In Which I Agree (Partly) and Disagree (Mostly) with Donald Miller on Going to Church

Well, it seems that Donald Miller has stirred up a mini-firestorm. A couple of days ago, he posted an article about how he doesn’t really dig on church worship services and so he worships God in other ways. I thought it was an interesting take, and I was largely supportive of it. But I didn’t think it was that big a deal either way. Apparently somebody did, though, because Miller felt the need to post a lengthy follow-up post with a defense/clarification of his position.

I’m not the biggest Donald Miller fan in the world, but as I said, I was kind of inclined to get his back on this issue. However, his response to critics, while making some good points, also did a lot to remind me of why I’m not the biggest Donald Miller fan in the world. I think that God is a big god, capable of reaching people wherever they are. And worship is a big topic, with lots of room for plenty of different opinions about it. Nobody is going to hell because they don’t love corporate worship services or don’t go to church regularly.

But sentences like this are why Donald Miller makes me itch:

Binary thinking causes more false dichotomies than true answers or helpful discussions, so I’ll avoid them as best I can.

Heavens to Betsy, yes, let’s stay away from those false dichotomies and that nasty binary thinking. We might end up believing that there are such binary things as “right” and “wrong,” or at least “better” and “worse.” Let’s only discuss things in such a way that no one can come to any conclusions whatsoever. And then we can all share some gluten-free rice cakes! Hooray!

Miller could have mounted a vigorous defense of his opinion while expressing an understanding of and respect for the traditions of American evangelical worship. I almost thought that was what he was going to do:

Many people thought the blog was saying people shouldn’t go to church or that I had something against church. None of that is true…. All I can offer is my perspective, which I do not offer as an answer, only a contribution to a discussion.

On that note, one caveat: I can only give camera angles on the issue because that’s how I think.

Or, he could’ve deflected the issue with a bunch of namby-pamby spiritualism and pseudo-intellectual poppycock, which is what he did.

…we should consider new revelations in brain science, learning-style revelations and basic psychology. What about intuition, what about the whole brain? What about Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence? What about Sir Ken Robinson’s work on education reform? What about Jung’s early work on personality theory and motives? And even Malcolm Gladwell’s work on thinking without thinking?

Wow, you sure have read a lot of books, Don. Impressive.

Again, I probably agree with a lot of Miller’s thoughts on this issue. If I had my way, there are a lot of things I would change about how we “do church.” I don’t think God’s finger ever descended from the heavens to carve the proper order of service into stone. (“And thou shalt open with announcements! And then a song! Preferably something upbeat, by David Crowder! And then thou shalt turn around so that thou might shakest the hands of the people in the pews behind thee! And then another song!”)

But if I wrote a post defending my position, I would do it with 90% less condescension and 100% less use of the word “tribes,” his clever little way to paint church-goers as backward and insular.

And let us all stand in awe of Miller’s mastery of the backhanded-compliment/double-reverse-humblebrag combo:

People love their churches, their pastors and their community. Some people believe church is the main place we worship God, that it’s superior and more sacred than worshipping with their family or friends or through other outlets such as work or daily life. My faith and intimacy with God has grown as I’ve evolved in my understanding of church, and as I said, many find that threatening. And yet, in the comments, even the heated ones, it was beautiful to see a group of people love something so much. The passion moved me as much as it frustrated me.

“Yeah, it’s great how you guys love the church (apparently more than your family and friends, y’know, just sayin’), and I’m sorry I scared you with how I’ve evolved beyond that. But your misguided passion is great! (Wink! Double finger guns! Pew pew!)” And he sticks the dismount! From the Russian judge… a TEN!

In defending his own opinion, Miller goes way too far in dismissing the opinions of others who believe that commitment to a local church body (not attendance; commitment) is a vital, essential part of Christian life. Even when it’s boring. Even when you think you can better connect with God by listening to Bach or fertilizing your rutabagas.

God calls us to be in communion with fellow Christians. We’ve developed means for doing that, called “churches.” We are blessed with a variety of different ones to choose from. You probably won’t find a perfect fit, but those are the breaks. Pick one, and go with it.

If you choose to avoid that communion, all the while telling me how spiritually evolved you are, it makes me think that you don’t quite get it. People who say they are “spiritual” are like me saying I “work out” when in fact I just put on a muscle shirt and stand next to a weight bench checking my email for 30 minutes every morning. Involvement in a community of believers is how we put those spiritual muscles to work.

One comment

  1. ucfengr

    The whole “spiritually evolved” attitude that we don’t need a church to worship strikes me as more than a little Gnostic. Christ established the Church (the Body of Christ, not the building) for a purpose. If it wasn’t necessary, why would He go through the trouble of setting it up?

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