There are reasons to question the sequential and hierarchical nature of structural stage theories of faith development, especially in regard to adults. This article suggests a conceptual, two-dimensional model of spiritual development. The first dimension is the continuum of maturity defined as increasing complexity held together by integrity and is exemplified by the metaphor of a mosaic. The second dimension is a series of “facets” or themes that are understood to exist simultaneously, though one or more facets are typically highlighted during any particular season of a person’s life. A highlighted facet will often give shape and content to the growing edge of spiritual maturity.
The four facets of the second dimension are characterised by the central themes of 1) Chaos and Order, 2) Love, Forgiveness, and Community, 3) Freedom and Change, and 4) Mystery, Peace and Trust. These facets unpredictably recurthroughout a person’slife, and it issuggested that the third facet has a tendency (though not a necessity) to bifurcate into one of two pathways: a) Revolution and Resistance or b) Imagination and Hope. This model, though untested by formal research, is offered in the hope that it more functionally represents the varied complexity of human experience and can be taught in a manner that is free from some of the biases and elitism which are difficult to avoid with structural models.
Since 1981, James Fowler’s faith development theory (FDT; 1981, 2001) has largely held the imagination of practical theologians and developmental psychologists as the best model for understanding how we approach faith differently over the course of a life span. This has not been because FDT has been free of criticism or has silenced all of its critics; rather, as Stephen Parker (2010) concluded, in spite of mixed levels of support for components of FDT, “those inclined to look elsewhere for models of spiritual or religious development with more empirical support will not find the picture any better, and often not as well supported as Fowler’s model” (p. 246). And so it has remained the theory that underlies a variety of more popularized models (Peck, 1987; Schmelzer, 2008; McLaren, 2012).
The full article appears in the EMCAPP Journal, July 2015, page 57-66.