Setting the Gospel Free

Jenny Chisholm writes: "I found this while browsing in a book display at Conference. A glance through the book revealed nothing else that interested me at the time, so I sat down and made a very quick precis--maybe one day I'll go back and read it more thoroughly."

The history of the Judeo-Christian peoples seen in terms of Fowler's Stages of Faith [see below], from Setting the Gospel Free by Brian C Taylor.

  1. Genesis/Exodus is about a young community of people and the stories they told, perhaps for hundreds of years--stories common to other primitive cultures from Mesopotamia to Canaan, that taught the mysteries of God, nature and humanity. They are full of magic and mystery, like the world of pre-schoolers. Some pentecostals and charismatics are stuck in this world of magic and opposing powers.
  2. The "older childhood" of the Judean peoples is marked by the beginning of the Law. Legislation defines what is right and wrong. Like children, they needed to know the allowable limits. What is required of us? In contemporary terms this is shown in the legalism that tells us that such things as gambling, dancing, divorce are wrong. You must go to church, accept Jesus in a prescribed way, obey your husband. Sins are hunted out--the war between light and darkness continues. These legalists are still children addicted to an immature and imaginary security.
  3. The tribal stage is typical of the teenager. The Jewish people were a tribe separate and different from the neighbouring tribes. Today people recognise a lifegiving world view in their enclosed church system, and take on the system's rules. The worst aspect of this is that life outside may be forgotten or deliberately ignored, resulting in tunnel vision and smug exclusivism.
  4. Young adults develop a social awareness outside the tribe. The prophets demanded justice for outsiders and peacemaking between nations. Spiritual maturity begins when a person has journeyed past magic, legalism and tribalism and found a God of mercyand justice.
  5. The Wisdom tradition developed after the crises in the nationís history. Their cry was "God, where are you?" Humility and breadth of thought followed.
  6. Jesus lived in wonder and shared his vision of the unity of the world's people and their oneness with God.

Jenny Chisholm

Fowler

To amplify the above, Jenny provided the following:

James W Fowler, in Stages of Faith (1981) and Faith Development and Pastoral Care (1987), describes the development of religious faith as a process which goes by stages, reaching the full form worth striving for in seven steps, of which Taylor appears to have combined two of the earliest.

While Fowler is familiar to theological professionals, I first encountered his description in Reinhold Bernhardt's Christianity without Absolutes, which I read at a time when it helped me to clarify what was happening to my own understanding, and from which I quote: "What is decisive for our theme is the transition from the pre-critical to the critical phase which begins at the fifth stage. Elements of faith which were previously accepted tacitly are questioned, demythologised and reformulated. The I detaches itself from outside guidance and strives for self-authorisation... This transition from the fourth to the fifth stage is experienced as a crisis of faith. If it can be assimilated, then the I can also grow beyond the fifth stage. At the sixth stage, rival perspectives can be accepted without danger to the substance of one's own faith. For the believer has become aware that the divine reality does not lie in the religious traditions but is merely communicated by them.

"Fowler's line of development culminates in the seventh stage, the 'universalising faith' in which the self empties itself in God, where it encounters the other, the stranger, as brother and sister."

From my recollection, Fowler gave Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Teresa as examples of people who, to his mind, demonstrated the characteristics of the seventh stage.

Jenny Chisholm