Stages of Growth

Arrested Development: what does it mean? For some it is the tv show that ran on Fox from 2003 until 2006 about a wealthy dysfunctional family.

For others, it has multiple meanings that come from medical and mental health history. In the field of medicine, the term “arrested development” was used, in 1835-1836, to mean a stoppage of physical development.  In 1983, the term “arrested development” was considered a form of mental disorder consisting of severe mental impairment, resulting in a lack of intelligence.  Today the term is no longer used to refer to any developmental disorder in the mental health profession.

For Christians, it could mean the cessation of spiritual development on the way to spiritual maturity.

Adam Hamilton in his book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White talks about the development of Christian maturity in the book Stages of Faith by Dr. James Fowler.  Dr. Fowler posits that there are six stages of growth that Christians have as they live out their Christian faith.

Sadly, most Christians never get to stage six. They stop at stage 3.  That is where I will stop today.  In tomorrow’s post I will comment on 4 through 6.

Have you ever heard someone say how wonderful it is to have the faith of a child? Of course that is stage one. What is wonderful about it?  First of all, a child is so accepting.  Secondly, a child is not judgmental.  Those are fine qualities but as Fowler describes in stage 1, a child’s faith is shaped by outside forces too much.  Children are innocent and Jesus knew that when He said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  But let’s examine this idea a bit.  Is Jesus advocating that adults behave as children regarding God?  I really think the innocence of the child is held up as an ideal but God wants us to graduate beyond a childlike knowledge of Him.  Fowler says in stage 1 “It is difficult for them to differentiate between God and the tooth fairy at this stage.”

The second stage is called the Mythical Literal Faith. This level of faith is characteristic of school-age children.  At this stage, the elements of faith are all taken literally.  Belief is centered on an external authority.   People are rewarded by God for good behavior and people are punished by God for bad behavior.  The idea that the God-man relationship is anything beyond simple cause and effect is beyond children at this level.  Do some adults stop their spiritual development at this stage?  Have you ever heard of these three people: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite?  I think they were stuck in this stage as they blamed the woes of Job on his sinfulness.   Of course, we know that Job’s sinfulness was not the cause of his trouble.

The third stage is called Synthetic Conventional Faith.   Most make the shift to this stage in their teen years but many people get to stage three and there they stop.  Conformity is a major word in this stage as we become very concerned with the expectations of others.  The ultimate desire is to fit in with “your group” or to conform to the beliefs of an authority figure in your life.  In a church setting, which is not immune to the pressure of conformity, the Christian just wants to mirror the commonly accepted belief of his or her church.  This sounds ok doesn’t it?  I guess it does until you begin to think that a mature adult should critically examine their beliefs.   Some people see no need for that.  Others want to think about why they believe.  They want to move beyond just looking good on the outside.  They want to be sure what they believe works for them on their inside.  Fowler says many adults never leave stage three.  They live with their unexamined faith and are happy to be accepted in their environment.  For them, that is Christian faith.

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” [1 Corinthians 3: 1-3].

Maybe I am wrong, but as Paul writes in First Corinthians, I think God has a higher goal for us than to just fit in with our earthly companions. He had higher goals for the Church at Corinth.  God expects more of us.   More on this in stages 4 through 6 tomorrow.


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