The Atlantic Reviews Blue Like Jazz

April 19, 2012

You may, or may not, know that Don Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz has been made into a movie.  I thought the book was ok, for what it was.  And, I know folks that found it helpful.  I can’t say I was overly curious about the movie, but I was a bit curious.  I ran across this review in The Atlantic, they offer a pretty sharp critique:

Unfortunately, in its attempt to be a more honest voice of evangelical Christianity, Blue Like Jazz the movie ends up saying barely anything at all. It tries to navigate a middle course between mainstream Hollywood and mainstream evangelical movie-making, and in the process loses everyone. The film doesn’t show skeptics anything distinctive about Christianity. And it tells believers not to share what they know, but instead to apologize for it.

In a movie that’s supposed to depict an authentic walk of faith, it just doesn’t feel real. From what I’ve witnessed—in the Bible, in my own life, and in the lives of those around me—an encounter with God elicits a desire to share the good news, not to say sorry for it. This is something Miller himself seems to understand, or at least he did, at one point. Blue Like Jazz the book does not end with an apology. It ends with an exhortation. “I want you to know Jesus too,” Miller writes. That’s what knowing Jesus does—it makes you want other people to know him, as well. It’s a truth as old as the Bible itself, but it’s entirely absent from Blue Like Jazz the movie. Instead of “I want you to know Jesus,” we hear, “I want you to apologize for Jesus.” It’s a message that Hollywood itself could have delivered.

Read it all.

3 responses to The Atlantic Reviews Blue Like Jazz

  1. I think a distinction has to be made that in the book/movie he’s not apologizing for God, he’s apologizing for the skewed image of “God” that others get because of the things that people do in “His” name. He’s apologizes for the misrepresentation of who God truly is. I personally found the book very timely because I read it (and his first book) at a time when hypocrisy in the church was driving a wedge through my heart and the books were a good reminder that what I was taking issue with was not in fact, God, but with the ways some people inaccurately represent him. It definitely inspired me to seek God more. I thought the movie wasn’t as good as the book (is it ever?) but think that watching the movie might inspire enough curiosity to check out the book, which could definitely lead to more conversations about faith and what it means. Just my two cents. 🙂

  2. Deetz, I loved the book when I read it as an agnostic who had major qualms with the abuses of power from those self-described as the political Religious Right. I had this feeling “This is the kind of Christianity I could get behind!”. The problem, though, is best embodied (unfortunately) by the secular Atlantic critique:

    “Thee movie’s lone out-of-the-closet Christian is a girl named Penny, who goes to church and spends her vacations in India serving the poor. Though Penny, too, embodies a stereotype (evangelicals are goody-goodies!), she represents the movie’s greatest hope for an articulate message of what it means to be a Christian in a secular society. But the film squanders the opportunity to let Penny say something meaningful about what she believes. When a classmate asks her how she can trust God when there’s so much suffering in the world, Penny precedes her reply with a disclaimer: “Not to go all Mother Theresa on you…” Then she rattles off a quote about the perils of Western material excess. Her riff on the oppressiveness of wealth could have just as easily come from a Buddhist or a Marxist or a subscriber to Good magazine. There’s nothing distinctively Christian about it.”

    This indistinguashability from, say, Buddhism is because what Penny is advocating is another gospel… Jesus as Helper of the Poor, not Jesus as Lord and Savior. He did help the poor, He did heal the sick, but the most important factor in evangelizing His message as part of our commission as Christians is to understand and accept Him as Lord and Savior over our lives…conqueror of sin and Hell on our behalf. This is the message much of the world will reject, but that we must persevere to communicate. That is an awesome message that separates Christianity from socially oriented religions, but I didn’t see it really spring forth clearly in BLJ. It made Christianity feel culturally palatable and socially sensitive, but it didn’t communicate the supernatural transformative power Jesus can have over the lives of those who accept His supreme sacrifice.