Tag Archives: kegan

Theories of Adult Learning

The research question presented an educational challenge in which the pedagogical and research methodology was as important as the question itself. I was faced with a fundamental question during the planning phase of this project: Would I use modernist, instrumental methodologies to convince the team that certain ideas regarding the social Trinity are preferred to older models, or would I engage the team in a collaborative discovery process in which the outcome of the learning experience was unknown to me? I will articulate, in this section, how I framed the research project within a postfoundational, constructivist, participatory methodology by drawing upon the theoretical models found in Palmer, Kegan, Brookfield, and Hess.

Parker Palmer and Subject-Centered Learning

Parker Palmer teacher centered

Figure 3. Teacher-Centered Learning[1]

Parker Palmer provides a helpful contrast between two pedagogical models that describe the shift from modernist to postfoundational methodologies and that help explain my choice of methodology for the DITB project. The first model is the teacher-centered model that is built upon the myth that knowledge is something that can be obtained through objective observation of a topic. The role of the teacher, in this model, is to acquire enough knowledge about the object of study to be considered an expert in that particular field. The teacher then turns away from the object of study and turns toward the students, who lack knowledge and are amateurs in the field. The students are empty vessels that must be filled up with knowledge by the expert until the students reach a level of knowledge when they, too, have the potential to be considered an expert.

The teacher-centered model is untenable for the missional leader for both epistemological and ethical reasons. Knowledge is hermeneutically situated within the relationality and perspective of the knower. [2] Therefore, according to this epistemological perspective, objective knowledge is a myth. The teacher-centered model is ethically untenable because it creates a power differential within the learning environment that is dangerous in two ways. First, it establishes a power hierarchy in which the teacher is considered essentially better and more powerful than the learner. Second, this hierarchical system promotes hegemony and colonizing tactics for the indoctrination of ideas and the perpetuation of command-and-control political systems rather than the freedom to explore new ideas and the ability to discern what God is doing in the world.[3] It would be very difficult for the leader of a local congregation to utilize a teacher-centered methodology and seek a missional imagination in the church.

Parker Palmer subject-centered

Figure 4. Subject-Centered Learning[4]

Palmer offers an alternative model—the subject-centered model—that dispels the myth of objective knowledge and embraces postfoundationalist epistemology.[5] The subject-centered model recognizes that any given topic is, what Palmer calls, the “great thing” around which we gather. It is both an object and a subject. It is an object in that it is separate from the learner and can be observed. However, it is also a subject in that the topic brings something to the learner that invites the learner into dialogue. The subject-centered model situates both the learner and the teacher into a more democratic space than the teacher-centered model. Hess suggests that the teacher, in this model, is someone who is simply a little further down the road than the others in the circle in regard to the “great thing” around which they are gathered. Someone who is new to the great thing might have something equally important to contribute.

This model of teaching and learning suggests that knowledge is a dynamic, relational process, rather than a static, isolated quantity. It suggests that the “great thing” in the middle of the diagram might be a script for our participation in the construction of knowledge, as compared to the first model, where knowledge is something isolated from most people, and dimply transferred through the mediation of a teacher.[6]

This is not to deny the need for leadership, however, or the power differential that inherently exists between the teacher and the student. Palmer argues that teaching is the act of creating a space in which obedience to truth can be practiced.[7] The teacher must design a space that facilitates, or “holds” the possibility for subject-centered learning to occur.

It is important to note the language of figure 3. The students that form the circle around the subject are no longer labeled “amateur,” nor are they labeled “student” or “learner.” They are called “knower.” This is significant for Palmer and has theological implications. Palmer asserts that education is a deeply spiritual process that goes far beyond the acquisition of knowledge, but is the process of knowing in the same way that we are known. We know in the context of relatedness, and ultimately, our relatedness exists in our relatedness to God. In essence, learning is a form of prayerful meditation in which we experience the other, and in so knowing, are more fully known.[8]

It was important for the DITB project that I adopt a subject-centered model for the RT. Given my position as a teaching pastor and a researcher, and given the dominance of teacher-centered methods in the church and the educational systems in which the RT was raised, it was only natural that the RT expected me to present the social Trinity in a lecture-style manner. I had to break this expectation. The “great thing” around which we gathered in the DITB project was the intersection of the Trinity, spiritual formation, and the suburban context. I, as the teacher, brought these topics into conversation and placed that conversation in the center of the group. The RT gathered around it and we entered into a multifaceted, relational interaction with it and with each other. I would argue that this became a “script”[9] for Trinitarian praxis in the construction of knowledge in this project.[10]

Robert Kegan and the Evolving Self

The methodologies chosen for the DITB project draw heavily upon Robert Kegan’s theories of what it means to be human and how humans develop. The uniqueness of Kegan’s theory is that it brings together existentialist psychology with developmental psychology and creates a third way that he calls a “constructive-developmental” tradition that attends to the development of the activity of meaning-constructing.[11] Kegan asserts that human beings are not “beings,” but that the human being is an activity. He says, “It is not about the doing which a human does: it is about the doing that a human is.”[12] The activity of being human is the process of making meaning out of experiential data in community. We are relational beings that continually interact in our physical and social environment and make meaning out of those interactions as we develop throughout the course of our lives.[13]

Kegan observes that neuro-typical humans have the potential to evolve through five basic orders of consciousness that alter the subject/object relationship as it pertains to making meaning. Each order is like a filter, or a set of lenses through which the individual makes sense out of—or “orders”—the experiential data. The filter is part of the subject/observer that influences how the object is perceived and understood. The filter is not perceived in itself, but is the ubiquitous lens that colors the data. As the individual evolves into the next order, she moves outside of the previous filter, and is able to observe the previous filter as a new object. This new order of consciousness is, in itself, a new filter that alters her positionality as a subject/observer and allows her to perceive the previous filter and make dramatically different forms of meaning than was previously possible. The relationship between these five orders is like the relationship between a point, a line, a plane, a sphere, and a tesseract. Each one is part of, but beyond the previous order. Kegan has also observed that most neuro-typical humans reach the third order of consciousness during adolescence and stay there for the rest of their lives.

A sketch of Kegan's 5 Orders of Consciousness analogous to geometrical nodes.
A sketch of Kegan’s 5 Orders of Consciousness analogous to geometrical nodes.

Figure 5. Kegan’s Orders of Consciousness

It was commonly believed, prior to the 1980s, 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. It was believed that the only type of change that an adult can expect to experience is technical change. They cannot change the way they learn or the way they perceive the world. Kegan’s research seriously challenges this understanding of human development.

Kegan discovered two more orders of consciousness through which humans can move 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, and most neuro-typical humans begin adulthood functioning at a third order of consciousness. Unlike child development, however, not every adult will automatically progress to fourth and fifth order consciousness.

The following is a brief description of third, fourth, and fifth order consciousness. Kegan uses historical periods in Western history as a metaphor to describe these orders:

Kegan third-order

Figure 6. Third-Order Consciousness

Third Order. Kegan describes the third-order consciousness as traditionalism. It is like the time in medieval Europe when the average citizen was born, lived, and died within the same village. Each person knew his or her place in society and knew the rules of that society. The world was comprised of “right” and “wrong” and each person had the choice to either comply with society or to rebel against it. The distinctive feature of this order of consciousness is that the rules of society are the filter through which the individual perceives and makes meaning out of all reality. There are no other societal systems from which to choose, there is only “the way things are.” The person operating from third-order consciousness views all other people through his or her own filter and judges them according to that system. It is important to note that this judgment is not born out of bigotry, but out of the intrinsic belief that there is actually only one way to view the world.

Kegan fourth-order

Figure 7. Fourth-Order Consciousness

Fourth Order. Kegan uses the modern era to describe fourth-order consciousness. 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”[14] and unable to cope with competing cultural perspectives and the relationships which are constituted by those competing cultural dynamics. The person in third-order consciousness, when faced with another cultural system different from her own, naturally creates us and them boundaries, declaring her us to be the correct way of perceiving the world and the other’s them to be wrong. These harsh boundaries have contributed to violence and bloodshed throughout the centuries of cultural interaction. The individual who evolves into fourth-order consciousness transcends the third-order filter and perceives that her system is 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 an individual to pursue peaceful transactions with an “other” and to manage modern, plural, realities.

Kegan fifth-order

Figure 8. Fifth-Order Consciousness

Fifth Order. Kegan uses the emergence of Western culture into the postmodern era as a way to describe fifth-order consciousness as it emerges from fourth-order thinking. There is a blessing and a curse in fourth-order consciousness. The blessing is that an individual is able to negotiate peaceful transactions between multiple systems. The curse, however, is that an individual cannot see beyond isolation, atomism, a monadist perspective on the world, where while it is possible to observe that there are multiple systems, it is not yet possible to see how they interpenetrate and “make each other up.” This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and nihilism.

Fourth-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 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.[15] 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. Fifth-order consciousness, in contrast to this isolationist tendency, 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 in the universe are interwoven and mutually constitutive.[16] In other words, we need each other in order to survive. Kegan argues that it is only when humans reach fifth-order consciousness that we can begin to understand that there are viable, peaceful alternatives to violent conflicts when negotiating significant political and ideological differences between individuals and cultures. These peaceful alternatives to violence will be more likely to lead to the mutual survival of the species than the more combative tendencies of third and fourth-order thinkers.

Kegan argues that human beings can actually learn and develop, with support, into fourth and fifth-order consciousness.[17] He has discovered that, through reflective personal and communal critique, an individual can move past blind spots and begin to practice thinking differently, thus perceiving reality from a fourth or fifth order consciousness.

Kegan’s theory is an important framework for the DITB project for three reasons. First, I would argue that Kegan’s theory describes relational ontology and provides helpful language to support my critique of substance ontology.[18] His proposal that human being is the activity of making meaning in community aptly describes the social/relational/entangled Trinitarian essence of life that I will explore in the next chapter.

The second reason Kegan’s theory is important for the DITB process has to do with spiritual formation. The process of moving from one order of consciousness to the next is a form of self-transcendence that correlates with Schneider’s definition of spirituality and the purpose for spiritual formation that I will introduce in the next section.[19] Kegan suggests that, with proper support from a caring community, the individual can overcome her immunity to change and progress to the next order of consciousness. Self-transcendence does not happen automatically and must begin with a form of “conversion” or “awareness” experience that is followed by intentionality.[20] This process is in step with the Vision, Intention, and Means of Dallas Willard that I will also introduce in the next section.

Kegan’s discussion of the fifth-order of consciousness also offers practical reasons why it is necessary for the suburban Christian to be concerned with spiritual formation. Kegan argues that, unless more humans move into fifth-order consciousness, our current human condition of escalating violence at a global level will lead to self-annihilation. This motivation for spiritual formation may be more accessible to the typical suburbanite than mere personal piety, or the fear of Hell and the hope for Heaven in the afterlife.

The third reason Kegan’s theory is important for the DITB project has to do with the purpose of the missional church. Kegan argues that the activity of human being is meaning-making. We are not empty vessels that come to church to be filled with knowledge from the teacher-centered ministry of the Word. We are not isolated, atomistic individual substances that randomly float through space in voluntary transactions. We are humans-beings-making-meaning-together.[21] I would suggest that the missional leader is called to structure spaces in which humans can be together to be human. The act of engaging the research team in participatory, communicative action demonstrated the missional church’s vocation to invite people into being fully human as we make sense out of the Trinitarian life together.

Stephen Brookfield and Critical Social Theory

Stephen Brookfield’s pedagogical theories also form an important framework for the DITB project, and help to explain why I structured the project as a participatory action research team. Brookfield asserts that the facilitation of adult learning is not the smooth voyage along a storm-free river of self-actualization, but is a “transactional drama in which personalities, philosophies, and priorities of the facilitators and the participants interact continuously to influence the nature, direction, and form” of the learning process.[22] Brookfield critiques previous attempts at andragogy,[23] citing that it is based upon modernist notions of top-down models of learning. These older models are what Paulo Freire 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.[24] The andragogy model, Brookfield contends, supports oppressive systems that perpetuate the hegemony of Imperial regimes.

Brookfield’s pedagogical theory draws from four theoretical streams: ideology critique, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, analytic philosophy and logic, and pragmatist constructivism. This fusion, which he calls critical pragmatism,

is one that accepts the essential accuracy and usefulness of the reading of society embedded within ideology critique. It also allies itself with the struggle to create a world in which one’s race, class, and gender do not frame the limits within which one can experience life. However, it is also skeptical of any claims to foundationalism or essentialism, that is, to the belief that there is one, and only one, way to conceive of and create such a society.[25]

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 structure and structure environments in which the students can engage in communicative rationality.

Brookfield’s pedagogical methodologies are especially important for the suburban context in which the DITB project took place. This may seem ironic at first, since most of the theoretical underpinnings of his theory come from Marxist and/or liberation-of-the-oppressed perspectives. His theory is important for this research on two levels. First, the people in the RT are situated within the privileged, white, suburban class that benefits directly from capitalism. There is an intrinsic blindness to this social position that needs a pedagogical methodology that will not perpetuate the hegemony, but will unmask it as a destructive power. Brookfield says that,

Critical teaching begins with developing students’ powers of critical thinking so that they can critique the interlocking systems of oppression embedded in contemporary society. Informed by a critical theory perspective, students learn to see that capitalism, bureaucratic rationality, disciplinary power, automaton conformity, one-dimensional thought, and repressive tolerance all combine to exert a powerful ideological sway aimed to ensure the current system stays intact. Critical thinking in this vein is the educational implementation of ideology critique; the deliberate attempt to penetrate the ideological obfuscation that ensures that massive social inequality is accepted by the majority as the natural state of affairs. Adults who learn to conduct this kind of critique are exercising true reason, that is, reason applied to asking universal questions about how we should live.[26]

Is this not the same question that the missional leader desires to lead the church into asking? As Christians, we pray each week that God’s kingdom may come, that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. I invited the RT to come together to dream new dreams regarding spiritual formation in the suburbs. It was my desire to echo the questions that Brookfield suggests are the purpose of his theory:

What kind of societal organization will help people treat each other fairly and compassionately? How can we redesign work so that it encourages the expression of human creativity?[27]

The second reason Brookfield’s theory is important for the DITB project is his emphasis and implementation of praxis.

[his pedagogical theory] centers on the need for educational activity to engage the learner in a continuous and alternating process of investigation and exploration, followed by action grounded in this exploration, followed by reflection on this action, followed by further investigation and exploration, followed by further action, and so on.[28]

The praxis cycle is at the heart of participatory action research. I structured the DITB project around the cycle, both at the macro and micro level. The macro level was organized around three phases. The first phase drew the RT together to interact, challenge their previous thinking, collaborate new ideas, and devise a plan of action. The second phase dispersed the team into the field to act out their plans. The third phase regrouped the team to make meaning out of the action. The desire was that this third phase would launch the team into further action, beyond the end of the project, based upon the reflective process. This macro process reflected the reflection-action-reflection praxis cycle.

The micro level also supported the praxis cycle. Each team session allowed space for communicative action in the form of structured dialogue in multiple forms; dyads, triads, and small groups; quiet space for personal journaling; and large group discussion. Furthermore, the RT was encouraged to interact on the website discussion forum throughout the full course of the project. The action and communicative reflection created the tension necessary for the praxis Brookfield suggests.

Mary Hess, Participatory Action Research, and Digital Media

Mary Hess’s work with digital media and religious education provides a strong framework for both the use of digital media and the use of participatory action research methodology in the DITB research project. Digital media played a big part in the DITB project. First, I established a private online discussion forum for the RT to interact with each other at any time. Second, I created animated videos to communicate the initial information regarding the social Trinity. I showed the videos to the RT during session three, but the videos were also posted on YouTube and on the project website prior to the meeting.[29] This allowed the RT unlimited access to the videos. Third, the RT members were invited to create personal journals throughout the course of the project and either post them to the discussion forum or email them directly to me. Finally, I continually blogged about my ongoing research and invited the RT to interact with the blog via comments, discussion forums, and/or personal emails.[30]

Hess argues that creating space for interactive digital media,[31] like I described above, is reflective of the Trinitarian relationality that I have argued for in this project.[32] Hess also argues that digital technologies help religious educators to: (1) provide a richer, more multiply intelligent environment within which to learn; (2) provide more opportunities for real collaboration; (3) give pastoral leaders a better angle of vision on the challenges their congregations are facing and the specific assumptions with which they enter learning; (4) provide better access to primary-source materials, and (5) overcome constraints of geography and time.[33]

Hess has also provided the framework for why participatory action research was not simply a stylistic choice on my part for pursuing this academic project, but was inherently necessary for the proper pursuit of the question. Hess argues that all knowledge is situated, contextual, and communicatively constructed knowledge, and therefore, any attempt to research a question within the realm of religious education must be pursued within the context of a contextually situated people.[34] The purpose of this kind of research project is to “re” “search;” to search again and reexamine previously held beliefs and to collaboratively re-construct new meaning through the process of the communicative action that can best be structured within a participatory action research project.[35]

The DITB research question seeks to explore the impact of the social Trinity within suburban ELCA congregations. This question can only be asked and answered by suburban ELCA people. Some might argue that the limited scope of this project renders its findings unhelpful for the general use of the church at large. Hess argues that such positivist notions of knowledge are not the only—and perhaps not even the best—way to describe the universe. She further argues—drawing from feminist theology—that

research methods that refused to ‘own their partiality’ would be actively discouraged. The pursuit of universal truths would become the pursuit of highly specific truths that yet have the ability to speak to myriad difference…It is precisely this kind of research, that actively owns its commitments and is explicitly situated within a specific community, that I believe is most useful for religious educators.[36]

The DITB project explored the suburban ELCA congregation. The majority of people in the suburban context have access to the internet and various interactive digital media.[37] A research project within the context of religious education for the purpose of the missional church necessitates a space that promotes communicative rationality. Given these facts, it was an obvious choice to structure the project as a participatory action research project.


[1] Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 10th anniversary ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 100.

[2] I will argue this point in chapter three.

[3] I will argue in the Word of God frame and the missional frame that the missional leader seeks to facilitate spaces in which the local congregation can dwell in the Word and in the World in order to listen and to discern what God is doing in the world and to join God in the missio dei. A teacher-centered hierarchical system would be toxic to this goal.

[4] Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 102.

[5] Palmer does not necessarily identify it is postfoundationalist. This is a term that I will introduce below as my preferred moniker for our current post/late-modern cultural and epistemological milieu.

[6] Mary E. Hess, Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind, Communication, Culture, and Religion Series (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005), 7.

[7] Parker J. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey, 1st HarperCollins pbk ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).

[8] Ibid., 11.

[9] Hess, Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind, 4ff.

[10] Another helpful model is Communicative Theology in which the experience of God happens in the communicative action between the I, IT, WE, and GLOBE. Matthias Hilberath Bernd Jochen Scharer, The Practice of Communicative Theology: Introduction to a New Theological Culture (New York: Crossroad Pub. CO, 2008).

[11] Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 4.

[12] Ibid., 8.

[13] I created an animation to help visualize the evolution through the five orders. http://www.deepintheburbs.com/in-over-our-heads-by-robert-kegan/ (accessed February 12, 2015)

[14] Robert Kegan, In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).

[15] See Gadamer, Truth and Method. I will explore this further in the next chapter.

[16] This is, in my opinion, a psychological expression of relational ontology that I will explore in chapter three.

[17] 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).

[18] Western Christianity has been dominated by the Platonic ideal of substance ontology, in which all things can be reduced to a simple, perfect form that has a fundamentally distinct substance from that which is different from it. e.g. human substance is distinct from animal substance which is distinct from divine substance. This creates an ontological gap between things that may or may not be passable. Relational ontology, on the other hand, begins with the relationality of all things as constitutive of individual particulates. I will expound upon this point in the next chapter.

[19] Here I understand the self to be the filter through which the individual makes meaning in any particular order. The filter is a socially constructed self that orders experiential data. It may be helpful—although beyond the scope of this paper—to discuss the relationship between the social me and the I that George Herbert Mead suggests. When the I becomes aware of the me—the filter of the order in which the self is operating—it can, through supportive, reflective, communicative action, transcend that self and become a “new self” that has a broader perspective. This is, I would suggest, spiritual formation. See George Herbert Mead and Charles W. Morris, Mind, Self & Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago press, 1934).

[20] Walter Conn also bases his definition of conversion upon human developmental models. He says, “In turning life and love upside down, however, religious conversion does not destroy the authentic moral autonomy of personal responsibility. Indeed, the criterion of both religious conversion and the development of personal autonomy is self-transcendence. Justice, universalizing faith, generativity, and interindividual intimacy all insist on mutuality as the norm of authentic autonomy. Only the inauthentic notions of absolute autonomy and self-fulfillment are contradicted by the self-transcending love and surrender of religious conversion. Christian religious conversion is not the antithesis but the completion of personal development toward self-transcending autonomy.” Walter E. Conn, Christian Conversion: A Developmental Interpretation of Autonomy and Surrender (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), 268.

[21] Cf. Groome’s agent-subjects-in-relation. Thomas H. Groome, Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry: The Way of Shared Praxis, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 9.

[22] Stephen Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices, 1st ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986), vii-viii.

[23] A term made popular by Malcolm Knowles. See 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. (Boston: Elsevier, 2011).

[24] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th anniversary ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000). See also the previous discussion of Parker Palmer’s model of teacher-centered vs. subject-centered learning. Figures 3 and 4.

[25] Stephen Brookfield, The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005), 16-17.

[26] Ibid., 350.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Brookfield, Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices, 15-16.

[29] View the videos at the Deep in the Burbs website, “The Trinity Frame”. http://www.deepintheburbs.com/theoretical-frames/trinity/ (accessed February 12, 2015)

[30] It is interesting to note how one particular theological concept grew through the communicative action of blogging. I began the project by presenting the social Trinity. That was the language used for the animations that I created at the beginning of the project. However, as I progressed with my research I grew less comfortable with the language of social Trinity and more aligned with the language of relational Trinity or the entangled Trinity. I did not necessarily insert this shift into the RT sessions, but I wrote freely about it on the blog. Several of the RT members engaged me in constructive—and sometimes resistant—dialogue around this new language. It became evident in the final team sessions that the language of entangled Trinity had woven its way into the RT. See the commentary on Phil’s story in chapter seven.

[31] I make an important distinctive in this statement: interactive digital media. Not all media is conducive to the type of collaborative space that Hess is lauding. There has been a dramatic shift in media technology during the twentieth century. Print, radio, and television are media that are more like the trucking industry that ships information one direction. This type of media has been used to perpetuate the teacher-centered model of learning. Hess argues that the interactive digital media of the Internet creates the communicative spaces needed for subject-centered learning, and, I would argue, for Trinitarian praxis. See Mary E. Hess, “Pedagogy and Theology in Cyberspace: All That We Cant Leave Behind,” Teaching Theology & Religion 5, no. 1 (2002); Peter G. Horsfield, Mary E. Hess, and Adán M. Medrano, eds., Belief in Media: Cultural Perspectives on Media and Christianity (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004).

[32] Mary E. Hess, “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community,” Word & World 30, no. 3 (2010): 284. See also Hess, Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind.

[33] Hess, “What Difference Does It Make? E-Learning and Faith Community,” 289.

[34] See my discussion of postfoundationalism in chapter three.

[35] Mary E. Hess, “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education,” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 284.

[36] Mary E. Hess, “Collaborating with People to Study “the Popular”: Implementing Participatory Action Research Strategies in Religious Education,” Religious Education 96, no. 3 (2001): 279.

[37] It is important to note that, while most suburban citizens in the context of this project have access to interactive digital media, not all suburbanites embrace digital media. Some of the RT members were discouraged and intimidated by the use of digital media. I will discuss this further in the final chapter. Further, it is important to note the digital divide that exists between the socio-economic classes. Not everyone in society has free access to digital media. Therefore, digital media cannot be understood as the ultimate answer to democratic, emancipatory pedagogy. It is, within particular contexts, emancipatory and communicative, however, and must be embraced as such by religious educators.

Age Matters: How Spiritual Formation in the Suburbs Must Address the Age Gap

One thing that surprised me about the DITB Project was the average age of the team. Most of the team members were over 50. I must confess that I was initially disappointed and discouraged by this, but was ultimately humbled. The disappointment and discouragement stemmed from my initial expectation that I would focus in this project on the stereotypical suburban family that has children in late elementary or secondary school and spends exorbitant amounts of time taxiing children to various extra curricular activities. I was interested to know how an engagement in spiritual and theological conversation might impact their spiritual formation. I reached out to many families within this demographic and was repeatedly and politely denied. “We’d love to participate. Thank you for asking. But, we’re just (you guessed it) too busy.”

What was I thinking? One of the biggest challenges that face the suburban family is the overwhelming amount of opportunities for activity and the social pressure to engage and excel in all of them. What family, given all the opportunities available to them, would choose to dedicate nine months of their lives to talk about social Trinity and spiritual formation to help a pastor in the pursuit of a PhD? The thing that I hoped to explore was the thing that kept them from engaging. This reflects one of the core issues that every suburban church faces. How does the church compete with all the other opportunities that vie for the suburban family’s attention and allegiance?

The people that did have more time to devote to a nine-month project, and an interest in the topic of spiritual formation, were those over the age of fifty. So, I was discouraged and disappointed that the median age of the DITB team was over 50. There were fifteen household units represented on the team and only four of them represented the family-with-active-children category. The other eleven households were all past that phase and had adult children. Some had grandchildren and some did not. How would we truly get after the issues of suburban living that I felt were at the heart of my questions?

These thoughts of discouragement and disappointment were all present prior to our first meeting. My feelings of disappointment and discouragement were replaced with feelings of humility and gratitude after the first meeting. God had assembled a far better team than the one I had envisioned. We did have four households that were in the thick of the suburban family situation, so that was good. However, the eleven households that were beyond that phase offered two things that those within it could never offer. First, they offered experience. They had raised their children in the suburban context during the 70s, 80s, 90s, and some as recent as the 00s. Granted, society was pre-internet at that time, but the pressure to succeed and the carting to various activities were very much real. They had lived it and could speak to it. However, the second thing they offered was priceless. They offered the wisdom that comes from perspective. They had been there, done that, and have lived to tell about it.

I came to realize that the presence of older team members became vital to the research for three reasons. First, the wisdom and perspective had a mentoring effect on the younger members of the team. Second, it reflected Kegan’s theory of cognitive development and gives credence to Bob’s Big Idea. Finally, it represents the future of the suburban landscape as the average age of the suburbs is increasing each year. Each of these points has practical implication for missional church leaders, and I will address them each in turn.

Addressing the Age Gap

The typical suburban Lutheran church has three generations always present: the grandparents, the parents, and the children. These generations have always been present, but, of course, shift with the passing of time. The current snapshot of these generations, at the time of this writing, offers a unique moment in the history of Western society as it relates to both the postmodern shift and the rapid change in technology. The older generation, born in the 1930s and 1940s, was educated during the 1950s when the average American small town or suburban context was (a) racially segregated, (b) dominated by modern rationalist epistemological and pedagogical philosophies, and (c) surrounded by a dominant Judeo-Christian Culture in which Biblical themes were present in public media and local church attendance was considered a civic duty.[1] This is important to note in the context of this study since this generation was part of the urban sprawl that took place during the post-WWII 1950s and 1960s in which young families followed the highways and cheap housing out of the urban centers and sought the garden utopia that the suburban lifestyle offered under the contract of the American Dream.[2] While many Lutherans followed the migration from the city to the suburbs, the typical story of this generation, at least within the congregations represented in the DITB project, is one of people who were raised in the rural mid-west in a context dominated by one particular type of Lutheran church. It was only in their adult lives that they moved into the suburban context and sought churches that preserved their Lutheran heritage. In either case, the older generation is first-generation suburban Lutherans who bring a Christian-cultured perspective to the role of the local congregation.

The middle generation are those born in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these people were born in the suburbs and have lived their entire lives in the suburban context, or have moved from the economically struggling small town into the suburban context as young adults. They spent the first half of their lives in pre-computer Reaganomics and their adult lives experiencing the quantum leap into the digital age: from microwave ovens, to cable television, to personal computers, to the internet, to HD television, to smart phones and social media. Some of this generation has been early adopters of digital media, others still function in a paper-based world. This generation, often referred to as Generation X in the 1990s, was the first to experience the mainstream effects of postmodern thought and the disillusionment of the American Dream. This is the first generation of adults to experience a culture in which local church attendance is not the dominant cultural expectation. It is also the first adult generation to experience a globalized world in which career advancement often requires transcontinental and often international relocation. It is the first generation to actualize the radical individual self and the displacement experienced by self-actualization.[3]

The younger generation, born in the 1990s and 2000s, are often called the Millenials. This is the first generation to never know life without the internet and instant access to various forms of information and entertainment via personal digital devices and social media. This generation lives with a global awareness and connectivity never before imagined by the older generations. This is the first generation to experience a globalized, pluralistic world in which the white, middle-class, Christian culture is not the dominant culture of their experience, but is simply one culture among many cultures that are offered up as a smorgasbord of preference for the informed consumer. It is the first generation to experience globalized equality as the norm rather than the voice of the minority raging against the system.

This simplified, almost caricatured portrait of these three generations articulates an obvious gap between them. Each generation can safely say that the suburb of 2014 is not our parent’s world. The challenge that lies before us in the missional suburban church is one of addressing the gap between the generations and cultivating generative spaces between them. The younger generation needs the wisdom of age, and the older generation needs the skills to navigate the digital world. This brings us to our second issue of age matters.

Bob’s Big Idea

I noted in chapter two that Kegan’s theory of the five orders of consciousness offers a helpful framework for understanding the dynamics of spiritual formation. It becomes helpful again in this specific issue of age matters that I have listed above. Let me briefly review Kegan’s theory. He states that there are five basic phases through which the neuro-typical human being evolves throughout the course of life. The first three phases are fairly automatic and happen as a result of development from childhood to adolescence. Most adults remain in third-order consciousness for the remainder of their lives, and, prior to Kegan’s research in the 1980s, it was believed were unable to move beyond it.

Third order consciousness is that in which the individual perceives herself as a part of a larger system, and that the larger system is the sum-total of reality. The individual knows her place in society and has the choice to either accept that place, or rebel against it. In either case, there is basically one reality in which life functions. Kegan uses a historical metaphor to explain these orders. The third-order is the Traditionalist period in which the laws and mores of the tradition are the lived reality of every member of society.

Fourth-order consciousness, Kegan argues, is that phase in which the individual is faced with contradictory and competing cultural systems and realizes that the world is bigger than his own system of origin. This is the modern problem in which most of us feel “in over our heads.”[4] The individual that moves into fourth-order consciousness perceives himself as a radical, atomistic, individual who is a free-agent in the universe and able to negotiate his way through transactional-relational spaces. Kegan uses the historical metaphor of the Modern Era to describe the fourth-order and claims that it still dominates Western society.

I would like to add a geographical metaphor to Kegan’s historical metaphor. We might compare the third order to a small town and the fourth-order to the suburbs. Third-order consciousness is akin to the small town/rural mid-west context of the 1940s and 1950s, in which the older generation began. Several team members described their small town upbringing as one in which one particular religious tradition (typically a Lutheran church) dominated the town. This churched-culture provided a centralizing, unifying, and homogenizing effect on the society. The homogeneity and ubiquitous nature of the churched-culture created a third-order reality in which the typical young adult believed that the ways of this small town were the ways of the entire world.

Fourth-order consciousness is akin to the suburban context. The suburban ideal is one of radical individualism in which the self-sufficient free-agent marks off his own property with fences and garage doors, moves himself through space in his automobile, and chooses his own use of private time to achieve the maximum benefit for his own perceived objectives. Any relationships he has are transactional, conditional, and utilitarian. This includes work, marriage, friendship, civic, and religious affiliations, in that order of priority. This is the modern suburbanite.

Before we discuss the fifth-order consciousness and Bob’s Big Idea, it is important to note the danger of my geographical metaphor. It would be dangerous to suggest that all small town people are third-order thinkers and that all suburbanites are fourth-order thinkers. This is simply false. The point of my metaphor is to imagine the simplicity, homogeneity, and centrality of the church in the small town in contrast to the urban sprawl, disconnectedness, and propensity for independence fostered by the suburban city planning and architecture.

The truth is that the suburbs are full of a mixture of third and fourth-order consciousness. In fact, according to Kegan, the majority of adults, regardless of location, function in third-order thinking. The challenging aspect of the suburbs is that, due to the transient, mobile nature of the globalized world, the typical suburb is a potpourri of various systems-of-origin. Very few suburban residents are from the suburbs, thus they come from somewhere else and bring with them their own cultural system. If they are functioning in third-order consciousness, then they believe that their own cultural system is the same system within which everyone else functions. When this individual has the inevitable encounter with a person from another cultural system, she will usually either respond by withdrawing and seeking a like-minded enclave, or reacting and seeking to eliminate the “wrong” point of view. The survival tactic of the modern era, Kegan argues, is to evolve into fourth-order thinking in which one acknowledges the potpourri nature of the suburban context and learns to utilize the differences for personal advantage. This is the enlightened, modern suburbanite who feels she has adapted.

Let us bring this conversation into the context of the suburban congregation and spiritual formation. There are two basic categories of suburbanites with respect to faith. There are those who fully embrace the secular age and have completely removed themselves from the cultural expectations of religious involvement and seek to live fully in the public sector. Then, there are those who choose to engage in various levels of faith, realizing that this has been relegated to the private sector of life. Within this segment of the faith-engaged population there is a wide assortment of people-groups represented in the suburbs. The diversity of this population is increasing each year as the demographics of the suburbs shift. The faith-engaged suburbanite is faced with an overwhelming amount of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples from which to choose. Now, with the increasing population of “nones” there is also the increasing choice of self-actuated spirituality in which the discerning suburbanite can engage.

The member of the suburban ELCA congregation is left with a dizzying array of choices and pressures from many angles. Typically, the older generation has been part of the same church which transplanted the Lutheran tradition into the suburban context and they consider themselves cradle-to-grave Lutherans and, thus, feel no pressure to leave the church. The middle generation, however, especially those whose parents come from the third-order, small-town Lutheran system, feel pressure to get their kids involved in Sunday School and Confirmation. Yet, the traditional Lutheran liturgy leaves many of the middle-generation, and even more of the millenials, wanting. The younger generations are faced with multiple church options. There are many denominations, and supposedly non-denominational, suburban churches that seek, and market themselves, to meet the felt needs of the overwhelmed, middle-aged suburbanite who is disillusioned with the traditional church, but feels a need for spirituality. This marketing strategy often pulls the middle-generation Lutheran away from the familial allegiance of their parent’s church. The Millenials sense the inconsistency of their parents and the disconnect between their grandparent’s faith and the pluralistic, globalized landscape of their lived experience. How do these generations navigate this space?

A further complication in this scenario comes with Kegan’s argument that the human being is not able to evolve past the third and fourth order of consciousness until after middle age. In other words, the Millenials live in a pluralistic world but function cognitively within a third-order consciousness. Therefore, they can only recognize the cognitive dissonance between the generational and denominational worlds, but do not have the cognitive ability to process it constructively. This is an anxiety-producing predicament. Similarly, the middle-generation is able to evolve into the fourth order, but, for those who do so, this leaves them in a self-focused, utilitarian space of transactional relationships. Perhaps it is the combination of these things which is increasingly motivating the middle-generation and the Millenials to either opt-out of faith altogether or to self-identity in the “none” zone as spiritual but not religious. This, too, leaves the older generation—many of whom are also in third- or fourth-order thinking—wringing their hands as they watch their children and grandchildren walk out the church doors and wonder, “What did we do wrong?”

Kegan suggests that a solution to these problems comes with the evolution to fifth-order consciousness. He labels this with the metaphor of the Postmodern era. The fifth-order consciousness recognizes that the individual is not actually an independent agent in the universe. Rather, the individual exists in an interdependent relationship with her system of origin and, further, her system of origin exists in an interdependent relationship with all other world-systems. Fifth-order thinking situates the individual in a place of humility that acknowledges one’s own limitations and need for the other. This humility opens space for communicative action to take place and, Kegan argues, is the only hope for true peace on earth.

Bob’s Big Idea, as Kegan calls it, states that humanity is evolving toward the fifth-order of consciousness.[5] He notes that advancements in medical technology over the past century have extended the average life expectancy from 45 years to 70 years. This development means that there will be a larger number of people over the age of fifty than has ever been alive at the same time in human history. Since fifth-order consciousness cannot be reached until after the age of fifty, there will be a higher chance of more people who will be functioning in fifth-order thinking. This, Kegan suggests, is an evolutionary adaptation in which the human species is trying to get enough people to reach the ability to figure out world peace before we, through our majority third-order thinkers, annihilate ourselves.

In other words, I became grateful that the RT represented the older generation more than the middle generation. It became apparent to me that the older generation brought with it the capacity to move into the fifth-order thinking and bring larger perspective to the conversation.

The Aging Suburbs

I have noted two reasons why I was grateful for the older age of the RT. First, there was a sense of mentoring going on between the older and younger team members. Second, it demonstrated Kegan’s theory of the five orders of consciousness. The third and final reason why the older age of the team was important for this study is that it represents the future of the suburbs. The Met Council report on the future of the suburbs indicates that the median age of the suburbs will increase dramatically over the next two decades. This is true for two reasons. First, the baby-boomer generation is retiring and living longer. There are simply more people in this age bracket than in any other, and the majority of them live in the suburbs. Second, an increasing number of younger families are moving into the city where they are closer to amenities and less dependent on automobile transportation.

The aging suburban population leaves the missional suburban church leader with the challenge to cultivate spaces that connects with the aging middle generation and the emerging Millenial generation.


[1] Wuthnow, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s.

[2] Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia; Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States; Teaford, The American Suburb: The Basics.

[3] Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race; Taylor, A Secular Age.

[4] Thus the title of Kegan’s seminal work. Kegan, In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life.

[5] RSA Blog. “Searching for a Way Out of Hell: Mental Complexity, Wellbeing, and Bob’s Big Idea.” http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2013/socialbrain/searching-hell-mental-complexity-wellbeing-bobs-big-idea/ (accessed January 7, 2015)

Honoring Your Evolving Faith…on the Web

This is how the internet works…for some of us, anyway. I was on Facebook and saw two of my academic colleagues–Ken Reynhout and Josh de Keijzer–shared a post by Peter Enns that was written by Jeannine Brown. (check out the animation I did for Jeannine, BTW). So I read it, and loved it, and shared it as well. While I was on Peter’s blog, I read a post that was a repost of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation on the evolving stages of faith. I knew what he was talking about, because I have read James Fowler’s Stages of Faith and Robert Kegan’s The Evolving Self and In Over Our Heads. Both Fowler and Kegan are disciples of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg and their theories regarding stages of human development.

The internet is a web of knowledge knitted together by these wonderful little things called hyperlinks. Perhaps the interconnectivity of the web is an expression of the 5th order of consciousness in which we realize the interdependence and interconnectivity of all things. IDK.

The amazing thing about all this reading and interconnected knowledge is that it all happened while I was sitting in the dark, early hours of the morning, on my comfy chair, in my bathrobe, sipping coffee. Ah, first-world problems, right? How did the apostle Paul do ministry without the internet? wink, wink.

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 http://www.renovare.org/ (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 http://www.deepintheburbs.com/in-over-our-heads-by-robert-kegan/ (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 ((http://www.artofhosting.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Hostinginahurryversion1.5ChrisC.pdf (accessed July 27, 2014).)) and the World Cafe ((http://www.theworldcafe.com/index.html (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.