Monday, August 22, 2011

Stages of Christian Maturity

Yesterday's train of thought led to a post I hope to make tomorrow on moral development and how you read the Bible.  But I thought I would lay the groundwork for tomorrow's post today by generalizing about stages of Christian maturity.  You may know Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development or James Fowler's Christian stages of faith.  Kierkegaard had a much simpler progression in stages of life: 1) pleasure phase, 2) ethical phase, 3) religious phase.

Of these, I want to modify Kierkegaard and speak of adult Christian depth.  I don't want to speak of these as a clear progression, as if a person will start with the first and eventually move to the third.  In fact, these may more be types of believers than stages.  Nevertheless, I am ordering them because they reflect, in my opinion, shallower and deeper forms of Christian faith.

1 Self-Orientation
There are many Christians, as there are many people, who live primarily for their own pleasure and desire.  I am no Abraham Maslow who saw the goal of human development as a self-defined embrace of life.  There are more and less virtuous people, and those who live solely for their own pleasure are not virtuous.

In a society where it is convenient to be a Christian, many of those in our pews are just as selfish as anyone else. They may use the church purely as a social institution, maybe even a place to get clients for their business.  It's a place for them to look pretty or sing pretty or maybe have power in a generally powerless life.  Whether such people are truly Christians or not is for God to decide, but they are not very mature Christians if they are.

2. Rule-Orientation
Many Christians are oriented around keeping rules.  At worst, these are legalists in the church who are hyper-critical of those who don't keep the rules.  They like the rules for their own sake rather than for their purpose, namely, to protect us from ourselves and each other, as well as to help us grow in our relationship with God.

However, there is a milder form of rule-orientation that seems righteous even though it actually reflects a lack of Christian maturity.  We can hide a rule-orientation behind language of making God number one in our lives.  What we might really mean is "Are you willing to submit to all the rules?"

Language of submitting to God is tricky because God's will is always mediated by someone else's interpretation of it.  If you truly understand the Bible, "obeying the Bible" or "submitting to the authority of God's word" is very much the same.  Which interpretation of the Bible are you referring to?  So my pastor or my church has mediated to me the rules I am supposed to follow.

It is thus much safer to capture all the rules under two headings: loving my neighbor and being God-oriented in a way that means I am willing to sacrifice my own interests when I discern it to be God's will.  This is what I am calling stage 3 of Christian maturity.

3. Servant-Orientation
I wrestled with what to call this ideal stage of Christian maturity.  The benevolent oriented stage?  The principles oriented stage?  Entire sanctification?  None of these others quite seemed to capture it.

The nice thing about the word "servant" is that it applies both to my relationship to others and my relationship to God.  I am assuming a healthy sense of self with healthy boundaries.  I am assuming that moral action is judged based on intended consequences and motives.

I have highlighted the importance of intention in moral assessment many times.  All sin is not sin for a Christian, and sin is not primarily a matter of failing to keep certain rules.  It is not "to miss the mark," so to speak.  These are not mature understandings of morality in general, let alone Christian morality.  The greater the intent to wrong others or to go against God's will, the greater the sin.

Mature moral judgment also looks more to fundamental principles than to specific rules.  It takes situations and contexts into account, rather than having a one shoe fits all "absolutes" approach.  It understands how human culture differs from place to place and how it has changed over time.  It incorporates this understanding in its appropriation of Scripture.

The mature Christian acts toward others with a sincere desire for their well-being, often including self-sacrifice.  The mature Christian is surrendered to God but has a mature sense of who God is and what God desires for the world.  It thus does not view God as self-centered or rule-oriented but sees God as a God of selfless giving as well, most consummately embodied in Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow I will play out these stages of Christian maturity in relation to the way a Christian might use the Bible.  Suffice it to say, these levels also apply to the way a Christian will think politically as well.  And of course it implies that certain Christian traditions are more mature than others.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think that your categories depend on what you are "looking for" as to outcome. And "outcomes are always dangerous "adventures" when it comes to the human, and free societies.

Your outcome is "Jesus, as moral model", as religious model. But, Kohlburg's was a universal model and the "end" was a constitutional government.

Constitutional governments are necessary evils to check and balance human limitations (or sin, if you will). All are equal and represented under the Constituton, irregardless of religious denomination or understanding of their faith commitments.

A Constitutional government does not work in places where the culture is not "free", meaning that there is a dominaton of STATE or CHURCH! Americans and the West in general has taken how we understand our liberties for granted, I think. We take for granted that we have free speech...therefore, we can choose what we say and do. We are free to assemble for religious worship or for political protest...

So, I think that your categories and model fall short....because they don't include "all people" (race, religion, political persuasion, gender, etc.)within the nation, which s defined by the Constitution...

Service for those who choose to be a Christian is in any area of endeavor they choose. And such choice is the value of "self chosen" goals/purposes. "Self" should be acknowledged, as there is always danger of "decieving oneself" or being decieved by others. Humans are self-interested, therefore, the best way to prevent abuse of power and maintain mutuality or balancing power is negotiaton and diplomacy. Otherwise, "self interest" is submitted to another power that will be in control.

Our Founders wanted "a people" who could govern themselves, and not just look toward leadership and governing others. Those that seek leadership sometimes do so to support an undeveloped ego. Egos that are healthy aren't focused on positon,or power over others, but are focused on mutuality and respect. Such egos might not submit to "a ruling power". Such was the resistance of Protestantism n Luther, and the Revolution in our Founding Fathers. These are the princples of our Constutional government.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, Carol Gilligan was a student of Kohlburg and her model was the "feminine model" or "care model"...the "end" of her model as to "maturity" was "self AND other", which goes hand and hand with a Constitutional government and diplomacy!!!

The difficulty today, is the conversaton about internationalism or localism....the nation-state or the U.N. Those that find that beauracracies make for problems (politcs and governing) believe tha separated and divided power must be continued via the naton-state, and not "one world government"...

FrGregACCA said...

Angie, please enlighten me, and I am being sincere here. I really fail to see the relevance of your comments to this blog. What is the connection?

This is a blog about spiritual development and life in the context of Christian community. If you are attempting to answer the question of the psalmist, "How are we to sing the Lord's songs in a strange land?", I am sorry, but I for one fail to see how you are actually doing that.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Christian" is a term that has various meanings in our Protestant culture. Therefore, liberty is of ultimate value in granting diversity of these various opinions. This is why there is a separation of Church and State, as to the First Amendment. Congress shall not establish...a religion(Establishment Clause).

The Constitution was to be the universal as far as the citizen and their rights to live in liberty. The Constituton was not to discriminate against a citizen, as to race, religion or gender. And the Constituton has evolved over the course of its "life" through Amendments that granted liberties to those that didn't have them prior, but lived within our borders (females, slaves, etc.). And this is our difficulty today with Islam and Shairia in our courts!

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

FrGreg, Angie

I agree with FrGreg in asking about the relevance of Angie’s comment to this thread. Not in criticism. Puzzlement. I think the best I can do to make the comments fit into developmental and life cycle concerns comes through attempts to renormalize Freud. By focusing on healthy rather than on unhealthy forms of trust. Via Erik Erikson who holds that integrity amounts to the final and capstone stage of human development as the deposit at the end of the life cycle. Integrity as a life cycle of accumulated experience. Integrity does raise issues of governmental relatedness (Constitution). As well as all other relationships wide spectrum. Religion, global macro-economic. Integrity as a life cycle development does raise all of these matters.

So Constitutional matters are developmental and life cycle issues for integrity.

I’m not saying Angie feels or experiences these questions explicitly as life cycle stage issues. Not as I have put them into life cycle contexts. I’m saying only that this is my extrapolation from Angie’s posts into developmental psychology. Not a diagnoses. Just a guess.

I disagree with Angie that the Constitution suffers as much threat from religious plurality as it does from financialization. See e.g., “Wall Street is our Main Street.”

FrGreg, good to see you again. I’ve been reading here. Not posting much. Not since your difficult questions way back on the debt ceiling thread. I asked for a bye in answering because the combinatorics of influences factoring in our U.S. overall health are beyond me. They still are. Perhaps I haven’t yet reached the life cycle age-factor where I’m wrestling with integrity as the culmination of life experiences. I’d place life cycle and development stuff more into biology (ethology) than into Erikson’s integrity in human development. Trust is our most synthetic unifier (Matt Ridley - biological evolution of trust) – but I still cannot answer. I’m not a holistic thinker. Not into integrity yet. Except that the article above on financialization of the U.S. does express what I previously could only imperfectly express in answering your questions. Again, these comments are life cycle comments so far as they affect trust as a biological synthesis of experience/ Or integrity as for Erikson.

On to integrity as a life cycle capstone –

I do include a charismatic (Quaker charismatic) experience of the Spirit in this mix of trust. It’s not all biologized trust for me. FrGreg, I’m sure you know Quakers are worthless for orthodoxy. Rebels and heretics! Worthless more so for cognitive theology. I often say I’d rather have my mathematics coherent (for my science stuff) and my theology a mess! Charismatic overlays only make things worse. You can probably imagine. Which is probably why – for integrity – I (we Quakers) need some of what doctrinal/theological bearing that you’ve got. If that makes any sense?



Angie Van De Merwe said...

Random Arrow,
No, I don't trust, as a matter of "principle". Trust must be earned, it is not a right. The world is to be understood, as it is, not as it "should be". And, this is the reason we have a Constitutional government to protect rights that might not be respected by others.

So, I am not into charismatic or mystical understanding of the universe, via Eastern understanding....

As to developmental cycles, I am not familiar with these. Freud and Feurbach I am more familiar with.

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

But, Angie, if you know Freud, then you know that you trust innately as a matter of life cycle development, principles or no, right? Freud has it that your only choice is – what – you trust. “To work and to love.” For Freud. I’m not trying to impose principles onto your trust. I don’t think?

As far as mystical liminalia – if religious mystical and liminal stuff is not your bailiwick – then maybe Kekule’s dream as instrumental for getting organic chemistry off to the races? Integrity in life cycle, even for Freud, means paying attention to dreams! No?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Random Arrow,
From what I remember of Freud was his stage development as a child, using sexual stages. One could get stuck in a particular stage.

And I remember his divisions of the person's subconcious (id,ego and super-ego)...

When I said that we should understand and take the world "as it is" not as it "should be", I was not saying that there was to be an ideal world that we seek, but that we should seek after the things we value. This would affirm the "childish id's desire", but within the bounds of the regulating "ego". The super-ego is a parental "judge" that is not needed once one learns to be self-aware...This is integration of personality and a centered self. One doesn't respond out of guilt, or anxiety or "shoulds" but can act within one's chosen boundaries. This is a healthy ego balance.

I understand "god" as the super-ego. Feurbach understood "God" as a projection of "self". I think there is some truth to that.

I don't know where you got a comment about finances or Wall Street in my posts....

Ken Schenck said...

And now, a Deep Thought by Jack Handy: "It seemed to me that, somehow, the blue jay was trying to communicate with me. I would see him fly into the house across the way, pick up the telephone, and dial. My phone would ring, and it would be him, but it was just this squawking and cheeping. 'What?! What?!' I would yell back, but he never did speak English."