Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Growing in Faith

During the month of August, I am going to be offering a series of sermons that focus on the idea of spiritual growth and growing in our faith.  This is an idea that we often hear, but don't really pursue mostly because we don't know what it means. Or, in some cases, we don't know that our faith can grow any further than it already has.  Yet faith (and our faith journey) like life has stages.  We can learn what they are and we can learn how to move through them.

In 1981, Dr. James Fowler of Emory University wrote a book called Stages of Faith in which he suggested that there are six stages that religious people may experience in their spiritual and psychological development.  Granted no one system works for every individual, but his ideas were grounded in research and his conclusions were profound.  If nothing else, his general thesis is a helpful way to begin thinking about the changes that can take place in our faith over time.

The stages are as follows:
Stage 1: Intuitive Projective Faith – this faith is characteristic of children, and has little more substance than fairy tales.  It is hard for people at this stage to differentiate between God and the Easter bunny.
Stage 2: Mythical Literal Faith – characteristic of school age children, their beliefs are taken from external authorities and taken literally.
Stage 3: Synthetic Conventional Faith – characterized by conformity with expectations and beliefs of particular groups, faith communities or authority figures.  A person in this stage believes what they believe because all the people around them believe the same thing.
Stage 4: Individuative Reflective Faith – This faith is one that has come through trial.  Faith is claimed for themselves and not simply because it is the faith of a parent, group, or authority figure.
Stage 5: Conjucntive Faith – conjunctive means to “join things together” when an individual travels through the trials of stage 4 and begins to appreciate that the world is more gray than black and white.
Stage 6: Universalizing Faith – characterized by selflessness, unconditional love, and a willingness to suffer on behalf of others.  John Wesley called this Christian perfection or sanctification.

Some of the stages might sound a bit strange, others might sound familiar.  You might identify with parts of one and not with others.  That's alright.  These are designed more as outlines for a broader understanding.  

Likewise, George Barna, author of Maximum Faith lays out 10 ‘stops’ along the journey of faith.  While not as specific or technical as Fowler’s work, they do have many parallels.  I would certainly recommend both of those books to you.  But these books only seek to outline what we find over and over in the Bible.  Think of Jacob who underwent transformation, Gideon who had to face his fears, David who started out strong, Ezekiel who fled only to find God, Saul who became Paul, and Stephen who stood alone.  Each of these characters (to name only a few) had their beliefs challenged, but managed to find a deeper faith. 

So over the next few weeks beginning on July 26th, we will hear some of these stories and see how faith can grow because or in spite of our circumstances.  While we will be looking at particular stories and passages of scripture, the more important facet of this is that we all examine our own journey of faith.  Where are we?  Are we satisfied?  Do we think there is more, but just don’t know how to get there?  Or are we unaware that our faith can grow? 

I would invite you to reflect upon your own faith journey during the course of these next weeks. 

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