Donald Miller and the Anti-Church


Donald Miller is known for one thing: writing Blue Like Jazz. That book captured the zeitgeist of many younger believers. Heck, it got a movie treatment. Seriously.

I thought the book was a self-indulgent mess that reeked of everything that’s off-kilter with a younger generation of Christians that isn’t satisfied with eschewing the Evangelical subculture but wants to toy with established doctrine too.

In other words, I’m not an apologist for Donald Miller.

Miller stepped in it this week when he wrote a blog post saying he doesn’t attend church often because he finds he doesn’t connect to God there. You can read that confession: “I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.

I think a lot of men were nodding their heads after reading that post. I guess they did it in secret, too, because Miller certainly raised the hackles of a LOT of people. So much so he had to a write a retraction. Or maybe it’s a clarification. Probably the latter: “Why I Don’t Go to Church Very Often, a Follow Up Blog.”

In between, some notable Evangelical voices had to show their superiority to the obviously backslidden Miller by schooling him on how REAL Christians should think and act. Of course, they quoted the go-to passage whenever someone appears not to be “into” church all that much:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
—Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

Denny Burk had one of the most brutal rebuttals: “Donald Miller’s prescription for spiritual suicide.”

Burk writes:

It is very clear that Miller’s view of the church differs markedly from what we find in scripture.

After reading Burk’s rebuttal, it seemed clear to me that Burk’s view of church differs markedly from what we find in Scripture too.

In fact, I’d love to see a modern Evangelical church that even gets close to resembling anything I see in the New Testament.

Church as entertainmentEvery Sunday, Americans flock to giant, hangar-like theaters, where rock music with shallow lyrics that most people can’t sing along with well blares out of $200,000 sound systems for a scientifically prescribed number of minutes before some attractive woman gets up and makes an appeal for money. Then a goateed guy in a Hawaiian or bowling shirt talks for a half hour about how we can all enjoy our best life now by doing something that tangentially has to do with the Bible. And maybe Jesus. Maybe. There’s another song, and then everyone goes to IHOP for all-you-can-eat pancakes.

That’s what Church in America has become. That’s what Denny Burk says we must all attend every Sunday lest we commit spiritual suicide.

Excuse me, but it seems to me that attending something like that is the real spiritual suicide. And Evangelicals are committing it weekly.

Donald Miller says he connects better to God when he’s working than when he’s attending something like I just described.

Can anyone blame him?

I suspect there are many Donald Millers out there who went to a pale imitation of New Testament church and didn’t find God there. And when Denny Burk plays apologist for such an Ichabod “church,” how can he be taken seriously?

I’m sure Burk would probably endorse a more serious church, one that wouldn’t be a dog and pony show. But when all is written, is his version any better?

Are the people in Burk’s idea of church selling their possessions and dropping them at the feet of the apostles?

Does his church maintain a common purse so that no one in the church ever suffers need?

Does his church allow a few prophets to speak revelatory words from the Lord through the Holy Spirit and then have other wise people weigh those words?

Does his church encourage tongues and people who can interpret those tongues?

Does his church celebrate communion as a full meal and not just a thimble of grape juice and a stale cracker?

Does his church encourage others to bring their prayer requests and then prays over them all?

Does his church meet together daily in each other’s homes?

Does his church worship in such a way that the meeting place is shaken by God?


Just what is Burk defending that he chastises Miller for eschewing it? Why aren’t the leaders of those off churches faulted instead for delivering such a wan imitation of a genuine New Testament church that spiritually astute people find a whole bunch of smoke and mirrors and not a whole lot of God?

In the end, Miller may be edging toward a bad position, but in his edging is a stinging indictment. If our churches today are connecting people with cultural entertainment and not with a risen Lord, then what person in his right mind would want that? And what right-minded person would defend it?

Anymore, I don’t encounter much of God in a traditional Evangelical church setting. I have a hard time with the music, and I’m a musician. I wish the words were more meaningful and the tunes more melodic. I wish there were more quiet, contemplative songs. I wish we worshiped God in ways that didn’t always come down to something that emanated from Hillsong or the pen of Chris Tomlin. I keep hoping for a bright, airy space filled with people who minister to each other. I want to see the assembly of the people of God filled with prayers, and not just for a couple minutes. We need to use our individual gifts on a Sunday, and not just stare dully at a stage from whence the show pours forth. We each need to practice our spiritual gifts with each other in the assembly, because that’s what God gave them to us for. We need to eat a real meal together and bear each other’s burdens so that people leave encouraged and strengthened and not burdened by yet one more thing the pastor said they’re doing half-heartedly or altogether wrong. And we need to know that someone at that church has our back if the going gets rough. And we need to know whose back we’ve got when he or she stumbles.

Donald Miller needs that too.

And Denny Burk needs to open the Bible he teaches professionally and get a real vision for what the Church in America must be. He needs his definition of what the Church is altered so that it’s not a building and not an activity done once a week, but a living, vital people filled by the Holy Spirit and sealed for the Kingdom, who are the Church wherever any single Spirit-filled believer goes, regardless of how many go with him or her.

God help us that we have these national voices, who supposedly speak truth about the Christian life, and yet they can’t even get the basics right!

The truly sad part is that the person who asks if we’re doing it right is the one who receives the beat-down. Confess in all honestly that such a church as Miller avoids doesn’t personally provide a solid connection to God and it’s the questioner who is on the receiving end of the resulting indignation. The questioner is wrong. The questioner is spiritually immature or deficient. The questioner is the one committing spiritual suicide.

I have one word: Maranatha!

Too Much Grace?


One of my projects for the summer was to read the New Testament out loud with my son. We finished a couple days after summer ended.

I’ve read through the entire Bible a few times, and through the New Testament more times than I can remember. But I had not read straight through the New Testament in perhaps five years. That was certainly too long, but we have a tendency in the Church to break down everything into acceptable chunks rather than dealing with larger wholes, so I suspect my failing is more common than not.

This time through the NT, one theme kept hitting me in the face. John sums it up:

Everyone who has been born of God does not commit sin, because His seed remains in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.
—1 John 3:9 MKJV

Whiter than snowWe Protestants love to talk about grace. At one point, we loved to talk about holiness too. Today, we don’t talk much about that second one at all.

What struck me hard in my read-through of the NT this time was that every writer of every book warned the Church about sin. Believers were commanded not to sin. Believers were warned of the consequences of sin. The writers were pretty darned serious that Christian faith and sin cannot coexist. The Book of Revelation holds nothing back regarding what happens to those who sin and those who do not.

The Bible makes it clear that we believers are commanded not to sin. We are also commanded on the flip side: to be righteous. If this is a command, then it must be something we have some control over.  If we are told, “Don’t do that!” or “This you must do!” then some means exists for us to take action or else the command is pointless.

Some might argue that these commands sound too much like New Testament Law. Maybe. But they are there in the pages of the NT nonetheless.

I see Christians today excusing all manner of bad behavior under the blanket of grace. We seem to have room for all manner of grace for all manner of sin. I’m not sure we have the same room for holiness though.

When Jesus says that calling your brother a fool is murder, and the Bible says God won’t let murderers inherit His kingdom, do we take that seriously? Do I even have to ask that question? Because the answer today seems to be that we don’t. At all. Or else we believers would look more distinct from the unrighteous hordes who have chosen the wide, sin-strewn way that leads to destruction.

Reading Between the Lines of Paul’s Letters


'Paul, The Apostle' by Gustave DoréMy son and I have been reading out loud through the New Testament this summer. We’ve tried to read as much as we can of one book in one sitting so that the harmony of the books is maintained. I’m convinced that we too often approach the Bible with a piecemeal mentality that ends up losing the bigger picture. This is especially true of the epistles, which should never be read any way other than in one piece. Reading them this way spotlights the confusion that our over-reliance on chapter and verse markings has created.

While I’ve read through the Bible many times in my life, I’ve never tried to read it both out loud and in the biggest chunks I can manage. That another person is listening as I read makes an additional subtle difference that forces me to be clear in how I pause and phrase the written word. Truly, it makes a difference. Try it.

This time through the New Testament, I’ve focused on most everything BUT the theology. Too often when we read the epistles, we tend to gloss over the credential establishments, the callouts to this person and that, and the real humanity depicted by the writers as they communicate to their readers.

For this post, I want to share a few thoughts from reading through Paul as if I were a long-ago church leader reading to an assembly of new believers who were going against the flow of the age.

A baker’s dozen thoughts on the Pauline epistles:

  1. We tend to see Paul as a dry, driven, exacting, Type A personality, but his emotional life is more rich on these pages than we give him credit for. This shows us that Christians need to be in touch with their emotional lives and bring emotion to our assemblies. Ours is not an arid, intellectual faith, though a quick perusal of Christian blogs and websites often communicates it as such. There is much to grieve—and also much to be joyful over. You can sense Paul’s melancholy and father-heart when he talks about his love for these young churches. His imprisonment weighs on him, and you can feel the sadness in the distance it creates. His writings show how important a solid network of Christian confidants and supporters is to our emotional well-being.
  2. Paul faced enormous opposition, often from people who seemed to be genuine Christians but were slightly off. (Sounds like today, right?) That so much of Paul’s writings consists of establishing his credentials is both illuminating and sad. This Christian life is more fragile than we imagine, and it is easy to go off the rails from simple carelessness regarding truth.
  3. To a modern age we think of as truly connected, Paul’s writings hammer the importance of Christian community, the need for loving, caring community that functions with peace, order, and utter dependence on God for direction. (Are our churches living that way?)
  4. Church hopping isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. Witness the number of companions to Paul who fade in and out of his life, many starting off well but finishing badly.
  5. As much as we look at Paul’s letters as theological treatises, the majority of their text, both opening and closing, is dedicated to connecting with specific people and establishing what Paul is all about.
  6. Personal holiness, perseverance, and a sober understanding of the age are themes in nearly every one of Paul’s books. So is the reality that Christianity is not another religion. The Christian faith cannot be equated with other streams of religious thought because it is not a dry—and ultimately empty—system like those others. Instead, Christianity is a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, based in complete reconciliation, and awash in grace for living each day.
  7. The Christian is to be the most average of people but one who lives an extraordinary, eternal life. Humility, gratefulness, and discipline are hallmarks of that life.
  8. Sins of a sexual nature and those that afflict male-female relationships are extraordinarily prevalent and a major stumbling block for many, but Christ can forgive, redeem, and restore.
  9. Paul’s letters repeatedly note that many people will wash out of the faith, and while we can have confidence in God’s preservation, the number of people who get sidetracked and seduced by the world’s offerings is larger and more common than we understand.
  10. The Christian life is NOT a set of rules and can never be. People who teach a set of rules are false teachers.
  11. Grace in our present age is largely misunderstand and rarely dispensed to the extent that Paul writes that it should be.
  12. Most of what Paul writes about isn’t rarefied, theological ponderings but practical Christian living. He points out how faith translates into real life and how practical our beliefs must be.
  13. A believer not living by the Holy Spirit is not living. The Christian life is less scripted than the religious life of the day, which is what makes it so exciting.

Those are a few thoughts on the writings of Paul from an overarching perspective. I hope they resonated with you. Have a blessed day and week.