Friday, April 01, 2011

Insights from Stage Theory for the Love Wins Conversation

A few weeks ago I said I was going to write a review on Bell’s new book Love Wins but there are already so many great (and not so great) reviews out there that I think I would rather dialogue on the issues that this book tends to bring up concerning theology, Church, and culture.  Over the couple of years I have participated in a very insightful conversation on a blog called Not the Religious Type.  I was fascinated by the blog and read it for a few months before I purchased the book on which the blog was base: Not the Religious Type by Dave Schmelzer (a Vineyard pastor in Boston).  Not the Religious Type is one of the most helpful books I’ve read in many years in the way it helps Christ-followers to perhaps a more redemptive path of grappling with theology, Church and culture.  The book is worth the price for the chapters on Stage Theory and Centered Set Christianity.  I am posting a video on Stage Theory that Schmelzer produced which explains the basic idea as it applies to one’s spiritual journey.  Please watch the following video as Schmelzer explains the theory much better than I do below.
Concerning Bell’s book Love Wins, it seems that reactions to his ideas very easily typify the different stages referenced by Schmelzer.  So on the one hand you have a very Stage two reaction (rules based) by folks like John Piper and Justin Taylor and then you have an equally strong Stage 3 (rebellion against stage 2) by more of the emerging church crowd.  I can only hope that these conversations can lead some of us more fully into the stage 4 understanding that truth is much bigger, deeper, profound, and mysterious than we tend to make it.  As Schmelzer and company argue Stage 4 is truly the only way to reach our world that is increasingly characterized by a Stage 3 rebellion against the Stage 2 institutions which have ruled for hundreds of years.  I would be interested to get feedback from anyone who has watched the above video (or is familiar with Stage Theory) on any insights that it might bring to the conversation that has been going on around Love Wins.


Penny Murray said...

Oh Thank God for stage 4!!!! I spent a horrible amount of time running back and forth between 2 and 3 like a crazy person thinking those were the only options.

I'll definitely check out his book.

Crispin Schroeder said...

I'd say that much of the conversation I have witnessed in the blogosphere on many of the issues raised by Rob Bell in Love Wins tend to be battles between stage 2 and stage 3 types. In my estimation stage 4 presents a more redemptive path forward.

Betty Richard said...

His stages made me think of growth in relationship w/ Jesus. Maybe this is what he's saying in his stages--I wasn't sure. Like when you're first saved, you tend to be "Jesus loves ME" and you want to know what Jesus is going to do for YOU. In the next stage, you do tend to look for what it means to be a Christian (I accepted him, now what?) This could be the "rules" of being a Christian. Then you realize you don't like some of the rules, that God's word can be confusing and in places the Bible says things you don't understand and don't know if you agree with. Mix that in with things some well-meaning church people say and then maybe you begin to doubt if this Christian-thing is really all worth it. In the final stage, I think you accept that we don't have all the answers, that even the smartest Biblical people have to say "I don't know" at times and that yes, it is all worth it. Because, God is much bigger than all this.

I've been reading some of the discussion about Rob Bell's latest book and think I'll read it. I've read some of his other stuff and had mixed emotions about them.

Crispin Schroeder said...

Thanks for the feedback Betty. I heard Dave Schmelzer deliver a lecture at Harvard where he presented the idea that our culture has gone stage 3 (rebellion against stage 2) and yet most of the church has remained very much stage 2 (focused on very black and white rules). The point he made is that a person in stage 3 rebellion will never be interested in going backwards any more than a teenager would revert to the mindset of a 9 year old. But he sees that the church can reach this stage 3 culture from the vantage point of stage 4 faith. How he works this out practically is that instead of fighting with the stage 3 culture over rules we should work to help them experience God right where they are and that the experience of God will begin to move them away from mere rebellion to the love and truth of God which is deep and wide and full of meaning and mystery.
I can definitely see the stage progression in my own faith journey. When I came to Christ I was a mess of addictions, anger, jealousy, and lust (to name a few of my struggles). My early years of faith were very stage 2 but eventually I began to realize that one can follow al of the rules and still know very little about God's love or personal transformation. I then began to question everything in Christianity because it seemed that for all of the rules many people were getting destroyed in church and that the mission of reaching the world was severely stunted. So I then spent many years being highly critical of the church. I wasn't ready to give up on God but I was having real trouble with many of the answers the church was offering. But eventually I began to understand that what I hated in the church was also in me and that for all my rebellion I wasn't really helping the cause of Christ as much as I had hoped. I can really identify with what Schmelzer talks about as a stage 4 revisiting of stage 2 ideas. Having come through my rebellion against so many things in the church I have now revisited many of them in a new way. So whereas financial giving in stage 2 was very rigid (tithing 10 percent of my income), and then almost nonexistent in stage 3, I now see giving as a very expansive idea which, while including disciplined giving of my finances is now also my time, my presence in conversations, and, on occasions, even some of my stuff (material wealth). I find that this understanding of giving (which can be applied to many other ideas such as salvation, serving, prayer, worship) is much more filled with joy and life than ever before. What's more is that this is something I can invite others into without putting a whole lot of pressure on them to get in line with the rules first.
I have seen this approach bear real fruit in our church as there are several people who have made their way in and have begun to experience God without the pressure of stage 2. It's not that the rules don't matter but they are finding a richer experience of God that is not confined to just having the right answers. They are experiencing truth and this is what I think is the difference in the approach to Stage 4 Faith verses 2 or 3 faith.

Pi Man said...

Wonderful blog, questions, and posts that give opinion, especially yours presumably before this post of mine.

I read "The Road Less Traveled" many years ago, and thought at that time it had some value, so I appreciate where the basis of the author of "Not The Religious Type" is coming from. And I very much appreciate the comments he made in the video you posted, and your recommendation of said book, which I will read my friend, so thank you.

The only comment I can make so far based upon my above observations is that one would be prudent to approach the statement of "Truth is everywhere." While I actually DO agree with this statement, I think that due caution in accepting it comes when one realizes that one *might* not have the "maturity" (spiritually speaking and for lack of a better word)to effectively discern the difference between truth and fiction.

That said, we are all a work in progress, of which I am a life long student. In deed, my friend, Love DOES in fact win in the end. But it took a while for me to be..."mature" enough to understand that, and to then grasp that in deed, Truth, the Real Truth, is indeed all around us in the every day ordinary experiences, and in our daily walk with a God so Outrageous that it makes me... silent.

Thank you Bro, as always. Wonderful stuff.

Peace & hope to see you soon.