Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality


Don Miller

Thomas Nelson, 2003, 240 pp.   ISBN 0-7852-6370-5


Don Miller is a writer living in Portland.  The book is made up of philosophical reflections on bits of his faith journey – a radical evangelical who identifies more with the youth culture than with the evangelical church.  He is single, insecure, candid, a loner.  He writes well, almost poetic, and his journey is fascinating.  He throws in some of his philosophy. It is a highly readable story and seems to strike people as wonderful or awful.  There are some real gems for understanding and communicating faith in today’s world.


The effects of a fatherless childhood, poorly prepared church teachers, unlikable preachers, and a licentious culture show up in spades in the book.  Miller seems to have a bit of the “Peter Pan” mentality.  Although he is 33, he sounds like he’s about 20, still caught up in being rebellious and cool.  He seems to represent the kind of people who can’t learn from being told, who resent the efforts and must make their own mistakes and discoveries.


Miller vilifies the corporate sins (as he sees them) of fundamentalists, unfashionable preachers, institutions, and Republicans.  But he seems to trivialize (almost flaunt) personal sins (such as drugs, sex, and profanity). 


Miller is a strong proponent of tolerance and unconditional love, which seem to be understood as uncritical acceptance and affirmation, not just of personhood but also of any kind of behavior and lifestyle, for both unbelievers and believers. 


 “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.” (Author’s Note)


“Perhaps it was because my Sunday school classes did much to help us memorize commandments and little to teach us who God was and how to relate to Him, or perhaps it was because they did and I wasn’t listening” (4)


“For me, however, there was a mental wall between religion and God.”  “To me, God was more of an idea.” (8)


“I believe the greatest trick of the devil is...have us wasting time.  This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious.  If he can sink a man’s mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God.” (13)


“If you don’t love somebody, it gets annoying when they tell you what to do or what to feel.  When you love them you get pleasure from their pleasure, and it makes it easy to serve.” (14)


“When you are a writer and a speaker, you aren’t supposed to watch television.  It’s shallow.  I feel guilty because for a long time I didn’t allow myself a television, and I used to drop that fact in conversation to impress people.  I thought it made me sound dignified.  A couple of years ago, however, I visited a church in the suburbs, and there was this blowhard preacher talking about how television rots your brain.”  “... I bought one that afternoon.”  (15) [This seems to be an example of making both decisions for bad reasons, the first to impress and the second to react to a preacher. dlm]


“The genius of the American system is not freedom; the genius of the American system is checks and balances.  Nobody gets all the power.  Everybody is watching everybody else.  It is as if the founding fathers knew, intrinsically, that the soul of man, unwatched, is perverse.” (18)


After picketing, he realized, “The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest.”  “This is the hardest principle within Christian spirituality for me to deal with.” (20)


“That the problem in the universe lives within me.  I can’t think of anything more progressive than the embrace of this fundamental idea.” (21)


“God said he would make me new.  I can’t pretend for a second I didn’t want to be made new, that I didn’t want to start again.  I did.” (30)


“I associated much of Christian doctrine with children’s stories because I grew up in church.  My Sunday school teachers had turned Bible narrative into children’s fables.”  “I felt as if Christianity, as a religious system, was a product that kept falling apart, and whoever was selling it would hold the broken parts behind his back trying to divert everybody’s attention.”  “I couldn’t give myself to Christianity because it was a religion for the intellectually naïve.” (30-31)


“Why do we experience conflict in our lives? This helped me a great deal in accepting the idea of original sin and the birth of conflict.  The rebellion against God explained why humans experienced conflict in their lives, and nobody knows of any explanation other than this.” (32)


“...for thousands of years big-haired preachers have talked about the idea that we need to make a decision, to follow or reject Christ.”  “And, perhaps, I was judging the idea, not by its merit, but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of the message.”  (33)


“I was starting to believe I was a character in a greater story....” (35)


“In fact, I would even say that when I started in faith I didn’t want to believe; my intellect wanted to disbelieve, but my soul, that deeper instinct, could no more stop believing in God than Tony could, on a dime, stop being in love with his wife.” (55)  “I don’t think you can explain how Christian faith works either.  It is a mystery.  And I love this about Christian spirituality.  It cannot be explained, and yet it is beautiful and true.  It is something you feel, and it comes from the soul.” (57)


“I was a fundamentalist Christian once.  It lasted a summer.”  “I was a real jerk, I think.”  I was living with seven other guys in a Christian camp in Colorado.  We “fell into this militant Christianity that says you should live like a Navy SEAL for Jesus.  I am absolutely ashamed to admit this now.”  (79)  [He seems to be ashamed because it wasn’t cool.  What he describes sounds idealistic, perhaps legalistic, but not shameful.  Parts of his life afterward were definitely more cool, but not necessarily more honorable.  dlm]


His pastor says, “I will obey God because I love God.  But if I cannot accept God’s love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him.  Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God’s love will.”  “God woos us with kindness, He changes our character with the passion of His love.” (86)


“God is not here to worship me, to mold Himself into something that will help me fulfill my level of comfort.” (92) 


“I knew Christ, but I was not a practicing Christian.  I had the image of a spiritual person, but I was bowing down to the golden cows of religiosity and philosophy.” (94)


“God is reaching out to me to rescue me.  I am learning to trust Him, learning to live by His precepts that I might be preserved.” (101)


“Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is like making a decision.  Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon.”  “Sure, there is some data involved, but mostly it is this deep, deep conviction, ...this idea that life is about this thing, and it really isn’t an option for it to be about something else.” (104)


Satan wants us to believe meaningless things for meaningless reasons. (106)


“We don’t even believe things because we believe them anymore.  We only believe things because they are cool things to believe.  The problem with Christian that it is not a fashionable thing to believe.” (107)


“All great Christian leaders are simple thinkers.”  “He actually believes that when Jesus says feed the poor, He means you should do this directly.” (110)


“If I do not introduce people to Jesus, then I don’t believe Jesus is an important person.  It doesn’t matter what I say.” (110)


“My life testifies that the first thing I believe is that I am the most important person in the world.  My life testifies to this because I care more about my food and shelter and happiness than about anybody else.  I am learning to believe better things.” (112)


“Some of my friends who aren’t Christians think that Christians are insistent and demanding and intruding, but that isn’t the case.  Those folks are the squeaky wheel.  Most Christians have enormous respect for the space and freedom of others; it is only that they have found a joy in Jesus they want to share.  There is the tension.” (114)


Miller is highly accepting of non-Christian (sinful) behavior among Christians.  See p. 179 for example. 


“Living in community made me realize one of my faults: I was addicted to myself. All I thought about was myself.” (181)


“The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me.”  “There is no addiction so powerful as self-addiction.” (182)


“When I was with the hippies I did not feel judged, I felt loved.  To them I was an endless well of stories and perspectives and grand literary views.  It felt so wonderful to be in their presence, like I was special.” (208)  [Note that this was a time when he was keeping his faith confidential.  Whether they would have been so accepting of someone who believed his faith was true is another question.  dlm]


“Nobody will listen to you unless they sense that you like them.” (220)


Because everyone on TV is good looking, “America is one of the most immoral countries in the world and ... our media has reduced humans to slabs of meat.”


“Reed College a beautiful place.  I mean the people are beautiful, and I love them.” (224)  [This seems a bit ironic since his descriptions of Reed College make it sound like the encouraged exhibition of every known sin except intolerance  – institutions, Republicans, Christianity, and self-identified Christians excepted.  dlm]


* * * * *