Posted by: Philip Rushton | July 19, 2010

Why I Disagree With Donald Miller

I just read an article at cnn.com documenting the life and work of Donald Miller. Miller has become famous in Christian circles for his book Blue Like Jazz. The book is a memoir about moving beyond a disillusionment with the religious establishment and rediscovering Christ in an authentic way. I appreciate many of Miller’s ideas and thoughts. He has helped a lot of people, myself included, get passed the dysfunction of religion and find an authentic faith in Christ. For the most part I’m pro-Miller!

However, there is one emphasis in Miller’s thinking that I take issue with. You will often hear Miller say that we need to stop talking about theology. In the article mentioned above, Miller says of his mentor, “David would not be interested in a conversation about theology and neither would I. It seems like a distraction in a way if it’s not about Jesus and it’s not about people.”

I believe that Miller is being self-contradictory when he claims “theology is a distraction” or when he implies that we need to get passed theology and just talk about Jesus. I mean, I get the point Miler is making. We sometimes get bogged down in theological discussions that take the life out of faith. Theology can easily loose touch with who Jesus is and what he wants to do. The irony, however, is that Miller makes deeply theological claims. When Miller says “the most important thing that happens within Christian spirituality is when a person falls in love with Jesus,” he is basing this on his theological assumptions. His theological claim is that salvation is possible through Christ. The problem, then, is not “theology,” the problem is bad theology that looses touch with reality.

The reason I think this is a point worth emphasizing is that I believe the contemporary church is in danger of becoming theologically ambiguous. In the name of being authentic and inoffensive, Christians, in my generation, often present Christianity in terms of an undefined religious experience. To be sure, I believe that religious experience is key. Theology must not become an intellectual topic that is void of faith. However, I think that the vitality of our faith requires that we are immersed in the transformative theology of scripture.

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Responses

  1. Quote: “The problem, then, is not ‘theology,’ the problem is bad theology that looses touch with reality.”

    Well said!

    I’ve appreciated Miller’s work in demonstrating the role of storytelling in theology. Good storytelling can be good theology (not simply an “illustration”).

  2. Yes, as much as Miller wants to distance himself from theological conversations he actually offers us some great ideas about theological method.

  3. I’ve stayed away from Donald Miller but maybe I’ll check out Blue Like Jazz. At the very least, read the preview in Google Books.

    I am glad you disagree with his disinterest in theology. I have seen firsthand what too little focus on theology can do. It’s as bad, if not worse, than what too much of a focus on the minutae of theology does.

    While “theology must not become an intellectual topic that is void of faith” is completely true I think “faith must not become an emotional topic that is void of intellectualism” is just as true.

    Thanks for posting this. I’ll check out the book.

  4. Well said!

  5. Blue like Jazz is good reading, I am not cleaver enough to figure out all the trouble with Post modernity thinking but maybe we do need to explore some different ways of looking at our committment to Christ rather than a committ ment to a long held way of looking at our fellowship patterns.

    ……………….peace, gil R……………

  6. Hey Gil,

    Blue Like Jazz is a great read. Like my friend Dave in the above comment points out – Miller has done some great things with theological method. One of the things he helps us recover is a more narrative approach to theology. This is really in keeping with Scripture. God did not reveal himself to us in a systematic set of points – he revealed himself primarily through narrative and story in the scriptures. The main difference between Miller and I is that I still want to call this theology. We are still thinking about God which is really what theology is. Narrative theology sort of fits the post-modern ethos in that it recognizes that truth cannot be disconnected from our life and context.


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