“I am not attacking right theology. I am simply making theology a window rather than a wall.”
I had not read anything by Donald Miller since reading both Blue Like Jazz and it’s companion book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” Then my brother recommended Searching for God Knows What. I was searching for a good book. Donald Miller was searching for God. Again. In a way, I was reminded of how I seek after God, even when I think I’m not.
Sometimes Donald Miller, founder of Storyline Blog, feels like being a Christian is like trying to be in the circus, and everyone is watching him to make sure he does everything right and doesn’t mess up. In fourteen chapters of deeply personal writing (with titles like “Santa Takes a Leak,” “Why Nudity is the Point,” and “How to Kill your Neighbor”) Miller dares us to see Christianity as something not defined by formula, but by relationship.
Yes, some authors have done this, and poorly. Some false teachers have come along and told you that God just wants a mere relationship, or that truth doesn’t matter. Miller avoids that route. Formulas, he admits, can be helpful. But they don’t define religion.
Miller draws mostly from the Garden of Eden, using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and tweaking it just a little bit into a reworked theory of what mankind needs. A speaker who struggled with agnosticism in college, Miller is honest, candid, and real as he shares his own questions about what it means to believe. Miller later realized he had come to deny the existence of a frightening God who gave us a bunch of rules for avoiding Hell, and returned to a God “so incredibly other [and] has created a kind of afterlife for people [and] can tell you again and again He loves you and you are still going to be quite a bit afraid, just because of what it feels like when you think about His nature.”
For the book, Miller prepared a list of the traits of Jesus as he encounters them in the Gospels: Ugly, loving, patient, kind, divine, AM. And just to test our commitment to formula, he tells of how he asked a college class on Christianity to assess a summary of Christianity on how well it captured the meaning of the Gospel. I won’t ruin the trick he pulled, but he demonstrated to the class that we can all so easily get caught up in lists and rules and charts and points that we miss the story of the Gospel, the Good News itself.
But Miller doesn’t shy away from stressing the importance of obedience. Rather, he allows the Grace of God to eclipse the works-based focus on perfection. “Love creates rules,” he declares, “and forgives when they are broken.” That’s not creed; that’s relationship.
Miller envisions a new kind of “Jesus pamphlet” where instead of listing points about morality or steps to salvation, an authentic relationship with God like a marriage is pitched to its readers.
Miller shifts from the inner relationship to the outer relationship, challenging us to witness Christian morality to the world not with “a battle cry against a depraved culture” but rather “as a ramification of our spiritual union and relationship with Christ.” He closes by drawing lessons from Romeo and Juliet, of all things, to demonstrate the power of story and love.
He also slams the false teacher Robert Tilton.
Miller is one of the premiere down-to-earth writers and speakers for a generation skeptical of the religion they’ve inherited yet honestly seeking spiritual fulfillment. His books work well in small groups, and college and adult classes for open discussion, as well as readable to agnostic, seeking, skeptical, and church-tired young people who at times can’t seem to be reached by material that guilts them and overwhelms them with scripture after scripture.
Relying on material like his can be dangerous for churches on the brink of apostasy, as he does not explore what some might call “firm doctrines,” and his work can easily be misused to endorse an ol’ wind of doctrine.
At times he talks a bit too much and repeats himself. It’s also not a very scholarly book, though there are instances where he makes insightful comments based on scholarship. He is mostly a man of anecdotes, confessions and illustrations. He’s deeply personal. Read his work personally, not necessarily something to “study.”
Aside from a quirky take on the Garden of Eden as an exploration of the human psyche, Searching for God Knows What does not offer any new ideas. What Miller does is take old and current ideas and make them deeply relatable, with his own brand of wit and vulnerability. His string of personal essays may turn your heart in the right direction.