I am working through some ideas right now about faith development and adulthood. Mature faith is “Owned Faith,” according to John Westerhoff, and is often experienced as a kind of conversion of sorts after a period of searching and questioning.  When you take ownership of your faith, the belief and practices of your faith tradition are now important to you not because of family’s or society’s expectations but because of your personal commitment to God.

James Fowler talks about a mid-life stage of “Conjunctive” faith characterised  by moving beyond scriptural fundamentalism into a dialogue with the sacred texts, and by more focus on personal spirituality and morality than on religious leaders and religious rituals.  For Fowler there is still one more stage of faith development beyond the Conjunctive stage, however, and that is the “Universalizing” stage.  In this the most mature stage of faith we move beyond the boundaries of a particular faith tradition and accept that God’s Truth is a universal reality. Fowler admits that this “Universalizing” faith stage  is experienced by very, very few people, in fact the examples he gives are mostly historical figures not contemporary people, so he cannot interview them. 

Is it not possible that these men are  placing their own personal faith lens over their investigations and reflections? For Fowler, whose interest is in the relationship between psychology and theology, faith is not even necessarily religious in nature, it is about ultimate meaning. While Westerhoff’s Owned style of faith is much more common among people in faith communities, people like the divinity students he educated for decades, and the members of the church he ministered at.

So, my question is, what are these theories missing?  What experiences did these men not take into account? Are there other stages of styles of faith? Why do I feel I don’t fit?

I didn’t know these were the questions I had until I read an article by Richard Rohr, “Don’t Miss the Second Half”  that distinguishes between two halves of life. He talks about a second stage of life precipitated by a “stumbling block,”  a crisis in which one’s world falls apart, a situation you cannot control, fix or understand. According to Rohr it is only now that true spirituality begins, “Up to that point is all just preparation.”  Well I guess I am prepared. But this stumbling block doesn’t necessarily lead to spirituality, it depends on “whether you deal with your suffering in secular space or sacred space.” I can understand all this intellectually, but I don’t see this experience as lucky, which is a word Rohr uses, and I don’t believe in a God who would “lead me here.” However, I am very clear on one point: If I can’t find God in the suffering in my life, then I can’t find God. So maybe my stage of faith is somewhere on the fence between the first half and the second half of my faith life.