A Million Miles in a Thousand Years- Review

There is a conflict that I must admit when it comes to reviewing “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller. On one hand I determined to approach this book critically, but as I read I yet again found myself empathizing with Miller and affected by his writing ability. Whereas with “Searching for God Knows What” Miller had thought through and espoused many of the questions I found myself struggling with at the time five years ago, with AMM I feel for Millar having walked through many of the same growing pains, yet now I have the experience of being both years removed from those initial pains but still feel the tension and after affects. It’s with this perspective that I want to offer both a critical and not so critical observance of the book and perhaps address some criticisms that I’ve read.

Part of the struggle in looking at a book such as AMM and Blue like Jazz is that they don’t fall into the “theological” framework of a “Christian Book”. They are more like personal memoirs that Miller at times makes broader applications to the Christian life. In AMM Miller begins this particular journey while attempting to assist with writing a script for a movie based on Blue like Jazz. The initial crisis comes as Millar realizes that the movie is about his life and his life is… boring. Then looking into elements of what makes a good story Miller begins a process of as he puts it, “editing his life into a better story”. This motivation brings up perhaps a real criticism of the book in that God seems ancillary to Millar’s desire for his life to be interesting. What is lacking is a sense of desire to follow God and glorify Him. Now I’m not saying that Miller doesn’t have that desire, and in fact in one chapter Miller does talk about listening to God and letting Him direct the story, it’s just that the “meta-narrative”(i.e. the gospel) isn’t explicit. In that sense there is a caution I would offer in unreservedly recommending this book. This book is really more about the “what” of experiencing a life unfolding as a story and coming to the realizations of that implication rather than the “why” and “how” of seeing what life as a type of narration by the ultimate storyteller (God) entails.

While not wanting to be an apologist for the book let me offer perhaps a reason why this seems to be lacking. First this is a recent recollection for Miller. Even looking back at my own stories years later I’ve only begun to see the larger narrative in each. In one sense I think the genuineness of what Miller relates is that the “meta-narrative” isn’t “forced” on these stories. Rather I believe Miller is relating what God has shown him so far in the way He’s showed it. Miller’s over arching point of the book also is that God personally moves us in our personal stories. That seeing God work transforming our character with the end of transformation in mind is conveyed as somewhat radical and unsettling and that pain and suffering are critical to a good story seems novel should bring a real pause to knee jerk critics. Even in Miller’s somewhat dystopian conclusion that a part of our stories is that we won’t find fulfillment in this life can be viewed negatively or can be seen in light of Romans 8:23-25.

Over the years I’ve come to view Donald Miller’s writing as a generational phenomenon. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years confirms that view in that really this is a coming of age book. Miller relates the realities of really growing up, of taking responsibility before God with your life and deciding to live for more than your comfort. That being said, this is a book that like other Miller books I would be cautious to recommend. I would hesitate to recommend this book to a very new believer or to a very immature believer. This is a story about a maturing Christian in the process; also there is a lot of “background” theology that is presumed about God and Christian living. Even to a more “mature” believer I would recommend reading John Piper’s book “Don’t Waste Your Life” or DeYoung’s book “Just Do Something” in concert with this one. Part of Miller’s great ability as a writer is to communicate experiences as they are experienced. It can be a danger to take a story and draw a life theology from it. You wouldn’t build your theology from what your friend thinks God is doing in his life, but you certainly would love to hear that story and try to learn what you can. So too Miller invites us to hear a part of his story, tells it beautifully, and I believe hopes that we learn something about God for ourselves in the process.


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