To Own a Dragon, Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father by Donald Miller and John MacMurray

Donald Miller’s writing style is often humorous, always vulnerable, interesting and sometimes crude (pp. 19, 22, 87, 99, 106), yet To Own a Dragon is not the attack on conservative Christianity that Miller’s best-known book, Blue Like Jazz, was. This volume is more of the musings and development of a young man growing up without a father. Children living in a home where the father is absent will often face serious ramifications and Miller is no exception. Miller has worked through, and is working through, many of these implications in his own life and this book details this journey.


Miller tells the reader that he does not miss having a father any more than he misses having a dragon (hence the title). But he does wonder if he missed out on something important. As he reflected on these things, he had the opportunity to live with John MacMurray (co-author) and his family for four years. There for the first time he experienced traditional family life and observed a good father in action. MacMurray, who I gather did not actually write any of the book but is often quoted, provides the most helpful insights throughout.

While Miller has some good thoughts, his great deficiency is his lack of biblical knowledge. He admits that he does not know the Bible very well (p. 69) and does not read it very often (p. 96). The consequence of these inadequacies is readily apparent in all of Miller’s writings. Because he does not know what God teaches on the themes he is addressing he cannot present it to his readers. Additionally, because he does not have a working knowledge of Scripture he is easily deceived, most notably in this book, by pop-psychology. He has been greatly influenced, for example, by John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart (pp. 90, 101, 196), in which Eldredge blames men’s problems on their “father-wound”—a typical psychological view with no biblical foundation.

The same flaw is evident when Miller addresses subjects such as sin (pp. 138-139), sex (pp. 135-145) or experience (p. 192). He has a purely secularist view of these things which is not drawn from the text of Scripture. His understanding of what constitutes a real man serves as a good example (pp. 104-106). Miller’s actual comments are too crude for this review, but could be summarized when he states, “I don’t think being a ‘real man’ has anything to do with loving Jesus at all, anymore than being a ferret has something to do with riding a bicycle.” It seems to be beyond Miller’s scope of knowledge that God has described “real men” throughout Scripture, gave us the perfect example in His Son and defined “real men” in 1 Timothy 3:1-10. But this is what happens when a man who “does not know the Bible” (p. 96) tries to teach others how to live the Christian life.