Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Adult Faith Development Pt 3

It is important to keep note that each stage includes and builds upon the previous. Each stage is essential to faith development, the problem is when we get stuck and stop moving upward.

The next level that contains the next stages of development is called the Conventional level of development. This level is where the bulk of society resides. This level contains the cognitive and faith levels of adolescence. It makes sense that most of our society is stuck here. Much of the marketing and media that we see is aimed at teenagers and their record amounts of disposable cash. I think that this conditions the mind to think that adolescence is the heyday of life. We could get into arguments of chicken and egg here, but it does not really matter at this point.

Now for the stages of this level. The First stage of the Conventional level is the Diplomat. This person starts to move away from a self oriented life and leans on a group of peers who define them. “Being a part of this larger entity allows one to be protected and share in its power. The price for protection is loyalty and obedience.” Teenagers' peers are their social protection and they will give loyalties to them even when it goes against the value systems they may have been taught. This stage moves away from the self love for self sake and moves into a love of others, but it is still for personal benefit that they love another. I love you for what you can do for me or how you make me feel. This is a necessary stage of development in the human mind, much social interaction is learned here.

Many legalistic, fundamental churches are stuck in this stage. They would say, “If you adhere to our rules then we give you the power of being in the elite club as well as the protection of not going to hell.”

The next stage is an in-between stage of 3 and 4 called the Expert. The Expert has come to a place of wanting their own identity apart from the crowd, yet desiring their acceptance by proving his/her superiority to that crowd. This is a crucial stage in development in which one desires to become an individual, yet does not possess the confidence to break from the crowd. They still seek their identity and self worth from the crowd. You see this stage practiced in the pursuit of more stuff/knowledge/position for the sake of bragging rights. My car is nicer, my story is better, my trophy is bigger, my salary is higher: now am I acceptable? These people often feel they have all the answers and feel self-righteous in their knowledge.

In Cook-Greuter’s study, she found that 36.5% of American adults surveyed were stuck in this stage. This stage adheres to a system of rules and has a high capability of feeling “shame and guilt.”

Many Christians seem to be found at this stage. These Christians love the writings of Paul and all of his lists of morality, but are confused when they read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which ironically is the foundation of Paul’s writings! What they do not understand: any paradox, mystery, or discussion of true transformation outside of the chief end of becoming more moral, is often “intellectualized, rationalized, and explained away.”

Many churches are stuck here as well, and the next generation of young people can see through the intellectualizations and often steer clear of this church because of its institutionalization of rules that are foreign to their own circle and value system.

The Capacity of love of these individuals is still self-focused, but disguised. Experts love God and others for what they get in return from them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Adult Faith Development Pt 2

Discussed in the previous post was the two different types of growth, horizontal: growing ins skill, knowledge, and facts. In this growth we become smarter, but not necessarily more mature as a Christian. Just because we have memorized the book of John does not mean that we are now living the truths found therein.

Vertical growth is when we become more aware of God; His working in our life and world. We awaken to God moving in areas of life that we were previously blinded to. Everyone can see the blessing and working of God in finding a $20 bill on the ground, it does not take much to see blessing there, but when you can see God in the face of poverty, in the sick, the least of these, then you are moving up in your awareness of God's presence that is saturating the world.

We also move up in our capacity of love. As we start to awaken to God's presence and working in the world around us, it becomes more natural to love those we encounter, even those that irritate us or are outright hostile to us. Vertical growth means that we are becoming more spiritually mature whereas horizontal growth is merely getting more intelligent.

How does this work itself out? Let me illustrate with an example of a description of a stage one and two individual from the Pre-Conventional level the Impulsive:

The Impulsive, treats other people as a “source of need gratification or supply.” Naturally a baby is at this level of mental development, but there are a few who do get stuck in this stage for life, most of the time these individuals end up in prisons due to their self centered existence. The awareness of God in this stage is very low, and these individuals are unapologetic in their self centered-ness. "The world and its participants exists for me, and me alone."

The second stage of the Pre-conventional level is the Opportunist, illustrated here, who “sees the world only from the perspective of their own needs and wants…[and gets it] by controlling others and protecting oneself.” These individuals have become masters of manipulation. They have matured a bit in their thinking, now they can take into effect others' perspectives, but only to get what they want. Toddlers have matured into this stage and are well known for their skills at manipulating parents to get needs met. Some people do get stuck in this stage and do not mature beyond it.

Thompson, in the Congruent life, sums up these two stages saying, “Stage 1… sees the world in terms of the gratification of one’s own basic needs and the avoidance of personal harm. People at stage 2 become capable of assessing the needs of others…but usually only as a means of getting what they themselves want.”

Bernard of Clairvoux would say that the capacity of love for these individuals is self focused: they love self for the sake of self.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Adult Faith Development Pt 1

I am very close to finishing my Masters Degree in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. In this program, I have learned that there is a process to being formed into the image of Christ, and while mapping out the process is like mapping the ocean floor, I have found that there are milestones along the way and different levels of function.

When we think of stages of development, we may think that some stages are inferior to others and create a hierarchy. This is a mistake, we know that God can be equally found in the poor in spirit as he can with a whole individual. When I speak of stages of development, I am speaking of a way of functioning in the world and with God, not a higher level of value as a human being.

I call this a modified Cook-Greuter scale of faith development. Susane Cook-Greuter has done some amazing work with the study of adult development, and I have stood on her shoulders along with St Bernard of Clairvoux's four degrees of love, and integrated many concepts of Spiritual Formation into a working illustration of faith development.

You can see illustrated in this philosophy of Christian leadership that there is room for 3D movement in both vertical and horizontal directions. Not all growth will result in a greater awareness of God and capacity of love. Cook-Greuter suggests that a person can have horizontal growth when they “learn new skills, new methods, new facts, even new ways of organizing knowledge, but their current action logic mental model of the world remains the same.” This means that we can grow horizontally without growing vertically.

I have observed that much growth in the church has been horizontal: more knowledge of theology, scripture memorization, church program involvement, preaching skills, strategic planning, missional models, administration of vision; but, in this model, horizontal growth does not equal vertical growth. Horizontal growth is what “discipleship” has come to mean in these later years of the Enlightenment. Christian Spiritual Formation, however, emphasizes vertical growth with horizontal growth as a consequential fruit. As we define the nine stages of adult development illustrated here, we shall see why an emphasis on mere horizontal growth becomes a problem to leadership and a corporate church setting.

The chart is broken into three levels of awareness: Pre-conventional, Conventional, and Post-Conventional. Each level brings with it new paradigms of thinking and being, an increased awareness of God; His workings in our own lives and the world around us, and a greater capacity of love for God, others, and our self. Each level has different stages within, which have varying capacities of function.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Call of the Wild and Spiritual Formation

I just finished this classic book last night. I loved it! This book is about a domesticated dog, Buck, who is half Shepherd and half St. Bernard. Buck is kidnapped and sold into the dog sledding industry at the time of the gold rush.

The book is written from Buck's perspective, but it is not a Disney-fied version of a dog's perspective. We follow the dog's thoughts and perceptions as he goes from domesticated, to fully alive, and wild. The book is brutal to read, as it follows all of the trials that Buck faces while learning the "law of club and fang." These trials include beatings, starvation, exhaustion, kill or be killed scenarios, death of friends, fights, dealing with weather extremes, and learning, through trial and error, the life of a sled dog.

Tho book is really a great inspiration on surviving life's trials and letting them shape your character into something stronger and more pure, what God intended you to be. When you compare Buck in the beginning of the book, struggling and learning to live in the cold extremes of the northern outdoors, to the end of the book, Buck is a mean, lean, wild dog machine which can take on a full grown bull moose, a pack of wolves, and a hunting party of Indians, it really puts life into perspective.

Through this story, I was encouraged to let the tough times of life mold my character into something stronger, wiser, and more wild and alive than the domesticated version of me that is weak, foolish, and tame.

I believe that this book speaks to the idea of Christian Spiritual Formation: the process of being formed into the image of Christ for the sake of the world. The world will benefit from a stronger, wiser, and more wild and alive me than it would the domesticated version. I believe that it would benefit from a YOU that is stronger, wiser, and more wild and alive as well. Read this book and let it challenge and inspire you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why the World Will Not End Saturday...

I have issues with this theology on so many different levels. Here are a few:

Problem #1: Ethical. Mr. Tom Evans predicted the end of the world in 1994 and was obviously wrong. He chalked it up as a mathematical error. Oops. Sorry that I soaked up people's life savings, passions, ministry resources, people's concepts of God, man, and the church that could have been spent on actual purposes of God and His Kingdom. Maybe next prediction will be right. When this Saturday comes and goes I am sure that there will be another mathematical error statement. Why anyone would put stock into this again is beyond my comprehension. If Christ does come back this Saturday it will not be because Mr. Tom Evans predicted it through numerology, it will be because it is time. The two coinciding would be mere coincidence.

Problem #2: Theological. The destruction of the world is not in the Bible. Revelation 21:3 says that God makes HIS home with US. Here. Not us there, but Him here. It goes on to say in verse 4 that the world is actually resurrected to wholeness and healed of death, pain, and sin, by God Himself. Verse 5 says that God will make all things new.

Problem #3: Philosophical. This seems more of a Gnostic heresy than Biblical Christianity. Gnosticism was a heresy that the church fought tooth and nail with early in its early days. To simplify it, it states that physical matter = bad | spiritual = good. “Christian” Gnosticism says that Physical world = bad | Spiritual heaven = good. The problem is Jesus occupied a human body that was fully man as much as fully divine. God made the physical world and stated that it was “very good.” (I wholeheartedly agree with Him) The corruption has taken place in the systems and structures of this world. Those are done away with at the end and the physical creation is healed and restored, not destroyed.

Problem #4: Sociological. This paints a poor picture of God, his church, and his motives and intentions for humankind. Judgment is something that is to be looked forward to. I want the evil systems and structures of this world to be gone. They are what hinder us from becoming into who God created us to be. This view of God promotes a view of Christians as judgmental, self-righteous, prideful, vengeful, and, sorry to say, ignorant. It paints God to be a bloodthirsty, vengeful, bitter old man who can’t wait to give it to those “sinners” down there.

To sum it up, this campaign is a perfect picture of what is wrong with the Western Evangelical Fundamental Christian Church. Because I love the church, I love God’s creation, and I love God, I am grieved, mad, frustrated, and just plain fed up that Christians would even give this theology the attention it has received and I wish that I did not have to waste an hour of my day writing this post.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Process of Christian Formation Pt 3

Now we come to the integrated life. What are we aiming at? What do we wish to see from our Christian experience? What are we supposed to look like on the other side of a transforming relationship with Christ? The word that I found best describes this goal is the word integrated.

You can see that the lines separating the body spirit and soul are now dashed lines. This illustrates that how we live, what we think, and what we value is now one. We are no longer a “double minded person” (Js 1.8).

Notice at the center of this picture there is the Divine presence of God. This is the theology of omnipresence, but as a reality experienced. The Divine presence of God is now the Reality from which we center all of life around, and the source of all our activity in the world.

When we are living with the center of our life correct, our activity then becomes apprenticing Jesus in the world and learning the “family trade” of redemption. God is in the business of redemption, and we are to learn this trade by “shadowing” God in this world. The fancy bible name for this is “incarnation” God with flesh. We are now to be the ongoing incarnation in the world bringing God’s redemption. We become, through the Holy Spirit within us, the presence of God in the world. Paul refers to this as being an Ambasador for Christ (2 Cor. 5.20) and the church practices this by praying and acting “in Jesus' name.”

This apprenticing has a few pathways. In our personal life, we now display the fruits of the Spirit in our attitudes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). When people encounter us, they encounter one who displays the characteristics of God, and thus, they encounter God through us.

Another pathway is through the gifts of the Spirit. It is hard to nail down a list of the gifts, there are a few different ones in the Scriptures, but we do know that the Holy Spirit wishes to do something with our life, and He empowers us to do so with gifts. These gifts are God’s actions in the world.

The third pathway that I see as an encounter with God is through the Body of Christ, a local community of believers that is an expression of his presence. When the body of Christ gathers together for worship, teaching, prayer, and serving, we become a microcosm of the global and historical church of God within our community.

Through these three pathways we reach into the contexts that we live and redeem what God wishes to redeem, and to battle that which God wishes to battle. When we do this we are contributing to the goal of Revelation 21 of a new heaven and a new earth, one that is married together (or integrated).

Friday, May 06, 2011

Process of Christian Formation Pt 2

Welcome to the Dis-Integrated life. This picture is the front of the cylinder. The life you see before you now is a compartmentalized existence. The book of Hebrews tells us: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (NRSV) Vine’s New Testament Dictionary says this concerning this verse: “The spirit may be recognized as the life principle (the way we think) bestowed on man by God, the soul as the resulting life constituted in the individual (what we believe to be true at the core of who we are, not just cognitively), the body being the material organism animated by soul and spirit.”

WORLD: Our Environment

The outer circle is the world, the environment that we find ourselves in, our work, family, friends, recreations, and errands. This is the air we breathe and the water we swim in. This is the physical world. At its core, the world is good, physical creation declares the glory of God. (Ps. 19.1) Yet the physical world has a set of values and structures that is corrupt governing it. The world needs redemption. For many people, the systems and structures of the corrupt world define ultimate reality, this is the god they serve. The Old Testament refers to this as idolatry. Then it was bowing physically to a statue that they believed would make the world better. Today it is bowing to the invisible systems and structures believing that they have the power to make the world better.

Ephesians describes this depth of living saying, “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” 2:1-3 (NRSV)

BODY: Our Vessel

We have a physical body that is our vessel for traversing this environment. Our body is how we experienced the world. We see, hear, taste, touch, and smell our environments. If we are living as thought the physical world is ultimate reality, we will let the physical world dictate how we behave, how we think, and how we feel.

The world tries to effect the way we behave within it by catering to these five senses, and encouraging us to indulge in it. The Bible says: “Satan, who is the god of this world (age), has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NLT) The church has classically called the weapons of the “god of this age” the seven deadly vices: pride, greed, lust, sloth, envy, anger, and gluttony. The corrupt world tries to effect how you behave in the world, and it attempts to effect how you think. The world always works from the outside in, illustrated by the arrows pointing inwards. The world wants to consume us (Example: the world wants to control your behavior of spending because it wants your allegiance, it uses greed and envy to cater to you and get you to indulge in frivolities.)

Reminder: The world is at its core, good, (Genesis 1.31) it is the systems and structures that are corrupted by the “god of this age” that need redemption back into God’s purposes. More on that later.

SPIRIT: How you think

We also have a spirit (Greek word Psyche, where we get our word Psychology) Your spirit is the way you think, what you believe to be true. This effects how you behave in the world. This is the worldview that you have bought into, the core narratives that you believe to be true of God, man, and the universe. If these narratives are false, it can be devastating to how we live. (i.e. God is a cranky old man, therefore I will try to appease him with good behavior so he will not get mad at me and punish me.)

The world we find ourselves in attempts to dictate what we believe to be true in order to exploit us for its own purposes. (If you do not believe that one, read any mission statement of a marketing company and see how close it comes to the previous statement.) The spiritual vices are hooks in our mind that we do not know exist that drag us away from the peace of God’s presence in our life.

If we are religious, the spiritual vices can become a religious false self, built upon false perceptions of how we think God views us, what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were plagued with. If we are not religious, the spiritual vices can be a false self built upon other’s perceptions of us, what the Greek pagans were plagued with of Jesus’ day. Both are illustrated with the parable of the prodigal sons. (Luke 15)

SOUL: Our core beliefs

The soul is the place of your passions, your eros energy. Rolheisser defines spirituality as "what we do with the fires inside of us, about how we channel our eros." (Holy Longing) God has placed inside of us a holy passion to seek him out within his creation. This is our eros energy. It is a very holy energy that is often spilled out on unholy things in unholy ways. Eros is the Greek word for love in which we get our word erotic from.

The soul is where we wrestle with our emotions, especially joy, sadness, hope, and fear which in and of themselves are very neutral, but can lead us away from the center of our being, the Divine presence within.


The spirituality of this life is one of compartmentalizing. Spirituality does not fit into certain worldly endeavors such as work, family, or recreation. The challenge is to move beyond this shallow existence into a deeper and more integrated life and be the person God created us to be. To live in a way that our life is centered on the presence of God within us and to live from that reality instead of letting our external environments dictate who we are.