Saturday, April 15, 2006

Eventually Stage Five

Back in December I discussed the transition I'd made in my faith from Stage Three to Stage Four (speaking in terms of James Fowler's Stages of Faith). But Stage Four isn't the end of the journey. Many who grow to this point will settle here without moving on to Stage Five (just as many never move past Stage Three), and there's nothing bad about that, per se. But there is more growth to be had.

In Stage Five individuals take an apparent step back as they reintroduce a sense of awe and wonderment into their beliefs. This time, however, that humble stance is the result of a greater understanding of just how large and complex the universe (and the God who created it) really is. Black and white still exist, but they can't be reduced to the simple, two-dimensional propositions that those in earlier stages embrace so readily. Instead, truth must be viewed from two or more different angles at the same time in order to come to a more complete understanding.

As a caveat, let me reiterate that these are developmental stages, and as such not necessarily indicative of the quality of an individual's relationship with God. They apply generally to adherents of any belief system (religious or otherwise) and refer to how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them.

In some ways I can already identify with Stage Five, though I think I'm still thoroughly Stage Four in other ways. I recognize the complex and often paradoxical nature of truth, and as such have little patience for the reductionistic either/or propositions that most Christians seem content to settle for.

By reducing God to something that they can fully define and understand, their faith becomes a lifeless husk. The teachings of the Bible become the last word in the conversation rather than the first, the end of our journey instead of our starting point, a shell that smothers and constricts rather than a skeleton that facilitates movement and growth.

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (I Cor. 3:1-3)

Few people in our churches show any signs of moving beyond spiritual infancy. I can understand why - it's difficult and more than a little scary to truly wrestle with one's faith and learn how to think for oneself, especially when we can settle for being spoonfed a list of dos and don'ts every Sunday. But how much are we missing out on because we refuse to grow up?

Like the Daleks from Dr. Who, so many people - Christian or otherwise - devote their lives to taking orders and trying to exterminate that which is different from them that they never learn how much more there is to this life, and to what God is waiting to show them just as soon as they grow beyond simple conformity. And to even attempt to explain such a notion to them is to become a target for their extermination (i.e. "conversion" or "repentance") efforts.

It's not easy to leave that comfort zone. But what adult would seriously want to go back to being wrapped up in diapers and confined to a crib and fed from a bottle, however appealing it may sound in difficult moments? Growing up may not be easy, but the rewards are far greater than any to be found in the nursery.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I just found your blog today. There is a certain spiritual and personal integrity in this post in particular that i find very refreshing.

I've been uncomfortable with the idea of outsourcing my moral compass to a list of do's and dont's for a few years now. I had assumed that made me a "weak" christian but now I'm not so sure. I may just check out that book you mentioned.

Eugene said...


Glad you found your way here! I guess I should give fair warning that Fowler's book is rather dry reading at times, though I do think his ideas have a lot of merit. So be sure to approach it with that in mind.

Doorman-Priest said...

Can you just remind us what stage one is?

Eugene said...

Stage one represents early childhood, before a person has a well-developed sense of the world around them. No clear line has yet developed between what's real and what's fantasy.