Church Search Advice from Michael Novak

A friend who’s been following my endless vacillation over my relationship to my church sent me the following quote from Tell Me Why by Michael and Jana Novak (Pocket Books, 1998). The book is structured as a dialogue between a Catholic theologian and his twentysomething daughter about the basics of the Christian faith. Here, he talks about finding the church and denomination that are appropriate for your spiritual journey:


Judaism and Christianity (and some other religions) are about truth and holiness. In this context holiness means to love the lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole soul and to love your neighbor as you would be loved. The motive of such love is awe for the love that the Creator has poured out upon you.

Therefore, choose the communion that is most likely to oblige you and nudge you to be faithful to truth — to inquiry, insight, and the hunger for evidence and sound argument — and to become holy. Resist the temptation to join the communion that offers you only comfort, sociality, and nice company. (Look for that in a good club.) Resist also the appeal of aesthetic pleasures at the services — music, poetry, visual stunningness (whether splendid or spare).”

[Here a brief footnote goes into the relationship of beauty and truth, with Novak concluding that “To rest in beauty rather than in truth is to sow seed in thin soil. That said, I concur that beauty is a sign of truth.”] (pp.159-60)

To Novak’s sound advice I would only add the caveat that novice Christians should not berate themselves too much for caring about aesthetics, sociality and the rest. It may be too early to tell what insights and arguments you really need to hear. If the music speaks to you of a God whom your mind still can’t accept, if the companionship of other believers helps you begin to think this God may be real, then go with it. Someday in the future, if you’re starting to love Jesus like a real person but your church is stuck in social club/concert hall mode, you may find it’s time to move on, but be grateful to the folks who took you as far as they could.

I sometimes forget how very recent my faith commitments are, and how only a couple of years ago I was passionately skeptical about some of the same doctrines that I now can’t live without. A reason to hold those commitments more lightly? I don’t think so. Just a reason to be charitable. To care about whatever I believe, but not to be proud of myself for believing or doubting — that’s the goal.

6 comments on “Church Search Advice from Michael Novak

  1. Hank Rodgers says:

    Jendi:

    I am one who has been faithfully following your wonderfully described journey in faith, as reported here; and, despite my own disbelief, cheering you on for your delightful intellect and your choice of such an important (if eventually possibly fruitless) pursuit.

    You are doing all of we readers a favor by sharing these, very personal, thoughts about your progress; but, as you note your former state of mind of only a couple of years ago and the drastic change in that, most of us are probably wondering what kind of transcendent event or events could be responsible. This, of course, is probably even more personal than your religious reflections, and none of our business really, but would help our understanding. Anyway, Go Girl! — And, thanks for keeping us posted.

  2. Wow. I need to get that book and read it. It sounds fantastic.

  3. zhenimsja says:

    I’ve wished to post resembling like post on my blog and this gave me nice thought. Cheers!

  4. TheoSuccess says:

    It is instructive. But I would not have been able to.

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