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Stages of Faith

I’m going to re-post this because my site went down. A bunch of things, like comments and stuff got messed up, its been quite a pain to get it all working, but I think i have it. I got this post from Ron who typed this all out of McLaren’s book Finding Faith.

Do you think this is a good explanation? I thought so. I think in many areas I’m in stage three, especially when it comes to authority. When it comes to my feelings about other people I feel like I’m in stage 4.

The Four stages of faith Growth.

Stage 1: Simplicity

Focus: Right or wrong? Being right, belonging to the right group.

Motive: Pleasing authority figures, being an “insider.”

Beliefs: All truth is known or knowable. There are easy answers to every question. The right authority figures know the right answers.

Perception: Dualistic, in terms of right versus wrong, good versus bad.

Mottoes: You’re either for us or against us; its all or nothing.

Authorities: Godlike. Gods representatives, with divine right, they help you know.

Likes/Dislike: We like bold, clear, assertive, confident people who know the answers. We dislike tentative, qualifying, timid, or unsure people who say “I don’t know.”

Life is: A war.

Strategy: Learn the answers, learn what to think. Learn to identify and avoid the enemy.

Strengths: Highly committed, willing to sacrifice and suffer for the cause.

Weakness: Also willing to kill or inflict suffering for the cause. Arrogant, simplistic, combative Judgmental, intolerant, Incapable or distinguishing major from minor issues, since every issue is part of the system that has embraced all (as universal, absolute, and inerrant) or nothing (as false, wrong, discredited.)

Identity: I find my identity in my leader or group.

Relationships: Dependent or codependent.

God is: The Ultimate Authority Figure and/or Ultimate friend.

Transition: As stage 1 people encounter diversity in their ranks, or are disillusioned because of fallen leaders or internal squabbles in the group from which they derive their identity, or are unsettles for by the multiplicity of viewpoints, they tend to swing from a desire for internal knowledge and certainty to a desire for external accomplishment and success, thus moving on to Stage 2. The world isn’t simple anymore, so the task changes – to make life work in this complex environment.

Stage 2 – Complexity

Focus: Effective or ineffective? Accomplishing; learning technique, winning.

Motive: Reach goals, be effective.

Beliefs: Almost anything is doable. Different people have different methods, beliefs, approaches – the key is finding the best ones.

Perception: Pragmatic – looking for useful, practical.

Mottoes: There is more than one way to do things, – find what ever works best for you.

Authorities: Coaches, they help you grow.

Likes/Dislike: We like people that give clear instructions and let us know what they expect form us. We like people who motivate us and make us feel like doing things. We dislike people who are too dogmatic (Stage 1) or mystical (Stage 3.)

Life is: A complex game. You have to learn the rules.

Strategy: Learn the technique. Play the game. Find what people want and give it to them.

Strengths: Enthusiasm, idealism, action.

Weakness: Superficial, naïve.

Identity: I find my identity in the cause or achievement.

God is: The ultimate guide or coach.

Transition: Three problems push people out of Stage 2 (usually against their will). First, the prevalence or Stage 1 people always claiming to have all the answers prohibit Stage 2 people from escaping questions about truth. Second, the failure of “foolproof” techniques and projects leaves them disillusioned and perplexed – prime characteristics of Stage 3. Third, Stage 2 people survive by fragmenting complex and apparently contradictory truth into categories (scientific truth, religious truth, social or relational truth, political truth). Eventually, a desire for unity and integration causes them to be dissatisfied with their fragmented approach.

Stage 3 – Perplexity

Focus: Honest or dishonest? Authentic or inauthentic? Understanding, seeing through appearances and illusions to reality.

Motive: Being honest, authentic.

Beliefs: All is questionable. Nothing is really certain, except uncertainty. Everything is relative.

Perception: Realistic.

Mottoes: Everyone’s opinion is equally valid and equally questionable. Who knows who really is right?

Authorities: Demonic. They’re dishonest controllers, trying to impose easy answers on complex realities.

Likes/Dislike: We like questioners, free spirits, and nonconformists. We dislike people in Stages 1 and 2.

Life is: A joke or a mystery or a search.

Strategy: Ask hard questions, be ruthlessly honest.

Strengths: Depth, honesty, often humor or artistic sensitivity.

Weakness: Cynical, uncommitted, withdrawn, depressed, or elitist.

Identity: I find my identity in solitude or a small circle of similarity alienated friends.

God is: Either a mythic authority figure I’ve outgrown, an opiate of the masses, or a mystery I am seeking.

Transition: One of the key struggles in Perplexity is that battle between arrogance (“Those simpletons in Stages 1 and 2 don’t see how shallow and primitive they are! Ha! They’ve never even asked the questions we ask, much less found answers for them! Ha!”) and humility. And there is much in this stage to humble a person. Notably, one has to get on with life, and life requires one to make commitments, and commitments grow out of values and beliefs, so one is not left with the option of staying in limbo. One has to make choices. Once cant blindly accept a groups or authority figures agenda anymore, but one has to take responsibility for living life and proceed – chastened and more realistic, often disillusioned and less idealistic – in short, humbled.


Stage 4 – Humility

Focus: Wise or unwise? Fulfilling potential; making the most of life.

Motive: Make the best of opportunities, Serve, contribute, and make a difference.

Beliefs: There are a few basis absolute or universal truths, many relative matters, and much mystery. There are enough basics to live by.

Perception: Integrated, synthesizing and dualism, pragmatism, and relativism of earlier stages.

Mottoes: I’ll focus on a few ground essentials, in essentials, unity, in nonessentials, diversity, in all things, charity.

Authorities: They’re people like you and me – imperfect, doing their best, sometimes admirable and dependable, sometimes untrustworthy and despicable, sometimes sincerely misguided.

Likes/Dislike: We like people who combine thoughtfulness with accomplishment.

Life is: A mixture; what you make it; what it is.

Strategy: Learn all the answers you can (Stages 1 & 2), ask all the questions you can (Stage 3), and try to fulfill your potential, admitting how little you really know.

Strengths: May exhibit strengths of earlier stages, plus stability, endurance, wisdom and humility.

Weakness: May display weakness of earlier strengths.

Identity: I find my identity in my relationships to the whole, or to God.

God is: Knowable in part, yet mysterious; present, yet transcendent; just, yet merciful (able to hold dynamic tensions about God).

Transition: That this is the last stage in out schema doesn’t suggest that ones lives happily ever after! At this stage of integration, one now faces all the weaknesses of the previous stages. Whenever one enters a new context (a new career, a new religion, a new social network), he or she may well recapitulate the stages repeatedly. After all, humility, like maturity, is obviously not a destination but a rather a journey in itself.

2 Comments

  • McLaren’s categories are a good starting point but I think Fowler (Stages of Faith) has a more in depth understanding of the faith journey. It’s a tough read but worth it.
    Here’s a quick online outline http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/fowler.htm

  • I was definately once in Stage 1. But I skipped the rest. I’m not in any stage, so I guess I didn’t ‘skip’ any, but I just took a stroll down one of the side streets.
    Here’s where I am kinda –

    Focus – Worth my time, or a waste of time.

    Motive – Be a ‘good’ person, be true to myself, make the most of the life I’ve been given.

    Beliefs – Belive in God, but not to the point of anybody in any other ‘stage’, simply believe in a higher being, but am skeptical to any specific belief system, and not interested in adopting any.

    Perception – REAListic

    Mottoes – Everything is questionable and if people say it’s not, it is immediately thrown away (from my point of view).

    Authorities – Me, my family, and those close to me who know me.

    Likes – like people who are open minded, who are accept people despite their lifestyle or beliefs, dislike one-track mind people, who are closed off to anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. strongly dislike when people believe certain things with no real logical reason, or with no explanation.

    Life – What it is, what you make of it

    Strategy – Do what you want, be open to anything people have to say, do not adopt any belief system unless it makes 100% sense to you.

    Strengths – Good bullshit/fake radar, understanding

    Weaknesses – Bitter.

    Identity – I find my identity in those I’m closest to. And in things I’ve learned throughout my life.

    God is – There, very dynamic and mysterious, something I will never understand, and don’t really try to.

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