Donald Miller Isn’t Hip: a gospel for people tired of trying to be cool

In recent posts we have debated the importance of "image" in advancing the ministry of the Gospel. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and other books seeking to build a bridge between Christianity and those raised in a post-Christian context, was interviewed by Leadership last year. Miller is unimpressed by attempts to spin the faith as "cool" and how our culture has turned love into a commodity.

How do you react to ministries that try to present Christianity as being cool and hip?

Miller: There are many problems with trying to market the gospel of Jesus, not the least of which is that, in itself, it is not a cool or fashionable idea. It isn't supposed to be. It is supposed to be revolutionary. It's for people who are tired of trying to be cool, tired of trying to get the world to redeem them.

I attended the Dove Awards and was brokenhearted. I saw all these beautiful Christians, wonderful people, with this wonderful, revolutionary message of Jesus, who, instead of saying, "Look, fashion doesn't matter, hip doesn't matter," were saying "World, please accept us, we can be just as hip as you, just as fashionable, only in a religious way."

I would say we need to choose our God, choose our redeemer.

You've said that the church "uses love as a commodity." What do you mean?

Miller: We sometimes take a Darwinian approach with love - if we are against somebody's ideas, we starve them out. If we disagree with somebody's political ideas, or sexual identity, we just don't "pay" them. We refuse to "condone the behavior" by offering any love.

This approach has created a Christian culture that is completely unaware what the greater culture thinks of us. We don't interact with people who don't validate our ideas. There is nothing revolutionary here. This mindset is hardly a breath of fresh air to a world that uses the exact same kinds of techniques.

What's the alternative?

Miller: The opposite is biblical love, which loves even enemies, loves unconditionally, and loves liberally. Loving selectively is worldly; giving it freely is miraculous.

If love isn't a commodity, what is it?

Miller: I think of love like a magnet. When people see it given in the name of God, they're drawn to it. If I withhold love, then people believe I have met a God that makes me a hateful and vicious person. And they're repelled.

I have two responsibilities to this world, the first is to love; the second is to speak the truth. I can tell somebody such and such a behavior is sin, and still love them. Why not? Why not bring them food, why not hug them, why not have them over to the house? Won't this only help them understand the truth?

May 15, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 27 comments

Angela McKinney

June 05, 2006  11:05am

Fascinating concept. I just got back from Ethiopia and while reflecting and recovering from re-entry to the culture in the U.S., I realized my brothers and sisters in Africa have no concept of "cool." They seem free of trying to impress anyone or draw people to themselves. Their passion for God is steeped in humility. We can only imagine a culture with no concept of "cool." Or can we?

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May 29, 2006  12:31pm

I need to practice being brief! Basically, I don't see this "coming out" into the music scene, book scene, with our own awards, etc as being harmful. It's a stepping stone. We're growing in our identity as a community - and one with purpose. I think the Christian subculture(s) is in an adolescent stage. You can't be an adult unless you first are a teenager.

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Ted Gossard

May 22, 2006  5:38pm

Good and refeshing. Amen. I've seen it and tried it, a little. It just isn't real, at least not for me. I do wonder how being all things to all people in order to win some to Christ (1 Cor 9) works out in this. Surely we do need to connect on a cultural level. But in ways that do not lessen what the Jesus revolution and the kingdom- is all about.

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Van Savell

May 22, 2006  10:10am

If the variety of these comments doesn't give us a true picture of the church, then nothing will. The truth is "every man is right in his own eyes." That is not what the church needs. It needs to express the love, acceptance, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Period!

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May 18, 2006  5:40pm

I think we're missing the point with the "Dove Awards" thing. Who is the audience? It's Christians! I'm pretty sure that Billboard and Rolling Stone couldn't give a rip. So why do we need to pretend we're the Grammys. I think that's what Don is getting at. For that matter, why do we need the Dove Awards at all? Shouldn't our purpose be to communicate God's love? On that note, we can try to defend and rationalize our actions all we want, but when it boils right down to it, we DON'T love our brother, enemy, or even fellow Christain as we should, and that's wrong. But rather than shaming ourselves we should turn to God who is the only ONE (or ONES) who can give us that kind of love and sensitivity. Time for you and I to get off the keyboard and on our knees to humble ourselves and invite God to make the necessary changes in us! God Bless!!!

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May 17, 2006  8:18am

In reply to Daniel Darling's question: "So, do we want the world to like us, or not? I'm confused." ... No, we don't care at all whether they like us. In fact Jesus warned us that the world would HATE us. [Do we believe that? Can we live with that?] But what we DO CARE about is that they like ... uh ... LOVE Jesus! So should we be hip? Cool? Unhip? Uncool? We need to first of all be who God made us to be [we are members in particular in the Body of Christ], and we need to be WHATEVER it takes to get them to see Jesus & His love for them. We are to be all things to all men [even fashionable at the Dove awards], that by all means [hip, unhip, cool, uncool] we might save some. It's not about's ALL about Jesus.

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vaila backhouse

May 16, 2006  6:51pm

My husband and I are in our late fiftees (well, maybe a teensy bit later than that even). We love Don, Rick, Imago Dei folk and their godly lives and thinking. We were two of Don's most un-cool looking workshop attendees when he was here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Nonetheless, he went out of his way to greet us and treated us like royalty. Vaila and Norman

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May 16, 2006  4:18pm

It seems as though our innate desire to be accepted and liked by someone is being labeled as evil. And indeed it is, but if we were all to get real with each other, we all do things to be accepted at some level, but hopefully to infiltrate the culture, not just to be cool or accepted. If I put on a tie to reach business men, I am not trying to be cool, although my flesh could get in the way when I stare in the mirror and say. "Now that is one good looking man that everyone will like." Each one of us has a level of wanting to be accepted by those of us around us. Heck, Jesus wants the whole world to accept him, but not for wrong reasons, for right reasons, for the cross. Stop criticizing the ties and pretty people. Don't criticize them because of their music and acknowledgement of God given talent. It is so easy to point fingers at everyone else and especially those who are in the media's eye in the Christian entertainment industry and call them fake. Truth is, it is cool now to write a book and Donald keeps doing that. Christian conferences are cool also, Donald keeps speaking at those. Its not about ripping others and judging their hearts. Where is the love in criticizing those people when you don't know their hearts? I find it hard to swallow from an author and speaker where he markets a particular audience to read his book and yet criticizes artist who are just as talented in a different way. I love you Donald, but if this is truly your feeling then pull all your marketed book off the shelf, I don't want to see any more advertisements. Right on the cover of your book it says, "Miller is enjoyably clever and his storytelling is beautiful, even poignant." Publishers weekly. If that isn't marketing I don't know what is

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Matthew Shedden

May 16, 2006  3:38pm

Great Interview with Don, and I will be third to last person to defend the Dove awards, but I think Don is wrong in critizing them. I hate Christian music, but so what if they want to dress up and honor those who are doing it. On top of that Don has been interviewed in Relevant Mag, which is basically an attempt at making Christanity cool yet he has nothing to say about that. The Dove Awards are too easy of a target, and his publishing company is trying to make him "cool" and "hip" why go after them? Oh well in the end we all do have some logs in our own eyes.

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May 16, 2006  3:34pm

I loved Blue Like Jazz and enjoy Donald Miller's fresh perspective. I think he points out a valuable lesson... most people know when they are being treated as an agenda rather than an simple friend. It is quite a turnoff, and our 'cookie' cutter, pretty people churches aren't really changing anything. I agree that he could fall victim to the same 'trend' based thinking as other have fallen into. I love John Stott's teaching on the culture. Jesus calls us to the 'Beatitudes' and they are counter-cultural no matter what context. If Christians concentrated more on living the Sermon on the Mount than analyzing customer trends, i think we'd all be in a better place.

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