More on Donald Miller Not Connecting with God at Church

Donald Miller’s controversial blog post sparked quite a reaction last week in Christian circles. So much so, in fact, that he has since written a (considerably longer) follow up in order to expand on his thoughts and respond to some of the criticism he’s received.

While interacting with this subsequent post point-by-point is beyond my scope here, I have a few follow-up thoughts of my own about what Miller has written. (You can read my first response here). So, for those still interested, here goes:

1. Miller seems to be suggesting that the ways in which we worship God are largely subject to taste and temperament.

In his words: “if we don’t enjoy a specific kind of worship experience, [God] could care less whether we go choose one we enjoy more.” But is that really true?

Certainly, the Bible points to all kinds of ways in which we can enjoy and worship God in a broad sense. But that doesn’t mean everything is optional. For example, Paul tells the Ephesian church that they are to address one another “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19). And I’m not sure how one could read books like 1 and 2 Timothy and come away thinking that sound preaching and teaching are meant only for those who possess a certain learning style.

Respectfully, can we imagine someone telling Jesus (or Paul or Peter, etc.), “I’m sure what you’re saying is great and I’ve no doubt it helps some people, but listening to lectures doesn’t really help me much”?

2. Miller seems to be suggesting that, if someone has a problem connecting with God in church, it’s primarily the church’s fault.

Make no mistake, a church can easily distract or drive away people when it does a poor job of preaching, playing music, etc. But Miller’s point doesn’t seem to be that he consistently encounters poor teachers or bad musicians. It’s simply that he doesn’t connect with God through those means.

No doubt most Christians can sympathize at one point or another, or even on a consistent basis. But what if we, rather than the teaching or music itself, are the problem. And rather than checking out or walking away, what if we instead asked God to help us better engage with those facets of worshipping in church that we find challenging?

Miller maintains that the modern American evangelical church is what it is in large part due to cultural influences rather than any particular fidelity to the Bible. I think his criticisms along these lines are sometimes too broadly painted and sometimes flat mistaken. Still, I’ve no doubt that church is sometimes influenced negatively by the culture. What I would ask, however, is whether Miller’s own approach might reflect prevailing cultural winds in modern America. After all, it’s nothing if not American to highly value doing things on one’s own terms.  

3. Miller seems to be suggesting on the one hand that objectivity or clarity on these issues is frustratingly elusive, while on the other hand asserting that some things are quite clear.

I mention this last point in reference not just to Donald Miller, but because it’s broadly indicative of the culture in which we live. To illustrate, compare these statements from Miller’s second post…

  • I can only give camera angles on the issue because that’s how I think. I tend to see things from multiple angles and am comfortable not choosing “the right opinion” because I’m not convinced the right opinion is even on the table or that there is one in the first place. Many opinions can be right. Binary thinking causes more false dichotomies than true answers or helpful discussions, so I’ll avoid them as best I can.
  • Add to this yet another conundrum, and that’s the myth any of us are objective thinkers in the first place.

…with these, also taken from the second post:

  • Few consider that church has evolved to look as it does for financial reasons, but this is likely the first thing a truly objective thinker would notice. Current church programs involving a short lecture and worship is an astoundingly efficient financial model…[NT: my emphasis]
  • The modern evangelical church is an adaptation of an ancient institution led by scholars after the invention of the printing press.
  • That said, to say traditional church is Biblical is a stretch because of two false presuppositions…

I really don’t wish to be unfair to Miller, but taken together, these statements strike me as having one’s cake and eating it too.

Miller mentions that his words “will likely be misquoted, mischaracterized and parsed in an effort to demonize.” I sincerely hope that I haven’t done that. It’s certainly not my intention. What I have tried to do is to bring up at least some of the things I’d want to mention if we were to have a respectful conversation about these issues. As Miller also says, echoing Ravi Zacharias: let there be more light than heat.

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