Contend Earnestly: Book Review Friday

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review Friday

I entered into reading this book with a lot of opinions thrown to me from those who have read it. What I learned before I even opened the book is it seemed as though people either loved it or hated it. I have some really close friends who loved the book and thought it was a breath of fresh air, and I also knew some of my friends thought that it's only good was to start a fire with it.

So, because I trusted on both sides, I felt like I could come with no preconceived notions. It was like I heard each debater by themselves but couldn't make a decision until I heard them both at the same time. So, the only way to do this was to read the book. What kind of irritates me is that I landed right in the middle. I can see why people love the book, but I can also see why people hate the book. There are some great discussions in the book but some very bad views on some theology that I feel could hurt those not driven by the word of God for discernment.
Donald Miller is a writer and a poet first, you can see that from the title of the book and in the opening pages. I like poetry when I am reading a poem but find poetry to be distracting when I am trying to read a book. What Mr. Miller does in this writing, in my estimation (although I am no expert) is try and use his poetry skills too much at times as one navigates through his story of redemption. It just isn't for me, that is, his way of writing. But I can get through that, not enough for me to put it down.

The book is really Donald Miller's testimony. It is his writings of how he came to know Christ and how he has grown in Christ, for this it is hard to say, "it is good" or "it is bad." At times, Mr. Miller seems to be scattered in thought and goes from one topic to another without leading the reader to where he is going. But, it is a testimony of what Christ has done for him, and that is much to sing praises about. Miller's book also punches some evangelicals right in the face with some realities of what is going on in today's conservative circles and it sickens not only Mr. Miller, but also myself. I have to say I felt it was worth the read to get a fresh perspective of contemporary Christendom. Mr. Miller brings up a lot of good points, like feeding the homeless, caring for the homosexual and liberals, and loving people yet still telling them the truth of the Gospel. This love, Mr. Miller finds to be happening more in the "pagan" circles than inside the church of the living God and I have to agree. Mr. Miller though does not point fingers but he actually comes to the conclusion that it is HIS fault for this not happening and then asks all who read to understand that it is also their fault for this contemporary slide of hate instead of love for those outside of the body of Christ. I have to say, I like that perspective. Mr. Miller is very honest with his afflictions as a non-believer and a new-believer and I know this makes many people very uncomfortable. But for me, I enjoy when I can be honest with someone and they can be honest with me. It actually helps in prayer to know specifics of someone so that you can be praying for them. This is what Mr. Miller gives us in this novel of his life: An honest testimony of what Christ has done.

What I found to be dangerous are his thoughts on depravity and the atonement of Jesus Christ. He simply says that since he sees people doing good, then he doesn't believe that people are completely evil like some (one of them being me) say. I would have to ask Mr. Miller to trust in the Living Word instead of his eyes. I would ask him to interpret many Scriptures that would point him in the opposite direction, such as: Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Genesis 6:5;8:21; Romans 3:10-18; Psalm 14; Jeremiah 13:23; Psalm 58:3.

He carries this thought though and it becomes disconnected as he then states the issues of us, including himself, being evil. So his description throughout the book of Christ's atonement and death on the cross becomes one that is to make evil people good. It is a moralistic redemption. This is not the reason Jesus died for our sins, He died to make dead people alive to God. He died to bring His children to His side for God's glory not ours. One of the fruits of a Christian is definitely to do good works and so this is definitely one of the benefits, but is not the primary reason for the atonement. So, this, in my estimation, is a very large error that Mr. Miller makes.
It seems as though Mr. Miller also relies much more on his experience than the unchanging word of God. I don't know this to be true, but this is the way it comes off in my reading of his book. This can be very dangerous, especially in light of knowing our heart is desperately sick, who can discern it...Jeremiah 17:9.
Also, his last chapter on "How to Love Yourself" is a little strong in parts. I do understand that his intent is to understand that God loves us and we need to accept that. I will be careful to say that this is probably a very good chapter, in parts, for those who have had terrible parents or disastrous intamacy issues for whatever horrific reasons, that I cannot empathize with since I myself have never had these kinds of experiences. But there are times in this chapter that go too far in my estimation. The Bible tells us to "die to self" "to deny self" and for what reason? So that we can "live to Christ" and to "follow Christ." So the author would have done better, in my estimation, to balance these understandings.

My recommendation to any who are thinking of picking up this book is to be discerning. I compare it with someone telling their testimony before they are baptized. The story of conversion is wonderful to hear. But, they say those two or three things that make you wince and say, "oohhh...wouldn't have said it that way..." But, that does not ruin the testimony of Christ in their life, and I don't think the errors in this book will ruin Mr. Miller's testimony either. I would recommend it for church leaders needing to understand what errors are creaping in the church as Mr. Miller points out. For the others, if you do read it, please be sure to be discerning when Mr. Miller brings theology and his experiences into the discussion, because I find it to be lacking in many ways. But, be challenged by his words when he calls us to be more loving to those who aren't like us and to understand that the issue is US not THEM. Link to buy


Jake said...

Hooray for balanced reviews... Thanks for posting this Seth, and for displaying a charitable, generous, discerning spirit that sees both the good and the bad.

Honestly, my list of conservative authors I trust to actually act like Christians as they talk about the emerging church is pretty short, so I always appreciate it when I do see it :).

Anonymous said...

i think you would really enjoy the new book Brown Like Coffee at

Anonymous said...


are you wrapping up the atonement debate?

I came to think about something after reading this very short sentence within your recommendation to read the book "Blue....".

You wrote this:

Seth:[It is a moralistic redemption.]

It reminded me of something my Pastor said after reading someone else's thoughts on moralistic redemption several months ago and the moral world we find ourselves heading towards. He said the Devil is the only one in the Universe and of course, his own, who are pitching a "world moral" society with no need of True redemption. After all, if everyone loved everyone correctly and all were prospering and being nice and allowing for the divergent views of others without hostilities, we would not need a Savior! And if we don't need a Savior, when we die, where would that bring us? Hell, perhaps? :).

The Good News of course is, there is a need for the Savior sent from Eternity, the Heavens above, Who came with Another's message, a message that cuts to the core of morality, Who, without, when we die, we will not be apart of that Glorious Eternity in Him.

Morality is subjective and there is always good people who are just different who get under our skin forcing us to "LOVE" the world as God so loved the world, or hate those who just don't think and speak and reason and do the way we do!

For me, I offer verses:

Eph 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Eph 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Eph 6:13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.


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