I should start this with a disclaimer. I haven't read Blue Like Jazz or any other Donald Miller book, I don't read his blog, I have no idea what he teaches or what he's all about, and I have no desire to see the movie. This isn't about him, his books, his theology, his practices, or whatever - when it comes to Donald Miller, I don't know, and I don't particularly care. This post isn't about him, but about a silly argument that's making another go-round, which happens to be used around his book/movie now. It could be about anyone, he just happens to be the one in the news recently. Clear? OK then.
So at the Gospel Coalition site, they recently posted a review of the Blue Like Jazz movie. Since the book had a fair amount of controversy around it, and the movie is likely to do the same, the writer addresses that a bit. But then he dismisses the idea with lines familiar lines such as: "In the book and in his subsequent works, Miller has never claimed to be a theologian. He doesn't labor at making precise theological statements; he labors at telling compelling stories, at being truthful about life" and "Miller is just a guy with a writing gift, telling his story and the stories around him".
He's not a theologian, he's just a writer. He's not writing a theological dissertation, he's just telling stories.
Now, if you've been around the internets for a few years, you probably remember the same lines being thrown around with The Shack. To refresh your memory, here is a rough transcript of every conversation between a fan of The Shack and an eeeeevil discerning Christian:
Shack Fan: I looooooovvvvvveeeee The Shack!!1! I'm learning so much about God from it!
Reprehensible Discernment Person: Um... you should be really careful with that book. A lot of what it says about God is completely opposed to what the Bible reveals about Him. It's wrong, and it could be really harmful.
Shack Fan: Come on, it's just a story, not a theological dissertation! He's just telling a story, not writing a systematic theology! Hater!
So this isn't the first time this argument has appeared, and it certainly won't be the last. The major problem with it should be completely obvious. You cannot simultaneously claim "it's teaching me about God" and "it's not theology". It's utter nonsense. Theology is the knowledge of God. If something is teaching about God, it is necessarily theology.
Whether it comes in a scholarly dissertation, a sermon, a story, or a song, if it is making claims about God, those claims must be compared to what God reveals about Himself in scripture. Truth can be taught through proclamation, poem, proverb, and parable. The truths revealed in Psalms are no less true than those in the pastoral epistles. Scripture uses numerous genres to teach - can Jesus' parables be dismissed as 'just a story'?
Truth is communicated in various ways and genres. Same with error. If it's wrong, it's wrong whether it comes in a scholarly journal, popular book, teeny-bopper song, or trite saying. When it comes to promulgating error about God, there's no such thing as "it's just a story". Let's please put that one to rest, once and for all. I know it won't happen, but I can hope, right?
58 minutes ago