Beige Like Church: Thoughts On Donald Miller & Churchgoing

Homer Sleeping in Church

Much has been made of this post by Donald Miller concerning his preference for worshiping God in contexts outside of being in a church for a Sunday service. Now, in the age of the “spiritual-but-not-religious” and the rise of the “nones,”  there probably isn’t anything that special for someone to post online that they are spiritual in ways that do not follow traditional (Christian) religious practice. What makes this post different is that Miller is also the author of a little book called Blue Like Jazz, that has become something of touchstone for particularly younger evangelicals in the last decade or so. Now, I’ve scanned a little bit of Blue Like Jazz and I get a sense of why it had the impact it did with its audience (people more or less like me). With that out of the way, here are a couple of excerpts from Miller’s post and how I read them:

“It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.”

It was funny that so many people in the Reformed tradition were critical of Miller’s piece as this bit could have been lifted almost directly from one of Mark Driscoll’s many insistences that church needs more manliness. He seems to be describing the same problem – albeit coming to a different conclusion (or perhaps not, but more on that later).

“Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course churches have all kinds of ways for you to engage God including many kinesthetic opportunities including mission trips and so forth, but if you want to attend a “service” every Sunday, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much out there for kinesthetic or visual learners.”

Miller says he’s studied psychology and education, but this is such a gross oversimplification of the theories surrounding different types of learning that I fear that he’d have done better just leaving this little bit out. That said, for what it’s worth, I can’t help but remind myself here that evangelical Protestants are about the worst when it comes to this. Traditional liturgies involve a lot more movement and many other Christian traditions incorporate all manner of iconography into their places of worship. Evangelicals are uniquely skilled in making church seem like a large-scale office meeting with the appropriately bland walls, pseudo-comfy seating, and fake plants. [I had to pause after I wrote that, I think I just described hell.]

I think Miller has a point, and one that is not particularly new or different, but I don’t know if he’s articulated it well or really sought to explore how he can best connect with God other than by looking at vegetation or something.