Two Talents

Faith-based expressions of a Christian.

What a beautiful letter

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I’m trying to decide between three books I want to order. I should only spend the money for two. Which books are on the list is moot to my point, but I will mention that one of them is “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. The premise sounded good but I knew nothing of the author. I didn’t want to waste my money on a Word-Faith author, or some complete heretic, so I did some Internet recon.

Donald Miller is unorthodox, but I’d guessed as much. He has a fan site and I was reading letters to him and his replies. I came across one letter that struck me as simply wonderful. Here is the letter:

Don,

Some of the harshest reviews of you books have come from my own slice of the Christian world: the Reformed guys. Usually they take you to task for “fuzzy” soteriology, ecclesiology, (etc., choose your favorite “ology”). As a student at a Very Conservative Reformed Seminary, I’ve been given the tools to do the same. I could pick your books apart before you even saw my footnotes coming. But that would be tragic, wasteful, and would miss the whole point of what you’ve done.

What I think is missed is that your books capture the simple, straightforward way the vast majority of believers in Jesus Christ come to know him. So if you’re really that far off base, a whole lot of people who really love Jesus and want to follow him are in a whole lot of trouble. And I just can’t believe that.

Recently I heard a prominent Reformed theologian rail against presentations of Christianity like yours as “reductionistic mere Christianity.” I’m not sure all that he means by that, but I think there are a lot of “mere Christians” out there who are merely trying to know and follow Jesus. If every one of them has to be able to exegete Romans 9 with full reference to the major Reformed scholastic scholars of the 18 century…well then I guess there’s not much hope.

On a brighter note, I work for the bookstore associated with that Very Conservative Reformed Seminary, and we not only featured Blue Like Jazz last year, but one of my co-workers gave it a very positive review on the store site.

So my question is…what about the accusation that your books are “Christianity lite”? …that they don’t present the whole gospel (or enough of it). A recent review by a conservative web site said that you leave out things that are prominent in the Bible like the wrath of God agains sin. How do you respond to such charges?

Sage

The reason I find this letter so beautiful is because I used to be one of those hardened doctrinal types and have come to realize that doctrine is important, but not to the point of pigeon-holing us all into bunkers, where we defend our pet beliefs with words of wrath and prose of fury. Sage, the letter writer, seems to get that point too, and he isn’t ruling anyone whom he has not already found to be plainly wrong. The letter is also intelligently written and constructed very well, which will earn points with me every time (I did note one typo, but it’s easily forgiven in the midst of such great work). No doubt you are wondering what Miller’s reply was. Here you go…

Sage,

I have noticed that for some reason the “reformed” group experiences tension with my writings, and have been confused about this. My church is a reformed
church, and while I don’t necessarily engage the grid, I don’t have much of a problem with it. Searching for God Knows What nods to this theological grid, and so does Blue Like Jazz. Many of the harsher critics are male students in their twenties who have only recently (due to their age) learned to see the Bible through the TULIP grid, and I think this gives some a feeling of intellectual superiority, because they are the ones who “really” understand the Bible. This isn’t the case for most, but I think it’s true about some of the criticism.

While I think there is a great deal of benefit to studying systematic theology, because it presents certain guardrails, my own fear is that it will cause me to see the scripture through a grid and keep me from seeing the more relational elements of the propositions. I’d rather study the gospel of Jesus through the lens of a personality theory than through a theological grid. My other concern with TULIP is that while it is Biblical, it is not presented in the Bible as five points. That would be a much shorter book. Instead, God chose a variation of literary devices, and a variation of literary voices. The text is deeply human. So to come behind the text and break it down into a grid is to take it beyond God’s chosen presentation. While I agree we can learn more from the text this way, and even that this may bring the text to life, I think an argument could be made that in the “reduction” something is lost.

It’s a great question, and I appreciate you asking it. All the best to you in your studies, and in the bookstore you work in. And thanks for the review from your coworker!

Don

A great reply too. A letter and response from two people who can properly use the English language. My day is better for it.

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Written by Shawn

March 7, 2006 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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