Category Archives: Religious Education

Spiritual Formation, Adult Learning, and the Entangled Trinity

Spiritual-FormationDeep in the Burbs is a story of people in formation. The task of this project—to ask how an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity might impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations—implies that something might be changed, formed, or reformed in the research group—and me—as a result of the research. I will frame this formational process from three angles: the spiritual, the educational, and the catechetical. First, I will define my use of the term spiritual formation and how it relates to the study of spirituality. Second, I will discuss adult learning theory and name my pedagogical methodology. Third, I will discuss the specific discipline of religious education and my approach to adult catechesis.

The Spirituality Angle

I must briefly address the relationship between the terms spiritual formation and spirituality. Some people prefer one over the other. Many people today are more comfortable with the term spirituality, because it has broader application than Christianity. Everyone can have a spirituality. I prefer the term spiritual formation because it implies movement and change. This is, admittedly, a personal preference and I will use the terms interchangeably throughout this paper. ((I prefer the term formation because it denotes action. I agree with Wuthnow that the spirituality needed today is beyond the sedimentary spirituality of dwelling common in the 1950s, and more grounded than the spirituality of seeking common in the 1960s-90s. Wuthnow proposes a Practiced Spirituality, akin to the Exercises of Ignatius Loyola or the Rules of Benedict. see Robert Wuthnow, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).Some, in the Lutheran tradition, have resisted the term spiritual formation because it denotes a theology of glory or a works-based righteousness. I disagree. Yes, God has given us the gift of salvation and for this there is nothing we can do. However, God has also called us into relationship with God and others. All relationships require work. We are God’s children and our relationship with the Father/Mother is one of ongoing development, not for earning love or grace, but for growing within the gift of grace as we relate to the others around us. see Lisa E. Dahill, “Spirituality in Lutheran Perspective: Much to Offer, Much to Learn,” Word & World 18, no. 1 (1998).))

Schneiders makes a distinction between the definition of spirituality and the definition of Christian spirituality. Spirituality, she says, is “the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life-integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.” ((Schneiders in Dreyer and Burrows, 6.)) Christian spirituality “as an academic discipline is an attempt to realize, by bringing serious and personally transforming study to bear on the ultimate human value of union with God, what is arguably the most cited text in the Christian canon, Jesus’ promise, ‘if you remain in my word you will become my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free: (Jn. 8:31-33).’” ((Ibid., 22.)) She states that “the primary aim of the discipline of spirituality…is to understand the phenomena of the Christian spiritual life as experience…it is a function of interpretation (hermeneutics).” ((Ibid., 57.))

Schneiders’ perspective on spirituality gives further justification for the use of action research and constructivist methodologies. The act of the research itself will be a form of spiritual formation as the researchers (meaning the congregation members) interact with the social Trinity, each other, and the neighbor.

Another important aspect of spirituality that frames this research is the idea that spirituality is inherently a public practice, not only a private one. Philip Sheldrake is a key voice in this perspective. ((Sheldrake, A Brief History of Spirituality; Sheldrake, Explorations in Spirituality: History, Theology, and Social Practice; Philip Sheldrake, “Practicing Catholic “Place”: The Eucharist,” Horizons 28, no. 2 (2001); Sheldrake, “Spirituality and Social Change: Rebuilding the Human City; Sheldrake, “Imaginative Theology: A Strategy of Subversion; Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God; Sheldrake, “Spirituality and the Integrity of Theology; Philip Sheldrake, “The Study of Spirituality,” Theological Trends.)) He says

the mystical-contemplative dimension of spirituality—often described in terms of interiority—is a vital ingredient in our engagement with transformative practice in the outer, public world. Unfortunately, however, Western culture remains deeply polarized. The private sphere (inwardness, family, and close friends) is privileged as the backstage where the individual is truly him/herself, relaxing unobserved before putting on various personae which the self needs in order to play out different roles on the stage of social life.But, from a Christian point of view, is living in public a matter of a role that it is possible to shed or opt not to play…. Human existence and Christian discipleship inherently embody a common task. “The public” is thus better thought of as a dimension of identity, an aspect of the individual self. ((Dreyer and Burrows, 289.))

Schneiders’ and Sheldrakes’ definition create an important focus for the issues to which we must attend in this research project. Schneiders, in an attempt to create the broadest definition of spirituality possible, indicates that spirituality is:

A. Conscious involvement: Let’s call this intentionality. Spirituality requires doing something. The individual has some agency.

B. Life-integration through self-transcendence: Let’s call this the means. There is a process in which (1) all of life takes on integrated meaning—it has purpose, and (2) the means to get there is to get beyond one’s self.

C. Toward the ultimate value one perceives: Let’s call this vision. Spirituality requires a goal—a telos—that compels the individual to take action and move toward self-transcendence. ((Schwartz provides an excellent discussion of telos as it relates to practical wisdom—which I associate with spirituality. Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe, Practical Wisdom the Right Way to Do the Right Thing (New York: Simon & Schuster Audio,), sound recording.))

These categories are like empty boxes allowing each individual, operating from her own lifeworld, to fill in the blanks. What unifies all spiritualities is that they have these boxes, but what distinguishes them is what they place inside the boxes.

This system correlates with Dallas Willard’s proposal of VIM—Vision, Intention, Means. ((Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ.)) I mention Dallas Willard in this context for the following reasons. First, it is my observation that there are two camps in the Spiritual Formation/Spirituality conversation in the academy today. The line seems to be drawn along similar contours of the classic fault line between Ecumenical Christians and Evangelical Christians that has characterized Western theology in the twentieth century. Schneiders and Sheldrake represent the former and Willard and Foster ((Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline : The Path to Spiritual Growth, 20th anniversary ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998); Richard J. Foster, “Spiritual Formation Agenda: Richard Foster Shares His Three Priorities for the Next 30 Years,” Christianity Today 53, no. 1 (2009); Richard J. Foster and Julia L. Roller, A Year with God : Living out the Spiritual Disciplines, 1st ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009). see also (accessed August 1, 2014).)) represent the latter. Second, Dallas Willard was a significant part of my spiritual formation, as I mentioned in the introduction. Third, I believe an important move for the future of the missional church is for these two camps to begin cross-pollinating with more frequency. ((There is evidence of this in the membership of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality (SSCS) which is a sub-set of the American Academy of Religion (AAR).)) Fourth, I believe that one of the primary reasons for this division is the ongoing debate between transcendence and immanence that I noted in the Trinity Frame. ((see Grenz and Olson, 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age.))

The fourth point mentioned above is worth parsing out further. It gets at the heart of what I am trying to discern through this research project. It is my assumption that the model of the Trinity an individual operates within—either the Transcendent Immanent Trinity or the Immanent Economic Trinity—is related to how she “fills in the blanks” of Schneiders’ boxes.

Allow me to draw a caricature of each lifeworld in order to demonstrate the differences. On the one hand, the typical evangelical Christian functions within the lifeworld of dualistic, substance ontology—the Transcendent Immanent Trinity. This informs the Vision, Intention, and Means accordingly. The vision is to escape the physical world to be united with God in Heaven. The intention rests solely on personal agency, fueled by radical individualism. The means, and definition of self-transcendence, is to (a) pray to accept Jesus as Savior (this is dying to self), and (b) work diligently to practice spiritual disciplines to promote personal holiness (read as separateness from the fallen world) and to be empower to share the Gospel with others so that they might also escape the physical world. Self-Transcendence, then, is the ultimate transcendence to be with God in Heaven when you die, or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first.

On the other hand, the typical ecumenical Christian functions within the immanence lifeworld, in which there is only one substance—the physical universe—of which God is indistinguishable—the Immanent Economic Trinity. The vision is to either (a) bring about peace on earth through the eradication of war, poverty, hunger, and disease, (b) to find inner peace, tranquility, and to find resonance with the energy of the universe (God). The intention is pure individual agency. The means is through either (a) community participation—understanding that community is the voluntary association of individuals—getting everyone involved to work together toward the common good, or (b) spiritual practices like meditation and yoga that are intended to bring the physical body into alignment with the universe (God). The self-transcendence of the former is to put the good of the many over the good of the self. The self-transcendence of the latter is to release the illusion of the false-self—Ego—and connect to the true self that is one with the universe (God).

These two Christian Spiritualities are radically different and form a seemingly irreconcilable duality. Ironically, they exist as two sides of the same modern dogma. They exist because of the dualisms prevalent in modernity—the Platonic dualism that divides God from creation, the Cartesian dualism that divides observer from object and spawns rationalism, and the Kantian dualism that divides perceiver from object, and spawns subjectivism. It is my proposal that a post foundational theology—which is formed within the social/relational/entangled Trinity—provides a third way that can reconcile these divergent Christian Spiritualities and invite the body of Christ to imagine new rhythms of spiritual formation that reform the church in a missional imagination to be prophetic public companions witnessing to the hope of God’s preferred and promised future. It is my further proposition that both Schneiders/Sheldrake—on the ecumenical side—and Willard—on the Evangelical side—are already making those moves through a phenomenological understanding of knowledge and communicative action. ((I am deeply indebted to Gary Black for helping me draw these lines of connection between Willard and phenomenology. Gary Black, The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013).))

The Educational Angle

There is a growing body of literature within the field of Adult Learning that addresses the issue of spirituality on a broader scope. ((Elizabeth J. Tisdell, Exploring Spirituality and Culture in Adult and Higher Education, The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). Jane Kathryn Vella, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults, Rev. ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002). Dent C. Davis, “Dialogue of the Soul: The Phenomenon of Intrapersonal Peace and the Adult Experience of Protestant Religious Education,” Religious Education 102, no. 4 (2007). John M. Dirkx, “Images, Transformative Learning the Work of Soul,” Adult Learning 12, no. 3 (2001).)) Elisabeth Tisdell says that spirituality is “personal belief and experience of a divine spirit or higher purpose, about how we construct meaning, and what we individually and communally experience and attend to and honor as the sacred in our lives.'” ((Merriam, Sharan B., Rosemary S. Caffarella and Lisa Baumgartner. Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. 3rd ed. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007, 200.)) This is surely helpful for my research as it warrants the study of spirituality in conversation with adult learning theory.

One of the unique challenges I faced in planning this research project is found in the simple question, “How?” How will I increase the awareness and understanding in suburban congregations? The answer to this question depends upon how I believe adults learn and what teaching methods would best facilitate that learning. One key conversation has shaped this aspect of the project. My thesis panel had gathered to discuss my original project proposal. Dr. Keifert took a deep breath and looked directly at me. “How will you guard against the use of instrumental reason in your methodology?” I sat silent for a moment. He continued, “Knowing you, and what I have observed of the way you interact with people, I don’t believe that is your intent, but the way you have worded this proposal opens you up to it.”

His challenge begs the question. What is instrumental reason and why is it something to be avoided? That is an epistemological question that challenges the modern, rationalist, positivist way of knowing. The modern positivist believed that it was possible to objectively acquire truth through empirical observation. The challenger to positivism is constructivism, put broadly, and phenomenology in its specific presentation, which understands that all knowing is bracketed by the perspective of the observer and truth is communicatively constructed. In other words, how I understand the way people think and learn will impact that way I structure my research project.

A Trinitarian Summary of the Adult Learning Frame

I will, in this section, provide a concise summary of how my pedagogy relates to my model of the social/relational/entangled Trinity. I believe that there is such a thing as Truth, or Ultimate Reality, that can be known. ((This stands in contrast to the complete deconstruction of knowledge and relativisation of truth to interpersonal transactions as proposed by Derrida and Rorty, et alia.)) However, the Truth is not a data set to be acquired or apprehended by the objective observer. The Truth is God, and God is the mystery of three persons in eternal, infinite, dynamic relationship. This is what is known as relationality or relational ontology. In other words, God is not a something that can be apprehended and placed into my knowledge bank or explained through the symbols of human language or mathematics. God is relationship from which we are created and into which we are invited to live. Knowledge is not a something, either. Nor can it be transmitted from a teacher who holds the knowledge to the student who is the empty vessel, waiting to receive the knowledge. Knowledge is the process of relational knowing that happens in the mutual sharing of lived experiences. This process is known as a communicative process. ((Parker Palmer provides a picture of this as the students are gathered around the subject to be studied as equal partners in the learning process. This stands in contrast to the teacher centered pedagogy in which the teacher stands in front of the students and dispenses information. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey; Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.))

The prices of knowing itself and human existence is created—and continually being created—by the relationality of God. The knowledge of anything begins in the human experience of that thing and is interpreted through the framework of the knower’s lifeworld—her lived experience, prior teaching, language structures, personality traits, cultural setting, etc. It is impossible for one finite human being to know God in the sense that one can understand God fully and explain God completely. ((Here we can agree with both Descartes and Kant that knowledge begins with the experience of the perceiver. Of course, they followed very separate paths in the dualisms they conceived from this shared genesis.)) This is true, not just in regard to knowing God, but is true about the knowledge of anything. All knowing is limited—bracketed—by our primary experience of the object, and thus is an interpreted knowledge. ((Husserl discussed the bracketing of knowledge to acknowledge the difference between the perceivers experience and the realization that there is a reality that exists outside of the individual’s perception.)) The process of knowing, therefore, is a process of communication between limited human beings who are willing and able to describe their own bracketed knowledge of the object with others. Through this communicative process, a larger, fuller understanding of the object is achieved, but is still limited. Thus, the need for ongoing communication is vital to human knowing and understanding of how to live peacefully in the world. This is called communicative reason and is the image of the Triune God.

The methodology I chose for the research project was based upon the cognitive development theory of Robert Kegan, ((Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982); Robert Kegan, In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994); Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001); Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, Leadership for the Common Good (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009).)) the adult learning theory of Stephen Brookfield, ((Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices; Brookfield, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher; Brookfield, The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching; Brookfield, Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting; Brookfield, Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions; Brookfield and Holst; Hess and Brookfield.)) the religious education theory of James Fowler ((James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981).)) and Thomas Groome, ((Groome, Christian Religious Education : Sharing Our Story and Vision; Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis; Groome, Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision.)) and the community building theory of Peter Block. ((Block; Peter Block, “Improving Human Performance – Leadership and the Small Group – Leaders Who Know How to Convene, Question, and Listen Are Better at Affecting Organizational Change,” T+D : better performance through workplace learning /, (2008).)) One key unifying factor for all these theorists is this: communicative rationality. ((I must note the irony of this as it relates to my personal narrative. There are many intellectuals in the Evangelical world who are calling for just the opposite move but for the same reasons. I raise David Wells as one example. Wells acknowledges the state of the modern, buffered self as Taylor describes it. He also bemoans the radical individualism and self-help mentality that many evangelical theologies have embraced. His solution however, is to maintain the Platonic, substance dualism and simply switch to the Transcendece of God and the worship of God’s Holiness and wrath. He might look at my list of theorists from which I have framed my pedagogical methodologies and place me among the subjectivists that he bemoans. I would argue that the communicative rationality, framed within the relationality of the Triune God is the move that dismantles the either/or dichotomy of the trancenent/immanent God and allows us to breath again as the church that lives into the promise of God. see Wells argument David F. Wells, No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1993); David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994).)) Robert Kegan believes that the highest order of human consciousness is one in which we understand our interdependent relationship with all other systems in the universe. Brookfield believes that all adult learning must be pursued through communicative reason where the teacher is a participating learner with the purpose of challenging and deconstructing destructive societal power structures. James Fowler has noted the natural faith development along similar lines to Kegan’s orders of consciousness. Thomas Groome incorporates communicative reason in the shared praxis of faith formation as individuals—“agent-subjects-in-relationship”—share in the process of learning and growing. Finally, Peter Block offers a practical method of communicative reason to empower communities to dream new dreams for their shared lives.

Simply put, the Triune God is relationality and the process of communicative rationality is the embodiment and reflection of the fact that we are created in the image of God. The methodologies and theoretical framework for my research project do not only describe why I chose them, but actually embody them in practice. It was my contention that, by engaging in the Participatory Action Research methodology the research team would have experiential knowledge of the Trinity through the process. ((see Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey.))

Robert Kegan’s Orders of Consciousness Theory

The conventional wisdom regarding human cognitive development, prior to the 1980s, was that all significant cognitive development ceased in late adolescence. In other words, a person’s ability to change the way they think stops at the onset of adulthood. The only type of change that an adult can expect is technical change. Adults can learn more, but they can’t change the way they learn or perceive the world. Kegan’s research has demonstrated that this is not true. ((Kegan’s work is derived from the previous work of Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, and Lawrence Kohlberg. Each of these researchers, in their own way, also discovered that humans develop cognitively in stages. Kohlberg focused specifically on moral development in the human being. He is credited as being the first significant professor of a stage theory of human development. It was upon this ground that Kegan expanded Kohlberg’s notion of stages and applied it to cognitive development within the adult learner.))

Kegan has constructed a model that maps five levels or orders of consciousness through which the human being evolves over time. The first three orders are similar to the stages discovered by others like Piaget and have to do with neuro-typical cognitive development of children. ((Kegan, In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. see my visual description of these stages at (accessed July 27, 2014).))

Kegan’s breakthrough discovery was that there are two more orders of consciousness that humans can move into as adults. There is an important distinction between the first three orders and the last two orders. The first three orders evolve naturally in the neuro-typical child. Most neuro-typical human begin adulthood functioning at a 3rd order of consciousness. Unlike child development, however, not every adult will progress to 4th and 5th order consciousness.

4th Order. The twentieth century has brought the “modern person” into constant contact with multiple cultures and a never-ending stream of data. This barrage of data has caused us, in the modern era, to feel “In Over Our Heads” (thus the title of Kegan’s book) ((ibid.)) and unable to cope with the competing cultural perspectives. The 3rd order consciousness, when faced with another cultural system different from her own, would naturally create us and them boundaries, naturally declaring her us to be the correct way of perceiving the world and the other’s them to be wrong. These harsh boundaries have led to violence and bloodshed throughout the centuries of cultural interaction. 4th order consciousness develops the ability for the individual to step outside of her own system and perceive that her system is simply one system among many. She then becomes an objective observer of systems. She is a free agent in the world, able to negotiate between systems, voluntarily interacting and valuing other systems. This consciousness allows the individual to pursue peaceful transactions with the other and manage the multiplicity of the modern, pluralistic reality.

5th Order. There is a blessing and a curse in the 4th order consciousness. The blessing is that the individual is able to find peaceful transactions between multiple systems. The curse, however, is that the individual becomes an isolated, atomistic, monad in the universe, objectively observing the other system(s), but not participating in it/them. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and nihilism. 4th Order consciousness has inherent flaws. First of all, it is impossible for an individual to stand outside of her own system and observe it objectively. She is a part of the system, and her part of the system is the lens through which she observes. Objectivity is a myth and—in Gadamerian terms—we all bring our own horizon to the exchange. Secondly, not only is it impossible for the individual to stand outside her own system, it is also impossible to be completely whole as an atomistic monad. 5th order consciousness begins to realize that the Other is not a completely separate monad with whom one can have voluntary interchange, but, rather, the relationship with the Other is necessary for constituting ones own self. All things are interwoven and mutually constitutive. Peace is, for the 5th order consciousness, not an option to be negotiated, but a necessity for the preservation of self. ((Kegan has attached a helpful metaphor of eras of Western history to the 3rd, 4th and 5th orders. He relates the 3rd Order to Traditionalism. This hearkens to an era when geographical areas were predominantly culturally homogenous, as in European Christendom. When everyone around you is the same, you believe your world accurately reflects all of reality. Kegan relates the 4th order to Modernism. The modern dogma claims that the individual, autonomous self is the objective observer of reality. The modern self is a free agent in the universe, able to make transactions with other free agents, using reason as the guide. Kegan relates the 5th order to postmodernism. The postmodern turn has deconstructed the objectivism of 4th order thinking and has led us to either retreat to 3rd order enclaves or seek a fusion of horizons[1] with the Other, thus constructing a broader understanding of reality.))

Kegan argues that the human being can actually work toward advancing into 4th and 5th level consciousness. ((Kegan and Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.)) He has discovered that, through reflective personal and communal critique, the individual can move past the blind spots and begin to actually think differently and perceive reality from a 4th or 5th order consciousness.

Stephen Brookfield’s use of Critical Social Theory

Stephen Brookfield has developed a pedagogical theory of Adult Learning that is based upon Critical Social Theory—especially the work of Jürgen Habermas. ((Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action; Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures; Jürgen Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction : Preliminary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001).)) Brookfield critiques previous attempts at andragogy, ((a term made popular by Malcolm Knowles Malcolm S. Knowles, Elwood F. Holton, and Richard A. Swanson, The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 7th ed. (Amsterdam ; Boston: Elsevier, 2011).)) citing that it is based upon modernist notions of top-down models of learning. These older models are what Paulo Frierie calls “banking” models in which the student is seen as an empty vessel and the teacher pours objective knowledge into the bank of the student’s open mind. ((Freire.)) The andragogy model, Brookfield contends, supports oppressive systems that perpetuate the hegemony of Imperial regimes.

Brookfield’s pedagogy is a combination of ideology critique and American pragmatism. He believes that adult learning should empower the student to become critically reflective of the dominant culture, thus able to communicatively construct alternate modes of being and doing that will strive for equity and justice. The adult learner brings as much to the learning environment as the instructor. It is the instructor’s job to facilitate environments in which the students can engage in communicative rationality.

The Catechetical Angle

James Fowler’s Stages of Faith

Fowler proposes that there are six naturally occurring stages of faith that the neuro-typical human can experience.

Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith

Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith

Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith

Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith

Stage 4: Individuative-Reflective Faith

Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith

Stage 6: Universalizing Faith

These phases are similar to Robert Kegan’s 5 Orders of Consciousness but are set in the framework of faith. ((This makes sense since both Kegan and Fowler studied with Lawrence Kohlberg and are drawing from the theoretical lineage of Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget.)) What is important for our research is that

[The stages of faith system] brings to expression the structural characteristics of a sequence of developmentally related systems of constitutive knowing by which we construct (and therefore ‘know’) self-others-world as related to transcendence. With the phrase constitutive knowing I mean to suggest that being—in others, in self, in world and in God—becomes real to us as we construct it in our knowing in response to the sense data and symbolic representations that impinge upon us. Put more simply, we constitute our own subjective experience of others, self and world as related to transcendence. The stages give us a model by which to represent and examine the evolution of the systems of operations by which we do this constitutive knowing. ((Fowler, 297.))

Fowler acknowledges Transcendence. This is an important aspect of Trinitarian knowing. ((Without God as the Transcendent other-in-relationship, there cannot be communication.)) Some forms of communicative rationality end with the human knowing. ((It could be argued that Habermas is in this category. He is interested in the communicative praxis that is for the best interest of the group and not necessarily interested in a knowledge or acknowledgement of the Transcendent.)) Trinitarian communicative rationality acknowledges the Transcendent otherness of God as a vital element in the ability for any communicative action to exist. Communicative rationality—or constitutive knowing, as Fowler states it—exists in relation to transcendence.

Thomas Groome’s Shared Praxis

Thomas Groome proposes a pedagogical methodology that he calls Shared Christian Praxis. ((Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis.)) Groome draws upon great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, and Hume, but cautions against the reductionism into technical rationality and individualism that so dominated the Enlightenment era. Groome draws heavily from the hermeneutical turn found in Hegel, Marx, Heideggar, and Habermas.

The core concept of Groome’s philosophy is the term conation. His concept of religious education is grounded in “epistemic ontology [which] treats people as ‘agent-subjects-in-relationship.’” (( Ibid., 9.)) Conation is more than the acquisition of cognitive knowledge. It is what happens when “the whole ontic being of ‘agent-subjects-in-relationship’ is actively engaged to consciously know, desire, and do what is most humanizing and life-giving (I.e. ‘True’) for all.” ((Ibid.)) The close synonym for conation is wisdom.

Simply put, Groome is trying to move away from the classic Western pedagogy that viewed the teacher as the primary agent who held the power to create meaning, derived from a received past arsenal of knowledge, and filled the passive minds of the student. ((see Freire.)) Groome’s phrase epistemic ontology revisits both what it means to know something (epistemic) and what it means to be in the world (ontology). The answer is shared praxis. We know things by entering into constructive dialogue with each other, the world, our history, our culture, and ourselves. This is what it means to share. That dialogue is an action in itself, and that action leads to acting in time and space in the world. We act, then we reflect on that action to make meaning out of it, and then, in turn act upon this newly refined understanding of meaning. This cycle of action-reflection-action is called praxis. We, as human beings, exist within time. History has shaped our present with Story and Symbols and the future shapes our present with hope and expectation. This is what it means to be in time. ((read Hegel and Heideggar.)) We are embodied creatures in time who are interconnected with all things and are propelled toward the future. The Christian Vision and Story defines our hope and shapes our being. When all these things come together it forms the basis of what Groome means by agents-subjects-in-relationship who are defined by epistemic ontology.

Peter Block’s Theory of Community Building

Block offers practical steps to create a truly collaborative space for Participatory Action Research. He says,

The context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of problem solving, fear, and retribution. A new context acknowledges that we have all the capacity, expertise, and resources that an alternative future requires. Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness. The conversations that build relatedness most often occur through associational life, where citizens show up by choice, and rarely in the context of system life, where citizens show up out of obligation. The small group is the unit of transformation and the container for the experience of belonging. Conversations that focus on stories about the past become a limitation to community; ones that are teaching parables and focus on the future restore community. ((Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging, loc. 504.))

Block’s methodology is an aggregate of many communicative practices. The basic methodology invites the facilitator to situate a physical space—usually a room—that is inviting and egalitarian. There is life-promoting art on the walls, good music playing in the background, locally-produced food on the table, and the chairs are set in a circle. The facilitator presents provocative and inviting questions and leads the group through a three-step process. First, the individuals are invited to reflect on their own answer to the question and possibly write and answer down or create some form of artifact to represent their idea. Second, the individuals are randomly grouped into triads and invited to share each of their individual ideas and work together to synthesize their ideas into one statement. Third, the triads are randomly connected to one other triad, forming a group of six. This group listens to both triad statements and works together to synthesize the two statements into one. Finally, the groups gather together as one large group and the statements produced by the group of six are presented to the large group, followed by a large group discussion.

This methodology allows for maximum individual participation in the whole process. Each voice has a chance to be heard and know that it has contributed to the final outcome of the larger group. This methodology is similar to and draws from two other organizational practices: The Art of Hosting (( (accessed July 27, 2014).)) and the World Cafe (( (accessed July 27, 2014).)) This methodology allowed my research to take on real legs as it empowered the Research Team to interact in communicative action.

In his introduction, Block acknowledges the fragmentation, isolation, and overall absence of belonging in our world today. He believes that it is the purpose of community to overcome this fragmentation. This sort of community “offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to the right place and are affirmed by that choice.” ((Ibid., 3.)) The distinct questions facing communities today are: How will we, together, create a future that is different from our past? How will we create a community where all citizens are connected to one another and know that their safety and success is dependent on the success of others? These questions get at the heart of the suburban situation in which our research project finds itself.

The Virtual Body of Christ | A Missional Imagination for Community

I was sorting through some old notes this morning and I came across my visual notes from the CML Conference on the Missional Church and Digital Media. The presentations by Mary Hess and Elizabeth Drescher align so well with Deana Thompson And John Roberto’s presentations at the Rethinking Faith Formation. I put them all together here as a picture of how the missional church must imagine community as the virtual body of Christ as public companion with the world.

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Book | The Practice of Communicative Theology by Scharer and Hilberath

communicative theologyScharer, Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen. The Practice Of Communicative Theology: Introduction To A New Theological Culture. New York: Crossroad Pub. CO. 2008.


The Authors — Matthias Scharer and Bernd Jochen Hilberath

My Reflections

Sharer and Hilberath are two German, Roman Catholic theologians who have adopted Ruth Cohn’s Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI) model as the means of doing theology. This pedagogy comes from a long history of Catholic theology and is rooted, most apparently, in Habermas’ communicative rationality. The combination of TCI and Habermas leads to their label: Communicative Theology.

This book is important for my research on two levels. First, it describes the process I used to facilitate the Research Team meetings during phase one of the project. The interesting fact is that I was not aware of this book when I led those meetings. The process I used was based Peter Block’s Community Building methodologies and my own experience in adult learning forums. Communicative Theology and TCI help give credence to my methodology and help me to articulate better its theological underpinnings.

The second reason this book is important to my research is that it connects the pedagogical methodology to the Trinity. My research question asks how an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity might impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations. Communicative Theology and TCI demonstrate that a communicative methodology is constituted by the relationality of God. It is the image of the communicative God as revealed/demonstrated in the three persons of the Trinity. By using a communicative methodology I am organically and implicitly raising the research team’s awareness and understanding of the social/relational/entangled/communicative Trinity.

My Key Notes from the Book

Communicative Orientations in North American Catholic Theology


tradition of personalism. Dialogical Personalism.
Martin Buber and Gabriel Marcel = the significance of dialogue.
Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth
Catholic rsourcement theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar
Joseph Ratzinger – traced dialogue to Plato and Artistotle
Avery Cardinal Dulles – combined these personalisms with symbolic and sacramental modes of communication in Catholic practice.


20th century interpreters of Thomas Aquinas–Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Bernard Lonergan.

“Lonergan identified communication as one of eight functional specialities that constitute the theological enterprise within the church: ‘Through communication there is constituted community and, conversely, community constitutes and perfects itself through communication.’ (Lonergan. Method in Theology (New York, 1972), 363)


Robert Schreiter–reflecting on liberation theologians in Latin America and inculturation theologians in Africa and Asia–analysis of concrete practices of communication in the development of local theologies.

semiotic approach to culture:

  • syntactics–the grammar-like rules that function in the relation of signs
  • semantics–the content or meaningn of the message
  • pragmatics–rules that govern communication in the range of meanings

Stephen Bevans.

“For dialogical personalism, the problem of misunderstanding is about overcoming obstacles and limits in knowing another individual and oneself. For the hermeneutical approach, individuals and groups must face recurring misunderstandings of texts and traditions. For these particular forms of contextual theology–Black, Hispanic, Asian, among others–misunderstanding is a question of prejudice against linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions, which contributes to economic and social hardship, and all too frequently results in conflict and violence.” (6)

Thomas H. Groome–drawing on Habermas’ work on theory and practice and Paulo Freire’s praxis-based pedagogy–advanced a “shared Christian praxis” approach to religious education and pastoral ministry.


Paul A. Soukop – six aspects of the communicative process:

  • language (a structured system of conveying meaning);
  • aesthetic experience;
  • creation of culture
  • interpersonal dialogue;
  • sender-receiver or rhetorical communication (the broadcast model);
  • theological analogue, that is, modeling human communication on the divine. (7)

Soukop is concerned that there has not been adequate investigation into the use of new communication technologies.

Outline of Book

  1. Theology as Process
  2. Preliminary Observations about the Communicative Characterr of Human Beings
  3. The “Battle of the Gods” as a Dilemma in a Communication-Conscious Society
  4. The Communicative God of Christian Revelation and God’s Communication in History
  5. The Church as a Community of Communication: The “We” as Gift.
  6. Communication as a Practice of Theological Awareness: The Perspective of TCI
  7. Keeping the Faith Tradition and Implicit “God-Talk” in Balance
  8. A Theme Takes Shape: Drama on the Eve of the Council of Nicea and Drama in the Church Today.

The Theological Question

“The theological question is: what do people associate with God and how do they do it? This way of stating the question calls attention to a pivotal theological insight: There is an inextricable connection between God (or better, what we know of God on the basis of revelation and the Christian tradition) and the actual lives of people. In theological knowing it is not only the what of the faith that counts. The what is inseparably linked to the way in which knowledge coming from God is received and transmitted. In short, it is linked with the how of God’s communication through past Christian tradition and in contemporary life histories.” (34)

Theology is communicative

“Theology is not ‘some thing’ that then is to be communicated; rather, communication is the central content of theology. So communication is neither a thing added or applied to theology nor a substitute for what theology should really be. Theology is itself a communicative event, and when it no longer is this it stops being theology. This thesis, certainly unusual and perhaps jarring to many, presupposs a particular understanding of communication on the one hand and of theology on the other.” (13)

The little gods and the Great God

“The image of the global village with its boundless communication takes on particularly religious connotations when the new media and the global market invade those areas of human life where faith and religion traditionally held sway. These are the areas of meaning and orientation, of history and the future, of right action and enduring happiness. Stopping to think about modern communication and its religious and ideological implications makes one aware of the degree to which the ‘little gods’ of boundless knowledge, global-communicative ability, and never-ending consumption are replacing the hope for the coming of the ‘great God.’ It is a battle between ‘gods’ who satisfy immediate needs and a God who ‘dries all tears’ (Revelation 21:4; cf. Isaiah 65:19). It is a confrontation between the boundless freedom promised to these globally connected in the communication network and the God who communicates God’s self to all people, especially to those excluded from the communication process, who calls all humankind to become one community in the freedom of the children of God. In this new world of global communication, the arguable monopoly of salvation formerly ascribed to the church appears to have been transferred to the media, so that the old adage ‘extra ecclesia nulla salus’ (there is not salvation outside the church) becomes ‘extra media nulla salus’ (there is no salvation outside the media). Such a world obviously needs to reflect on communication from the perspective of the biblical God and God’s communication with people. It is from this theological perspective that communicate theology enters critically into the (post) modern debate about communication, a debate that is growing in importance on the scientific, social, and religious levels.” (42-43)

God as communicative being

“If we look once again toward the God of whom theology speaks, we can further clarify the definition of God as a communicative being.” For the believer, God is a relational being. This is no human invention; rather, it is something made possible by God’s own revelation of God’s self. That is to say, God enters into a relationship with the world as creation and with people as created beings, as sinner and redeemed, and as beings on the way to perfection. Only in this way can we speak about God as relational. Even in Christian theology, we can make no statements about God in and for God’s self. This God in and for God’s self we can meet only as God for us. But we cannot draw the conclusion that God in and for God’s self does not exist. It is really a question of drawing a line to mark the limits of theological reflection and expression. With regard to the concept of communicative theology we can say: it is only because God enters into a relationship with us, because he wishes to be in communion with us and makes contact with us, that we can speak about and with God. We can also add further precision to our description by saying that God is the communicative being par excellence. It is first and foremost God who makes possible communication and community, which keeps us alive. This is our faith in God the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. It is not, in the first place, God’s self-revelation in history that shows God to be the communicative being; this is already manifested by God’s self-revelation as creator.” (65)

My Reflection on this quote: I understand what they are saying, but I want to make one critique. They say that God is “a communicative being,” even further that God is “the communicative being par excellence.” If God is a being–even the being–then isn’t God just one being among many? Might it be more accurate to say that God is being itself and being is communicative, and this communicative being is the ground from which all being emerges. It is the relationality of the divine persons that is the constitutive, communicative being from which all life is created. This is similar to their statement “this is already manifested by God’s self-revelation as creator,” however, in the way that they speak of God as a being, it denotes the image of God as a being creating another being out of the nothing that is outside of God. Then this relational God chooses to relate to the creation.

I realize this is beyond the scope of the intention of this book, but I think it is an important distinction to hone our language to not limit God to a being. The relationality, thus the communicative nature of God is the being, the very fabric of existence from which all that we perceive as the created universe comes. God’s otherness is in the person of the creator, in that the creature is not the divine, thus allowing space for Buber’s I-Thou relationship. Yet, the relationality of the second and third person allows for the interdependency and communicative, on-going creative-redemptive-sustaining process to proceed. This is modeled in the TCI process.

The Paradigm



imageThe “I” as the individual person. This factor is aware of itself and truns to others and to the themed in a given group situation.

The “WE” as the group. This factor represents the relationship of individuals to one another and to the theme of their interaction.

The “IT” as a task or as a theme. This factor singles out the topical concerns to be worked out in the interaction.

The “GLOBE” as environment. This factor influences the group in their relationships and in their working together in both a narrower and in a broader sense.

Buber and Levinas

Martin Buber
describes the human person as a dialogical being. “Buber distinguishes between the ‘basic word’ “I-Thou” and “I-It” with regard to human encounters.” (30)

Levinas – The Importance of Other

The face of the other.

“in opposition to Buber, radicalizes the intersubjective perspective. For Levinas, the ‘face’ of tanother person is the key metaphor for the other. Radically trunign toward the face of the other makes the experience of transcendence ultimately possible. meeting the other is not donfined to an ‘I-Thou” relationship. When the ‘otherness’ of the other is seen, one’s own freedom is questioned. Qyestions of compassion, justice, and mercy also arise.” (31)

These two philosophies come together to demonstrate the communicative nature of human interaction. We do not choose to relate, we are constituted by relationship, yet, the separation of the other causes us to serve the other.

TCI described by the Universtät Innsbruck

The following section is copied from (accessed July 5, 2014)

From the Universität Innsbruck website:

Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI)

Created by Ruth Cohn, TCI is a strictly relational concept of human communication in groups and focuses on the balance between theme, group and individual work in order to work both on relationships and factual problems. This holistic tool of communication aims at stimulating the constructive and healing potential in a person, while being firmly rooted in a community-related conflict formation.

Cohn adopts a strictly relational approach to group communication and represents the balance between the factual and the relational elements in the form of a triangle:

the I as person, facing the theme and the others;

the we of the group members who become a group by facing the theme and by interacting with one another;

the it as a theme to be worked on by the group.

The triangle is surrounded by an area referred to as the Globe, which influences the work directly or indirectly.

Cohn (2004) developed three axioms, twopostulates, and nine auxiliary guidelines, which we explain shortly as follows:


Autonomy: Of an anthropological grain, the first axiom concerns both the independence and dependence (connectedness) as an existential component of being. For Cohn, the individual’s autonomy increases with his/her awareness of his/her connectedness to everyone and everything.

Appreciation: Of an ethical and social grain, the second axiom refers to the value that Cohn places on the human, whereas she finds the inhuman worthless. Cohn tried to call upon a balance between sensitivity and spirituality, feelings and knowledge, rationality and spirituality.

Expanding one’s limits: Of a pragmatic and political nature, the third axiom indicates that decisions can be made freely insofar as they are conditioned by internal and external limits. Conceived in a systemic way, this points to the awareness of universal interdependency as the foundation of human responsibility: “I am not omnipotent, I am not impotent, I am partially potent” (Cohn 2004, 205).

These three axioms give raise to two postulatesin relation to human paradox and conditional freedom:

Be your own chairperson: If you are aware of your internal disposition (I) and the external conditions (Globe) in a relational (We) or factual (Theme) conflict, you can take every situation as an invitation to decide on your own and act responsibly for yourself and others.

Disturbances have priority: In a system, nothing happens by pure chance. There is no division between inside and outside. Therefore, disturbances have to be dealt with priority, whether they come from the I, the We, the Theme or the Globe. Without the prior transformation of the disturbing energy, the flow of the system as a whole will be blocked, distracted or irritated.

Auxiliary guidelines

Authentic self-representation: express statements of fact with ‘I’, not ‘we’ or ‘one’, in order to avoid projecting and obscuring.

Meaningful questions: authentic requests for information can be identified by their personal and clear rationale.

Selective authenticity: it is important to determine if statements genuinely result from a personal value system, or whether they spring from an internalized sense of obligation created by social conventions.

Timely interpretation: interpretations have a content dimension and a temporal dimension. Interpretations that are incorrect or untimely have great potential for disruption and should only be admitted when dismissing them would create an even larger disruption.

No factual generalizations: they interrupt the flow of communication and distract from the specific subject at hand.

No personal evaluations: Only opinions of the other are possible, which have no claim to general validity. Cohn recommends refraining as much as possible from statements of evaluation.

Immediately address side discussions:they occur for a reason and they disrupt the process. Side discussions are indicative of a disruption in the group context. According to the second postulate, addressing disruptions must be prioritized in order to ensure smooth communication flow henceforth.

Only one person speaks at a time: It is necessary in order to ensure that everyone has a complete view of the group.

Clear rules for speaking: the group leader should ensure that there is a clear view of all conversation threads that exist in the group. In particular in cases of conflict it will be necessary to sort through them and to ensure that the most important ones are processed.

Drawing from Cohn, we could find in the guidelines orientation for the elicitive conflict worker to move to the fore the element of the I, We, It or Globe that is receiving less attention. In this manner, homeostasis can be re-established in the corresponding setting.

Book | Stages of Faith by James Fowler

Fowler Stages of FaithFowler, James W. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981.

The Author

James Fowler

fowlerCharles Howard Candler Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University.

Stages of Faith

Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith

Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith

Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith

Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith

Stage 4: Individuative-Reflective Faith

Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith

Stage 6: Universalizing Faith




Selected Quotes

“In these pages I am offering a theory of growth in faith. At the heart of the book you will find an account of a theory of seven stagelike, developmentally related styles of faith that we have identified. A theory means an elaborate, dynamic model of very complex pattens in our lives. Theories can be exciting an powerful, giving us names for our experiences and ways to understand and express what we have lived. They can also become blinders, limiting our ability to see to only those features of phenomena that we can name and account for. Erik Erikson, himself a great theory maker, once said, ‘We must take our theories with a serious playfulness and a playful seriousness.’ In that gentle warning there is a kind of double faith—faith that we can in some measure grasp, clarify and work effectively with the most vital processes of our lives, but also faith that the reality of any such complex process will not be exhaustively contained in our theoretical frameworks.”[1]

“Speaking of religions as ‘cumulative traditions,’ [Smith] suggests that we see a cumulative tradition as the various expression of the faith of people in the past…Like a dynamic gallery of art, a living cumulative tradition in its many forms addresses contemporary people and becomes what Smith calls ‘the mundane cause’ that awakens present faith. Faith, at once deeper and more personal than religion, is the person’s r groups’ way of responding to transcendent value and power as perceived and grasped through the forms of the cumulative tradition. Faith and religion, in this view, are reciprocal.”[2]

“At critical junctures in our lives the normal fabric of our everyday patterns can be interrupted…We too wonder vaguely who or what has sent this into our lives. Our images of the character of the power(s) determining the ultimate conditions of our lives arise out of and are tested in these kinds of experiences…In the interplay between such invasions of ‘normality’ and the symbolic representations of the transcendent that have grasped us, we compose images (and perhaps beliefs about and concepts of) the ultimate conditions of our existence. We have varying degrees of consciousness regarding these working images of ultimate reality. But conscious or unconscious, they affect the setting of our goals, the relationships we make and maintain and the ways we respond to emergencies and crises. They have an impact upon the ways we make plans and on our efforts to live our lives with integrity. These are the triadic dynamics of faith.”[3]


Contributions from Piaget and Kohlberg:

  1. Epistemological focus. “The broad epistemological emphasis in the structural-developmental theories serves us well as a model for understanding faith as a way of knowing and interpreting.”
  2. Focus on the structuring of knowing as it gives form to the contents of knowledge.
  3. Rigorous concept of structural stages and with the actual descriptions of cognitive and moral reasoning stages. [Faith stages] provide generalizable, formal descriptions of integrated sets of operations of knowing and valuing…each new stage integrates and carries forward the operations of all the previous stages.
  4. Development as an interactional process. The interaction between an active, innovative subject and a dynamic, changing environment. Adaptation is invention.
  5. Normative features of stages. The more advanced stages are able to develop knowing that is ‘more true’ than the lower stages.
  6. Separation of cognition or knowing from emotion or affection. In light of this, Fowler distinguishes two forms of cognition: logic of rational certainty—objective, scientific inquiry—and the logic of conviction—there is a modification of the knower in the observation of the known.
  7. Their very restrictive understanding of the role of imagination in knowing, their neglect of symbolic processes generally and the related lack of attention to unconscious structuring processes other than those constituting reasoning.
  8. Neither has offered a theory of the epistemological or moral self.

Some serious limitations:

“ A structural-developmental theory of faith must be a theory of personal knowing and acting. This means neither an individualistic theory, nor one that gives up the commitment to generalizability. Rather, it means a commitment to take seriously that our previous decisions and actions shape our character, as do the stories and images by which we live. It means a commitment to take seriously the fact that we are formed in social communities and that our ways of seeing the world are profoundly shaped by the share images and constructions of our group or class. It means, further, a commitment to relate structural stages of faith to the predictable crises and challenges of developmental eras and to take life histories seriously in its study.[4]

“If Piaget and Kohlberg have given us impetus to study the structuring activity of faith, Erikson has helped us in many ways to focus on the functional aspect of faith, the expected existential issues with which it must help people cope at whatever structural stage across the life cycle.”[5]

The Contents of Faith

“Our faith orientations and our corresponding characters are shaped by three major elements of what I have been calling the ‘contents’ of our faiths:

  1. Centers of value. What we worship and give worth. We may exhibit polytheistic, henotheistic, or radical monotheistic patterns.
  2. Images of power and the powers with which we align ourselves to sustain us in the midst of life’s contingencies.
  3. Master stories.[6]


“A significant recentering of one’s previous conscious or unconscious images of value and power, and the conscious adoption of a new set of master stories in the commitment to reshape one’s life in a new community of interpretation and action.”[7]

A Haunting Paragraph for those of Us Raised in Fundamentalism

The context for this paragraph is Fowler’s list of six types of conversions as they relate to his construction of 6 stages of Faith. Conversion type #6 contains the haunting words:

“6. Conversional change that blocks or helps one avoid the pain of faith stage changes—as when a boy or girl of seven to ten is led, in a fundamentalist Christian environment, to a powerful conversion experience that brings assurance of forgiveness and salvation when the child has been convinced of her or his sinfulness and by images of the destructiveness of hell. Such a childhood conversion can lead to what Philip Helfaer has called ‘precocious identity formation’ in which the child takes on prematurely the patterns of adult faith modeled in that church. In such cases the growing boy or girl goes through no adolescent identity crisis. And short of an extraordinarily disruptive young adult ‘breaking out’ of those cast-iron images of identity and faith formed in childhood, the person remains in that stage for life.”[8]

A faith community that provides for the nurture of ongoing adult development in faith will create a climate of developmental expectation.”[9]

“ I believe that the sequence of stages as now described does reflect a developmental process in human beings that makes both ontological and ontogenetic sense. Here I introduce two terms, both built on the Greek word ontos, meaning ‘being.’ To say that the stage theory makes ontological and ontogenetic sense means that it brings to expression the structural characteristics of a sequence of developmentally related systems of constitutive knowing by which we construct (an therefore ‘know’) self-others-world as related to transcendence. With the phrase constitutive knowing I mean to suggest that being—in others, in self, in world and in God—becomes real to us as we construct it in our knowing in response to the sense data and symbolic representations that impinge upon us. Put more simply, we constitute our own subjective experience of others, self and world as related to transcendence. The stages give us a model by which to represent and examine the evolution of the systems of operations by which we do this constitutive knowing.”[10]

“Perhaps the most important thing that can be said in concluding this book is that our study of faith development, so far, underscores the fact that we human beings seem to have a generic vocation—a universal calling—to be related to the Ground of Being in a relationship of trust and loyalty. That vocation calls us into covenantal relationship with the transcendent and with the neighbor—when the neighbor is understood radically to be all being. Faith development studies confirm the judgment that human beings are genetically potentiated—that is to say, are gifted at birth—with readiness to develop in faith. Perhaps our studies and the account of stages of faith this book has offered will enable us to see something of how we can become co-responsible with God for the quality and extensiveness of faith on earth. It is my hope that this book results, for those who read it, in an enlargement of that awareness and of gratitude for the gifts of God’s grace—both ordinary and extraordinary. I hope that it leads to enlarged commitment to be part of God’s work of righteousness and faithful liberation in our world.”[11]

[1] James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), xiii.

[2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Ibid., 96-97.

[4] Ibid., 105.

[5] Ibid., 109.

[6] Ibid., 276-281.

[7] Ibid., 281-282.

[8] Ibid., 286.

[9] Ibid., 296.

[10] Ibid., 297.

[11] Ibid., 303.