My First Test at Cal

6 thoughts on “My First Test at Cal”

  1. This article concludes with the suggestion: “For anyone that is challenged, I would like to offer this advice and encouragement: when people ask you questions, respond with what you truly think or feel. Your authenticity will be appreciated, and you will know what you’re talking about.”

    Here’s an awkward question I’ll throw out to readers: Should this advice also apply when talking with people in church? A lot of people go to a church because they want to be around people who think and feel the same way they do, even though this is not actually true of everyone who attends the church. And I’m not talking only about curious visitors: I’ve known church members who believed the whole of a church’s doctrinal statement when they joined, but later changed their minds; the unstated compromise, then, is that they will be allowed to remain part of the fellowship as long as they don’t say what they truly think. They expect, with good reason, that authenticity will get them in trouble. But is that a bad thing?

  2. Authenticity or experiencing doubt? I would say neither is a bad thing by itself. But it depends what you mean by remaining “part of the fellowship”: if we’re saying that the primary purpose of the church is to be a place “where people who think and feel the same way” can form a community, then it seems like we’re talking about a culture. Cultures have some sort of unifying principle, whether a philosophy, an ethnic heritage, a language, a history, an enemy, what have you. If the unifying principle of a religious culture is a “church’s doctrinal statement,” then I’m not sure how you can “change your mind” yet remain part of that culture. If the unifying principle of a religious culture is accepting members of the community regardless of what they believe, then sure, you can stick around, why not?

    I would look stupid if I tried to claim that such a thing as Christian cultures didn’t exist in America, but I do think that the Church, the community of people who believe and follow Jesus, should operate very differently from other kinds of cultures, precisely because the Church is supposed to be composed of people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” The unifying principle of Christian community is the gospel of Jesus Christ, not some uniform philosophy (Christian theology has always been…let’s say idiosyncratic) or a single set of cultural expectations (see European history and how today we Don’t Approve of many elements of this particular Christian culture).

    We hear the gospel of Jesus Christ with our own ears and our own filters, and yet this very historically specific bit of good news still seems to catch on in the most unexpected places. And I think that the Church, when it’s most properly being the Church, should be a place whose very currency is “authenticity.” In my personal experience, it’s the doubters, the broken, insecure people who can’t keep it together without faith in God, the people who struggle everyday with what faith and and love and doing the right thing means in their lives who are the strongest Christians, and whose joy in living a “Christian life” seems the most authentic and profound. It’s the goody-two-shoes evangelicals with perfect hair and perfect lives that I worry about more, frankly.

  3. What “church’s doctrinal statement” are you talking about? I’m doubting that there are many churches whose complete and unsullied doctrinal statements require full submission from regular lay members. Specifics, not slander, please!

  4. I don’t know if there are many churches whose complete and unsullied doctrinal statements require full submission from regular lay members. But most churches DO require that in order to become a member, one must assert that one believes a certain fixed list of things. A church member might later change his mind about some of those things but still want to stick around for social reasons or for reasons of culture/tradition. Sure, a particular church might say that what defines it is its set of beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that every member will think of his church solely as a community with a specific set of beliefs, and it doesn’t mean that every member will decide he must leave that church if he changes his mind on any of the items on the list. Even if a church actually goes as far as to say clearly, “We believe X, we believe Y, and we believe Z; if you don’t agree, you’re welcome to visit, but you shouldn’t be a member”, the result is not necessarily going to be that all those who no longer believe all of X and Y and Z will give up their membership; instead, the result is going to be that many of those doubters/disbelievers are just going to try to keep up the appearance of believing X and Y and Z. Authenticity is then lost.

  5. Could you give an example of an “item on the list”? I kind of think there’s a difference between, say, changing your mind about infant baptism and changing your mind about the trinity, or salvation, or something like that.

  6. Sorry, I don’t have any examples at hand. I’ve never become a member of a church myself, but I’ve observed that in most churches, the process of becoming a member includes at some point being asked a certain set of questions (known well in advance, of course) and requiring that certain answers be given. The questions are typically about things like salvation or the trinity, not infant baptism.

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