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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.


  • Interesting take on one of my favorite books.

    By Blogger Christine, at 2/24/2006 02:21:00 PM  

  • It always amazes me when god speaks directly into our lives. I mean he does it all the time really. Its just that usually we choose for whatever reason not to listen. He's god right the creator maker of the infinate universe, yet he is so conserned with each of us he takes the time and effort to speak to us, to care for us, to give us direction so we may stay away from those things that will hurt us. But best of all he sent his only son inwhom we know he was well pleased, to give us clear direction, then sacrificeing his self in a way that was the most horrible possible, all of this just so we could have relationship with him. That he loves us very dearly is extremly clear. Your testimony is one more affrimation of this. I love music my self. I play no instruments other than my own voice. One thing though other than songs that had dark evil content when Jesus STARTED TALKING INTO MY LIFE all music was a celibration of relationship with him. In time he did direct me into music that was more focused on him (i'm refering to content not style). The neat thing is even when what I am listening to is not my choose but someone elses it still focuses on him and the holy spirit will touch my spirt man and I will be consumed by his presence, amazing huh. God bless you and all my brothers and sisters in Christ. May his spirit touch you always, and keep you at the center of his heart. Keep up the good fight! J-C-MANNERS

    By Blogger Timothy M. Treglown, at 2/24/2006 04:04:00 PM  

  • I too saw the "phoniness" of Miller in this book, but I used it to challenge some of my cherished beliefs. Some of them needed challenged. Some of them were challenged and found to be true simply because Miller's logic wasn't on solid ground.

    I loved the book for just that reason... it made me consider things anew and cling to what was good. The problem with the book is that too many people lack the discernment to see what you saw.

    By Blogger rev-ed, at 2/28/2006 09:33:00 PM  

  • I think this is a little bit harsh and that sometimes you were reading between the lines (maybe cuz of stuff on Miller's website), but as someone who tends to err on the side truth/justice rather than mercy, I also appreciate the intention (and some of the points) of your review. I just finished reading this book last week and have been meaning to review it, but because I feel conflicted, I've been avoiding it. Thanks for giving me the motivation to do it--I think I'll combine it with my "review" of Napoloeon Dynamite :D

    By Blogger jane, at 3/01/2006 05:54:00 PM  

  • Thank you so much for this review. I just got finished reading this book and frankly, there were parts I liked but on the whole felt...well....let's just say......Brian McClaren reincarinated. Your post solidifed some things for me....:)

    By Blogger Diane, at 3/01/2006 07:11:00 PM  

  • Well, Ham, you're review is a bit one-sided I think and I don't give those kind of reviews much weight. I would rather get a review from Christianity today that shares the goods and bads and less judgements. I did not read it yet and I don't know if I will. We sent it to Justin and he did not like it much--but that was more because of the writing style. My husband will read it and I'm sure I will skim it a bit. I can learn much from anything or anyone even if I don't agree with them--EVEN YOU HAMMER! That does not mean that they will change my opinion.

    By Blogger Teresa, at 3/02/2006 12:57:00 PM  

  • For those who enjoyed the book, I don't mean to imply there were not positive elements in it. However, overall the book was poor on several levels (I chose not to address the writing style, Teresa, but Justin is right - anyone can write that way). Good parts - we can't go wrong by making our faith action inworks of mercy; however, that's not a new song. It's the same song sung by Manning, Lucado, Piper, and anyone with a grip on the love of Christ.

    Thanks for taking time to comment!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/02/2006 02:18:00 PM  

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