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The Gospel of Jesus
It Never Was a Formula
My friend Greg and I have been talking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus. Greg would not consider himself as somebody who takes Jesus seriously, but he admits to having questions. I didn't have a formula for him to understand how a Christian conversion works, but I told him that many years ago, when I was a child, I had heard about Jesus and found the idea of Him compelling, then much later while reading the Gospels, came to believe I wanted to follow Him. This changed things in my life, I said, because it involved giving up everything and choosing to go into a relationship with Him. Greg told me he had seen a pamphlet with four or five ideas on it, ideas such as man was a sinner, sin separated man from God, and Christ died to absolve the separation. He asked me if this was what I believed, and I told him, essentially, that it was. "Those would be the facts of the story," I said, "but that isn't the story."
"Those are the ideas, but it isn't the narrative," Greg stated rhetorically.
"Yes," I told him.
Earlier that same year I had a conversation with my friend Omar, who is a student at a local college. For his humanities class, Omar was assigned to read the majority of the Bible. He asked to meet with me for coffee, and when we sat down he put a Bible on the table as well as a pamphlet containing the same five or six ideas Greg had mentioned. He opened the pamphlet, read the ideas, and asked if these concepts were important to the central message of Christianity. I told Omar they were critical; that, basically, this was the gospel of Jesus, the backbone of Christian faith. Omar then opened his Bible and asked, "If these ideas are so important, why aren't they in this book?"
"But the Scripture references are right here," I said curiously, showing Omar that the verses were printed next to each idea.
"I see that," he said. "But in the Bible they aren't concise like they are in this pamphlet. They are spread out all over the book."
"But this pamphlet is a summation of the ideas," I clarified.
"Right," Omar continued, "but it seems like, if these ideas are that critical, God would have taken the time to make bullet points out of them. Instead, He put some of them here and some of them there. And half the time, when Jesus is talking, He is speaking entirely in parables. It is hard to believe that whatever it is He is talking about can be summed up this simply."
Omar's point is well taken. And while the ideas presented in these pamphlets are certainly true, it struck me how simply we had begun to explain the ideas, not only how simply, but how nonrelationally, how propositionally. I don't mean any of this to fault the pamphlets at all. Tracts such as the ones Omar and Greg encountered have been powerful tools in helping people understand the beauty of the message of Christ. Millions, perhaps, have come to know Jesus through these efficient presentations of the gospel. But I did begin to wonder if there were better ways of explaining it than these pamphlets. After all, the pamphlets have been around for only the last fifty years or so (along with our formulaic presentation of the gospel), and the church has shrunk, not grown, in Western countries in which these tools have been used. But the greater trouble with these reduced ideas is that modern evangelical culture is so accustomed to this summation that it is difficult for us to see the gospel as anything other than a list of true statements with which a person must agree.
It makes me wonder if, because of this reduced version of the claims of Christ, we believe the gospel is easy to understand, a simple mental exercise, not in the least bit mysterious. And if you think about it, a person has a more difficult time explaining romantic love, for instance, or beauty, or the Trinity, than the gospel of Jesus. John would open his gospel by presenting the idea that God is the Word and Jesus is the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Not exactly bullet points for easy consumption. Perhaps our reduction of these ideas has caused us to miss something.
o o o
Each year I teach a class on the gospel and culture at a small Bible college back east. This year I asked the students to list the precepts a person would need to understand in order to become a Christian. I stood at the white board and they called out ideas: Man was sinful by nature; sin separates us from God; Jesus died for our sins; we could accept Jesus into our hearts (after some thought, students were not able to explain exactly what they meant by this, only saying it was a kind of interaction in which a person agrees Jesus is the Son of God), and so on. Then, looking at the board, I began to ask some questions about these almost universally accepted ideas. I asked if a person could believe all these ideas were true and yet not be a Christian. I told them my friend Matt, for instance, believed all these ideas and yet would never claim to be a person who knows Jesus or much less follows Him. The students conceded that, in fact, a person could know and even believe all the concepts on the board and yet not be a Christian. "Then there is something missing, isn't there?" I said to the class. "It isn't watertight just yet. There must be some idea we are leaving out, some full-proof thing a person has to agree with in order to have a relationship with Christ." We sat together and looked at the board for several minutes until we conceded we weren't going to come up with the missing element. I then erased the board and asked the class a different question: "What ideas would a guy need to agree with or what steps would a guy need to take in order to fall in love with a girl?" The class chuckled a bit, but I continued, going so far as to begin a list.
1. A guy would have to get to know her.
I stood back from the board and wondered out loud what the next step might be. "Any suggestions?" I asked the class. We thought about it for a second, and then one of the students spoke up and said, "It isn't exactly a scientific process."
The Gospel: A Relational Dynamic
Perhaps the reason Scripture includes so much poetry in and outside the narrative, so many parables and stories, so many visions and emotional letters, is because it is attempting to describe a relational break man tragically experienced with God and a disturbed relational history man has had since then and, furthermore, a relational dynamic man must embrace in order to have relational intimacy with God once again, thus healing himself of all the crap he gets into while looking for a relationship that makes him feel whole. Maybe the gospel of Jesus, in other words, is all about our relationship with Jesus rather than about ideas. And perhaps our lists and formulas and bullet points are nice in the sense they help us memorize different truths, but harmful in the sense they delude, or perhaps ignore, the necessary relationship that must begin between ourselves and God for us to become His followers. And worse, perhaps our formulas and bullet points and steps steal the sincerity with which we might engage God.
Becoming a Christian might look more like falling in love than baking cookies. Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that in order for a person to know Jesus they must get a kind of crush on Him. But what I am suggesting is that, not unlike any other relationship, a person might need to understand that Jesus is alive, that He exists, that He is God, that He is in authority, that we need to submit to Him, that He has the power to save, and so on and so on, all of which are ideas, but ideas entangled in a kind of relational dynamic. This seems more logical to me because if God made us, wants to know us, then this would require a more mysterious interaction than what would be required by following a kind of recipe.
I realize it all sounds terribly sentimental, but imagine the other ideas popular today that we sometimes hold up as credible: We believe a person will gain access to heaven because he is knowledgeable about theology, because he can win at a game of religious trivia. And we may believe a person will find heaven because she is very spiritual and lights incense and candles and takes bubble baths and reads books that speak of centering her inner self; and some of us believe a person is a Christian because he believes five ideas that Jesus communicated here and there in Scripture, though never completely at one time and in one place; and some people believe they are Christians because they do good things and associate themselves with some kind of Christian morality; and some people believe they are Christians because they are Americans. If any of these models are true, people who read the Bible before we systematically broke it down, and, for that matter, people who believed in Jesus before the printing press or before the birth of Western civilization, are at an extreme disadvantage. It makes you wonder if we have fashioned a gospel around our culture and technology and social economy rather than around the person of Christ. It doesn't make a great deal of sense that a person who went to Bible college should have a better shot at heaven than a person who didn't, and it doesn't make a lot of sense either that somebody sentimental and spiritual has greater access. I think it is more safe and more beautiful and more true to believe that when a person dies he will go and be with God because, on earth, he had come to know Him, that he had a relational encounter with God not unlike meeting a friend or a lover or having a father or taking a bride, and that in order to engage God he gave up everything, repented and changed his life, as this sort of extreme sacrifice is what is required if true love is to grow. We would expect nothing less in a marriage; why should we accept anything less in becoming unified with Christ? In fact, I have to tell you, I believe the Bible is screaming this idea and is completely silent on any other, including our formulas and bullet points. It seems, rather, that Christ's parables, Christ's words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, were designed to bypass the memorization of ideas and cause us to wrestle with a certain need to cling to Him. In other words, a poetic presentation of the gospel of Jesus is more accurate than a set of steps.
o o o
Biblically, you are hard-pressed to find theological ideas divorced from their relational context. There are, essentially, three dominant metaphors describing our relationship with God: sheep to a shepherd, child to a father, and bride to a bridegroom. The idea of Christ's disciples being His mother and father and brothers and sisters is also presented. In fact, few places in Scripture speak to the Christian conversion experience through any method other than relational metaphor. Contrasting this idea, I recently heard a man, while explaining how a person could convert to Christianity, say the experience was not unlike a person who decides to sit in a chair. He said that while a person can have faith that a chair will hold him, it is not until he sits in the chair that he has acted on his faith.
I wondered as I heard this if the chair was a kind of a symbol for Jesus, and how irritated Jesus might be if a lot of people kept trying to sit on Him. And then I wondered at how Jesus could say He was a Shepherd and we were sheep, and that the Father in heaven was our Father and we were His children, and that He Himself was a Bridegroom and we were His bride, and that He was a King and we were His subjects, and yet we somehow missed His meaning and thought becoming a Christian was like sitting in a chair.
The Gospel of Ideas
So removed is our understanding of the gospel as a relational invitation that recently, while teaching another class of Bible college students, I presented a form of the gospel but left out a key element, to see if they would notice. I told them in advance that I was going to leave out a critical element of the gospel, and I asked them to listen carefully to figure out the missing piece. I told them man was sinful, and this was obvious when we looked at the culture we lived in. I pointed out specific examples of depravity including homosexuality, abortion, drug use, song lyrics on the radio, newspaper headlines, and so on. Then I told the class that man must repent, and showed them Scriptures that spoke firmly to this idea. I used the true-life example I heard from a preacher about a man in Missouri who, warning people of a bridge that had collapsed, shot a flare gun directly at oncoming cars so they would stop before they drove over the bridge to their deaths. I said I was like that man, shooting flares at cars, and they could be mad at me and frustrated, but I was saving their lives, because the wages of sin is death, and they had to repent in order to see heaven. I then pointed to Scripture about the wages of sin being death, and talked at length about how sin separates us from God. Then I spoke of the beauty of morality, and told a story of a friend who chose not to cheat on his wife and so now enjoys the fruits of his marriage, committed in love to his wife, grateful that he never betrayed the purity and beauty of their relationship. I talked about heaven and how great it will be to walk on streets of gold and how there will probably be millions of miles of mountains and rivers and how great it will be to fish those rivers and sit with our friends around a fire beneath a mountain peak that reaches up into stars so thick we could barely imagine the beauty of the expanse. I gave the class statistics regarding teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, going into detail about what it is they would be saved from if they would only repent, and how their lives could be God-honoring and God-centered and this would give them a sense of purity and a feeling of fulfillment on earth, and that God would provide for them in relationships and in finances and in comfort. When I was done, I rested my case and asked the class if they could tell me what it was I had left out of this gospel presentation. I waited as a class of Bible college students-who had read books about Christian theology, who had read the majority of the Bible, all of whom had taken an evangelism class only weeks before in which they went door-to-door to hundreds of homes and shared their faith using pamphlets that explained the gospel, who had grown up in Christian homes attending strong evangelical churches, who had taken both New Testament Introduction and Old Testament Introduction-sat there for several minutes in uncomfortable silence. None of the forty-five students in the class realized I had presented a gospel without once mentioning the name of Jesus.
The story bears repeating: I presented a gospel to Christian Bible college students and left out Jesus. Nobody noticed, even when I said I was going to neglect something very important, even when I asked them to think very hard about what it was I had left out, even when I stood there for five minutes in silence.
To a culture that believes they "go to heaven" based on whether or not they are morally pure, or that they understand some theological ideas, or that they are very spiritual, Jesus is completely unnecessary. At best, He is an afterthought, a technicality by which we become morally pure, or a subject of which we know, or a founding father of our woo-woo spirituality.
I assure you, these students loved Jesus very much, and they were terrific kids whom I loved being with, it's just that when they thought of the gospel, they thought of the message in terms of a series of thoughts or principles, not mysterious relational dynamics. The least important of the ideas, to this class, was knowing Jesus; the least important of the ideas was the one that is relational. The gospel of Jesus, then, mistakenly assumed by this class, is something different from Jesus Himself. The two are mutually exclusive in this way.
This, of course, is a lie birthed out of a method of communication the Bible never uses.
The Golden Cow
When the church began to doubt its own integrity after the Darwinian attack on Genesis 1 and 2, we began to answer science, not by appealing to something greater, the realm of beauty and art and spirituality, but by attempting to translate spiritual realities through scientific equations, thus justifying ourselves to culture, as if culture had some kind of authority to redeem us in the first place. Terms such as "absolute truth" and "inherency" (a term used only to describe Scripture in the last one hundred years or so) became a battle cry, even though the laws of absolute truth must, by their nature, exclude ideas such as Jesus is the Word, He is both God and Man, the Trinity is both three and One, we are united with Him in His death, because these are mysterious ideas, not scientific ideas. In fact, much of biblical truth must go out the window when you approach it through the scientific method. God does not live within the philosophical science He made, any more than He is bound by the natural realities of gravity. There is moral law, to be sure, but moral law is not our path to heaven; our duty involves knowing and being known by Christ. Positive morality, then, the stuff of natural law, is but an offering, a sweet-tasting fruit in the mouth of God. It is obedience and an imitation of our pure and holy Maker; and immorality-the act of ignoring the conscience and the precepts of goodness-is a dagger in God's heart. Because we have approached faith through the lens of science, the rich legacy of art that once flowed out of the Christian community has dried up. The poetry of Scripture, especially in the case of Moses, began to be interpreted literally and mathematically, and whole books such as the Song of Songs were completely and totally ignored. They weren't scientific. You couldn't break them down into bullet points. Morality became a code, rather than a manifestation of a love for Christ, the way a woman is faithful to her husband, the way a man is faithful to his wife. These relational ideas were replaced with wrong and right, good and bad, with only hinted suggestions as to where wrong and right and good and bad actually came from. Old Testament stories became formulas for personal growth rather than stories to help us understand the character and nature of the God with whom we interact. In a culture that worships science, relational propositions will always be left out of arguments attempting to surface truth. We believe, quite simply, that unless we can chart something, it doesn't exist. And you can't chart relationships. Furthermore, in our attempts to make relational propositions look like chartable realities, all beauty and mystery is lost. And so when times get hard, when reality knocks us on our butts, mathematical propositions are unable to comfort our failing hearts. How many people have walked away from faith because their systematic theology proved unable to answer the deep longings and questions of the soul? What we need here, truly, is faith in a Being, not a list of ideas trailing behind to guard our thinking. And one should not think our current method of interpreting Scripture has an ancient legacy. The modern view of Scripture originated in an age of industrial revolution when corporations were becoming more important than family (the husband, for the first time, left the home and joined Corporate America, building cars instead of families), and productivity was more important than relationships. How can God help me get what I want? was the idea, not Who is God, and how can I know Him?
o o o
Imagine a pamphlet explaining the gospel of Jesus that said something like this:
You are the bride to the Bridegroom, and the Bridegroom is Jesus Christ. You must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood to know Him, and your union with Him will make you one, and your oneness with Him will allow you to be identified with Him, His purity allowing God to interact with you, and because of this you will be with Him in eternity, sitting at His side and enjoying His companionship, which will be more fulfilling than an earthly husband or an earthly bride. All you must do to engage God is be willing to leave everything behind, be willing to walk away from your identity, and embrace joyfully the trials and tribulations, the torture and perhaps martyrdom that will come upon you for being a child of God in a broken world working out its own redemption in empty pursuits.
Though it sounds absurd, this is a much more accurate summation of the gospel of Jesus than the bullet points we like to consider when we think about Christ's gospel.
In the third chapter of John, some Pharisees come out to talk with John the Baptist because Jesus has been baptizing people in a nearby river, thus threatening their position in the community as the people who do the baptizing. The Pharisees are furious and hoping to get John to join them in their hostility toward Jesus.
John answers them by saying, essentially, "Look, I told you I wasn't the Messiah, but rather the one who comes before Him to get everything ready. The One who gets the bride is the Bridegroom; by definition, but I am just His friend. I am like the best man in the wedding. And I am very happy about this. How could I be jealous when I know that the wedding is finished and the marriage is off to a great start?"
And Matthew in his gospel captures a conversation between Jesus and a group who were the disciples of John the Baptist. The disciples of John the Baptist are frustrated because they are fasting and Jesus' disciples are eating. They say to him, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus says to them, "The attendants of the Bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the Bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."
In this way, Jesus takes the spiritual disciplines, the steps and actions religious folks had come to understand as a sort of spiritual checklist, and explains them as being deeply connected to a relational exchange. We fast because we mourn the absence of Christ.
At Imago Dei, the church I attend here in Portland, the congregation is invited to the front of the church after each service to dip bread into wine, partaking in one of the two sacraments given to those of us who are following Christ. And yet often, as I wait in line, go to the table, take the bread, and dip it into the cup of wine, I forget that the bread and wine I eat and drink are of absolutely no spiritual significance at all, that they have no more power than the breakfast I ate that morning, that what Jesus wanted was for us to eat the bread and drink the wine as a way of remembering Him, the bread representing His flesh, that He was a Man who, come from heaven, walked the earth with us and felt our pains, wept at our transgressions and humbly beckoned us to follow Him; and the wine is a symbol of the fact that He was killed, that His body was nailed to a cross, and in so doing He entered into death, dying to absolve our need to die, our need to experience the ramifications of falling away and apart from God.
I confess that at times I have thought of Communion as a religious pill a person takes in order to check it off his list, and that the pill is best taken under the sedation of heavy mood music, or in silence.
How odd would it seem to have been one of the members of the early church, shepherded by Paul or Peter, and to come forward a thousand years to see people standing in line or sitting quietly in a large building that looked like a schoolroom or movie theater, to take Communion. How different it would seem from the way they did it, sitting around somebody's living room table, grabbing a hunk of bread and holding their own glass of wine, exchanging stories about Christ, perhaps laughing, perhaps crying, consoling each other, telling one another that the Person who had exploded into their hearts was indeed the Son of God, their Bridegroom, come to tell them who they were, come to mend the broken relationship, come to marry them in a spiritual union more beautiful, more intimate than anything they could know on earth.
|Chapter 1||Fine Wine: The Failure of Formulas||1|
|Chapter 2||Impostors: Santa Takes a Leak||17|
|Chapter 3||Feet of Trees: What Do We Really Want?||35|
|Chapter 4||Free Verse: A Whole Message to a Whole Human Being||49|
|Chapter 5||Naked: Why Nudity Is the Point||61|
|Chapter 6||Children of Chernobyl: Why Did God Leave?||75|
|Chapter 7||Adam, Eve, and the Alien: How the Fall Makes You Feel||91|
|Chapter 8||Lifeboat Theory: How to Kill Your Neighbor||105|
|Chapter 9||Jesus: Who Needs a Boat?||119|
|Chapter 10||The Gospel of Jesus: It Never Was a Formula||151|
|Chapter 11||A Circus of Redemption: Why a Three-Legged Man Is Better Than a Bearded Woman||165|
|Chapter 12||Morality: Why I Am Better Than You||179|
|Chapter 13||Religion: A Public Relations Campaign for God||197|
|Chapter 14||The Gospel of Jesus: Why William Shakespeare Was a Prophet||215|
|About the Author||235|
|Sample from Blue Like Jazz||241|
Posted October 17, 2006
Searching for God knows what, is a book giving new points of view on life and the religion. Written by Donald Miller, he talks about his starting point in Christianity and how he viewed the religion. This book like his past work has given a down to earth point of view on his thoughts about religion. He gives detailed examples of his experiences through his walk of faith. Making the reader feel as though what they are reading is insightful but yet he is not telling them what to do. This book gives a different point of view on Christianity compare to the way modern times have portrayed the belief. Miller focuses on his life stories and relates them to Christianity, in this book, he takes a thought of his and turns the viewpoint around on his own thought creating a different result. In this book it seems to take stories from the bible and make them relevant to today¿s society but still have it mean the same thing as when they were written. Through life experiences that he has had or stories that have been told to him he makes a bible story seem different. Not different as in a deeper meaning, but rather for example, a bible story today is taken a made a 123 advise talk. Miller takes a look at a story to find a different viewpoint of the story to the extent of it just being a story. These different view points presented seem to get the reader to view everything in a different manner. I like how Miller uses stories that have been taught sense childhood and stories Shake Spear has written and compares the two having similarities. On the other hand he seems to add a lot of excessive talk about a story before he actually gets to it. This at times makes the book feel lagging in interest. This book makes a person think about subjects, stories, and life experiences in completely different ways. If a person desires to get out of a dull moment in there life then this book is for them. If there is adventure in ones life, this book is still great for a sit down light literature. Millers work in Searching for God Knows What is a great for the beginner in a relationship with god or for those in the most deepest relationship with him. The book gives great new perspectives on the bible, religion, and life that can be practiced in everyday life. Miller has also written Blue Like Jazz, a great book talking about more stories about his life and also stories that he has heard all being compared to Christianity. My personal preference on Millers work is a great read for any person and I highly recommend all his works. For a rating of 1 to 10 Miller gets a 9 for this Book.
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Posted March 2, 2009
I thought Blue Like Jazz was an exceptional book, turns out it was a stepping stone to Searching for God Knows What. This is truly one of the most thought-provoking, inspiring books I've ever read. I belive Donald Miller will be regarded as one of this generation's greatest philosophers and, through his raw honesty and insight, one of its greatest evangelists. I am not who I was before reading this book.
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Posted January 25, 2008
Once again, Donald Miller delivers a sensational collection of essays full of heart and soul. This time, he not only reflects on what it means to truly be a Christian, but how to wholeheartedly embrace Jesus Himself. Miller sets out on a quest to tear down the walls of uninspired living, used by all sorts of Christians, by explaining that simply wearing the title of ¿Christian¿ is itself becoming an excuse¿and a sin¿for lackadaisical lifestyle standards. Not showing a particularly partisan side, Miller takes political agendas, war rhetoric, and cultural fear head on, knowing that having a relationship with Jesus is a real challenge and takes real effort. It is only by embracing this challenge sincerely, with enthusiasm, that one can truly come to know the Son of God. If you enjoyed this book, you might also take a liking to Miller's earlier hit 'Blue Like Jazz,' where he reinforces the values of the Christian way of life.
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Posted July 29, 2013
Posted June 27, 2011
Donald Miller is a master storyteller. He uses his skill to guide us through concepts like reading the bible as one whole story and admitting we don't have all the answers. The book is full of humor and candor rarly found in "christian" writing. You would do well to downoad it and give it a read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 7, 2011
I'd like to begin by saying that I really WANTED to like this book. I really did. Unfortunately that was not the case. I can usually read a book in one sitting. It is rare that it takes longer than a couple of days for me to finish even a mediocre book. This one took months for me to complete. Every time I picked it up, I just could not force myself to read more than a chapter (if that).
I didn't get his humor. The parts of the book where he tried to be funny didn't strike me as even mildly amusing - and I have a great sense of humor. :) I found it bizarre that he mentions attending a writing conference, yet didn't know the difference between fiction and non-fiction. What?!?!
I could not, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone. It was almost painful to read.
Posted January 10, 2011
I recommend this book to anyone who takes their faith seriously. A new Christian will find inspiration and guidance in their new walk and a seasoned Christian will find themselves asking new and provocative questions about their faith!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 18, 2010
This book encourages you to examine your life and what it really means to be a Christian. He talks about how christianity should be a relationship and not a formula.
A lot of people I follow on Twitter have read a couple of books by Donald Miller and have loved them. There was so much expectation when I ordered this book. I could not wait to read it when it arrived. I love reading Donald Miller's blog posts from time to time and there were high expectations. I was very disappointed. I had to force myself to read every page of this book. It was a fight until the end. I just could not "get" this book. I think if I was to listen to it and not read it, I might be able to understand it better. I have never read a book that was written the way Donald Miller writes. I am sure if I could get past the fact that it is very different, I might be able to enjoy it. I wish I could say I loved it. I really do, but I cannot honestly say I did. If a friend asked if I'd recommend it, I would probably suggest checking it out of the library before buying the book.
Posted July 21, 2010
Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller, is a book focused on removing the formulas and the codes that society has put upon God and His word, and instead talks about how to read and listen and follow not using complex formulas, but doing so simply. Miller dives into the first books of Genesis, talking about how the Fall effected us, and questioning what it was really like to live in the times of Adam and Eve, before the Fall.
This book has taken me a while to read, and it has made me think about Adam, Eve, and Creation in a totally different light. By taking away complex formulas that we often think we must use to crack the so called "code" of what the Bible is telling us, this book has helped me to read the Word for what it is... instruction from God. It has put into perspective that Bible stories are not only stories, but real events that happened to real people, whom we have descended from.
Reading Miller's book always brings up new questions, and makes the reader truly think about who God is, and what His purpose is. It is a book that I would recommend to any reader. It is also a book that is easily read more than once, and keeps you coming back after the third read.
I read "Searching for God Knows What"* shortly after it came out originally in 2004. I had finished "Blue Like Jazz" on the recommendation of a friend and was hungry for more of Don Miller's quirky insights that seemed to piece together the jumbled messages of Christianity for me in a comprehensible way. While I enjoyed reading his perspective, I was reading through the filter of my newly formed ideas of what it meant to be a Christian. The expanded edition of "Searching for God Knows What" allowed me to grasp his ideas and precepts a little more deeply than in my first reading. However, my take away was the same: God is who He says He is. The gospel is based on relationship not performance. To live an effective life as a Christian, we cannot hang around exclusively with other Christians; it's too insular. That being said, it is not just a book for people who follow Christ. It also offers a jumping off point to real discussion about faith or the lack thereof.
I usually delve into a good book the way I enjoy a good steak- a piece at a time, savoring each bite and not rushing the experience. This pace allowed me to read a chapter and then digest it's meaning and roll around in my head what Miller communicated and contrast it with my understanding. It is not a quick read, but that's it's beauty. The ideas that are shared require the reader to really engage deeply with the words on the page. The writing both challenged me with it's depth and made me smile at the self-effacing humor tucked in among chapters that wove together circus elephants, lifeboats and Santa's hygiene habits seamlessly.
In the afterword, Don Miller addresses concerns that the reader may feel that he did not delve deeply enough into the "holiness of Christ" or that he is somehow against the idea of organized religion. On the contrary, I felt that he addressed the idea of the differences between faith and religion as well as the idea that belief can be both logical and beautiful at the same time. To quote the author, " Being a Christian is more like falling in love than understanding a series of ideas." You might end up with more questions than you began the book with, but that may just be the gift of this story.
* this book was provided at no cost to me through Book Sneeze for review purposes only.
Posted June 26, 2010
Searching For God Knows What is the first work that I've read by Donald Miller. I've seen some of his stuff before but never taken the time to sit down and read it all the way through. This book seeks to show that "relationship is God's way of leading us to redemption." Miller seeks to deal with an issue that in today's world many have just taken a formulaic view of God, and this is not good.
I personally thought that this was a pretty good read. Miller does have a humor about him and can easily bring that out in his writing. Who doesn't want something that can make you chuckle every now and then? I will say that this book seemed to be a slow start for me. I appreciated the stories and all that were contained in the first few chapters, but it didn't seem to kick into gear until you almost got to the end. When it did kick in, Miller had some great things to say. One of my favorite quotes from the book was...
"It would be most tragic for a person to know everything about God, but not God; to know all about the rules of spiritual marriage, but never walk the aisle."
If you are looking for something that will entertain you and give you a few things to really think about and ponder, I would recommend checking out Searching For God Knows What.
Posted June 23, 2010
This is a revised, updated edition of the book. There's apparently also a lot you can do online (codes, anagrams, etc.) but I haven't done that--and probably won't; my brain doesn't seem to work that way.
This book's thesis is that we all need a relationship with God but that, because of what happened in the Garden of Eden, we don't have one. That causes us to look elsewhere for affirmation (friends, colleagues, etc.). I'm not sure I agree with the idea that we all can only function if we have someone telling us we're worthwhile, but I know everyone likes to be liked, so I'm willing to go with it.
Another main point is that everyone has their idea of who God is and who Jesus is, and that we're probably all wrong because we're trying to cast Him/Them in our terms and that, coincidentally, He/They completely agree with how we view the world.
One thing that did strike me was (and this gets back to the idea that we seek elsewhere for affirmation) that he said that religion-baiting is actually Satan's work. For an example, he mentioned that he grew up Baptist and was always pretty smug around his Methodist friends because they had it wrong. Now, though, "It all sounds you innocent until you realize whatever evil thing it was that caused me to believe Baptists are better than Methodists is the same evil thing that has Jews killing Palstinians rather than talking to them, and for that matter, Palestinians killing Jews rather than engaging in an important conversation about land and history and peace."
I do feel like a lot of the time, we define ourselves in terms of being better or worse than other people, and that bothers me.
I think I preferred Blue Like Jazz, though.
Posted June 22, 2010
If you're looking for the spiritual equivalent of a cheeseburger and fries, Searching for God Knows What is not the book for you. Donald Miller is not offering fast food here; this is a seven-course banquet for the heart and mind. There's no milkshake mentality in these pages; this is filet mignon for the soul.
Miller tackles some deep issues in Searching, issues that affect everyone in our society at a core level. His imagery is offbeat - there are references to aliens, reality television, sports, lifeboats, the circus, and Romeo and Juliet, among other things - but his writing style is engaging and keeps you reading even when the philosophical and theological content hits uncomfortably close to home.
At its core, Searching is about our need for relationship and validation, and how those needs drive everything we do. The book is insightful and potentially life changing for those who are willing to consume it. So, if you decide to tackle it, be prepared to take a few bites and chew on them a while. It takes time to digest fare as rich as this, but if you're up to the challenge, you will find yourself full and satisfied in the end.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I receive the books I review free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I am not required to write a positive review of any book. The opinions I express are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Posted June 15, 2010
Donald Miller wrote this book after his best-selling book Blue Like Jazz. It has been described as memoir of sorts surrounding the topic of the origin and meaning of redemption. The book that I read has been completely revised and redesigned. This is the first book by Miller that I have read. Although I have wanted to read one of his books since he lives in Portland. This was a fun aspect of reading the book and recognizing so many locations.
I found the first chapter hysterical and it sets the stage for what Miller writes about for the remainder of the book. His exhortation is that the Church has trivialized the gospel message into a short series of ideas and formulas. Jesus is all about being relational and not about bullet points to adhere to and check off.
If you have ever been told that you should give a book time to develop...I would say that you could apply that mind-set to this book. Miller is quite masterful in developing an idea in such a subtle way that you may feel lost as to where he is going and then WHAM...you are stunned by the profound weaving of an idea brought to life on the page. He does a wonderful job of providing a thread of metaphors that become a finished piece of fabric at book's end.
I did not agree with everything that Donald Miller wrote about but I don't expect that he would be offended by that admission. I think he really wants the reader to be spurred to think a bit deeper. I really enjoyed his vulnerability, his glimpses of conversations with friends, mentors and people along the way. It made me wonder how often I have conversations that are just a rehashing of the same message. Am I bold enough to ask difficult questions and perhaps begin a debate? I feel like I was challenged to read my Bible in a different way especially after reading chapter 4 entitled Free Verse.
I must say that liked this book. At times it made me laugh out loud and at other times it made me think. I was surprised that there were times that it brought tears to my eyes. Those tears were in the places where I was re-introduced to a Savior that at times can become ordinary when He is anything but ordinary.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson as part of the Book Sneeze blog review program. It has been my pleasure to write an honest review of the book I received.
Posted June 10, 2010
I Also Recommend:
From Adam to Eve to potential visiting aliens, Don Miller explores the human dilemma in his typical humorous, thought-probing style. Humans are both complex and simple, entangled in a web of fallen selfhood. Our biggest search - or felt-need - is for significance.
We spend our lives striving for identity and acceptance, subconsciously yielding to, as Miller puts it, a "jury of peers," seeking their endorsement. Like people in a lifeboat, we strive for survival in a hierarchy based on humanly perceived worth. We hope to make it but we always fall short. No amount of human approval fulfills us and replaces what we lost in the Garden-our relationship with God.
Miller explains the futile void in our hearts and our desire for significance in his 5-point Genesis Theory. We are broken. Only Jesus can fix us. And He does this through relationship.
This book answers a lot of questions and could really help people in marriage, or any other kind of relationship. My only criticism: I had to read some sentences twice because of an absence of punctuation which, while expressing Miller's unique voice, obscures the meaning. Still, this book's a great read for both seekers and mature Christians alike.
Janey L. DeMeo M.A.
Copyright © June 2010
Posted June 9, 2010
Are you confused about what religion or Christianity is all about?
Well, here is a good book to start out with. Donald Miller takes a new approach on teaching people about Christianity and how you can "reconnect with a faith worth believing."
He brings it back to the basics. Though I may not agree on all his beliefs, I think this is an excellent book to begin the journey back into the life of a believing Christian.
You won't become bored by the reading but look at different angles of life and see how you can change to better yourself and those around you. I believe this author has a gift to captivate an audience and keep them focused until the very last page.
I highly recommend this book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Posted June 9, 2010
Okay, confession time. When I picked up Don Miller's Searching for God Knows What I was fully prepared to yawn. While I appreciated his first book, Blue Like Jazz, most of what I've read from him since then has struck me as a forced attempt to be so outside the mainstream of Christendom as to be irrelevant; the path many authors travel from edgy to extraneous.
While I do not agree with everything Miller writes in Searching, I did appreciate his attempt at out-of-the-box thinking about Jesus, Christianity, and the church in order to help swing us back to a biblical in-the-box thinking about the same.
Miller writes, "At the same time, however, we are at a disadvantage because the Jesus that exists in our minds is hardly the real Jesus. The Jesus on CNN, the Jesus in our books and in our movies, the Jesus that is a collection of evangelical personalities, is often a Jesus of the suburbs, a Jesus who wants you to be a better yuppie, a Jesus who is extremely political and supports a specific party, a Jesus who declared a kind of culture war in the name of our children, a Jesus who worked through the founding fathers to begin America, a Jesus who dresses very well, speaks perfect English, has three points that fulfill any number of promises and wants you and me to be, above all, comfortable. Is this the real Jesus?"
This quote alone deserves some serious think time from everyone who considers themselves a follower of Jesus.
Posted May 26, 2010
I've been interested in Donald Miller since his book "Blue Like Jazz" first stimulated a lot of hype. My first adventure reading his material came with "Searching for God Knows What," however, and I was pleasantly surprised. While the book title doesn't match up with the content, and while Miller gets a bit far into politics with his reasoning (taking a more liberal view), he gives more reason to think than to fight. I'm not quite sure how yet, but I'm certain this book has changed me in some way, maybe even for life.
Miller's book talks about the survival instinct all humans have, causing them to take on a right vs. wrong perspective that would get the "lesser person" thrown off the lifeboat. According to Miller, Jesus saw all people as equal and loved all people, which we should see and do, as well. Too much of Christianity focuses on declaring war and making Christians look good and better, which Miller says does not match up with what Christ modeled.
Miller's thoughts on the subjects of selfishness, spiritual war, and the hole inside all men are intriguing and provoking. I couldn't put his book down because it never allowed me to stop thinking. Miller didn't give me much to act on, in the end, however. What he writes is true, but Miller doesn't give any way to reconcile it with still being able to stand up for what you believe in. Therefore, I'm left more confused than inspired. I suppose that can be a good thing, because it keeps me thinking.
"Searching for God Knows What" has other faults. It lacks Biblical support and tends to take the form of personal essays, giving it a more subjective feel. Much of the content is repetitive. That does not take away from the thought-provoking nature of the book, however. It certainly got me thinking about my motives and my deep need that only God can fill, something that I've been struggling with (confidence, self-appreciation, selfishness, etc) for a long time. "Searching for God Knows What" is a must read for any Christian.
Posted May 24, 2010
Searching for God Knows What expanded edition is the first book I have ever read by Donald Miller and it will not be my last. The book is very thought provoking. Now I did not think so at first because the first chapter was really different from most books. I had know idea where and what this book was about just from the first chapter but I was determine to find out. I kept on reading it and I am glad I did. The material in this book will get you thinking and see things from a different perspective. I really like how an idea was kept in play from chapter to chapter. This connection led to a deeper understanding of these ideas.
This book is an easy read. Do not be too quick to put down this book after the first chapter. Books like these help a person from getting in a mind set that they have all the answers or there way is always right. There appears to be an online game to play with prizes in the book so that should be an added bonus for any reader.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com
Posted May 23, 2010
Donald Miller is not content to follow the masses in regards to the Christian faith. He wants to help repair the broken views of our religion and bring believers back to a meaningful relationship with our true love, Jesus. Searching for God Knows What conveys the importance of this life-changing relationship while trying to expose what Christianity isn't.
When I read Miller's Blue Like Jazz, I devoured each page, excited to unexpectedly read thoughts so similar to mine. Searching for God Knows What did not disappoint me, as I found it equally interesting to read and just as difficult to put down. Miller presents old, but under-appreciated, views in a fresh way. I enjoy how he doesn't deviate from Biblical truths, but points out how far off the original path we Christians can sometimes wander, especially in this country. My favorite chapters were 10, 12, and 14. These focus on how the gospel message has been reduced to a formula, why the focus of our faith should be on our relationship with Jesus and not following a moral code, and how the gospel can be better communicated as a passionate love story, a la "Romeo and Juliet."
I will definitely recommend this book to others.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."