Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Green like Puke - Donald Miller's Postmodern Epistemology

I have had several people either make reference to or ask me about Donald Miller's writings over the years. I have purposely refrained from directly addressing the writings of men like Miller both on my church blog and in teaching because I would rather focus on teaching people the truth of a Biblical epistemology, that way when a counterfeit rears its ugly head, they recognize it for what it is. That is why I'm three years late on this issue. Nevertheless, in my pastoral ministry and evangelistic work, I have been asked questions about Miller, and thus, I will provide a short response to his views in this blog article. In short, Miller is a postmodern relativist with a constructivist theory of truth. That means that he has bought in to the notion that truth is neither objective or knowable.

On page 103 of Blue Like Jazz, Miller basically says that Christianity is not an intellectual issue for him any more because he has grown past that. According to him, having an intelligent, rational discussion and debate about the existence of God is pretty much a waste of time because doing so amounts only to a display of arrogance and ego since it reveals who the smartest debater is. To be fair, this can be true as far as it goes, but not all debaters are the same since some love the truth and believe they are obligated to defend it. In the context of this discuss Miller then says, "Who knows anything anyway?" There are a few obvious problems with a statement like this:

1. If we really can't know anything then we can't know that proposition either. Thus, Miller's position is self-refuting.

2. He also essentially says that if he walks away from God he will not do so for intellectual reasons. Instead he says, "I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything." However, the discerning Christian doesn't walk away from truth claims and worldviews simply because they are emotionally painful; we walk away from them because they are not true.

3. If there is no objective truth that is knowable (as Miller clearly suggests in his book) and if there is only the endless, pointless argumentation of intelligent people who disagree with each other because it only amounts to relativistic opinions, then what else is there at the bottom of it all? My conclusion as an unbeliever was this: nothing. There is nothing at the bottom of it all and reality as we know it is a cosmic accident (i.e., nihilism).

As I see it, the problem with Miller and any professing Christian who has fallen for this postmodern cultural view of the nature of "belief" can say that he believes in biblical authority or biblical inspiration, but the words will be absolutely meaningless. The postmodernist's individual's particular interpretation of Scripture will potentially be devoid of any significant grounding in the historical creeds and confessions of faith because of the complete lack of epistemological certainty; hence, Miller's statement, "Who knows anything anyway?" This is highly problematic, because the idea of mind-independent, objective truth necessarily grounds belief in Biblical authority and if truth does not exist and is not knowable, then we are without hope and without God in the world.

Biblical authority has to do with the author's intended meaning in writing what he wrote. The postmodernist view of truth as merely a social or personal construct (a constructivist view of truth) that renders the author's intended meaning completely irrelevant. With a postmodern constructivist view of truth, what really matters is the reader's understanding and perspective of the writing, not what the author originally intended. As a result, biblical authority and inspiration flies out the window and the door has just been opened to theological liberalism. Whether he knows it or not, this is exactly what Miller does with his "who knows anything anyway" type of statements. This is also the fundamental presupposition behind Jacques Derrida's philosophy of literary deconstructionism.

Christians who want to be clear in their statements and intellectually compelling can never fall for the truth-eviscerated notion of "belief" put forward by Donald Miller while at the same time arguing for a particular interpretation of Scripture based on the authority of Scripture. Such view would be internally contradictory, because a constructivist view of truth does not permit Scripture to have any intrinsic authority in and of itself; it can only have the authority that the reader chooses to give to it. Someone who holds this postmodernist view of truth will not hold to Christian teachings because of the truth and authority of the God-breathed Scripture, but because of his or her "social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons." This is mysticism at its finest; determining truth based upon how it makes you feel. In conclusion, Miller's "who knows anything anyway" view of truth is at best dishonoring to God since it implies that He hasn't spoken to men in His word with sufficient clarity and at worst, it is dangerous to Christianity since it eviscerates the very foundation for objective, knowable truth, the type of truth that is necessary to ground the sure and certain promises of the gospel as contained in Holy Writ.


  1. "With a postmodern constructivist view of truth, what really matters is the reader's understanding and perspective of the writing, not what the author originally intended. As a result, biblical authority and inspiration flies out the window and the door has just been opened to theological liberalism."

    Yeah. That's what I don't like about Miller.

    I also think he's reactionary towards conservative Christians.

  2. I liked the book, but it left me with a funny feeling. Now I know what the funny feeling is.

    It's funny how he's so self-contradictory then. At one point he has a booth on campus where Christians apologize for Christian atrocities (perceived or real), such as the Inquisition. On his terms, they didn't do anything wrong, our current society just thinks they did. In which case, why apologize?

    Wow, I might have to read it again, because I read it before I became interested in apologetics.