How it often happens: Our faith journey and questions from the Gospels

Westerhoff, Fowler and Engel provide several frameworks which help us think about 'faith journey' and 'development'. Questions from the Gospels should shape our evangelism.

John Westerhoff took physical and psychological growth development theory about growing up and applied it to theology and children in ‘Will Our Children have Faith? He speaks of 4 stages in faith development:
 
1.       Experienced faith (copying)
2.       Affiliative faith (belonging)
3.       Searching faith (questioning)
4.       Owned faith (this is what I believe)
 
James Fowler was much more analytical when he suggested Christians often move through the following stages of faith, again based on the model of children growing up.
 

 

Level
~Ages
Name
Characteristics
Stage 1
3-7
Intuitive-predictive
Egocentric, becoming aware of time. Forming images that will affect their later life.
Stage 2
6-12
Mythical-literal
Aware of the stories and beliefs of the local community. Using these to give sense to their experiences.
Stage 3
12-
Synthetic-conventional
Extending faith beyond the family and using this as a vehicle for creating a sense of identity and values... and .
Stage 4
early adult
Individuative-reflective
The sense of identity and outlook on the world are differentiated and the person develops explicit systems of meaning.
Stage 5
adult
Conjunctive
The person faces up to the paradoxes of experience and begins to develop universal ideas and becomes more oriented towards other people.
Stage 6
adult
Universalizing
The person becomes totally altruistic and they feel an integral part of an all-inclusive sense of being. This stage is rarely achieved.
 
The Engel Scale has been a key tool for many evangelists considering the stages of faith people often take before and after becoming a Christian through a conversion encounter with Christ. This model is particularly explored by Laurence Singlehurst in 'Sowing Reaping Keeping: people sensitive evangeilsm. IVP 2nd ed. 2006. Here he suggests the early stages of enquiry are equivalent to sowing the Gospel seeds, while reaping takes place when people commit their lives to Christ. 'Keeping' is what happends afterwards. Each stage has a missional and evangelistic dimension and we are all at different stages on the scale.
 
This all leads to various questions
  • Do you know of other models of ‘faith development’ theory?
  • How do these observations chime with John Finney's research in ‘Finding Faith Today?’
  • What observations do we make from our own faith journey?
  •  Describe the faith journey of Peter from the Gospels. When did he ‘become a Christian?’
  •  What did Jesus say to followers about beginning the faith journey?
  •  What might we say to our churches about helping people start their faith journey?
  •  What resources do we know to help them?
At GfE we keep a watching brief on resources which halp all stages of faith, but particularly those relevant to the 'sowing' and 'reaping' stages as many other networks concentrate more on what happens in the 'keeping' stage. These resources will be posted on EvangelismUK. .
 
Jim Currin 18.11.09

 


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