I went into Blue Like Jazz with a negative mindset. I read the book originally when I was a senior in high school and loved it, I thought it changed my life. Once I started delving into theology I realized that a lot of people I really respect do not like this book at all. A pastor at my old church even went so far as to call it an “irresponsible book.” I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, and I couldn’t remember enough about Blue Like Jazz to agree or disagree with him. I decided to re-read it in order to remember what all the fuss was about.

After re-reading the book now with a more theologically informed mind, I’m not really sure why so many people hate it so much. Yes, I did find myself rolling my eyes at times at the over-emotional aspects of Donald Miller’s writing, but for the most part I agreed with a lot of what he said. I didn’t think he wandered into any really dangerous territory. Maybe I’m at a disadvantage here compared to Miller’s harsher critics because I can be somewhat critical of the Church and of the Christian sub-culture.

There were a few things I had problems with. One is the aforementioned emotionalism. I’m not someone who thinks we should get rid of emotions as some Christians do, I think that is an overreaction to emotionalism, but I do think that when we let our emotions drive us we’re in trouble. I had to roll my eyes and laugh when, in one part of the book, a Christian organization set up a “confession booth” in order to confess their sins to non-believers which included apologizing for the Crusades. While I don’t think Miller advocates solely going on emotions in our worship of God, sometimes it definitely seems like he pushes that.

Another problem I had was Miller talking about attending a Unitarian Universalist church. This was the only “irresponsible” thing I could find in the book. I fear that some people will read this and decide that they should also attend that type of church which will lead them astray.

Finally, I have a problem with Miller not wanting to call himself a Christian. This is a huge pet-peeve of mine. Miller talks about how he doesn’t like Christianity, he likes Christian Spirituality. Semantics at best. To me, there really is no difference. If you are a Christian, you will have Christian Spirituality. It’s part of Christianity. You don’t stop calling yourself a man or a human because you don’t like things done in the name of manhood or humankind, people would say you were absurd for doing that. Why is it any different with calling yourself a Christian?

I know this seems really critical, but the things I liked numbered more than the things I didn’t. I love Miller’s writing style. It’s very engaging, very conversational. It seems like he’s sitting in the room with you and talking to you rather than writing a book. There were times where I was so engaged in his writing that I couldn’t put the book down. A lot of his critiques about the church were spot-on. A lot of his theology was great. I don’t think Miller claims to be an expert on how to do church, nor do I think he claims to be a theologian. I think he happens to be a lay person who is writing on what he sees is wrong with the way we do things as Christians. And a lot of times he’s right. Maybe some Christians don’t like his critique because it hits a little bit too close to home for them. Maybe they see themselves in his indictment and feel a little bit uncomfortable. And I think that’s a great thing. We need more voices who are telling us that we need to turn around. The most important thing about Miller is that he doesn’t just tell us that we’re wrong and tell us how we should fix it, he lives it out. He backs his words with actions, and I think that speaks volumes.

There’s a movie in the works for Blue Like Jazz. I hear that it will contain some language that will make some Christians squirm, much as the recent Derek Webb album did. Once that movie hits theaters, expect a review from me.

Overall rating: 7.5/10