True Like Jazz – Postmodernism, The Ingles Parking Lot, and the Church Bible Study

“Count the errors therein.” Doug Groothuis

In January of 2014, I attended an apologetics conference at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary entitled “Defend the Faith.”  One of the more impressive speakers, in my opinion, was Dr. Douglas Groothuis of The Denver Theological Seminary. He gave a great lecture on “The Structure of Apologetic Reasoning.” During this lecture (which can be viewed here)[1] he lamented over the postmodern thought that passed for Christian reasoning in some circles.  Of particular concern was the book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller which is a recipient of an Evangelical Christian Publishing Association Platinum Award.  I can’t remember Groothuis’s exact words (they are on video if you want to find them) but according to him, Blue Like Jazz contained “one of the dumbest passages ever written in the English language”[2] on page 103.

Blue Like Jazz

A Screenshot from page 103 of Blue Like Jazz

Groothuis has written that this passage “is remarkable for its illogic and glibness…a marvel of confusion, contradiction, and distortion…”  Groothuis is both a Christian Philosopher and a jazz aficionado, so his particular derision for this passage is understandable.  Since attending that lecture, I’ve very much enjoyed the writing of Douglas Groothuis and thought almost nothing about Blue Like Jazz…until today.

After church, I went to the Ingles on West Avenue in Cartersville to buy some BBQ sauce.[3]  After making my purchase, I walked out to my car to return home.  I noticed through the back windshield of the Honda Accord Hybrid parked next to me a worn-looking copy of Blue Like Jazz.  Groothuis’ commentary flooded into my mind.  I looked into the car at the two women sitting therein.  “Should I talk to them?” I wondered to myself.  I wanted to but I was already late getting home because the preacher at the church I visited today gave three invitations in between stanzas of Softly and Tenderly.[4]  Furthermore, I’ve never actually read Blue Like Jazz.  What would I tell them, “Groothuis says this is postmodern nonsense”?  I’ve met zero persons here in Cartersville who know who Doug Groothuis is.  So, in the West Avenue Ingles parking lot, he carries about as much influence as some guy wearing slacks and a blazer holding a plastic sack filled with Kraft Honey BBQ Sauce.  Additionally, there was a very real possibility of scaring the two women in the car half to death by tapping on their window.  They pulled out while I was thinking the matter over so I left, too.  Having failed to engage them in conversation, I prayed to the Lord that He’d guide them.  These are the worries of a Christian apologist, that a church-goer might be a postmodern.

As providence would have it, I found myself right behind them on the way home; the Honda Accord pulled into my neighborhood.  I resolved to follow them home.  I told myself I’d note where they lived and plan a future conversation.  I hoped they wouldn’t notice and think me a creeper.  However, they did not go to their house, they pulled into the parking lot of the Tennis Courts and Swimming pool.  I pulled in alongside, parking next to them.  I motioned for them to roll down their window.  In a somewhat awkward introduction to conversation, I asked why they had Blue Like Jazz in their car.  (They were understandably uneasy as I explained that I noticed it back at Ingles.)  As it turns out, the driver’s husband was using the book in a study at First Baptist Church of Cartersville.  I informed them about Groothuis’ commentary about the book.  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember on what page the problematic statement was printed.

Ironically, the pastor of their church graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the very institution at which I learned that Blue Like Jazz was a piece of postmodern nonsense.   Now, I’m almost certain that Pastor Morton isn’t sitting in his office at FBC Cartersville plotting to turn his flock into postmodern.  At a church of that size, the pastor doesn’t always read the various books being studied by groups in the church.  He may not know anything about Blue Like Jazz and it’s entirely likely that some well-meaning study leader decided on his own to study that particular book.

I suppose I should read Blue Like Jazz for myself so that the next time I find myself in such a situation I can have a more meaningful conversation about the book with those who may be under its sway.  At the very least I know this – just because a church, even a Southern Baptist one, picks an award-winning evangelical book for a study doesn’t mean that the book is useful for edifying Christian consumption.

“There is little “realness” in Miller, except pertaining to his precious subjectivity. We need an objective and true Word from God, and less biography; more of God, less of self; more of the Kingdom, less of the psyche; more theology, less narcissism; more Bible, less drivel.” Doug Groothuis

Be careful out there, the Christian Bookstore or the church Bible study might be the most dangerous place you walk into this month…and be on the lookout for those socially awkward know-it-all Christian apologists out there; they mean well.  Maybe listen to what they have to say every once in a while.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] I’m pretty sure this is the lecture in question.  The talk is an hour long and I’m not up to watching it over to find the exact statement.

[2] My paraphrase

[3] Baptists often each chicken on Sunday after church.

[4] I’m not exaggerating, he really gave three invitations.  No one walked the aisle and he finally let us go home.

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3 thoughts on “True Like Jazz – Postmodernism, The Ingles Parking Lot, and the Church Bible Study

  1. susanannejohnson

    I loved your blog. Very entertaining and informative. Like you, I have never read “Blue Like Jazz”, but I have read enough reviews by trusted people to know that it isn’t something I would ever bother reading. The point I would like to make about your blog is that a church should never be so big that individual leaders can choose any material they want. There needs to be a system in place by the elders (that’s who it would be in my church, anyway) to oversee who is qualified to teach and what is being taught. This is no small matter. The Christian instruction of many vulnerable people is at stake. I see this sort of thing happening too often.

    Reply
    1. sethdunn88 Post author

      You’re right.

      If something is an official “church” study then one of the elders should be approving it. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of elders who would approve Blue Like Jazz and the like.

      Exhibit A. LifeWay is still in business.

      Thanks for reading.

      Reply

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