Book Reviews,  Theology/Bible

Blue Like Blue States

Don Miller’s blockbuster book Blue Like Jazz has influenced a significant number of a whole generation of young Christians across this country. I can say that the book has definitely made an impact on many of the students at the college where I teach.

Mark Coppenger delivered an address at Southern Seminary recently in which he reviewed Don Miller’s book. The audio of the review is witty and insightful and worth the time to listen to. But if you don’t have the time for the audio, you can now read it. The Baptist Press has run a print version of the review titled “Blue Like Jazz & Berri Blue Jell-O.” I highly recommend this one. Even if you disagree, it’s really entertaining.


  • Michael

    Dr. Burk,

    Thanks for the link. One comment which I’d like to hear thoughts on by you or others that are strongly opposed to Miller.

    Why did Coppenger and most of the other evangelical responses to Miller, and the Emergent in general, spend so little time affirming what he gets right?

    I agree with almost all of Coppenger’s concerns. Similarly, I agreed with almost all of Carson’s concerns in *Becoming Conversant…* I’m not impressed with post-modernity and the emergent folk. Yet, in many areas they are the best we’ve got. If such books are so easy to write, why are there none from some solid evangelicals?

    I’d guess that many of the students at your school and mine that are favorable to Miller would be much more willing to listen to critiques if there was more of an acknowledgement of what he gets so right and most of the evangelical world gets so wrong.

    Those who critique post-modernity should be sure that they have first removed the log of modernity from there own eye. (Not directed to Coppenger – I don’t know him – but evangelicals in general.)

  • Denny Burk

    I don’t have a problem with critiqueing modernity. Enlightenment rationalism, secularism, and naturalism are elements of modernity that need to come down.

    The problem I have with post-modernity is what it substitutes in place of these. Instead of grounding epistemology in God’s revelation of Himself, post-modernity becomes skeptical of our ability to know anything (including God’s revelation) adequately. Once this conclusion is reached, Christianity is undermined.

    I’d be interested to know what you think Miller has gotten right.


  • Baptist Superman

    Blue like hell. Donald Moore is no Baptist and has most likely never gone door-2-door. Post-modernity is more important to Saptists (trust me, I am Baptist Superman) that secular philosophy. They see it as a joke and a pathetic argument: So should we. Take Finney, take Bush, take hope.

  • Bruno W

    I don’t know you, Denny, but I’m still surprised you would endorse this presentation from Coppenger, even if its just because of his unloving disposition towards Miller. Coppenger was playing up to a home-town crowd, no doubt, and if I were him, I would be ashamed to learn Don Miller listened to that critique (if indeed it would happen).

    What does Miller do right? What Coppenger doesn’t get. His very first critique is how Miller speaks of reality (little ‘r’), but not Reality (big ‘R’). Coppenger is dead wrong a various accounts concerning this. First of all, the dichotomy is wrongly assumed. What he calls ‘r’eality is merely affirming what’s happened to us, our difficulties, pain and experiences. Do you know how many people can’t and won’t do this? It’s exactly why Scazzero’s book, “The Emotionally Healthy Church” is so powerful and effective. The majority of Christians do not go beneath the surfaces of their lives, they do not examine the true losses, insecurities and fears that haunt and control their movement in life. Little r reality is big r Reality. A person truly coming to grips, for example, of growing up without a father and all the implications concerning that loss is not little r, but big r Reality. Failing to recognize these Realities keep people in bondage.

    Coppenger’s critique of Miller is a tyipcal, fearful response to Emergent concerns. Yes, if indeed, Miller and others believed everything Coppenger says, they do have dangerous thinking. But (in my opinion) any honest and critical reader of some of these folks recognize there is much more nuance than the straw man Coppenger torched. I truly get sad when I see these kinds of critiques because people like Coppenger could truly be aided by some of the insights and Biblical intuitions they have.

    I listened to an interview of Tony Jones last week. He made the comment that much of Emergent’s critics just don’t get it. I’m beginning to think he’s right.

  • Baptist Superman

    How can anyone give a bad response to a non-argument…a nargument, if you will. In the words of Hilary Putnam, postmodern assumptions are simply bad arguments, and that is the general conception of secular philosophy. Emergents actually manage to say less than postmodern bedfellows. Yet, christian circles have the bad habit of being fascinated with these stillborn arguments. My take on Miller is this: Texas boy moves to the great northwest and realizes God isnt a baptist fundamentalist (like myself, Baptist Superman). Golly wally, Christians drink and dance. Miller goes on to attempt a paradigm shift of orthodox christianity into a progressive neo-liberal social consciousness. Candles, inscence, images, mystery…these things are hardly new. Again I ask, why is this movement interesting, again?

  • Michael

    I think the distinction that Bruno brings up is a good place to start.
    No reality, no Reality. And then there is Miller’s stuff on community. It’s something we sacrifice for, not show up at. His integration of social issues into the gospel (N.T. Wright’s influence on the emergent folks I think.)

    But most of all, Miller makes room for wonder and awe. Few evangelicals do this. Theological exploration should cause awe, and awe is to be enjoyed, not explained.

    Again, are their problems? Of course. Some rather serious. But if evangelicals don’t figure out the good things Miller is doing, the things many college kids are drawn to, they will continue to lose the young generation to the mainlines.

  • Ryan

    Michael, you readily admit to the serious problems in Miller’s book. Are you willing to endorse someone who holds a serious influence over thousands of young, and in most cases, immature believers because he happens to also get a few things right? If that is the case, we should also consider writings of muslims, mormons, and other religions. After all, muslims have lots to say about living pure lives, and total devotion to God. Mormons are extremely kind, generous, and loving people who do much for the good of man. Many other religions can offer instruction for living peaceable, loving lives as well. The difference? It doesn’t matter what they get right if they get the major point wrong. Many (not all) of the emergent types are seeking a form of religion centered around their own preferences and political views. What good does it do to have community if the community is not grounded in solid teaching and the cultivation of holiness in its members? Hippies may frolic in the woods happily and peaceably and lovingly forever, but what does it matter if they miss Christ?

    –In Christ, Ryan

  • Michael


    Evangelicals have formed religion around their poitical views (which are not distinctly Christian), so why make such a beef when the Emergents do it? I don’t care about being a Democrat or Republican. But I do think that some of the emergent writings can help correct evangelicals myopic persepctive.

    Why Emergent writings and not Muslims or Mormons? Because there are aspect to the Emergent writings (some of them) that are distinctly Christian, and in the very ways that evangelicals are not.

    If I only read and recommended books I totally agreed with, I’d read nothing but the Bible. I heard Piper praise *The Prayer of Jabez* in a sermon. He spoke about how it renewed his passion for prayer. We should be more like him and look to pull the positive.

    I’m not an emergent. As a whole, I think they get far less right than mainstream evangelicalism. But if all we continue to do is trash them, never pulling the good they offer, it will be to our loss. We should admit that in some ways they are more uniquely Christian than we are.

  • Bruno W

    Ryan, I’m curious about your comparsion between mormons, muslims and Emerging folks. Is it a hyperbolic comparison, or are you suggesting they reject Christ like other religions do?

    You say, “Many (not all) of the emergent types are seeking a form of religion centered around their own preferences and political views. What good does it do to have community if the community is not grounded in solid teaching and the cultivation of holiness in its members?” Are you sure about that? And if so, how did you come to that conclusion? Was it by spending time with them in their communities, by attending worship with them and sitting and listening to them? Or was it by reading from Carson and listening to Coppenger? Your statement, I think, seriously misses what many in the emerging church value. For example, Dallas Willard is revered by the emerging church precisely for his emphasis on personal holiness (which Willard lives as well as I’ve ever seen). There needs to be a lot of growth in the expression of their theology, but important biblical intuitions are easily seen in their writings. Now some of them need to synthesize it a little to provide some coherence (which they do believe in).

    Is it possible (not likely, just possible) that there polical views emerged from their theological convictions they received from the Holy Scriptures rather than vice versa? I sure think so. My conviction is the greater evangelical church could first take a look inward than putting up the defenses.


  • revnace

    “Instead of grounding epistemology in God’s revelation of Himself, post-modernity becomes skeptical of our ability to know anything (including God’s revelation) adequately.” – Denny

    Went to the National Pastor’s conference with a great workshop with some people in the emergent movement. They would disagree with your definition and logical flow. Postmodernity doesn’t equate total deconstruction.

  • revnace

    Just read the article… man, that’s just not nice. I don’t aggree with everything that Miller wrote but it doesn’t give me licence to make fun of it or sterotype him and his beliefs. This type of writing and speaking is exactly what Christians should stay away from. Denny, I see no heart or compassion in that “review”. What I love about Miller is that he really does love people and is honest when he doesn’t. I don’t read any humility or transparency in this “review”. Either way, I’m sure this man is a great guy with a tremendous heart to equip pastors and reach the hurting… he wouldn’t do what he does nor invest his life in planting a church up in a Northern metropolitian area if he didn’t. But I didn’t get that from this article and that’s sad.

  • Denny Burk

    Hey Nace,

    Thanks commenting. I actually didn’t read the whole piece because I listened to the audio. In the audio it’s really clear that he’s being sort of tongue-in-cheek. I don’t know if that mitigates the offense at all, but I just thought it might help to know that he his spoken words didn’t sound rabid and hateful.

    That being said, what do you think about some of the substantive critiques that Coppenger makes? Is it just his tone that’s wrong, or do you think he’s really off-base in terms of the content of his critique?

    Great to hear from you, bro.


  • Jeff

    Wasn’t Coppenger fired as president of Midwestern Baptist Seminary back in 1999 because of severe problems with out-of-control anger? Maybe part of the appeal of the emerging church is that younger generations are not that impressed with the fruit of traditional theology and methodology as displayed in the lives of older leaders.

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