|Psalm 40 Ministries|
A Look at ´Blue Like Jazz´Print
‘The message is that man sinned against God and God gave the world over to man, and that if somebody wanted to be rescued out of that, if somebody for instance finds it’s all very empty, that Christ will rescue them if they want; that if they ask forgiveness for being a part of that rebellion then God will forgive them.’
‘What’s the deal with the cross?’ Jake asked.
‘God says the wages of sin is death,’ I told him. ‘And Jesus died so none of us would have to. If we have faith in that then we are Christians.’"
Actually, Miller’s "gospel" is a clear example of an old theological distortion known as Pelagianism. This ancient heresy basically says that original sin did not taint human nature and that we have the ability to choose to walk with God instead of being utterly depraved and lost sinners whom God needs to rescue (Romans 3). The most recent well-known advocate of this doctrine was Charles Finney.
Pelagianism—and Miller—leave out some very basic points: Wrath—judgment—propitiation—and the substitutionary atonement. Jesus didn’t die generically; He died very specifically, taking on Himself the righteous punishment due to sinners—death. (See Romans 1:18, 2:5, 5:9; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9; and Hebrews 2:17.)
Romans 3:22–25 clearly portrays the real Gospel:
"There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood."
And 1 John sets out a clear standard for determining true Christians:
"We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God´s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:3–6) [bold by author]
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God´s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9–10)
The Gospel of the "Hip Christian"
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Galatians 1:8–9
Resurrecting the Beatniks. Blue Like Jazz reminds me very much of the style of the Beatnik era, especially books by Jack Kerouac who wrote in a stream of consciousness centered in himself. And though Donald Miller never says in his book that he’s a pot smoker, it’s amazing how many of his friends are pot smokers and how much his style and thinking strongly resemble those of many pot smokers. He does talk about smoking pot in his youth group though, and one section of his book extols those who take LSD. Being "hip" and "cool" are important to Miller, who frequently uses the terms as measuring rods.
The Hip Gospel never mentions the cross or God’s wrath on sinners and Christ’s atonement for sin. It distorts the Bible, if it refers to it at all, and it never talks about being born again or the desperate need for becoming a new creation.
There is no sorrow for a fallen world—only envy of it.
Miller also claims he never feels as good with Christians as with pagans.
"I never felt so alive as I did in the company of my liberal friends. It isn’t that the Christians I had been with had bad community; they didn’t, I just like the community of the hippies because it was more forgiving, more, I don’t know, healthy."
Healthy? Is he saying it’s healthier to go into the woods and smoke pot and have immoral sex than to belong to Jesus Christ? That we can find more love in the drug scene than in a church? And this represents wonderful freedom for Christians? This is walking as Jesus walks? The Bible calls this the world. And it warns about its terrible dangers:
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15–17)
Miller’s basic message is that pagans are better than Christians but that liberal Christians are much better than conservative Christians. And, finally, that liberals and even Unitarians are far more loving—and healthier—than conservative Christians.
Jesus went among sinners and brought salvation; he didn’t smoke pot with them. Miller goes among sinners and has a grand old time with them. His book doesn’t reveal the love of Christ; it reveals a love of paganism that isn’t a saving love but a desire to emulate sin. It reveals pagan envy.
The Spirituality of the "Hip Christian"
"For me the beginning of sharing my faith with people began with throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained. Christianity, unlike Christian spirituality, was not a term that excited me. And I could not in good conscience tell a friend about a faith that didn’t excite me. I couldn’t share something I wasn’t experiencing."
"I told him that I thought mystical power came through faith in Jesus."
A false dichotomy. Miller’s statements reveal his ignorance and confusion about just what it is to be a Christian in a historical, orthodox sense. Not only does he abandon reason and Scripture, he creates a false dichotomy. He presents the only choices as a hypocritical, commercial Christianity and a hip mystical spirituality. And in the process, he totally misses the true Gospel.
In fact, Miller basically says that truth can be compared to story and that Christianity makes sense because it’s like a story, i.e., like fiction. He not only compares his version of Christian "spirituality" to the elements of fiction, he introduces Pelagianism again. Once more we see Miller’s understanding of "truth" revolves around himself.
"The elements of story began to parallel my understanding of Christian spirituality. Christianity offered a decision, a climax. It also offered a good and bad resolution. In part, our decisions were instrumental to the way our story turned out."
But he doesn’t stop there.
"Now this was spooky because for thousands of years big-haired preachers have talked about the idea that we need to make a decision to follow or reject Christ. They would offer these ideas as a sort of magical solution to the dilemma of life. I had always hated hearing about it because it seemed so entirely unfashionable a thing to believe, but it did explain things. Maybe these unfashionable ideas were pointing at something mystical and true. And perhaps I was judging the idea not by its merit but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of the message."
It’s hard to tell whether he’s talking about TV preachers with pompadours or is just putting down preachers in general, but in either case, he ridicules preaching. He’s basically saying that he decides something is truth not by Scripture but by the way he feels about it—if it’s "mystical"—i.e., feeling-oriented—it must be true.
This is the thinking of the Emergent Church, which elevates story into revelation and truth. Miller is comparing the truth of the Bible with the elements of a story and determining truth by story.
"The last element of story is resolution. Christian spirituality offered a resolution, the resolution of forgiveness and a home in the afterlife. Again, it all sounded so very witless to me, but by this time I wanted desperately to believe it. I felt as though my soul were designed to live the story Christian spirituality was telling. I felt like my soul wanted to be forgiven. I wanted the resolution God was offering.
That last comment is the closest I see him admitting to sin.
In his search for truth, Miller measures by himself: his reaction, his need, his decision, his entertainment, and whether it’s mystical and magical because he likes things that are mystical and magical. Nowhere does he talk about objective truth: the Bible, sin, God’s wrath and judgment upon sinners, or the reason that Christ had to die.
Unfortunately, Miller only mirrors what’s happening in the Church today: Experience is considered more important than truth. And since the modern view is that basically there is no truth that applies to everyone, then "freedom" becomes license ("anything goes").
The Freedom of Real Christianity
"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’" John 8:31–32
False freedom. Miller is an insecure, self-centered man (as he freely admits in his book) who wants to be a literary success, and he is using a certain worldly technique where you let it all hang out. But he exhibits an incredible ignorance of true Christianity and conveys disappointment with a limited experience with the Christian community. He puts down evangelicals in a very ignorant way as though his warped and stereotyped view of them is all there is to the Church. There’s no awareness of the larger Body of Christ or what it means.
I sympathize with his disappointment in the kind of legalistic perfectionism that has been strong in evangelicalism because it tends to produce bondage and hypocrisy instead of true freedom. But what he offers is far from true freedom. He has turned from legalism to antinomianism. (The term means "against law." It describes the state of rebellion against God’s laws and standards of life.) He is leading his readers from perfectionism to lawlessness—and the greatest tragedy of all is that he’s missed the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel, which brings true freedom from the bondage of sin and Satan.
A Spokesman for Romanticism (or Imaginative Paganism)
What Miller and many of today’s neo-evangelicals are moving towards is Romanticism.
There’s a pendulum that swings in Church history between the imbalance of legalism and formalism and the opposite imbalance of rebelliousness and paganism. This has become especially apparent since the Renaissance. The Romantic Movement, which was very influential in Europe, England, and the United States in the 1700s and 1800s, focused on rebellion through poetry, art, imagination, magic, mysticism, and intuition. This movement spawned such men as Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche, who greatly influenced Adolph Hitler.
A Rebirth of Romanticism. Today we are experiencing a rebirth of Romanticism in the form of a flood of rebelliousness masquerading as a new wave of Christian freedom and spirituality. It is especially apparent in the Emergent Church Movement and through the writings of such authors as Brian McLaren. But Christian freedom is always deeply tied to Christian truth. And the freedom Miller offers is so disconnected from Christian truth that it cannot truly be Christian—or truly freedom—at all. Its basis is theological, biblical, and historical ignorance. His enormous appeal is to a shift in society and in the Church that is following the culture away from truth to self.
Bohemian/Beatnik Culture. Miller’s approach to writing personifies a shift that arose out of the Bohemian leftist culture that developed in San Francisco’s North Beach area in the late 1930s. The Bohemians were into wine, poetry, and leftist politics. The Beatniks, who followed them, got into jazz, pot, and other drugs. In the 1960s the movement flowered with the hippies and their focus upon Eastern religions and such psychedelic drugs as LSD and Mescaline. All of these lifestyles claimed to represent freedom and creativity as opposed to "square" American middleclass life.
I know something about these movements because I grew up in San Francisco during the 1940s and 1950s in a family that was part of the Bohemian/Beatnik culture. We managed jazz nightclubs and ran a bookstore in North Beach. And I can tell you from personal experience: Beatniks were not loving; they were not pure; they were not unselfish at all. And they definitely were not free. These movements were, in fact, the epitome of self-love and blind egotism.
Nor was the emphasis on love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District during the Sixties love for others; it was an extreme form of self-gratification—it was the culture of rebellion. And Miller is just aping it and being an apologist for it. Notice that one of his friends at Reed is called "the Beat poet." In some sense he’s extolling the "glories" of Neopaganism and trying to fit his narcissistic "Christianity" of mysticism and magic into it.
One Final Urgent Question: Why the Rush to Paganism?
Why are evangelicals rushing to read and praise this book when it attacks them and the very foundations of their faith?
What does it say about today’s evangelical movement, and today’s youth raised in evangelical homes and culture, that they love his message and are even using it to evangelize?
The overarching theme of Miller’s book is the glorification of rebellion by preaching false freedom. That’s exactly what the Haight-Ashbury preached; it’s exactly what drugs promise; and it’s exactly what the Emergent Church movement promotes today.
Miller’s inability to differentiate his subjective feelings from the truth of Scripture is all too common in the Emergent philosophy spreading among contemporary young people. His book is fuel for the fire among those Christianized youth who are struggling with some of the narrowness of legalistic upbringings and are seeking the freedom in Christ the Bible promises, but who end up in the devil’s snare of false freedom.
The answer to narrowness and legalism is not false freedom but real freedom in Christ. Miller’s "evangelistic" stance though is to trash conservative Christians and to extol pagans. And in fact his promotion of paganism is far more effective than his evangelism for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Read Blue Like Jazz only if you want an example of the sorrowful state of evangelical youth and Christian publishing today.
Submitted 8/25/2008 8:07:42 PM | Author: Richard Nathan