(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

A nationally known evangelical minister, Donald Miller has tirelessly promoted what he terms postmodern Christian spirituality specifically directed to a generation of disaffected and disinterested Christians fostered by an institutional expression of a religion that, at its beginning, was intended to be a compelling emotional experience. Miller, positioning himself as a kind of contemporary Christian Everyman, recounts his own spiritual journey in a series of essays that, although not strictly linear, track with evident care his movement toward embracing a spirituality that makes the Christian Gospel message of love and the presence of Jesus immediate and relevant.

Miller employs an archmetaphor: the rich emotional impact of jazz, which defies explanation and compels the deepest sort of intimacy. He argues that Christian redemption on earth begins not with cheerless fidelity to church attendance, rigorous scriptural study (Miller himself acknowledges he has read only parts of the Bible), or the self-loathing and guilt that attend an unexamined assumption of a punishing God who acts largely as a bookkeeper for the soul. Rather, redemption begins with the emotional conviction that each person is a sinner, that each person is part of the fallen world commandeered by Satan as recorded in Genesis, and that only by approaching God with the earnest intention to seek forgiveness for their sinful nature and for their indifferent reception of the Christian message can people finally open themselves to the intuitive conviction that Jesus is love, that Jesus intended his creatures to love themselves and each other, and that salvation is a heartfelt joy. Thus, love of Jesus is both a decision and a revelation. Miller’s argument is presented in an invitatory second person: You must apologize to God before you experience the happiness ransomed on Calvary.

The message is straightforward evangelical Christianity (Miller was raised a fundamentalist Baptist). There is only a passing acknowledgment of the triune God (his focus is principally on the redemptive love of Jesus) and of the Old Testament (his focus is principally on the evangelists and the wisdom of Jesus). The presentation, however, distinguishes Miller’s traditional argument. Forsaking the homiletic...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Lamott, Annie. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. A bittersweet collection of essays that are each a reflection on pivotal, if everyday moments of the author’s journey toward enlightenment. Miller has often cited this as his model for Blue Like Jazz.

Miller, Donald. Miller’s Web site, regularly updated with an ongoing journal of his Christian experience. Includes biography, book reviews, contact numbers, and a helpful chapter-by-chapter study guide to Blue Like Jazz.

Miller, Donald. Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road. 2000. Rev. ed. Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson, 2005. Miller’s first work, updated after the success of Blue Like Jazz. In the American road trip genre, influenced by John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, it tells of the trip taken by Miller and a friend from Texas to Oregon. An indispensable prequel to the essays in Blue Like Jazz.