Last week the Associated Press put out over the wires a news story on Donald Miller and his bestselling book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. The story was picked up in a number of newspapers' religion sections over the weekend leaving many readers wondering what took so long. Don't get me wrong. This is an absolutely appropriate news story, but you could have written this story about Donald Miller at least a year ago, if not earlier. Christianity Today did a cover story on him back in June 2007, and even that was overdue. That said, the AP story captures Miller's message nicely and what has drawn so many people to his writing:
Donald Miller still loves God and Jesus. Don't misunderstand him.
His problem is with Christianity, at least how it's often practiced.
"It's a dangerous term so I try to avoid it," says Miller, who considered giving up his career as a Christian writer and leaving the church in 2003 because he couldn't attend services without getting angry.
For him, the word conjured up conservative politics, suburban consumerism and an "insensitivity to people who aren't like us." He sat in his boxer shorts and banged out a memoir of his experiences with God, stripped of the trappings of religion.
When I was an undergraduate, this book was all the rage amongst Christian and even non-Christian communities. Why are other authors in Miller's area of thinking not mentioned in the story? A friend of mine who is an undergraduate passed along the names of Lauren Winner and Ann Lamott, but feel free to leave us a note with the authors (and links!) that are part of this movement.
The article does not act like Miller is the only one out there. The ideas Miller is writing about are bigger than one person. The story correctly notes that the writings by Miller and others like him are in response to something out there in the culture:
Some experts say Miller and authors like him are in sync with a generation of young adults who very much believe in God, Jesus and the basics of Christianity, but are struggling to balance their conservative Christian upbringings with a culture that embraces a go-along-to get-along philosophy.
"People like Donald Miller are speaking almost like a prophet of a new age and describing the landscape in a way people who feel comfortable in that landscape really couldn't articulate before," says David Kinnaman, a researcher for The Barna Group and author of Unchristian.
Critics call Miller's works casual and glib and say he strays from biblical truths when he downplays homosexuality.
One such critic, Shane Walker, says Miller forgets to remind readers that Jesus is also a judge and avenger who "wants to save you from his just wrath," according to his review for 9Marks, an organization designed to help local churches re-establish their biblical bearings.
Overall, the AP report on Miller is nicely done and captures both his viewpoints and the viewpoints of those who disagree with him succinctly and thoroughly.