The journey towards spiritual maturity has several different stages. Each stages has its own benefits and drawbacks and transitioning from one stage to another is difficult, often requiring a lot of spiritual, emotional, cognitive, and relational work. But for anyone following Jesus, it is important that we understand the landscape of spirituality so that we can better know how to progress from one stage to another, and not get too freaked out when someone goes to Stage 3.
M. Scott Peck is the psychologist who developed the Four Stage Theory of Spiritual Development. Peck was a clinical psychologist who observed a number of contradictory things in his clients. Among them was the observation that some of his client’s mental and physical health improved dramatically when they left organized religion while others only improved after finding a deeper sense of spirituality. In order to reconcile these seemingly opposite growth patterns, Peck developed the 4 Stage Theory.
The 4 Stages of Spiritual Development
The following definitions are drawing from M. Scott Peck’s Wikipedia page.
- Stage One is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are extremely egoistic and lack empathy for others. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
- Stage Two is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures, often out of fear or shame, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
- Stage Three is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. They often reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs, move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
- Stage Four is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but does so because of genuine belief, and he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies. Stage IV people are labeled as Mystics.
Peck didn’t write for a Christian audience, so in another post I will adapt his Stages to the Christian journey. Nonetheless, I believe Peck has a lot to offer us on our journey of connecting with God and becoming more like Christ
Assuming you buy into Peck’s theory, where would you place yourself in his Stages?