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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

the conjunctive church #2

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

warning... long post!!

I've recently been in email correspondence with someone, concerning Fowlers' stages of Faith development and how faith stage transition impacts the church. With his permission, I thought I'd post the first two email (one each) that started the discussion, to see if anyone else wants to join in and add their perspective!

It started here...

Hi Malcolm,

Following your recommendation I've been reading Fowler (Stages of Faith) and also found your blog today. You mentioned some reservations that went with your recommendation of Fowler - I'd be interested in hearing them sometime.

One thing I found was your reference to Fowler's Stage 5 & emerging church..

(see post on Wednesday, August 02, 2006)

Fowler also writes : "Stage 5 also sees, however, that the relativity of religious traditions that matters is not their relativity to each other but their relativity - their relate-ivity - to the reality to which they mediate relation. [..] Conjunctive faith's radical openness to the truth of the other stems precisely from its confidence in the reality mediated by its own tradition and in the awareness that that reality overspills its mediation" (Stages of Faith, chapter 20).

My own experience in transition from stage 3 to stage 4/5 faith involved discussions in which I was accused of eclecticism, which I regarded as miles from reality, but it is interesting to note that it was perceived as such by someone in stage 3. Looking back on that period, I realize the extent to which what I inevitably found myself saying was both misunderstood and generated a fearful response.

Is it possible that some of the criticism of emergent church might in reality lie in a frightened response to the challenge to conventional stage 3 faith by those in conjunctive stage 5 faith? If so, then how does emergent church dialogue with those at conventional levels of faith?

Is there not a greater danger than "slipping into an epistemology without any convictions" inherent in "building authentic faith communities for people operating at Fowler's stage 5 - 'Conjunctive Faith'" that this merely becomes, for some at least, a continued search for an idealized church community of the like-minded, one in which people selfishly fail to engage rightly with those at earlier stages of faith.

(Although Fowler does not shy away from averring that his stages of faith represent advancement, I see this in a very limited sense - there's absolutely no room for pride or even complacency here - a stage 3er can be considerably more faithful in his or her stage 3 than a stage 5er in his).

For Fowler also states of stage 5 :

"And with the seriousness that can arise when life is more than half over, this stage is ready to spend and be spent for the cause of conserving and cultivating the possibility of others' generating identity and meaning" (ibid, chapter 20).

Does not a stage 5 faith demand an unselfish, selfless commitment to those in earlier stages of faith? Is there not also a requirement to be part of and contributing to "a faith community that provides for the nurture of ongoing adult development in faith (which) will create a climate of developmental expectation" (ibid, chapter 24)?

How can emergent church realize this if it consists solely of "people operating at Fowler's stage 5"?




thanks for this - excellent questions that you ask. I think you're right when you say "Does not a stage 5 faith demand an unselfish, selfless commitment to those in earlier stages of faith?" and I would reply 'yes it does!' The problem is not so much relating stage 5ers with stage 3ers, but more relating those in transition from stage 3 to 4 to 5 with those in stage 3. What tends to happen, especially in more evangelical churches, is that those in transition are seen as 'backsliders' questioning the great unquestionables of evangelical faith, so making it next to impossible for those in transition to remain. This turns things on their head a bit from what you point out in that it's not those who are moving beyond a stage 3 faith who separate themselves off from stage 3 churches, as much as them feeling pushed out or excluded from those churches. Evidence shows that many churches who operate at stage 3 (and most do) are unable to accommodate those who are in transition beyond this. And the more 'certain' the faith being held in the church (for this you could read 'the more theologically conservative the church is') the greater this problem seems to be. What the emerging church and Spirited Exchanges type groups have provided for such people is a place to process faith safely - a place to de-construct and reconstruct faith if you like.

What often happens is that when a person has made this journey and owns a more conjunctive faith (I say 'a more...' because, like Fowler, I doubt that many of us actually get to that point) they often find that they want to re-engage in a community of faith with a more varied 'congregation', i.e. a 'normal' church, though interestingly it may not be of the same 'flavour' as the church they left in the first place.

I think it needs to be stated, though, that the emerging church (to use a label) is not only functioning in this way - in Dream, for example, we do have people who are in faith stage transition but we also have engaged (and do engage) people who are exploring faith, people who still belong to other (more structural) churches and so on. If the emerging church were only a processing space for faith stage transition I wouldn't be advocating it as a missional response to postmodernity in the same way, and its raison detre would be very different - more akin to Spirited Exchanges groups that are, by definition, more temporary places of belonging.

Maybe if we could find a way of being church that allows for faith processing and deconstruction alongside a framework that positively supports and teaches those in stage 3, without judgements being made in either direction, then there wouldn't be a problem!

I don't know if this helps at all - keep your ideas coming and let me know if you want me to open up this discussion on the blog!! (he did!!)


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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:16 AM


Arandom point to add to this interesting discussion....

Mt experience is that when disillusioned people go through a deconstuctive experience not many are able to reconnect within the Christian faith tradition - many follow a vague individualist 'New age' spirituality and leave the Christian tradition altogether,,,


commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:49 PM  

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