Book Review: “Life Is Mostly Edges” (Calvin Miller)

edgesCalvin Miller graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a Bachelor of Science degree and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with both Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. He pastored for over 30 years and spent his last years as a professor at both Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School. He was an accomplished poet, author (over 40 books including The Singer Trilogy) and artist. Dr. Miller went to his forever home with Jesus on August 19, 2012 leaving behind a wife and two children.

Purpose of the Book

“At the age of seventy-two, I have grown honest about the best years of my life. I have lived those years – all of them – past threescore and ten, knowing all along that this life was never mine. It has belonged all the way through to another.” So begins Calvin Miller’s memoir of his life and ministry – an account of his love for his Savior and the journey of following Him through the years.

Organization and Content

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1: The Early Years (1936-1955), Part 2: Staying Human While Being A Pastor (1956-1991) and Part 3: The Professor Who Liked Teaching But Loved Learning (1991-2007).

Part 1 focused on Miller’s growing up years and the difficulties he experienced. His father had little to do with the family and it is evident that Calvin’s mother (Ethel) was a wonderful lady. She worked hard to provide for the family and he spends many pages lauding her love for Jesus and her family. Miller was exposed to the gospel early in his life through various churches in Enid, OK.

My favorite part of the book was in the second section, which focused on Miller’s years as a pastor. He pastored one church for 4 years until he left to plant another church where he remained for 25 years. Westside Church grew from 10 members to over 2,500 in that period of time. There were numerous ups and downs during these years as a pastor and I enjoyed hearing the stories of triumph and disappointment.

Part 3 was interesting as Miller discussed his departure from the pastorate and journey to the seminary. He recounted the two struggles right before leaving his church and the interesting dynamic of seminary life. Southwestern was embroiled in the Conservative Resurgence when Miller came on faculty and it is evident he failed to see many positives in this struggle. I did get the feeling that Miller appreciated his time at Beeson, especially due to the interdenominational nature of the school and faculty.

Personal Evaluation

I honestly felt like I was sitting down with Calvin Miller over a cup of coffee as I read this book. His transparency was refreshing and his honesty was heartfelt. For me, his transparency and honesty was a bit scary as well. As a pastor, I took much of what he said about the church and pastors to heart. Pastoring is hard work. It is lonely work. It is very easy to forsake your family and even your personal walk with Jesus in the ministry. This is scary and yet I can identify times in my own ministry and life when this has been true.

I also sensed a bit of freedom after reading this memoir. Calvin Miller was not your “typical” pastor (whatever that means!) in that he was more artsy and introverted than you might think a pastor should be. However, it was clear he loved people, his Savior and the local church. He was who he was and God used him in a mighty way. This was a great encouragement to me to just simply be me!

I would definitely encourage pastors to pick up this book and read it!

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Never have any special group in your church who knows the critical ins and outs of your dreams, while the bulk of the people are in the dark. The janitor should know everything the chairman of the board knows, right?”

“Keep every plan out in the open, and you’ll never get in trouble. Keep the church finances that way too. Let everybody know freely everything you know, and don’t have any special people you try to placate by giving them information first. When everybody owns the church and its dreams, the church is healthy. When there are little secret pockets of informants, decay is in the wind.”

“Most who have fallen in love with Christ didn’t choose to be fervent. They have just seen the Son, high and lifted up, and have no choice but to fly in his direction. Such remarkable passion is a kind of gift. I have known many Christians across my span of years. In fact, most everyone I have worked with has called themselves Christian. But among all the Christians, I have known only a few of them who seemed to have that natural— or supernatural—inclination of clinging to their God.”

“Some of the ‘big’ pastors I know seem to enjoy being ‘big.’ They own a sense of success and fame that satisfies most of them. And they are revered generally for being deeply spiritual men, even loving men. But the best of pastors realize that good sermons are not just flashy rhetoric. Sermons are only noble when they are so ‘see-through’ that the pastor’s need for God is clearly visible through his words.”

“What I specifically learned was that people can forgive a leader whose vision may be errant, but they will never forgive a leader who isn’t visionary.”

“I had quit busying myself with the things of God and busied myself with God himself. I didn’t mean to quit thinking about the things of God; it just happened that my focus on God had replaced the good stuff of my life with the best stuff.”

“When I dropped my guard and focused on Christ, what I had tried to make happen, happened automatically. The church began to grow. And the growth made me ponder again the promise of relinquishment. Letting go of any drive releases the soul, and those who can’t quit struggling in an attempt to realize their dreams will be the last to realize them. I had done nothing very remarkable. I had learned the lesson from a fellow struggler, a blind pilgrim, who taught me that the secret of success is not ‘busianity,’ it is ‘Christianity.’”

“Herein lies my greatest fears for the Emergent Church: in its attempt to start where the culture is, it rarely stops and asks, ‘Is this where the culture should be?’”