James Fowler did a tremendous service to Christianity, when he developed his understanding of stages of faith. Fowler gave birth to a system of five stages in which he develops both the psychological state and appearance of a person within their faith. He says the five stages are this:
Stage 1: Fowler says that those in adolescence have no real firm foundation for their faith. They have no real belief system, or doctrine. What they do have is imagination. They pray authentic and simple prayers (which is one of the reasons why I think Jesus loves them so much). But, they have nothing to grab onto. Things come and go, and their faith goes with it.
Stage 2: Fowler says that once a person is able to move beyond their adolescent development, they begin to embody the beliefs and practices of their community. They take on very literal interpretations of scripture and theological beliefs. The beliefs of their communities and family, is what gives meaning to their lives.
Stage 3: Fowler calls this the conformity stage. He says that one is starting to leave the beliefs of the family and conforming to a larger community. Most people, find comfort in this stage and never leave it. They conform to the theology of their church. They take conform to the practices of their group. The beliefs and values in this stage are very personal, yet they go deeply unquestioned. There is very little real transformation.
Stage 4: This stage is looking to develop their “true” self. They no longer want to embody the beliefs, values, and practices, solely for the sake of embodying them. This stage is often deconstructive and critical. Often filled with angst any cynicism towards outside parties. While the first three stages can be narcisstic, only considering one’s thought, feelings and beliefs, this one is self consumed because its only real goal is to work on the “self” outside of others.
Stage 5: This stage allows the individual to see the value in each stage, and how each one was necessary to their significance. They embrace contradictions, and paradoxes. They long for true intimacy with others and God. In this stage, we often see people start relaying faith not as a thing of “me” but as of a thing of “we.” You see a person in Stage 5 do works of peace, justice, and reconciliation beyond the “this is what good Christians do” frame of consciousness.
Stage 6: Stage 6 is exceedingly rare. These people are the ones who are all-inclusive. They let everybody in, just as Jesus did. They create massive space for others to experience liberation and healing. It’s no longer about them. They allow any stage in, and love them in it.
Each stage of life requires radical courage. Most people never move beyond stage three because they fear the pain of losing their community and the hostility that could come of that. Many people lose their faith in stage four because they fall into the traps of anger, cynicism and deconstruction for too long. Fear is present in all stages except for the last. We fear that which is not “us.” We find people in our stage of development and latch onto them. True transformation can never come from something that is “us,” it most always come from the “other.” We are not God, so God is the “Holy Other.” Other denominations are not “us,” most other people are not “us.” Yet, if we ever want to move beyond “us,” we must begin by moving towards the “other.” This takes exceedingly strong courage because we have no control over what they are going to say or do. Lastly, we must not fear the ability to move forward and to forgive the stages, and the people during the stages before us. They were necessary for our transformation.
Which stage do you believe you fall in?