To be perfectly honest, I have not stopped thinking about “Stage 4 Faith” since lunchtime Monday (when a friend showed me the article). I find M. Scott Peck’s stages of faith to be both deeply intriguing and helpful for those of us committed to seeing people transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Here is what I find intriguing:
A fascinating and unexpected corollary in Peck’s thinking—central to his experiences with his patients that led to the formulation of his theory in the first place—is the observation that stage 3 is spiritual advancement from stage 2. And yet there’s every possibility that—if you believe in such things—in stage 2 you’ll go to heaven and in stage 3 you’ll go to hell. As the saying goes, stick that in your pipe and smoke it! Peck’s theory explains the contempt stage 3 folks often feel toward the stage 2 faith they’ve left behind, that strange brew that often comes out as something like, “I don’t believe in God, but I’m still more spiritually advanced than you are.”
For whatever reason, I find this to be profoundly true. This example that Peck gives helps me understand the complexity and tension that exists between Stage 2 Christians and Stage 3 Christians. I can’t name why, but I find it to be so true that, while Stage 3 Christians are indeed in some sense “spiritually advanced” (notice “advanced” not “superior”) they are likely to be “twice the children of hell” as a stage 2 person. Peck goes on to give the example of a godly elderly woman walking across a university campus and happening to find herself in conversation with a stage 3, snarky 19 year old boy. He asks us, who is more spiritually advanced? Of course it’s the woman… but to whatever degree she’s stage 2, there is always the sense that, it’s the snarky 19 year old.
I hope to wrestle with this idea some more, but here is my initial thoughts about “why” I think this is true. First, of all, the godly woman is committed to… well, godliness. The snarky 19 year old is committed to… well, snarkiness. Schmelzer, at some point in his book fleshes out the “stages of faith” by giving them dimension. He says each stage is filled with “hard” and “soft” people. (See a good explanation here.) For example, a “hard” stage 2 person, knows they are in stage two. They know they are part of a rules-based religion. They are fully aware of the other options that exist, and have every intention of fighting those options with all available means. They are rigid, and committed to staying put squarely and firmly in stage 2 faith. But a “soft” stage 2 person is there because this is all they’ve known. If they thought another way was more faithful, they’d certainly journey in that direction. So I get the idea that the key word in Peck’s example is “godly”. The woman has every desire to be faithful to her calling. The 19 year old has every intention of being faithful to being a jerk.
Having said that, I think there is a “sense” in which the young man is “spiritually advanced” – not in every sense, or even in a lot of senses. But in one sense… he is. And that sense is in a willingness to question the status quo. It’s a part of faith and faithfulness that is built into both the Jewish and Christian systems that we often times (most times?) neglect. For example, we ignore the prophets. We don’t want to hear Amos’ harsh words about worship and social justice. We just want to have the Stage 2 rule that if we worship properly we are okay with God. We don’t want the complexity of having worship be that experience that shapes us into people that practice restorative justice! The kid is willing to question all of that. So in that sense, it is painfully true that he is spiritually advanced.
Here is what I find helpful:
Stage 4 is where we are headed, or should be headed. I think there are healthy ways to get there. Lynn Anderson (of mentornetwork.org) has a similar progression of faith, where he names “affiliation” as a stage of faith. We are affiliated with this or that church, these or those doctrines, these or those practices, this or that heritage, etc. And in this stage we stake our identity on these affiliations. But Jesus transcends these surface loyalties – and following him, ultimately, has little to do with such affiliations. But before you can arrive at a place where you are ready to break down walls of affiliation and radically follow Jesus, you have to enter that scary realm of raising questions. And shepherds are those gentle guides that help us ask the right questions and prod us in our searches. And the goal is to participate in this place of faith where we have transcended all the selfish ambitions of stage 1, all the affiliations and barriers and commitments to the status quo of stage 2, and the rebellion of stage 3. The goal is to be with Jesus Christ in such a way that it transcends all knowledge. The goal is faithfulness: Faith, Hope, and Love. Love is the greatest. And Love is a great mystery.