This article is the sixth in my series about the Stages of Spiritual Growth, and it describes Fowler’s Stage 4, which he calls the ‘Individuative – Reflective’ stage, but which can also in some cases be thought of as ‘The Wall’, or the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. I’m sorry I’ve taken so long to get it published, but I wanted to get it right.
To set the scene, I will begin by quoting an article of mine from four years ago, ‘The Dark Night of the Soul‘:
“Sometimes a believer has to go through a spiritual wilderness, which may or may not include a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, as described by St. John of the Cross. In those times, God feels distant, Church feels irrelevant and you wonder what your faith was all about in the first place.
“Well-meaning people suggest that you ‘go back to God’, repent, change your way of thinking, whatever. But what I would say, having been through fifteen years of this Wilderness experience, is that what they don’t understand is that actually God has His hand on you all along. There is no need to feel guilty, no need to feel lost, no need to feel ‘wrong’. God is using the time to sort out your feelings, your theology, your priorities, your ideas, your preconceptions and your motives.
“For you, it may last fifteen years, or it may last fifteen days. It doesn’t always feel good over that time. The thing is that God still has His hand on you and is using that time to mould you into the person He wants you to be. In some ways He has His hand on you more than ever, if that’s possible.
“Don’t be distressed that He takes you out of your familiar surroundings, such as a Church, a city or a relationship. Sometimes He has to take us out of the familiar surroundings so that we re-evaluate without distraction or preconception. Be encouraged; the next stage of your development as a believer is happening. You will emerge, sooner or later, but all in His time, into a new era of blessedness because of what seems like a real ordeal at the time. But never, ever forget that He has hold of your hand, even if you don’t feel it, and He will never let go of you no matter how it feels at the time.
“For those believers who have experienced this, you may well notice others going through a similar process, and indeed it is a process, and recognise the signs.
“If you have not been through this process, let me tell you that it will look from the outside as if your brother (and here I include sisters, but let’s keep it simple) has lost interest in the ‘things of God’; perhaps he comes up with some radical ideas about God and how He relates to others and himself. He may well especially have ideas that go against the orthodoxy of his previous belief structure. Maybe his behaviour will not reflect accurately what you believe should be ‘acceptable’ Christian behaviour. This is part of the process. It is those very preconceptions of belief and behaviour that are being challenged and changed, usually by sovereign Divine interventions, in apparent defiance of his previously professed faith – or perhaps he does not profess faith, so profound are the changes in action in the believer.
“Should we be surprised? For a believer who has never undergone this process, then yes; they may well be surprised. How can a ‘supposed’ Christian profess to believe in these things; how can he behave in these ways?
“But for those who understand, instead of passing judgement on the believer, they continue to believe in him. Believe in him as a person, believe in him as a brother and believe in him as a precious Child of God. For as in Romans 14:4, ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?’. Judge him if you will, but do not expect that judgement to have any visible effect. Because, by the time the believer has come out of the other side of the process, the judgement of others will not matter nearly as much. For him, the second half of Romans 14:4 will have new meaning: “To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
“Remember that the believer is undergoing a deep transformational process. What comes out of the other side may well have a passing resemblance to the person the believer was before, at least in a spiritual sense, but remember that this is God who is doing the transforming. We believe that the Spirit is transforming every believer, daily, to conform to the likeness of Christ. So why, then, are we surprised when that transformation occurs, and why are we surprised at its results? Transformation means by its very nature that changes will occur. That’s what transformation means. So in that sense, no, we should not be surprised that the believer comes out a different person from what he was at the start.
“And the amazing thing is that God is far more real to that believer after the process than He was before. God has not changed; His ways have not, but the believer has changed; how can things ever be the same again?
“And as for missing out on what God has been doing for all that time, don’t worry. God is still the same as He was before. He still does things in surprising, novel and delightful ways. It is amazing how quickly the believer comes back up to speed and hits the ground running. Things are kind-of as they were before, but now the believer has a new perspective. Wow, this is pretty deep stuff, but it’s real.
“So, don’t despair if you, or someone you love, is undergoing something like this. It’s not backsliding, falling away, or becoming apostate. When you first believed, did you not trust God with the whole of the rest of your life? Do you really think that He’s going to reject you because all of a sudden you no longer believe exactly what you’ve been told to believe by men? Do you really think that your salvation rests on such a shaky foundation as the weakness and failings of human flesh? By no means can it ever rest on that, otherwise Jesus would not have had to die for us. No, this is transformation, and it’s exactly how God has planned it to happen for that person.
“Finally, I want to thank those people who have believed in me during my time in the wilderness, who have never stopped believing in me and loving me. Thank you all!”
That’s my personal account of what it feels like, and it is of course going to be different for everyone.
But the fact remains that most believers, or at least those who think honestly about their faith, will come to a point in their spiritual walk where they feel that it’s ‘not working’, there’s ‘something more’, there are deeper depths to be plumbed in the things of God. Here’s theologian Pete Enns:
“You get the feeling from the Bible that being unsettled is almost a normal part of the process. Not that we should go looking for it— it will find us soon enough— but struggling in some way seems like something we should expect on our own spiritual journeys. True struggling in faith is a stretching experience, and without it, you don’t mature in your faith. You either remain an infant or get cocky. Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those ideas with the real thing. God may be pushing us to experience him more fully, with us kicking and screaming all the way if need be. Feeling unsettled may be God telling us lovingly, but still in his typical attention-getting manner, it’s time to grow.” (1)
To me, this is the most fascinating of the Stages of Faith/Stages of Spiritual Growth. This article describes the Stage of questioning; the Stage of deconstruction, and the Stage which, I personally feel, brings the largest single jump forwards in a person’s faith life – if indeed they ‘make it’ through*. Don’t worry about my terminology here; the very fact that you are reading this indicates that you are finding out what this Stage is all about and what it might mean for you, and hopefully increase the likelihood that you and your faith – even if you don’t consider you have one at the moment – will benefit greatly from knowing what is actually happening**. It is the period of huge change, usually resulting in huge positive growth, and yet to those looking on from the outside it often appears as if the believer has ‘fallen away’ from the faith, or is at best ‘backsliding’. This is why I find it so fascinating.
So this is what Fowler called Stage 4 – the ‘Individuative – Reflective’ Phase.
It’s a time of great change; of learning to stand on our own two feet, in a faith sense. It’s the ‘growing-up’ Stage; the Stage of the spiritual adolescent.
For a believer***, it is the Phase that presents the greatest challenge to his or her faith; although of course each Stage has its own challenges, this is the tough one. This is the Stage where the believer begins to come to terms with the awkward questions that don’t quite make sense. It is a time of change, almost always a large change, which has been likened to a caterpillar going into the chrysalis phase. It looks as if nothing is going on, or even that the caterpillar has died. But before long, the former caterpillar emerges from the chrysalis as a completely new creature. This is what I feel happened to me when I went through what I called my ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, as I described at the beginning of this piece.
Some other commentators (for instance, Pete Scazzero) refer to this Stage as ‘The Wall’. It can indeed feel as if your faith has hit a ‘Wall’ and there’s no way forward in terms of growth. Partially for this reason, it can be the Stage that many Christians in fact avoid or simply never make it through – although that’s not really what I mean. You see, as we saw in the previous article in this series, it can be terrifying for someone to confront the disturbing questions and doubts that threaten what they perceive as their spiritual security. Remember that for some people, their beliefs may be, apparently inextricably, mixed with instilled fears about those who ‘fall away’ becoming liable to ending up in ‘hell fire’. By a combination of their own thinking, ‘warnings’ and other teachings from authority (usually a combination of leadership teachings on, and their own personal interpretations of, the Bible), a person has a strongly-held and yet tacit (that is, ‘understood or implied without being stated’) belief structure that, consciously or unconsciously, they realise will not stand up to intense critical scrutiny such as would be posed by such doubts and questions. The doubts and questions can come from any source, but they very often stem from inconsistencies in doctrinal statements, contradictions in authoritative statements (whether from leadership or in the Bible), modern discoveries in archaeology and/or science, or reading material written by people who themselves either have similar questions, or who have passed through that questioning and into further maturity in their faith. Maybe the believer gets the feeling that their church leadership are not telling them everything they know, or that things are being withheld. Actually, that’s not usually the case; more often than not, and assuming a loving, non-controlling leadership, it is far more likely that the believer is actually reaching beyond and above the experience and knowledge of their leadership. Really mature leadership will see this and hopefully use their wisdom to encourage the believer onwards and upwards. But some will feel threatened by it, by a perceived loss of control, and that’s where the danger lies for the growing believer. The danger, that is, of not growing any further due to them feeling that they have to do as they are advised/told by leadership who do not understand the transformation that is taking place, as in my opening quotation. This is usually not a deliberate obstruction of the believer’s growth, but it probably stems from a genuine care that the believer does not go ‘astray’, but, as we have seen, this is not really what is happening.
In short, there is a tacit realisation in the believer that there is ‘something more’. My friend David Matthew has expressed this very well in his book ‘A Poke in the Faith’, an eBook version of which is downloadable for free from his website. In his book, David likens the structure of a person’s faith to being like the game of Jenga. In this game, you have a tower made of stacked, interlocking wooden blocks, and players remove said blocks from the tower one by one with the aim of being the last person to remove a block ‘safely’ before the whole lot comes crashing down. So, how ‘safe’ is it to challenge one’s own beliefs, removing one block at a time, while not wanting the whole tower of your faith to come crashing down? How vital is each belief or doctrine – the virgin birth of Christ, the inerrancy/inspiration of Scripture, a belief in hell, the deity of Jesus – to the entire structure of one’s faith? What will happen to friendships with people in the Church if you change your belief structures? In David’s book, he argues that as long as a person’s Relationship with Jesus Christ is real and living, then it is perfectly safe to ask of God all these awkward questions. Indeed, like me, David is a gentle man with a real pastor’s heart, who has taken these questions head-on and has come through the other side with his faith intact, and wants to help others who are going through similar questions. Here’s a quote from the book:
“My commitment to Jesus Christ, to his people and to the Scriptures as God’s Word remains undiminished. But I have undergone some changes in my views on certain aspects of the faith — including some of the ones listed above. I want to come clean and say that grappling with these issues hasn’t always been easy. In fact, they have caused me quite a few spiritual wobbles at times. I have come out the other side of those wobbles and find that my faith is now stronger and fresher than it has ever been since I became a Christian over sixty years ago. And my desire, in writing this book, is to help you reach a similar happy place.
“That, then, is where I stand. My intention in what follows is two-fold. First, I want to introduce you to some of the new ideas that are challenging traditional ways of viewing the Christian faith in general and the Bible in particular. I will do this as one who believes these ideas should be taken seriously. And second, I want to convince you that you can embrace some or all of them without losing your faith. Indeed, I want to strengthen you in your faith. But I will be asking some searching questions about issues that you may never have questioned, and you need to be prepared for that. Which leaves you now with two choices. You can say, ‘I don’t think I’m ready to have my boat rocked, thank you. I’m happy living out my Christian faith as it currently is, in the company of good friends in my church, and I’ve no wish to risk anything changing that.’
“Okay. Shut the book now, and God bless you. But if you do that, I suspect it won’t be long before some of these issues sneak up on you from other, less sympathetic, quarters, and you can only keep your head stuck in the sand for so long. Might it not be better to face them in my company, as someone who is rooting for you and your faith, rather than risk being shot down in flames by some bitter ex-Christian? That’s why I’d recommend the second choice, which is for you to say, ‘Okay, I know some big issues have been brewing in the background. It worries me, but I’m not one to shut my eyes and pretend it’s not happening. So here goes: I’ll stick with the book and hope it does me some good!’
“I think it will”. (2)
I feel that this book can be a most helpful read for believers in Stage 3 who have realised that they have ‘difficult’ questions, and who may be approaching their own personal ‘Stage 4’. It would also be excellent for those who feel they are actually passing through their own Stage 4, or maybe consolidating the thoughts and ideas they had during that time.
In fact I would even go so far as to recommend it as a ‘manual’ for people going through the ‘Dark Night’ or other Stage 4 experience; people who are trying to come to terms with the huge, and usually frightening, changes to their belief structures.
It will come as no surprise, then, for me to say that I consider David’s book to be one of the most important books written recently that speaks into this little-known area of Christian belief, and I am disappointed that no publisher has yet come forward to produce a paper version of it that I can read in the bath (it’s only available as an eBook). It’s a lot harder to read an eBook without dropping your Kindle in the bath water.
Right, let’s now examine what our old friends James Fowler and M. Scott Peck have to say about this Stage. Here’s what the chart says about it:
This is the tough stage, often begun in young adulthood, when people start seeing outside the box and realizing that there are other “boxes”. They begin to critically examine their beliefs on their own and often become disillusioned with their former faith. Ironically, the Stage 3 people usually think that Stage 4 people have become “backsliders” when in reality they have actually moved forward.
Fowler’s formal description of this Stage is as follows:
“The movement from Stage 3 to Stage 4 Individuative-Reflective faith is particularly critical for it is in this transition that the late adolescent or adult must begin to take seriously the burden of responsibility for his or her own commitments, lifestyle, beliefs and attitudes. Where genuine movement toward stage 4 is underway the person must face certain unavoidable tensions: individuality versus being defined by a group or group membership; subjectivity and the power of one’s strongly felt but unexamined feelings versus objectivity and the requirement of critical reflection; self-fulfillment or self-actualization as a primary concern versus service to and being for others; the question of being committed to the relative versus struggle with the possibility of an absolute.
“Stage 4 most appropriately takes form in young adulthood (but let us remember that many adults do not construct it and that for a significant group it emerges only in the mid-thirties or forties). This stage is marked by a double development. The self, previously sustained in its identity and faith compositions by an interpersonal circle of significant others, now claims an identity no longer defined by the composite of one’s roles or meanings to others. To sustain that new identity it composes a meaning frame conscious of its own boundaries and inner connections and aware of itself as a “world view.” Self (identity) and outlook (world view) are differentiated from those of others and become acknowledged factors in the reactions, interpretations and judgments one makes on the actions of the self and others. It expresses its intuitions of coherence in an ultimate environment in terms of an explicit system of meanings. Stage 4 typically translates symbols into conceptual meanings. This is a “demythologizing” stage. It is likely to attend minimally to unconscious factors influencing its judgments and behavior.
“Stage 4’s ascendant strength has to do with its capacity for critical reflection on identity (self) and outlook (ideology). Its dangers inhere in its strengths: an excessive confidence in the conscious mind and in critical thought and a kind of second narcissism in which the now clearly bounded, reflective self over assimilates “reality” and the perspectives of others into its own world view.” (3)
This formal description is perhaps better expressed in this passage by Margaret Placentra Johnston:
“According to Fowler, it is ideal that a person reach this stage in their early to mid-twenties, but as has already been discussed, it is evident that many adults never reach it. If it happens in the thirties or forties, Fowler says, it is much harder for the person to adapt.
“In Individuative-Reflective faith, what once was tacitly held becomes explicit. The faith the person never reflected about, and was not completely able to articulate how he arrived at it, becomes filled with both a freedom that he now CAN reflect on it, and the burden that he now feels he MUST examine. The responsibility of this can be frightening, and it seems religious groups are always trying to discourage people from making this examination (of course, because it threatens the viability of the institution if people start questioning!)
“Fowler’s Stage 4 faith requires that the person be willing to interrupt their reliance on external authority and relocate the source of authority within himself. Fowler calls this the formation of an “executive ego,” which is not a bad thing, like the other kind of ego. It just means the person is more able to govern himself without the need for rules from the outside. In Fowler’s Stage 4, meanings in stories are separate from the symbols themselves, so the stories are demythologized. (In losing the literal meaning of the religious symbols, people can – I think often! – at the same time lose ALL meaning of the symbol and that is how you wind up with so many atheists and agnostics at this stage.)
“Loss or demytholization of the symbols can result in grief and guilt in some cases, and the process can take up to seven years to complete. But in the place of the literal symbol, the person gains the ability to make comparisons and whatever meanings they retain are explicitly held (and thus more authentic in that they are personal.)
“The strengths of this stage lie in the capacity for critical reflection (and the willingness to face truths that may cause distancing from comfortable thought patterns and thus pain.) But a weakness of this stage is that the person may put excess confidence in the rational, conscious mind, thus ignoring unconscious forces that become more prominent in the next stage.” (4)
Peck – who calls this phase Stage III – the ‘Skeptic-Individual’ Stage – says this:
Those who break out of the previous stage usually do so when they start seriously questioning things on their own. A lot of the time, this stage ends up being very non-religious and some people stay in it permanently.
Let’s hear from Johnston again: “According to Peck, people in the third stage of spiritual growth have the principles of goodness “engraved on their hearts.” Thus they no longer need the forms of society or a church to keep their behaviour in check. They are self-governing. Because they no longer need the services offered by a church, they begin to feel free to question the value of religion in their lives. They may at this point choose to reject religious belief. Even though they may describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, people in Stage III are actually more spiritually developed than most of those content to remain in Stage II. They are often deeply committed to social causes. They are active seekers of truth.” (5)
Richard Schwartz quotes Peck thus:
“Skeptic, Individual, questioner, including atheists, agnostics and those scientifically minded who demand a measurable, well researched and logical explanation. Although frequently “nonbelievers,” people in Stage III are generally more spiritually developed than many content to remain in Stage II. Although individualistic, they are not the least bit antisocial. To the contrary, they are often deeply involved in and committed to social causes. They make up their own minds about things and are no more likely to believe everything they read in the papers than to believe it is necessary for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour (as opposed to Buddha or Mao or Socrates) in order to be saved. They make loving, intensely dedicated parents. As skeptics they are often scientists, and as such they are again highly submitted to principle. Indeed, what we call the ‘scientific method’ is a collection of conventions and procedures that have been designed to combat our extraordinary capacity to deceive ourselves in the interest of submission to something higher than our own immediate emotional or intellectual comfort–namely truth. Advanced Stage III men and women are active truth seekers.
“Despite being scientifically minded, in many cases even atheists, they are on a higher spiritual level than Stage II, being a required stage of growth to enter into Stage IV. The churches age old dilemma: how to bring people from Stage II to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III.” (6)
I know this is an awful lot of information to have to take on board, but I wanted to make it very clear what this Stage looks like, why it happens, and what the evidence is for its existence, because it so often either unknown or misunderstood.
But I also wanted to make it personal; applicable to me and you and people whom you meet.
Firstly, we have established in an earlier article that not everyone necessarily goes through these Stages. Spiritual growth is different for each individual, and some people have an entirely different way of maturing spiritually than to go through these Stages. However, I personally feel that I have gone through Stages in my spiritual walk, and so I am espousing these ideas to illustrate, with personal examples, what it can be like, from my own experience. We will look into the sequencing of the Stages later in the series. But for now, just know that many believers (and indeed non-believers) do go through these Stages.
So, we can summarise Stage 4/III (Fowler/Peck Stages) by saying that there comes a time in many believers’ lives when they start to question the belief structures that they have tacitly held, and possibly begin to deconstruct their old beliefs and to form their own beliefs.
This could take months, or it could take years. It depends on how much ‘baggage’ you need to lose from your previous Stages (most of this ‘baggage’ usually originates in Stage 3/II). For me, it took fifteen years.
The ability to question, deconstruct and reconstruct learned in Stage 4 are usually also carried forward into Stage 5; this ability is a good example of how the best and most useful parts of each Stage are carried forward into the next Stage. Which parts are so carried forward will be different from person to person, as each person will have generated different belief structures which they will need to modify individually, and different ways of coping with them. But we will look at Stage 5 in more detail next time.
If you feel you are at Stage 3, the ‘conventional’ Stage, and you feel there is more, maybe ask Jesus what He wants you to do next. If you are already in your ‘questioning’ Stage 4, then take heart. Others have trodden this path beore you. God is still with you and you are perfectly safe. If you are watching others whom you consider to have ‘backslidden’, please don’t judge them. God has them in His hands, and He will not let them go. They are perfectly safe. Remember that Jesus will carry on the good work to completion in them – but in His own time, and in His own way. You can trust Him.
Entering the Dark Night of the Soul – or indeed exiting it – cannot be rushed. You will not go through this before the right time. And you cannot rush coming out of it either. Read my testimony at the start of this article, and take encouragement. And, to use the most common phrase in the entire Bible – “Do not be afraid !”
Let’s take a look at this from another angle; another viewpoint. Here is a YouTube video of the aforementioned Pete Scazzero, with his wife Geri, talking about the Dark Night of the Soul/The Wall, and it is well worth watching. Pete is one of the few people I have heard talking about this Stage in the walk of Spiritual Growth, and he is pretty well-versed on it. Hint: As this was recorded in a large church service, maybe you might want to skip the housekeeping and preliminaries by fast-forwarding to about 4:30 in the video 😉 :
If you watch that video right through, you will notice that although Pete has a different set of names for the different Stages of Faith, still he is recognising that the Stages of Faith do exist, and he emphasises that the Wall is the tough one, but also the biggest growth phase of them all 🙂 The only thing I don’t agree with, in all that excellent talk, is this: when he says ‘Stay with God, don’t quit church; stay with Jesus…’ – sometimes the Church stuff is the problem and so you do, in those circumstances, need to quit church, as I did. (There are no rules or conditions for this Stage, and it’s going to be different – unique, in fact – for each of us). You might feel like you have given up on God; that you have ‘left Jesus behind’, but actually that doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that Jesus has not left you behind, no matter how much like that it may feel! And I think that another important point is, again, that the Wall/Dark Night/Stage 4, or whatever we call it, will be different – in fact, unique – for each of us, so there is no prescribed duration, frequency, content, requirement, or anything else involved. This is a time of setting-free, remember! I’m not even sure that everyone has to go through this Stage; I personally know people who have not had to shed baggage or religious preconceptions, and they may very well be ‘exempt’ from going through Stage 4. We just need to trust that God will bring each of us to it, and through it, in His own way, and in His own time. Remember it’s always going to look different for each individual.
Slight change of subject. Here’s a thought. Maybe the revival ‘breakthrough’ that Charismatic/Evangelical Christians pray for is already here. Maybe these people, like me, who have faced into the Dark Night and come through the other side, maybe we are the answer to those prayers. Maybe the breakthrough they need is to face into Stage 4/III themselves, and be honest with their questions. Maybe breakthrough isn’t possible without facing these questions, and the answer to their revival prayer is right there, staring them in the face. Maybe they need to cast aside their artificial security and learn to float free (see this article and this article for examples of what this looks like). If you feel that might be you, then, to trot out a well-used Christian phrase, I would suggest you ‘Let go, and let God’! I strongly feel that there is no way forward, for some people, other than to go through the Wall and out the other side into the broad, sunlit uplands of the true freedom of the Christian faith. He whom the Son sets free is free indeed (Jn 8:36).
Let me leave you with another excellent quotation from Pete Enns:
“Let go of fear. If I had to name the most common obstacle for Christians to a life of true trust in God, it would be fear— mainly the fear of being wrong about the Bible, which is often equated with being wrong about God. What we believe about God is very important to us, as it should be. Our faith defines who we are and helps us make sense of the world around us and the world that awaits us afterward. Our faith is the page upon which our personal narratives are written. To feel that our faith is threatened can easily turn to fear. But, judging from the long and varied history of thinking within Christianity, “being right” is elusive, and the Bible is never something we will actually master. The relentless and sinful human habit of creating God to look like ourselves, and thus distorting God, is also a constant problem. The choice we all need to make daily is whether we are willing to hold our narratives with an open hand and let God rewrite them when necessary. In the spiritual life, the opposite of fear is not courage, but trust.” (7)
If you are interested in reading more on this fascinating Stage, I have consulted many different sources during my work on this piece, the links to some of which I give below. In addition to the numbered references quoted and attributed to various authors in the References list below, then, you might find the books and articles linked to interesting and illuminating:
James W. Fowler, “Stages of Faith – the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” – Harper San Francisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995
David Matthew, “A Poke In The Faith” – Kindle Edition, 2016.
Peter Enns, “The Sin of Certainty – Why God Desires Our Trust Rather Than Our ‘Correct’ beliefs” – Kindle Edition, 2016
Peter Enns: “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” – Kindle Edition, 2014
Bill Huxley on ‘Fowler’s Stages of Faith’. His observations on Stage 4 (what he calls Stage IV) are particularly interesting. I did not include them here because my present article is huge already. But his observations are well worth a look.
The chart of Fowler’s Stages of Faith and comparing them with Peck’s, referred to in previous articles.
Margaret Placentra Johnston’s website (quoted more specifically in the References below)
A shorter piece about the Stages by Rose Anne Karesh
A slideshow by Brian McLaren about the practicalities of leading churches with people at multiple stages. (They’re probably more common than you’d think!)
A link to the Kindle edition of the spiritual classic ‘The Dark Night of the Soul‘ by St. John of the Cross.
References quoted in this article:
- Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (p. 239). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
- David Matthew. A Poke In The Faith (Kindle Locations 207-224). Leaf Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- James W. Fowler, “Stages of Faith – the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” – Harper San Francisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995, p. 182
- Margaret Placentra Johnston, “James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development“, from her website “Spiritual Development Concept“.
- Margaret Placentra Johnston, “Spiritual Growth and M Scott Peck’s Stages“, from her website “Spiritual Development Concept“.
- Richard Schwartz, “The Stages of Spiritual Growth“, an abridged online version of the relevant sections of M. Scott Peck’s book ‘A Different Drum‘.
- Enns, op. cit., pp. 239-240.
*I have heard it estimated that 60-80% of believers who hit the ‘Wall’ do not ‘make it’ through to the other side. They either stay where they are with their doubts and questions, push them down, or leave the faith altogether. However, I personally feel that the recent increase in awareness of the Stages of Spiritual Growth will bring this percentage down markedly, as people increasingly realise that this Stage – however it appears to them – is simply a normal part of Christian growth, and they embrace it and go through with it. This can only be a good thing. Actually I think that the Lord is making this more well-known in these days, so that more people not only understand it, but also they are able to help thers through it. For more on this topic of ‘The Wall’, follow up on Pete Scazzero’s course on ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ as mentioned in this piece, and also in that video above.
**The caveat I would re-emphasise, as in all these articles in this series, is that not everyone goes through the Stages of Spiritual Growth; you may not identify with any of this, and that’s fine. It’s not intended to explain or categorise your own, or anyone else’s, faith standpoint. Just be aware that these Stages do happen with many people, and, for some of those people, it can be a great relief to realise what is happening.
***For someone who is not a ‘person of faith’, for want of a better term, this Stage can also occur in their lives too since it can represent a major revision of one’s life-paradigm or worldview. Although I have written this article mainly for ‘believers’, those who are not ‘believers’ may also see some parallels with their own life journey and be encouraged by this article. That is my intention; encouragement of others is always my intention.