So I read the book Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God by Bryan Berghoef and it was a nice little read. If you’re interested in starting a conversational group outside the confines of a church building it has some helpful insights from someone who’s done it.
But if you’re not interested there was a particular chapter (14) titled “An Evolving Faith” that got my brain going. It set forth the idea that the spiritual life has stages much like a children have stages of growth. Loosely, anyway. Obviously they aren’t hard-and-fast just like a child’s growth, but it was certainly interesting.
For example, it compared the infancy/early childhood phase with a magical world where anything is possible. Logic isn’t a big player.
The next one was compared to early-childhood/adolescence in that the stories are still (more or less) taken at face value but have a deeper meaning for the child.
This was followed by the adolescence to early adulthood time where conformity to values is important but tuned in to the various expectations and judgments of others.
Then the twenties to forties hit and tends to be marked by taking responsibility for your own commitments, lifestyles, beliefs, and identity. It’s a critical and sometimes dangerous place to be, according to the author.
Then the fifties hit. You become more convinced about what you’re truly convinced about and begin to be a bit more open about what you don’t know.
Finally, if you progress you’ll eventually enjoy true freedom. You move from centering on self to being centered in your identity with God (or, for the non-spiritual, an ultimate reality).
So, while I kind of viewed this as a fun party game I could see traces in my own life in it even if the time line wasn’t entirely accurate (I think from 20 to 40 could be practically three separate stages from my experience) there was enough there to at least give serious thought to the idea of comparing spiritual growth and an age time-line.
But what I want to focus on here is something much more striking. Quoting Berghoef on page 118 (and he footnotes the a work by Fowler titled “The Stages of Faith” where he summarized for this chapter, and I summarized again for this blog) regarding “stage 3, the conformity to values while being tuned into the values/judgments of others”:
It turns out that most of the people in traditional churches are at this stage. And in fact, Fowler comes right out and states that religious institutions ‘work best’ if the majority of their congregation is in stage 3. (now that explains a lot of the preaching we hear that sounds destined to discourage people from questioning! To properly assure their continuance, churches apparently need people to remain in Stage 3.) When a person cognitively realized that there are contradictions between some of his authority sources and is ready to actually reflect realistically on them, he or she begins to be ready for the fourth stage.
So, are most people in churches in stage 3? Based on your observations, why/why not?
Is it in the best interest of a church to preach in such a way that questions are discouraged (implying of course, that these churches give answers and people then hold others to those standards)?
If so, what can churches do to encourage people to move toward stage 6?
That should keep you busy, patrons! Have at it!