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'Blue Like Jazz' trendy, but not biblical, Coppenger says
March 06, 2006
By Garrett E. Wishall

Mark Coppenger

Adopting Donald Miller's philosophy in the popular book "Blue Like Jazz" would leave one susceptible to liberal theology and emphasizing cultural relevance to the detriment of biblical truth, Mark Coppenger said Feb. 22 in a presentation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Coppenger recalled the recent struggle to affirm biblical inerrancy in the Southern Baptist Convention and said Miller's approach risks wasting the hard work that goes into maintaining such sound theology.

"He [dismisses] theology, saying that doctrine is like doing math," Coppenger said. "He said straining at the details of Christianity is not worth it and tells people to 'lighten up.' The more people think that we need to lighten up the more we will lose the ground that we have gained theologically."

Miller is active in a youth ministry program at Reed College in Portland, Ore., a college known for being "disinterested in spirituality," according to his website. "Blue Like Jazz" evolved partly from these experiences and partly from Miller's candid reflections on his own spiritual journey and walk with God. In his most recent book, "To Own a Dragon," Miller reflects on growing up without a father.

Coppenger critiqued the book, which ranks in the top 15 on amazon.com's spirituality and religion sales list, in an event sponsored by Southern Seminary's Theology School Council.

Coppenger, distinguished professor of Christian apologetics, said the praise Miller has received for being "real" in the book is overstated.

"Miller's writing in this book is the easiest kind of writing to do. It is really 'stream of consciousness' writing, where you just take what is on your mind and put it on paper," he said. "It is more difficult to do fetching, 'capital R' real writing, with weight and substance, like the works of C.S. Lewis. I think Miller's work is more 'little r' real and any of us could do it."

Coppenger sympathized with Miller's negative experiences with fundamentalist Christians, but said Miller overreacts.

"He has wounds and the church has abused him," Coppenger said. "I have been beat up by fundamentalists myself, and have had some bad days at church, but I still thank God for the church. I am glad [that churches I have been in] preached sin and hell and told the truth. In today's culture if you can speak therapeutically you are popular and Miller does that."

Examining Miller's emphasis on cultural relevance, Coppenger reflected on the trends of the 1960s, including unique clothing styles, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Coppenger noted that much of what was popular then is now considered silly and outdated, and thinks the same will be true of "Blue Like Jazz."

The book's popularity can be attributed to good marketing, Coppenger said, as Miller's self-effacing style helps make the work a big seller. He noted that the author argues spirituality is not political, while taking every opportunity to criticize Republicans. Coppenger also described Miller as an elitist who lacks respect for people who work hard doing ministry.

"He looks down on the person who gets sweaty doing the evangelistic ministry at the high school stadium, going door-to-door with the Gospel and standing outside in the rain at the abortion clinic," he said. "I would rather be in the trenches working with these kinds of people."

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