Soon after Blue Like Jazz was published, this book by Donald Miller became the favorite book of young adults on Christian spirituality. It is indeed a quintessential work on postmodern spirituality, both in substance and style. I will explore the reasons for the work’s popularity below and their implications for ministry.
Miller writes in a raw, rambling style that exhibits postmodern values. He regularly brings out his flaws, which helps disarm a culture that is sensitive to hypocrisy and pretentiousness. The story that he tells is largely a journey narrative, and he even says that “I was beginning to believe I was a character in a greater story.” His encounters with strange but fascinating people (like the gypsies) on this journey reflect his equally strange but fascinating spiritual wanderings. Young adults are perpetually taking road trips, both physically and spiritually, and they can see their own spiritual journey within Miller’s work.
The content of Miller’s work also resonates with postmoderns. He discusses the church’s failure to address human rights, racism, and slavery, and virtually all readers mentally cheer as he relates the story of the confession booth, in which he and his friends confess the sins of Christians to non-Christians. Love, Miller says, is not logical, but an emotion. He has given up on argumentation as a pathway to truth, stating that one side can prove God exists and the other can prove that he does not. Frankly, the whole debate turns him off and he walks away from it. Miller deals with one of the paradoxes of postmodernism, the deep desire for community in younger generations contrasted by the present-day reality of loneliness and extreme individualism. In the end he comes to some fairly mainstream Christian positions on many issues, including attending worship, tithing, and prayer.
Miller’s work has given me good insight into the style and content that connects with our postmodern culture in general and young adults in particular. I am seeking to be transparent in my preaching and teaching, often referring to my less than perfect moments with a bit of humor. When I told a story recently about being angry about a guy who cut me off in traffic, one young adult said that he could not believe that a minister could be willing to share this. My sermons are largely inductive and rarely have anything that resembles the “points” of an argument, and I regularly work the above topics into my sermons. In short, I am seeking to play a little “Blue Like Jazz.” Hopefully this will continue to help me connect with our increasingly postmodern culture.