A Better Storyteller [Excerpts]
Donald Miller helps culturally conflicted evangelicals make peace with their faith.
Donald Miller is in a room of 500 or 600 people, all waiting for him to speak. But as he steps behind the podium and begins, his voice seems more suited to a small group of five or six.
"Okay," he starts, "what are some of your favorite movies?"
A murmur of response—"Come on!" Miller encourages—and then people start shouting out titles. The Matrix! A Beautiful Mind! The Straight Story! Finding Nemo! The audience oohs and aahs at each other's choices. Little Women! Napoleon Dynamite! It's a Wonderful Life! The shouting goes on for a while; they forget this is a workshop.
"Okay, great," Miller says, bringing attention front and center. "Now, call out your favorite parts of the Nicene Creed."
Awkward giggles throughout the room—they know they've been had. Then one man pipes up: "It's a wonderful life!"
In the next half hour, Miller delivers a variation on a theme ascendant in evangelical Christianity: Truth is rooted in story, not in rational systems. The Christian mission is not well served when we speak in terms of spiritual laws or rational formulas. Propositional truths, when extracted from a narrative context, lack meaning. "The chief role of a Christian," he says, "is to tell a better story."
Best known for Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, a youthful, angsty collection of personal essays that has sold more than 800,000 copies since its publication in 2003, Miller has refined his craft and his range of interests.
At the book-signing table after his keynote address, Miller is handed copy after copy of each of his four titles: Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What (2004), Through Painted Deserts (2005; a reissue of his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance), and To Own a Dragon (2006). But mostly, he is handed copy after copy of Blue Like Jazz and offered testimonials about the book's effect:
A 40-something woman approaches Miller with two plastic grocery bags filled with copies of his books. "I've already bought Blue Like Jazz 13 times," she gushes. "But I gotta have all these to give to people. I'm a Jesus girl, but I also like to go out and do tequila shots with my friends. This is a book I can give to those friends."
[Miller] compares his experience to Paul speaking to the Athenians on Mars Hill. Paul understood Greek culture, he was winsome, and he could make an appeal for truth in a way that Greeks would receive.
[TBC: In Acts:17:30-32 the message that Paul preached was quite different from that of Donald Miller.
"And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
"Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
"And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
"So Paul departed from among them.
"Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed."]