Sunday, February 26, 2006

Blue Like Jazz: Deliver Us from Glibness

[Several months ago, I posted an earlier version of the essay that follows. It generated considerable controversy and rancor against me. Given the essay’s excessive vituperation (Miller really exasperated me), I pulled it. Nevertheless, I believe my basic critique was correct, so I now post a somewhat revised version.]

One of my students called to my attention a paragraph in the best-selling book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. The first paragraph (page 103) of his chapter called "Belief" is remarkable for its illogic and glibness. In it—a marvel of confusion, contradiction, and distortion—Miller claims that his struggle with Christianity is not intellectual. He doesn't "do that" anymore. "Smart guys" can prove God exits and other "smart guys" can prove God doesn't exist. The arguments aren't about God anymore, but only about who is smarter, and our knowing writer tells us he doesn't care. Moreover, "Who knows anything anyway"? And if our writer ever walks away from God it would not be for intellectual reasons, but "for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything."

Where does one begin to assess (best-selling) glibness? After thirty years of intellectually and existentially engaging the Christian worldview in relation to the truth-claims of other religions and philosophies, I know that the arguments for and against God's existence are not just ego games or "head trips." There are good and sufficient arguments for the existence of God as the creator, designer, and moral lawgiver of the universe—not to mention arguments the rest of Christian apologetics. Further, the notion that person A can "prove that God exists" and person B can "prove God does not exist" is impossible. To prove something means (roughly) to rationally establish a truth claims as far superior to any contrary claim. Therefore, one could not prove that Bill Clinton was the greatest American president while another person proves that he was not. Miller's language is sloppy and unserious. Maybe he meant something else, but we cannot be sure. The writing evinces an autobiographical and unbuttoned casualness that pollutes so many memoirs today.

Perhaps we should bring into question the recent proliferation of memoirs. Unless you are a saint or a genius or an otherwise historically significant person, why should anyone be interested in a book about your personal life? The writer of a memoir should ask himself a probing and potentially embarrassing question, "Is my life worth inflicting on others in book form?"

"Why knows anything anyway?" writes Miller. What are we to make of this? Does it mean that no truth claims are justified? If so, so much for Miller's own statements. He doesn't know they are true, so why should anyone believe him? If he knows nothing, then how does he know that arguments and counter-arguments concerning God's existence are just ego trips in disguise? Further, the claim is absurd on many levels. Think of the counterexamples. Miller knows that torturing the innocent for pleasure is always wrong. He also knows that he wrote the book called Blue Like Jazz. (The way he misrepresents that transcendently lovely art form called jazz cannot be addressed here.) Miller makes some stupendous knowledge claims in the same paragraph in which he rejects the possibility of knowledge. He claims to know that the only reason anyone does anything is rooted in "social reasons, identity reasons [what does that mean?], deep emotional reasons." It is the case that no one does anything on the basis of settled convictions based on rational reflections? On what basis does Miller claim to know this? He gives none. It is simply his life speaking, his feelings being ferreted out. Autobiography trumps rational discourse once again.

In light of Miller’s intellectual recklessness, we should remember that Christianity is a knowledge claim. It claims that God can be known through certain ways. Christian belief should not be a lucky guess or a reaction like an instinct (as Miller claims in his equally indefensible chapter on faith in which he likens belief in Christianity to a penguin's mating instinct...) To know that P is a special kind of belief; it means that there is some reason, warrant, or justification for P. We are called in Scripture to know God in Christ. Further, we are instructed to make the gospel known through proclamation, defense, and godly living.

One could go on, but what Miller’s abysmal paragraph reveals is another outbreak of the epidemic of postmodern glibness. Miller addresses titanic issues with a smirk and a shrug and a pose. He finds no need to be serious intellectually or to pursue subtleties. After all, he has his "story" to tell. This reminds one of Frankfurt's little book on bovine excrement (On Bullshit)—reviewed elsewhere on this web log. People feel obliged to state opinions on matters of which they know nothing. Moreover, they trouble the air and page with words with no concern for accuracy about the facts; they are more concerned to be sincere about themselves. Indeed. But why should anyone listen to them?

I have two suggestions for Donald Miller—and his myriad fans. First, read a good introduction to philosophy text such as Questions That Matter by Ed Miller and Jon Jensen. This may inculcate a better sense of the power of reason and the history of ideas. Second, read a substantial book of Christian apologetics, such as Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland. This may spark a more intellectually respectful treatment of the rationality of Christian faith.

33 comments:

Ed Darrell said...

Don't ever read Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. The first section will send you screaming that Faulkner is in league with some evil form, I fear.

Or is it that you fear you are one of the "smart guys" Miller writes about? Or is it that you fear you are not?

Douglas Groothuis said...

I'm not literate enough to understand the Faulkner reference. The second comment is merely ad hominem.

gimmepascal said...

To ed darrell:

I happen to be reading "The Sound and the Fury" right now, and if you mean that the "form", or style, of the first section is difficult and to a novice reader at times incomprehensible, then you're correct. Faulkner experiments throughout the book with various forms--stream of consciousness passages, switching from third to first person point of view,etc--but we must remember he is writing fiction, and is attempting to create something new, a work of art whose texture and form are much different than your typical work of fiction. This was his intention. Thus I can enjoy reading Faulkner's book for what it is--a work of art--and at the same time despise Miller's book, because Miller is supposedly writing a memoir of some kind, and because he is making epistemological errors left and right, and misrepresenting the process of Christian "faith".

Furthermore, I really do not see what "The Sound and the Fury" has to do with "Blue Like Jazz." It's laughable, actually, that Miller's book would even be mentioned in the same sentence as Faulkner's literary masterpiece.

Now, if I've misinterpreted what you've intended with this comment, please feel free to clarify and correct me, Ed. I'm just responding as best I can to your post.

I would also like to add a few more comments about the book. First, it is inconceivable to me that so many Christians are raving about the literary merit of "Blue Like Jazz." The fact that it is so popular now, selling thousands and thousands of copies, says more about evangelicalism's lack of artistic taste and total disregard for intellectual integrity than about the quality of the book. Whenever a young Christian (16-30) tells me about how great the book is, many even telling me it is the best book they've ever read, I just shake my head and wonder at what type of isolated little Chritian ghetto they've grown up in, that this could be such a stupendous masterpiece.

And when mature Christians (40 and up?) recommend the book to younger Christians--or God help us to non-Christians--I begin to wonder: what kind of faith do these people have, that they would endorse a book that claims our faith is simply nothing more than a choice emerging from emotional, social and psychological promptings, and that we don't really know anything about anything. Actually, this is not a choice at all, but rather a coming-to-somehow-believe type of thing. It's hard to accept advice or encouragement from people who are merely trusting their "penguin radar." Why have they given up the fight so easily?

Also, one of the most disgustingly pretentious things I've read in a while was Miller's grateful thanks to all the bands that he was listening to as he wrote the book--you know, the brilliant soundtrack to his masterpiece. Perhaps he's saying:
"Hey, all you semi-literate Christians out there, you can write best-selling book as well, just listen to these bands and you're on your way...

I don't have room here on this blog to explain all the reasons why this band-thanking is disgusting, but let's start with one obvious comment about it, the same comment that sums up my response to the entire book:

WHO CARES?!!!!!


***One more note:

Dr. Groothuis is intelligent, confident and humble. Thus the insinuations meant by Ed's final two questions are not accurate.

Susan said...

Why do people "rave about" this book?
One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.Proverbs 27:7

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Erm, Doug--you know I agree with you on most everything--but on this we differ. I read Miller's book because it was given to me by a friend at a time when my faith was highly intellectual. When I read the page in question I didn't see him saying there is no truth or knowledge, but that the same vein of Kierkegaardian protest that "truth is not a matter of knowing this or that but of being in the truth."

I had a friendly e-mail exchange about being a Christian in a secular philosophy class with Gregory A. Boyd. He said that one does not loose faith over intellectual matters as much as resigning to unnoticed presupossitions obout who one is, where one's life and identity come from, and what truly is "wise." He noted that Christians have faced just about every intellectual problem there is and have found a way to continue believing. To sum up I resonated with Miller's counterfactual reasons why he would walk away from the faith.

I will give you that he is too glib for my tastes (as is Rick Warren). I don't think he is much of a writer. But I did like him personally and his story made sense on that level.

BJ the Tornado said...

First, Adam:
There's a kernel of truth in what you're saying that I want to elaborate on in a moment, but first... a quick refutation.

You wrote that Gregory A. Boyd told you that one does not loose faith over intellectual matters as much as (roughly) self-conception matters.
(Oh, and by the way, if you want to make a point to Doug, you probably ARE NOT helping your cause citing Boyd... but that's a different matter).

JUST TODAY, as in THIS AFTERNOON (Tuesday, Feb 28), at roughly 1:50 PM, Eastern time, here in Connecticut I had a discussion with a man named BoRam (a friend of mine). He is a brilliant grad student at a top philosophy program and he is Chinese. He is going to go on (I predict) to be a very succeful, influential, and important philosopher. And guess what he just told me today: "I used to be a Christian. I was highly commited to my faith. But I just could not overcome all of the arguments I encountered against it." And today BoRam is a committed atheist. Fascinatingly, he's whole family (parents, brother) are Christians, in CHINA! He WENT INTO PHILOSOPHY because he wanted to honor God through work in this feild. And, yet, he lost his faith because of "intellectual matters."

It does happen.

BJ the Tornado said...

Second:

As much I largely sympathize with Dr. G's (and Jedd's) analysis of BLJ, there is SOMETHING that we should take as a lesson from it.

Namely: that people come to faith in Christ, and people assent to the truth claims of Christianity, not ONLY via rational assent, but as WHOLE persons. That is, the impacts that our self-conceptions, community ties and how they affect our identities, and other various features of our lives that do not directly align with our rational reflection and reason, DO, in fact, have a big part in guiding and shaping our choices and who we are. It is something that as Christians we need to be (duh) aware of (and I think we are), and something that we need to incorporate into our understanding of Christian witness (which we don't always do as well): we present to the world a Christian LIFE not JUST propositional truth claims.

THAT BEING SAID, Christianity is always AT LEAST about various truth claims, one's belief or disbelief in regard to those truth claims, and, in the end, what matters is whether or not those truth claims are TRUE!
Miller's hand waving over such things as inconsequential or irrelevant is just a sad display of ignorance and confusion.

It also brings up another point that I see in Miller and BLJ that I also so in the book "The Younger Evangelicals" (by Robert Webber). In that book Webber examines one of his former students (Joseph Clair) who has decided that he has "moved on" past those silly intellectual struggles he had "early on" in his faith. That he's "past that now" that he's "grown up" to a point where now he can see that such triffles just "miss the point." That worrying about those things was just him trying to be or act smart. Etc.
There is, of course, a similiar attitude displayed in much of McClaren's writtings (and most PoMo writtings across the board).

Is anyone else tired of this? It is abhorent to me that Miller thinks that he can have some sort of "moving on" experience and now he knows that those previous (one almost hears "petty") concerns just aren't that big of a deal. It is a ridiculous game of piety prideful one-up-manship: "Oh... yes, I see... you're still just 'there' in your faith... oh yes, I was there once. I, too, like you now, used to be so concerned by those things...I used to think those things were so important... but I've moved on from that now."

What makes me so sad (and angry) is that so many believers buy into this pure arrogance as some kind of spiritual insight. Basically, one of the big stumps of all these guys (McClaren, Miller, Webber, Sweet), is just to say to anything anyone has to say to them: "Oh, I was where you are once too, but I've moved on from that now" -- and they use this move over and over, as if it is some kind of argument or defense!!

And, finally, Miller's claim that he doesn't "do that any more" in regards to not wrestling with Christianity on an intellectual level is a sad declaration of a believer simply not following his Lord's commands. Christ called us to worship the Lord with our minds. But I guess Miller just doesn't "do that anymore." Christianity is a collection of propisitional truth claims. Yes, it is certainly MORE than that, but it is always AT LEAST that.

That's perhaps, in the end, what is so shockingly ironic about Miller and BLJ: he seems to want to call us to an "authentic" or "holistic" view of Christian living, yet he wants to leave behind something critical to any truly authentic living under the lordship of Christ: thinking.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Thanks to the Tornado and Jedd (whom I love in the truth) for such thoughtful posts.

Yes, the Chritian life is far more than a set of truth claims believed. It is a life lived. Jonathon Edwards wrote at length (and John Piper continues the legacy) on the cruciality of "religious affections"--a sensorium properly attuned to the magnificant and majesty of a holy and gracious God revealed supremely in Jesus Christ, who is "all-together lovely."

But Edwards was a towering, a titanic, intellect as well. Miller is less than a worm in comparison--as am I.

Ed Darrell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Adam Omelianchuk said...

To be fair to Boyd here is what he said:

1) Your reasoning is affected by your spirit [he was alluding to Prv. 4:23], so as the Bible says guard your heart and stay committed to a an ever growing relationship with Christ

2) Remember that for every intellecutal problem you face, Christians have faced it before and found ways to believe.

3) For every non-Christian author you read-read a Christian one.

4) Stay active in church w/Christian friends.

5) Its not particular objections that erode faith as much as the unspoken presuppositions in the secular environment that slowly affects the way you look at things.

I may not have represented him right by emphasizing "self-conception" but that is EXACTLY how my faith has eroded in the past. I was raised in a home that had excellent "worldview training" and was pretty good at apologetic argument... but ever so slowly I lost my faith.

It was not until one day I heard the gospel clearly and was cut to the heart much like those in Acts 2 who heard Peter's sermon. I remember distinctly thinking, "I have no rational basis for believing this, but I know it is true." And slowly, with finding good authors like Doug, his wife, Phillip E. Johnson and yes Greg Boyd (for awhile) did I find my way back to a more rational faith.

However, as a "new convert" back to my old faith Kierkegaard never made more sense to me when he taught that battling doubt with rational argument only made doubt stronger. I appologize if I haven't articulated this well, but its my story... and it isn't ment to be glib.

BJ the Tornado said...

Just a quick note back to Adam:

What you just laid out regarding what Boyd said I completely agree with. It is right on target.

The only change I would make is to point 5. Certainly for some (maybe even most) that is true. For others, like my friend BoRam, it is particular objections that DO in fact erode faith as much or more than "the unspoken presuppositions in the secular environment".

Dr Mike said...

Disclaimer: I am neither a philospher nor a member of the literati, but wanted to offer a couple of observations nonetheless. I suppose, however, that my lack of qualifications makes me an expert in Miller's eyes - but I don't know: it's all so ethereal and pomo to me.

ed darrell -

You wrote, "Ad hominem is not an invalid argument when it's accurate."

Actually it's not a matter of whether it is a valid argument or not; ad hominem is an informal fallacy. For example, I could say, "Anything E.D. says in defense of Miller's book is disqualified because E.D. is a member of an emergent church. Just because E.D. is a member of an emergent church does not disallow or invalidate his statements. The truth of his comments have nothing to do with the ad hominem fact - that he is a member of an emergent church. E.D.'s statements are separate from the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of an ad hominem comment.

Doug -

Like most matters of theology, choices too often are more psychologically determined than exegetically, theologically, or logically decided. Of course, I speak as a psychologist and semi-professional theologian, so I am disqualified as a credible observer. My dog, however, feels the same way and in that he qualifies as an expert (because he couldn't be more ignorant of the whole matter) we can trust my observations.

BTW, I will not tolerate any ad caninem attacks on my dog.

PatrickHare said...

While I'm not on the BTJ bandwagon, (I share your view that he doesn't understand what jazz is!), I think your critique misses the point in several important respects.
Yes, Christianity involves truth claims(or knowledge as you state later), but we have to ask what types of truth claims. Scientific truths? Empirical truths? Spiritual truths? Moral truths?
While Christian apologetics has made some important contributions in demonstrating that the revelation of scripture is ''compatible'' with things that we can empirically agree on, it is not able to demonstrate indisputably that the Christian faith is the only possible interpretation. Even if we had a videotape of the resurrection, it wouldn't prove to a non-believer that God was redeeming the world. The meaning and significance of God's empirical dealings with humanity are only made known by revelation.
Yes, it is possible to ''prove'' both "A" and "not A". It's a function of what your premises are and what you consider to be valid arguments. If we start with the same premises and engage in the same form of reasoning we should arrive at the same conclusion. But if we start with different premises, or disagree on what arguments are valid to support our conclusions, we may arrive at different conclusions. What constitutes ''proof'' is a function of the assumptions of the relevant community. See Thomas Kuhn's ''The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'' for an excellent exposition of this thesis. Our problem in the world that we live in is that there is not fundamental agreement on what the premises are, nor is there fundamental agreement on what constitutes "proof".
And scripture suggests that there are spiritual truths that can only be discerned by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:14). These truths will never be compelled or discerned by empirical evidence and rational argument to those who are spiritually blinded.
Thanks for the interesting and provocative forum.

Dr Mike said...

Patrick:

So if, as you say, 'it is possible to ''prove'' both "A" and "not A,"' then you must agree that "it is impossible to prove both A and not A."

Is that not obvious in light of your own statement? It is to me and I don't see how you can deny me that.

PatrickHare said...

Possibly . . .

;O)

Gee, I feel like I'm back in Logic 101.
I wasn't commenting on the possibility or impossibility of proofs. What I'm arguing is that what we can or can't prove is a function of what our premises are and what arguments are accepted as valid.
Interestingly, how do we distinguish between the strength of narrative arguments vs. rational arguments.
Rationally speaking, rational arguments are more persuasive. (gee, what a surprise) For others, like Donald Miller, rational arguments are less persuasive.
Now, how do we weigh these two approaches without a priori adopting one of them?
Hmmm . . .

Dr Mike said...

Patrick:

Thank you for condescending to respond to me.

My point, in both the post addressing you and the preceding one, is the impossibility of even having meaningful conversations over such issues. And I do believe that decisions of this nature are made more for psychological reasons - I am sure you are familiar with the work of LeDoux, Damasio, and others - than philosophical or even conscious convictions.

If there is no agreement on truth - or whether or not it is knowable or even exists - then conversations between two individuals are no more meaningful than a conversation with a fungo bat. We are not conversing but merely talking past one another, are we not?

Now, I apologize for the sarcastic tone of my comment to you but I was trying to make my own point - obviously failing by being too subtle. That point is that talking to or reading books by men like Miller, McLaren, or other likeminded authors strikes me as utterly pointless: why should I read them? Their voice is no better or worse than mine and they cannot tell me anything that is true or useful. Their thoughts are suitable for them because of their own life and subcultural experiences, but since mine of necessity are different, what's the point?

If language doesn't mean anything, i.e., if it is only subjective and personal, then . . .

then you and I are wasting our time. As are Miller, et.al., and anyone that seeks to make any declarative statement.

Note my disclaimer at my first post: I am not a philosopher but a psychologist. Perhaps my comments are pedestrian and beneath you - but who is to say? On what basis can such an assessment be made?

Am I missing something, or is missing everything the point?

Douglas Groothuis said...

I deleted Ed Darrell because he is lapsing into personal attacks again, which is inappropriate to this forum.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

"Don't ever read Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. The first section will send you screaming ... "

When I first read Faulkner the first book I picked up was "The Sound and the Fury" and I went screaming to my boss John Browne who was the son of a southern gentleman literature professor. Browne told me you don't start reading Faulkner with "The Sound and the Fury" just like you don't start reading latin with Virgil's Aeneid (another mistake I made). He gave me a list of books to read first, including the Snopes trilogy, several others.

When someone pointed out to me decades later that the opening scene in the "The Sound and the Fury" was describing a golf game I was shocked, went back and read it again and sure enough.

Faulkner isn't for people who have grown up with TV and cannot focus their attention for more than fifteen seconds.

cheers for Faulkner, Clay

PatrickHare said...

Dr. Mike -

LOL - indeed, I fear we may be talking past each other. I was quite shocked by the sudden sarcasm, unsure where it came from. When I reread my post, I think you may have misinterpreted my reference to Logic 101 as meaning that your philosophical comments were below me in some way. I can understand that interpretation, but it is not what I meant to say.

What I was trying to convey was that in introductory logic we struggle with such seeming contradictions as "This sentence is false." That's what the argument that "since we can prove both, we can prove "not both"" reminded me of. Not a comment on your level of philosophical sophistication at all. In fact, it was quite logically sophisticated.

I DO think that we can have meaningful conversations with people who have different premises and different worldviews. What these conversations require on our part is the willingness to listen and seek to understand. Not necessarily to agree, but to understand. I find that when I truly listen to others seeking to enter into their worldview, they are generally much more open to listening to mine. Plus I learn something new in the process.

It is worth listening to other people, not because their voice is better or worse than ours, but because loving our neighbor requires that we listen to them. I learn from people who think differently than I do.

Truly understanding how someone else views the world I believe increases the possibilities of arriving at agreement. For instance, many disagreements I have had were the result of different definitions of the topic under discussion. Asking, "what do you mean when you say that?" opens up the possibility of clearing up misconceptions. (e.g., the Logic 101 instance above)

And even when we don't ultimately agree, we will at least understand why the disagreement exists. "Aha, I see how with those premises it is perfectly logical to arrive at that conclusion." And then we can move on to discuss why we hold to the premises that we do. While I haven't read any LeDoux or Damasio, I am familiar with the intriguing notion that our emotions influence our rational thought. I do really think you are on to something important there. And thanks for pointing me towards them.
Critical Legal Scholarship has long pointed out that the reasons leading courts to decide a legal issue based upon one legal principle or line of cases, instead of another principle or line of cases which leads to the opposite result, cannot themselves be legally compelled. Rather, there are policy considerations which tip the balance.

Again, I am sorry that you interpreted my remark as sarcastic. That wasn't what I meant by it. Thanks for being a partner in discussion.

Your friend,
Patrick

Jeremy said...

I can't really add to what Doug, Jed, or B.Jay offer. I do have one question though: Why did you pull this essay in the first place? Unfortunately, BLJ is more like Kenny G than Coletrane. His incoherent ravings need to be addressed regardless of the swarm of criticism it may bring.

I say this just to encourage all of us to be more concerned about truth than offense--that is when offense may be needed (read Amos)

Douglas Groothuis said...

Jeremy: There is no substantial change in the revised essay; I simply moderated the tone a bit. It's still pretty hard-hitting, I wager.

Ed Darrell said...

I apologized for appearing to attack you, Dr. Groothuis. I regret that you take such an apology as a personal attack.

Prof. David Opderbeck said...

Hi. I'm glad I found your blog. I've read some of your work (Reclaiming the Center) and appreciate the opportunity to dialogue about it.

I confess I haven't read Blue Like Jazz, but I've read some of the more "serious" literature from the Emergent movement, and some of it I find appealing. I grew up fundamentalist / evangelical, attended an evangelical college, am a member of an evangelical church where I've held leadership positions, and consider myself broadly evangelical in theology. I'd probably fit in pretty well doctrinally at Denver Seminary.

And yet, I've struggled with doubt my whole life, and in mid-life I still do sometimes. At times, this has been a productive struggle. It's caused me to reexamine some positions I held uncritically when I was younger -- say, extreme dispensationalism, or young earth creationism -- and to adopt views that I think are more broadly informed. At times, it's caused me to realize that I will never know the answers to some questions in this life. I can't solve the problem of theodicy; I can't be definitive about which millenial view is right; I can't answer for certain every question modern science throws at the first eleven chapters of Genesis.

I think when you evaluate the attractiveness of some of the Emergent stuff to some people, you have to understand that many of us have been damaged by a fundamentalist background that insists there is only one way to approach any disputed issue. If that one approach is eroded or falsified, the entire edifice of faith is liable to come crashing down. If I can't know for sure that the rapture is pre-tribulational, how can I know anything for sure from the Bible? If I can't adequately explain Noah's flood or the Tower of Babel in light of knowledge from geology or genetics, how can I be sure I have the answer to anything? If all my theorizing about theodicy pales in the face of millions who have never heard of Christ dying lost in miserable poverty, how can I claim to have any knowledge of the mind of God? If I explore the questions relating to these things, aren't I doubting God and His word? That is how the thinking of many ex-fundamentalists goes -- and I know, because I am one.

Obviously, even the most foundationalist apologetic, if done thoughtfully at all, doesn't require absolute indubitability, and allows that the sorts of questions I asked above may not yield final, satisfying answers to us in this life. But the acknowledgment of that fact (as you acknowledge it in "Reclaiming the Center") from anti-Emergent evangelicals often seems muted and grudging. In an essay like the one you've posted, your self-assurance makes reflective folks like me twist with angst.

I wish I could have the kind of self-assurance you seem to have. But often, the best I can do is throw myself on God's grace. That's the appeal of some of the Emergent literature to me. My security isn't in my intellectual abilities, or my human reason, or my confidence in my views over disputed things. It's in Christ alone.

2e said...

Patrick Hare has it right when he talks about proving A and non-A based on different presuppositions. I think this perspective may have been the one behind Miller's paragraph on page 103.

I understand his perspective too regarding "moving on" from these arguments. I consider intellectual arguments important, yet I am not the one to argue them. In today's culture, experts are well-educated in a highly narrowed field of knowledge that the typical Joe can't be an expert in any two places. We rely on experts regularly, those who have done extensive thinking and research, to help us form our opinions on everything. It's not that we're unthinking or lazy, only that we don't have the time or resources to read the source material, do the critical analysis, or consider the opposing arguments in every "important area." It's not that the intellectual aspect of Christianity isn't important (to me); it's simply that I only have so much time and energy to expend on various thoughts about my faith.

I think Miller is coming from the view that others, more intelligent than he (like Dr. Groothuis), have done a stellar job at thinking through Christian foundational ideas--and that he can rely on them (the experts) for these propositional truth arguments.

Beyond that, the commenters on this blog are likely not Miller's intended audience. He's likely speaking to individuals more like himself: average Joes who aren't logically-astute thinkers.

And I think there's a place for that too.

Clark said...

Most of you, for all of your intelligence, are completely missing the point of the book, i.e. Christians need to show love more and quit arguing and being self-absorbed. Jesus said the world would know us by our love. Note: He did not say they would know us by our arguments, philosophy, or theology.

galion said...

The funny thing is, as a non-Christian, Donald Miller's writing has inspired me to take another look at my spirituality, and to actually begin to contemplate a change. I was under the impression that Christians were supposed to inspire and lead others to Christ. Your brand of rightist elite intellectualism only makes me shut down and hear nothing of your message. I would love to sit at a campfire with Jesus and see Him in His role as Father and Counselor, rather than the stern Judge that requires crawling and groveling because of my unworthiness. It is not your place, nor any others' to speak to me of my unworthiness to approach the Divine. Jesus' sacrifice was so that I could approach the throne of Grace as His Child rather than suffer death or misery for my sins. Consider that your message reaches non-Christians as well as those that are questioning before you slam the door upon our budding faith.

mu_sick_man said...

I found this comment about "Blue Like Jazz" by an athiest. Thought I'd toss it to you. Just hit the following link: http://www.civilbrights.net/node/4186.

he's_a_fighter said...

You don't know me...and I don't know you.

But I have mixed reponses in regards to your blog.

Donald Miller isn't right about everything, nor is anyone.
But one point that I think he wished to hammer, though haphazardly at times, is the truth that God is not a system...rather, He's a person. And according to Romans 9, it is not we who railed at God for salvation, but it is Him who is the one who has endeavored and of His own motivation, not because we have coaxed Him into regarding our need for redemption.
While God expects certain things of us, it is interesting to note that the main thing He expects of us is not elaborate knowledge or religious/philosophical/intellectual accomplishments. According to 1 Cor 13 it is faith, hope and love, things which scripture makes clear do generate from us but are rather authored and sustained by the spirit of God. In other words, these workings of the spirit in us are God and not us, thus they can't be formulated to be more effective, they can't be systematized in such a way that we can get a grip on them. God is doing His work in us the way He has chosen and it is by grace that we can even have grace.

There is a place for intellectualism and rationalism. But they do not bring us any closer to the heart of God. I can take a 30 day study course on my wife, but that would in no way have been the same as marrying her.

he's_a_fighter said...

*One more thing*


About the whole "study course on my wife" thing...


...another thing that is noteworthy is that by marrying her, over time I gain the full knowledge of her.
Mere intellectual study would give me intellectual knowledge...which is by no means wrong...but it isn't the same as actually being one with her.

Study = Some knowledge...not full knowledge.

Intimate Oneness = Everything.

Linda said...

Truth is the highest ethic. Higher even than love. Unless it is love in truth it is not love.

Several posts here seem to miss this point. Without truth there cannot even be communication. Christ is the Logos and the Truth and the life. Kuhn's work is not in tune with any Truth, it is purely relativistic. He clearly expresses that there exists no meta-paradigm by which any freely choosen paradigm can be judged. Which is to say that there is no objective truth and that good and evil are but one's preferences. To one Mother Terisa to another Joseph Stalin.

As a Christian I find nothing of greater importance than using all that God has given me to try to understand the truths of God's Word and to truthfully apply them to my life for His glory. Can any Christian here have a complaint with that? Any book that would have the affect of diminishing or distorting the import of Truth and the inerrancy of God's Word is doing no service to their Creator.

jesse said...

The simple rawness & realness of Don's book is exactly what today's church needs.

Doug Groothuis said...

There is little "realness" in Miller, except pertaining to his precious subjectivity.

We need an objective and true Word from God, and less biography; more of God, less of self; more of the Kingdom, less of the psyche; more theology, less narcissism; more Bible, less drivel.

Toast said...

I think what Donald Miller is saying in this comment is that there has to be something more than intellect. I somewhat agree with him on the "ego contest" thing because you think after a while even the smartest people would realize that God can neither be proven nor dis proven, that is why faith is so valuable. I think even that sometime trying to prove these things tears the body of christ apart more than it even helps and alienates us from the non-christian world. I find evidence of this in numerous church splits over simple things like weather or not to have communion every week. The beauty of the post-modern world is that emotion is not dead, true it can be taken out of proportion. And this is why I love this book. Every life is a story and a lesson. Frankly I can't read books on intellectual design, because when it comes down to it from an unbiased point of view, nothing can be proven. If you have faith then you believe in truth, and i believe in the truths of Christianity. But I think if we learned to empathize a little with people like Nietzsche and why he saw life as futile we could understand a little bit more why our faith is so beautiful. We need people like Donald Miller around to keep us grounded. To keep our heads from going so high into the clouds that we forget the simplicity of love. And from a 23 year olds point of view who has spent his time on the unintellectual street, I would much rather have somebody relate to me and to show me love instead of regal me with one more scientific reason why God exists. What you guys do and what you talk about is incredible and mind-blowing and baffles me with the complexity that God decided to create when he made this place. And I think that He has put little nuggets around this universe and earth for us to find, "evidence of intellectual design" or whatever you would like to call it. But if we lose sight of one person, or see somebody as too naive or glib to be taken seriously, then we lose sight of what God is trying to do on this earth. He is trying to woo us into love with Him. And we need the people in this world to help us fall into love with Jesus. That is why this book is so popular, it meets people where they are at. Its a simple testimony to life as God had designed for Donald. It challenges us to love others by the simple stories that he is saying come Relationship, worship, faith, money or any of the other subjects that he hits on. It shows us how a persons life is so unbelievably intricate and challenges us to love them, and more over, to love others. Yes this book is mostly based on emotionally made decisions. But is not every bodies life. Somethings we choose to believe because to us it is intellectually sound. But long ago when you decided to choose faith over anything else, was it not a choice that you made with your heart just as much as your mind. I'm tired or writing now. Bye.