Thursday 15 July 2010

Alan Hirsch (Kierkegaard) and Peter Stanley

14th July Facebook- saw two friends cover the subject of the Stages of Growth.
From the point of view of this blog,even if people are coming in at different angles, I think it is great that such an obvious subject which has been so chronically neglected in evangelicalism, at last be covered.

HOVERING OVER 70,000 FATHOMS: Kierkegaard's Stages and Discipleship

Today at 04:15
This was edited out of mine and Mike's upcoming book, tentatively called *The Faith of Leap: A Theology of Adventure and Risk and the Implications for Discipleship, Mission, Leadership, & the Church* So might as well put it here...

Soren Kierkegaard, the now famous philosopher and prophetic stirrer, was fighting against a similar domestication of the Christianity in his day. Throughout his life, he prophetically railed against the state-sponsored, priestly, religion that so stifled the spirit and sold its soul to the spirit of the age. Always wary of the power of ‘the crowd’ to enforce conformity, he called for the individual to the courageous adventure of the spirit. One of the ways he articulated how we move to true maturity is what is known as ‘the three stages’: the aesthetic, ethical, and the religious stage.

We suggest that in the three stages lies a framework for how individual disciples, as well as churches, can move from the despair of spiritual boredom to the adventure of faith that Kierkegaard describes as being suspended above 70,000 fathoms of water.
Firstly there is the Aesthetic Stage: Here the individual lives in what Kierkegaard calls ‘immediacy.’ “At this level one lives within almost entirely devoted to the pursuit of pleasure (what he calls ‘the prisoner of the happy moment’). Life here is profoundly unreflective and lived in conformity with the expectations of the ‘crowd.’ For the person in this stage, the highest goal is self-satisfaction, even at the cost of living an authentic, consistent life. But the end result is that people made in the image of God cannot endure such shallowness and it leads to despair. What Kierkegaard calls ‘the staling of existence.’ Most people never make it beyond this stage and live lives of quiet desperation. We are the most over-entertained, most affluent, most indulged generation of all time, and yet we have the highest depression and suicide statistics among the young. This indicates something significant. Boredom is the end result of living on the surface of life…of failing to go deeper.

The next and more existentially consistent level is called Ethical Stage: Here the individual begins to get some real direction in life, and becomes aware of and personally responsible for good and evil, and begins to form lasting commitment to oneself and others. The realization of enduring values – justice, freedom, peace, love, and respect for the moral law within, propel the ethical self forward into a life of responsibility, of caring beyond one’s own immediate interests. By breaking away from enslaving hedonism and conventionalism, life at this level develops a consistency and coherence that it lacked in the previous sphere of existence. Simply put, one discovers that “there’s something more to life than pleasure or being ridiculously good-looking. But there is a catch; there is more to life than ethics and moral duty, and to get stuck here means one risks becoming the judgemental moralist that we all despise. In other words, no one will want to go on vacation with you. In fact moralism is another form of despair…this is so because humans were made for something much more. We were made for life before God. This need for to find the real meaning behind all things drives the spiritual adventurer on to the next level.

The Religious Stage: At this stage, the individual realizes that the eternal, ultimate good is not a static system of ethical rules, but a real, living being. One discovers that “there’s someone more to life”. When an individual stands before God he no longer sees himself as self-sufficient. He recognizes his own inability to transform himself. The religious person strives to allow himself to be transformed by God. Thus one who lives in the religious stage lives in faith-upheld obedience to God. Since one’s commitment is to a living God, one must at times set aside social conventions (go against the flow), and even “suspend the ethical” for the sake of living in faith.

Interestingly, and as we have indicated above, Kierkegaard said the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Fear is the negation of love. And fear keeps us from loving, growing, maturing, and adventuring into God’s big world. Thus, by risking the journey, by forgoing our penchant for personal safety and for conformity to the masses, we move from self-love, to love of others, to love of God. All human loves enfolded in, and undergirded by, the centering love of God. We learn to love self and others properly by loving God truly.
But to understand Kierkegaard correctly here, we must not perceive these stages as a simple linear progression. Rather, any move to a deeper stage merely incorporates and integrates the functions of the previous ones—the ‘religious’ person can appreciate pleasure and aesthetics, and incorporates ethics and morality into life. It simply is not the determining center of life. That belongs to God. Nor is progress through the stages automatic. In fact, the real challenge of evolving into true humanity lies in the fact that the person must deliberately and courageously choose to engage the risks of life, negotiate personal crisis, bravely confronting even despair when necessary, in order to move from one stage to another. Thus, it can be viewed as follows...
some comments.......
Mark Stibbe These correspond roughly to John Wesley's three categories and stages: THE NATURAL, THE LEGAL and the FILIAL (see my book, FROM ORPHANS TO HEIRS: CELEBRATING YOUR SPIRITUAL ADOPTION).
Yesterday at 08:48 · Chris Welch I've been wrestling with that one Mark....ever since reading Orphans... And now I'm convinced it is filial....but not quite the huggy stuff Fatherhood has been up until now in the last 15 years. I think the huggy stuff sets the foundation....then out of the trust ... See morethat has been developed you get the "lightning" spirit words that come from God that separate soul from spirit. Either through our own rough circumstances, through spouses, friends, and committed church around us. And I think this dovetails in more with the second seal message. I never wanted the 3rd level message either much...I was too busy browsing a bookstall in Darmstadt suiting my intellectual inquisitveness. But a nun grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and brought me where I should have been, with the other Youth Helpers listening to Mother Basilea Schlink. It hurt. It still hurts. But 40 years on I am writing the something happened.
23 hours ago · James Petticrew Alan mark is right here I think I have said it before, I think your theology is edging towards a very Wesleyan expression. Of course Wesley was also faced by a similar scenario of a national church captured largely by Deism. This theological convergence shouldn't be surprising of course as an emphasis on mission, discipleship and Kingdom should lead to the same themes and thinking in any century.
22 hours ago · Chris Welch One fascinating line of study is the four stages (last three can be religious) which psychologists are taught.M Scott Peck refers to this in "Different Drum". Dave Tomlinson also refers to this in "Post Evangelical" but relating the steps to knowing Jesus. ie you almost have to lose Him again, before you get to walk consistently with the real One, ... See morewho defies all systems.A successful denomination handles these four stages of personal growth within its infrastucture. The fascinating thing is to observe that these systems don't quite correlate. What do I mean? Well the Catholics murdered Madame Guyon, then later decided to own her.So those of you who like systems, meditate for a while on how the real version of growth (Jesus and the disciples) fails to correlate in structured church. In those precise cracks in the system is the devil active. See and also a post that poses the a church containing all believing stages actually possible in practice. Remember, Jesus Himself had problems moving people from stage 2 to 3. Everyone quietly withdrew, scratching their heads"Phew, this is a hard saying"

Peter Stanley

Stages of Faith

I am very conscious of the need to recognise that only some committed Christians are being called outside the walls of traditional Christianity at this time. The journey is often referred to as a time of detox or a wilderness experience. You will have seen in "What is 'Church'?" that I was really influenced by the work of Alan Jamieson who had himself been influenced by Fowler's "Stages of Faith". These notes were prepared some six years ago when my emphasis was still on head knowledge rather than heart awareness. It was a couple of years later that I was reading "Adventures in Christ" by Andre Rabe and came across the following:
"If I have to teach a person how to respond to such a revelation, that person obviously did not have a revelation of Christ. It is dead religious traditions that need to teach its followers how to respond. An introduction to the living person of Christ needs no artificial protocols".
This seems to suggest that heart awareness must come first - but is it perhaps true that God in his wisdom calls some initially through the head and others through the heart?


Many people have attempted to describe how faith changes, matures and develops through life – a journey through different rooms of a castle – a journey through many different types of terrain.
Fowler uses ‘Stages of Faith’ (that tends to suggest a logical hierarchical approach), others have referred to styles or zones of faith (less rigid and allowing for overlap).
For many people their experience of faith changes with adulthood – sometimes radically and unalterably transformed as they move into new ‘phases’ of faith.

The great majority who attend church regularly could probably be described as in a ‘conformist stage’ where they are acutely tuned to the expectations and judgments of significant others and where there is the security of being part of a like-minded community. I see this as a valid position for many church-going Christians that should not be disturbed.
Many are committed workers with strong loyalty to their church community, often with deep but unexamined convictions. They often focus on relationships with God and the important people in their lives – a strong sense of the church as an extended family – there to support each other.
Because of this, they tend to find conflict and controversy threatening to them.
They tend to see opposites such as good and bad; sacred and secular; Christian and non-Christian; saved and unsaved. They don’t have an independent perspective.

(This seems to be a reasonable starting point although it is certainly open to discussion - perhaps it is particularly true of some Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches).

Problems are thought to arise when some (possibly prompted by the Holy Spirit) become dissatisfied or disillusioned. Because of the 'walled in' secure feeling, it often takes a major upset for any transition beyond this stage to take place. Alan Jamieson identified four such groups of people (plus some who have transitioned to a different faith):

Displaced followers – those who are hurt or angry – they have what he calls a dependent faith based on external authority – they have an unexamined faith – a bold faith – often using scripture to justify their position.
Reflective exiles – who have feelings of unease and irrelevance – questioning deep rooted foundations. They are seen as counter dependent – engaged in a ‘deconstruction’ of their previous faith. There is an ongoing reflective process that involves re-evaluation of each component of their faith – they have a hesitant and tentative faith – which they may have ‘put down’ for a time
Transitional explorers – who have an emerging sense of ownership of faith – moving from deconstruction of the received faith to an appropriation of some elements that have been tested and found to be valid and worthy of being retained – plausible beyond reasonable doubt (but what is plausible varies considerably from one individual to another)
Integrated way finders – where the reconstruction work has basically been completed – but still open to refinement – a more rounded faith that seeks to integrate all aspects of life – aware of some of the deeper issues that lie within.
Jamieson has recently suggested that the crucial adult faith-shifts involve a move from conventional faith into a period of faith dislocation, exploration, self ownership and expression and on into a new embracing of faith and life as intimately entwined and inseparable, a desire for mystery, ritual and symbolism and a relishing of the paradoxical nature of truth (the move from pre-critical faith through a period of hyper-critical reflection to a post-critical faith).

The earlier boundaries become less fixed – a greater awareness of paradox and better able to accept it – allowing different perspectives to co-exist – more open to ambiguity, mystery, wonder, and apparent irrationalities. People at this stage become less dogmatic, more willing to listen and less inclined to label those who disagree with them.

The changes that are occurring in global culture encourage a shift from conventional to post-conventional faith – but there is also an opposite response into religious, political and ideological fundamentalism!

The following table seems to be a good summary of the differing perspectives:
(don't know how to copy tables into google-ACW)
Conventional faith expression
Post-conventional faith expression

Focus on a black and white, right and wrong faith
Focus on the greys of faith and life
Focus on all shades of faith and life


Answers accepted
Searching and questioning, doubt and critique
Understanding and relishing of mystery, paradox and wonder

Primary sense of relationship with God is hierarchical e.g. God’s servant
Primary sense of relationship with God is relational e.g. God’s friend (John 15)
Primary sense of relationship with God is intimate e.g. God’s lover (Song of Songs)

Socially constructed identity and roles
Formation of self identity and roles
Giving of self for others

Want someone to lean on – e.g. a mentor or discipler
Want someone to encourage and legitimise their personal exploration – e.g. a facilitator or sponsor.
Want a co-discerner of God’s will and leading – e.g. a spiritual director

Focus on external authority of leaders, the Bible and my community of faith
Focus on internal authority of self-understanding, experience and self-truth.
Focus on an integration of internal and external authorities of faith

The Bible, faith community or leaders are the authors of my faith and life. A need to listen to the external voice(s)
I am the author of my faith and life. A need to listen to the internal voice(s)
The Spirit of God within me is the author of my faith and life. A need to integrate external and internal voices.

Status quo confirmed
Status quo challenged
Status quo integrated into larger canvas

What and how
What is my contribution?

Specific personal examples
Hearing and telling our own stories
Working with metaphor, art and poetry

Post-church groups will be able to make connections with the emerging post-modern culture – will have learned from the journey of exile – open to people who think differently – with a broad approach to worship, prayer and bible reading!

The nature of pastoral care needs change over time – the need to understand the differing perspectives – we can all be vulnerable at times – the need for patience! There seems to be a need for Safe Havens - forums can be intimidating (especially for older people?). There seems to be a need for ministry at many levels – beware of the risk of concentrating only on those in the earlier stages.


For many people faith or belief is something you either have or you don’t have (faith and belief are often seen as synonymous). Others see faith as a dynamic, changing, evolving process which sometimes means changing or abandoning previously held beliefs and commitments – part of a less radical maturing process! Such people have:

The ability to hold together several unmistakable polar tensions
The ability to cherish paradox and apparent contradictions of perspectives on truth – living with ambiguity, mystery and wonder
A post critical receptivity and a readiness for participation in a reality brought to expression in symbol and myth
A genuine openness – knowing that a grasp on ultimate truth needs continual correction and challenge.
There is an alternative view of these stages here

Further discussion can be found in "Stages of Faith" here on "The Room of Grace"

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