The Four Stages of Faith
Brian McLaren is a contemporary Christian writer and speaker. In one of his books, Naked Spirituality, he lays out his understanding of the stages we can move through if we desire to live a full, mature, Christian faith. I have lived with these stages for several years now, and I find them to be very helpful.
The stages go like this:
- Simplicity. When in this stage, a person believes people are either with them or against them. It’s all or nothing when thinking about what a Christian looks like .There is good or bad, right or wrong. In this stage one is a dualistic thinker. There are easy answers to every question. People here have the right answers. All others have it wrong. In this stage a person is highly committed, willing to sacrifice and suffer if necessary. They can be arrogant, simplistic, and combative.
- Complexity. In this stage, the person is very pragmatic. Their motives are about being effective, and reaching highly defined goals.This person desires to be effective and successful. Anything is doable. The Church authorities are the ones who know how to do it. The authorities are the coaches that help us learn the rules so we can play the game of life- and win (heaven). God is the ultimate Coach. This person is enthusiastic, idealistic. The weaknesses are the person may be superficial, naive, or overly pragmatic.
- Perplexity. At this stage, a person is at a point where it is understood that everyone has an opinion. Who knows what is right or wrong? This person desires to be honest and authentic. Beliefs are that nothing or little is known or knowable. Everyone has an opinion. Good people are honest about their questions. They are concerned that Church authorities are controlling, trying to impose easy answers on the naive. In perplexity, a person seeks similarly alienated people to be friends. This person is struggling to understand who/what God is and is not. While this person is deeply honest, and sensitive to suffering, they may also be cynical, uncommitted, critical and even withdrawn.
- Humility/Harmony. In this stage, a person seeks first God’s kingdom …loves God, loves their neighbors. Here a person seeks to focus on the few grand essentials. This person desires to fulfill their potential and to be wise. They desire to serve, contribute and make a difference. The beliefs are - some things are known, many are mysteries; life is a quest, there is no “them.” With God's help, life is what you make of it This person realizes that we are all imperfect; sometimes doing our best, other times being dishonest, and sometimes sincerely misguided. A person in this stage, strives for interdependent relationships. God is knowable in part, yet mysterious, present yet transcendent, just yet merciful. This person is able to hold truths in tension, a paradox.
I offer you this description of stages as a way of self examination. Where do you see yourself? Be honest in your assessment. Then ask yourself where you want to be. What do you need to get there?
McLaren believes that we all move through these stages as we grow in spiritual maturity.