Are you a Sinner, Believer, Skeptic, or Mystic?

In the previous post I talked through M. Scott Peck’s 4 Stages of Spiritual Development. In this post I am going to talk about each Stage  from a Christian perspective and also talk about the progression from one to the other.

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Life in Stage One

If we were to apply a title to Stage One from the Christian vernacular, the only word that fits is Sinner. In this stage we primary live for ourselves and do what is right in our own eyes without much thought to God or anyone else. Our lives are entirely self-centered, our relationships unstable and unhealthy, and our primary view of the world is that of competition for scarce resources. It is “us” against “them” and them is everyone else in the world.

Transitioning to Stage Two

Transitioning from Stage One to Stage Two often happens at a young age and is typically forced. After enough spankings, time outs, talks, or other consequences, the willful toddler realizes it is easier to obey their parents than fight them. As applied to God, the Sinner realizes that stubbornly going their own way works against their best interest. It is actually to their benefit to submit to God and Christ and begin following the commands and principles of Scripture. At this point, they transition to Stage Two and become Believers.

Life in Stage Two

Believers are model citizens and great people to have in Church. They listen, learn, and obey out of a sense of duty and obligation. They serve with great commitment, if not great passion, and tend to lose sight of themselves in their quest to be “good.” These people can best be described as “Religious” in the good and bad shades of meaning that word carries. They are typically hard working people who want to be good and believe that drawing closer to God consists of doing more good stuff and less bad stuff. They are typically concerned with Hell and Judgement and, being the good people that they are, they want everyone they care about to be saved. Unfortunately, this appeal often comes off as pushy and judgmental. There is an unavoidable sense of elitism in Believers, because, ultimately, they believe they know better than everyone else. They are, after all, in the “in” crowd of salvation, and everyone who isn’t a Believer is necessarily outside of that group. This “black and white” thinking is characteristic of Stage Two.

Transitioning to Stage Three

At some point, honest Believers come to realize that what they have been taught in Church doesn’t always line up with reality. They begin to realize there is a lot of prejudice and naiveté attached to church dogma and that their faith is no longer helping them navigate the world in an honest manner. It often feels like Believers have to choose between doing what is “right” and doing what “works”. People in late Stage Two tend to be very quiet Christians. They may or may not attend Church regularly, but they almost never talk about God outside of those walls. At some level they are deeply uncertain about the matters of faith they once deemed of utmost importance. They begin asking questions like: Does God really exist? Are my friends who aren’t Believers really going to Hell? Does ___________ behavior really mean that someone isn’t saved or isn’t going to Heaven? Is the Bible really true? What about science, or even other religions? Aren’t we all trying to live good lives?

     At some point, these late Stage Two Believers transition into Stage Three, Skepticism. This is often unsettling for the individual, their family, and their faith community. Many times this happens during the person’s 20’s and 30’s. Going a way to College is typically a huge factor for many people. After all, a College’s main function is to challenge our beliefs about the world and find out what is really true. Many people, placidly in Stage Two, have never had to defend or even think about their faith. And after being confronted with other ways of viewing the world, they slide out of their religious belief and into skepticism. 

Life in Stage Three (please see footnote at the end of this article)

It is important to reiterate that the transition to Stage Three represents spiritual growth. Now, that is not to say that a cocky, 20-something Skeptic is more mature or closer to God than an 84 year old Believer, but it is important to validate that losing your Religion (limiting Stage Two beliefs) is sometimes the best thing you can do. 

Many people get freaked out when someone moves from Stage Two into Stage Three, and for good reason. There is no reason to believe that someone in Stage Three would be saved if they died. They have, after all, walked away from Jesus, the Church, and everything else they formerly believed to be true. They are finding their own way now, discovering what they believe to be true about the world from first hand experience, not from a pulpit or religious text. 

Stage Three people are my favorite. After all, it was their honesty and integrity that brought them to this point. They couldn’t reconcile what they had learned about God with what they knew of the world, so they decided to take the courageous step of being true to their convictions and leave behind everything that was safe, comfortable, and familiar. They sacrificed relationships and community in their search for truth. I find that noble and encouraging. 

Many people, knowing what is at stake if they abandon Stage Two, never make the leap. They stay Believers, but are increasing bored and lukewarm. They move into a place where the treat the Gospel like fire insurance. They pay their dues in tithes and attendance in exchange for the certainty that they will go to Heaven when they die. That is a painful place to live.

But folks in Stage Three have burned their bridges and entered a whole new world. They are still looking for an ultimate authority to shape their view of the world, so they typically turn to science, mathematics, philosophy, and their own experience. They become Skeptics who must be convinced, debaters for whom each term must be precisely defined. They reject the notion of absolute or objective Truth in favor of Relativism. They place their own experiences and opinions on par with religion, because what is to say their insights aren’t just as profound? 

Eventually, true Stage Three Skeptics begin questioning the questions that led them into Stage Three in the first place. They begin to explore the idea of spirituality. They typically reject the idea of organized religion, but they begin to open themselves the notion of an impersonal God or Cosmic Force. They are no longer concerned with wether or not there is a Heaven or Hell, instead, they are looking for life and fulfillment.

People in late Stage Three tend to be those who describe themselves at “spiritual, but not religious.” They might dabble in several religions/philosophies or might have even concocted their own by drawing together the pieces of other religions they find appealing. At this point, they are open to the idea of a god, or at least some sort of energy that is beyond us, but haven’t settled on Christ. This is where God loves to show up.

Transitioning to Stage Four

The transition from late Stage Three to Stage Four often takes place during an encounter. They might be going for a walk in the mountains and then, bam!, they are having a vision of Jesus or feeling the manifest Presence of God. Or maybe it is a dream or angelic visitation. For C. S. Lewis it was a ride in the sidecar of his brother’s motorbike. Whatever the case may be, this experience proves to them the reality of a personal God and they begin seeking Him again. Almost always, this ends up with God leading them to the revelation that Jesus is the Christ.

Life in Stage Four

Stage Four people are known as Mystics. Like Believers, they believe in the existence of God, the Lordship of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, and the need for people to be in connection with God to experience all that life has to offer. Unlike Believers, Mystics don’t feel the need to push their beliefs and experiences onto others. Strangely, they might believe in Heaven and Hell more strongly than a Believer does, but they don’t feel the same sense of urgency. They have what some have called a holy indifference.

Mystics trust the timing and leadership of God. They trust that everyone is on a journey and that we only need to concern ourselves with living the life that is in front of us. Believers tend to interpret a Mystic’s trust in God and refusal to push their beliefs on others as being “wishy washy” or, horror of horrors, “liberal”. Believers are so caught up in the crusade of righteousness and conformity that they can’t comprehend something like Grace. 

Mystics are primarily concerned with pointing the arrow of their heart towards God, growing in love and connection with Him. They also have an interest in guiding others along the path of growth. Mystics see God in everything, and are continually awed by God’s glory and generosity. For a Mystic, there is no divide between sacred and secular. There is simply what is, and they know that God is in the midst of it. 

While many Mystics do come back to the Church, they never seem to fit in the way the Believers want them to. They aren’t as prone to spout Bible verses or argue about doctrine. This leads some to believe wether they are really saved. But Mystics don’t care. Their world is increasingly enriched by encounters with a Good God who is far more communicative than they had dared to hope. 

I don’t know wether or not being a Mystic is the last Stage or not. There might be many more. But for now, these Stages make sense for me and I hope they offer you some insight, clarity, and reassurance as well. 

Cheers to being on a journey my friends!     labyrinth1.jpg

Footnote:

Life in Stage Three is complex and varied. There are a huge number of ways people can go Stage Three. The emotional range can vary from anger to sadness to joy to disappointment. The beliefs of Stage Three can range from atheism to agnosticism to other religions to remaining Christian. The presentation of Stage Three in this article is a stereotype that most Christians in Stage Two have of people who go Stage Three. 

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