No Mr. Miller. No!

Man Walking Down AisleDonald 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.

9 thoughts on “No Mr. Miller. No!

  1. Excellent take and response. Wonder if Mr. Miller had a bad experience involving church politics, or some form of in-fighting that members deeply involved within the church governing system sometimes experience. No excuse for leaving, but it does occur.

  2. While this article does not do it, we must be careful not to imply that the ONLY place to be with Christians is at a church service. Perhaps Mr. Miller is surrounded by them daily. I’d hesitate to question his church attendance before I’d at least equally point out that there are many “church gatherings” that don’t resemble true worship in the slightest. Being part of a Christian fellowship is commendable and encouraged; not being part of a particular one is NOT necessarily grounds for having one’s personal Christian values publicly challenged. It may be God’s preferred design, but his design has been messed up by “Christians” many times before. I’m just urging caution here, not dismissing the intent of the blog.

    • Right you are that there are many churches that fail to meet the basic requirements of a true church (teaching, ordinances, and correction). There is no benefit in being in a church that has lost its standard. I agree.
      But I don’t think membership in the church is the better of two options. It is presented in Scripture as a command or simply as a foregone conclusion. And those who refrain from such communion are brought into public question (1 John 2:19).
      Yes, the church is messed up. I know-I’m part of the one and part of the problem. But ironically the mess serves as a benefit to demonstrate who is real (1 Cor 11:19).
      I appreciate the response and delighted with topic. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Absolutely it’s important to be involved with a local community of believers, I think you’re clearly on dangerous ground if you’re not, but does that community of believers have to look as the modern institutional church often appears? Must all criticism of the common model of how “church” is expressed today be equated with “Church bashing,” and stifled as criticism of The Bride of Christ. I agree with your assessment of this author’s position that “The Church is all around us” is a fallacy that is not upheld by scripture, but can the admonishment given in Hebrews 10:24–25 be fulfilled in non institutional Church settings? .

  4. Chad. Good to hear from you. To answer your question we have to define what institutional church is. If institutional is something soulless and corporate I would agree that such a church is unattractive. If institutional is something structured with active governance then I would say its biblical. Scripture talks about the church, its formation, and it’s responsibility a great deal. Paul would not leave a church before he had instituted elders and organized the body. Much of church operation is cultural but most of it is biblical. Certainly, churches open themselves up to criticism and the debate helps refine the church, but we must not surrender her in frustration.
    Can the Hebrews 10 admonishment be accomplished through Christian friendships? I would say it can be augmented by these but the mandate remains. Christians are saved into the church.

  5. The sad fact is that many churches leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled. Even if you go with the intent to worship and engage in fellowship with fellow Christians. It has been my experience that even though there is good intentions, it comes across as entertainment to be critiqued, lessons to either give you warm fuzzies or elicit guilt, and agendas that are inspired by personal passions rather than fulfilling God’s plan. All of this cannot sustain us because it puts people in the center and not God. Some people just give up, I think, rather than searching for what will truly lead them to a deeper relationship with God. I thank God every week for leading me to Fellowship and that I didn’t give up, because, even if there are human imperfections, it is God led.

  6. It was amazing to see you writing about Donald Miller. I bought his book at a discount store for a small price. I had not heard of it (Blue Like Jazz), nor it’s author. It was an enjoyable read and I thought that I might enjoy others books by the author. I did research the author on his website and read about his current professional business endeavors. In reading Blue Like Jazz, I conclude he is “free spirited.” Perhaps, he did not “feel” connected to anyone in his church (I do not know what he means by saying the church is all around him.) Sometimes expectations of church are just too high to be realistic. And, too, it takes effort to just get there, well groomed with lesson studied and tithe offering in hand.
    We do not go to church by our feelings, but because of the commandment to fellowship with believers and to study his word. Feelings follow actions.

  7. I want to chastise you, Eugene; however, I feel that would be as fruitless as your chastisement of Miller, so I’ll pray: Praise God for his grace, the unmerited mercy bestowed to the perpetual lawbreaker: the selfish, the proud, the undisciplined, the wayward thinker, the wayward actor, the one who has partnered with unholy entities for unholy gain. Holy Spirit, convict my brothers Donald Miller and Eugene Brandt if they be led astray and consequently leading others astray. Holy Spirit counsel even one as wicked as me. May you be praised for conquering the shackles of fear and death; may you be forever glorified.

  8. Thank you for the insight Eugene. I think it’s always healthy when we challenge the thinkers in Christendom by comparing them to the standard of God’s Word. Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, Tyndale, etc would be proud:)

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