty stronger than all fear. They know what it is like to fight house to house in a maze of streets ... to wear heavy gear in the desert heat ... to see a comrade killed by a roadside bomb. And those who know the costs also know the stakes. Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay was killed last month fighting the enemy in Fallujah. He left behind a letter to his family, but his words could just as well be addressed to every American. Here is what Dan wrote: "I know what honor is. It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to.... Never falter! Don't hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting."

Staff Sergeant Dan Clay's wife, Lisa, and his mom and dad, Sara Jo and Bud, are with us this evening. Our Nation is grateful to the fallen, who live in the memory of our country. We are grateful to all who volunteer to wear our Nation's uniform--and as we honor our brave troops, let us never forget the sacrifices of America's military families.