Donald Miller is a unique and gifted man. His writings about the Christian faith are creative, engaging, and very popular. In 2003, Blue Like Jazz became a New York Times bestseller and propelled Miller into the upper echelons of evangelical celebrity (the fact that such celebrity exists is a topic for another post). In 2012 the book became a feature film. Donald Miller is an influencer.
For the most part, his influence seems to have been for the good. He has deftly avoided the squishy theology of the emergent movement and affirmed the depravity of man and the need for the gospel. This is all good. There is a lot that is good. But his ecclesiology is bad.
Ecclesiology is the doctrine of the church. It’s the understanding of how God intends for Christians to be joined together. From what Miller says, this organized community does not fulfill him and so he has chosen to limit his participation. Writing about his learning style, he recently made these comments about his connection (or lack thereof) with the church:
“So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe. I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work. It’s a blast.”
Let’s affirm what is true. There are many ways to experience God. In fact, we should seek to experience him in every aspect of our existence. But there are some sacred pathways that suit each of us best. Some feel intimacy with God through the arts. Others experience it in acts of service. There are those who delight in God through study. These are valid enterprises and I am glad that Miller feels God’s joy in his work. That’s wonderful. It’s good that he’s having a blast in his vocation.
What’s not true, is his statement that the church is all around us. Indeed, God’s glory is on display all around us but his church is limited to local gatherings of Christians. And Miller’s decision to avoid the church is a bad thing. A very bad thing. The Bible is quite explicit on this point. “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). Faithfulness to Christ requires more than personal piety, it requires our willing participation in his body.
Adding insult to error is that his statement reinforces the kind of ‘church bashing’ that is popular among an alternative faction in evangelicalism. Complaining that the church is messy and unfulfilling is the worst kind of consumerism. The church is the bride of Christ—she exists for his pleasure not ours. Yes, the church is meant to aid its members in righteousness, but this expectation is often exaggerated to mean that the church ought to accommodate our preferences. No. The church, in all her messy beauty, is the people of Christ being sanctified together in anticipation of His return. It is the household of God, the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:5). The church is not an optional pathway but the essential destination for all who believe.
I wish Donald Miller well, and for this reason I wish he would be faithful in his church attendance.