Saturday, January 12, 2008

Conjunctive Faith

I posted this piece on an old blog of mine and thought it was appropriate for this one. I'm kind of partial to this post because it came in the midst of a big transition for me (although it seems I'm always transitioning). Because of this I didn't really want to re-write it... You know, nostalgia and all. Also, I took that blog down awhile ago and like the idea of this post still inhabiting the Internet. Enjoy!
I'm reading The Stages of Faith by James Fowler. If you do a blog search on Stages of Faith or Conjunctive Faith you get a lot of results. Many of the results are people just kind of regurgitating what the stages are. The results that aren't doing that usually seem to be authored by Emergent types talking about Conjunctive faith and church.

So, I'm not going to go into what all the stages are. The first two stages people usually grow out of. So if you're reading a blog as boring as this one without social networking capabilities and video from YouTube then the stages you'll find interesting are the same ones that I find interesting.

Let's start with the third stage which is called "Synthetic Conventional" faith. The word "Synthetic" is used to basically mean "not analytic". The word "Conventional" is used to mean "by convention". The person operating in this stage basically says, "Let's see, this is working for this group of people over here. Maybe it will work for me? Wow! It does work for me! Let's keep doing this then. If it works for the group, it will probably work for me. If it doesn't work for the group then I'd better be careful." Belief systems aren't taken apart and analyzed. Belief systems have a lot to do with being part of a group. Belief systems are largely inherited.

The next stage is called "Individuative-Reflective" faith. At some point the Synthetic-Conventional operator says, "Wow, I've swallowed these belief systems whole. Maybe I should take them apart and re-decide whether I really believe them." They distance themselves from their "shared assumptive value system." They also interrupt the reliance they have on external sources of authority. This does not mean they abandon the judgments and opinions of others. Rather, these judgments and opinions are "submitted to an internal panel of experts who reserve the right to choose and who are prepared to take responsibility for their choices." Fowler calls this the "executive ego."

These two things must happen a) develop a strong executive ego b) critical distancing from the shared assumptive value system. If one happens but not the other, the person will be caught in the uncomfortable transition period between conventional faith and reflective faith. I'd imagine that this is how some of us keep going to church but remain pissed at the church.

I identify with Conventional faith because I think their is a part of me deep down that worries that if I stop going to church then I'll somehow cease to be a Christian. I don't want to stop being a Christian but I don't find Sunday morning service meaningful in anyway and haven't for years. So I'm caught in this angry cycle.

I identify with Reflective faith because it is the voice in me that says, "Psh! Going to church every Sunday morning?! That is SO stage 3!" The person with Reflective faith has taken apart his belief system and put it all back together in neat little compartments. He knows he has reflective faith. He has the vocabulary to talk about Reflective faith and tell you about your Conventional faith. Because he can do all this he ranks himself above the person with Conventional faith.

Sadly enough, I probably operate in Reflective faith most of the time. These angry rants you see going on around here? Now you know why. But I aspire towards stage 5, Conjunctive faith.

It always bothered me the way Christians would look at me sideways when they found out I was reading a book on Buddhism and then said something like, "Well, I guess it's important to know about Buddhism if you want to minister to them." I wasn't reading about Buddhism to try to win Buddhists to Christianity. I was doing it to better understand my own faith. I also thought the person of another faith deserved the same openness from me that I was hoping to get from them. Here is what James Fowler says about Conjunctive faith:

"Conjunctive faith, therefore, is ready for significant encounters with other traditions than its own, expecting that truth has disclosed and will disclose itself in those traditions in ways that may complement or correct its own. Krister Stendahl is fond of saying that no interfaith conversation is genuinely ecumenical unless the quality of mutual sharing and receptivity is such that each party makes him- or herself vulnerable to conversion to the other's truth. This would be Stage 5 ecumenism."

I'm pretty sure that Brian McLaren's book, A Generous Orthodoxy, is about Conjunctive faith. I've heard some talk out there about the "Conjunctive church" and what it looks like. The things is, I don't see anyone institutionalizing a conjunctive church any time soon as institutions are attractive to mainly people operating in Conventional faith.

I posted the following on an old blog of mine and I thought it was appropriate for this one. I'm kind of partial to this post as it came in the midst of a major transition for me (although it seems I'm always transitioning). Because of this I didn't really want to re-write it, you know, nostalgia and all. Anyhow, I'll stop reminiscing and post!
What do you do if you find yourself as a pastor with Conjunctive faith leading a flock of people with Conventional faith? Do you slap some new rules down and say something like, "Interfaith dialogue is STRONGLY encouraged by all members!"? Psh, that is SUCH a stage 4 thing to do. Swapping out one set of rules with another and never changing paradigms. Pfft.

Do we start a new church and engage in a lot of "stage 5 behaviors" so the stage 3 people will become uncomfortable and leave? Oh wait, there's that part about openness and dialogue. If I can't get rid of them what am I supposed to do? Be nice to them? Ugh.

I really don't know the answer to this. I am not a person of conjunctive faith as much as I'd like to believe that I am. I am still taking things apart and putting them into neat little categories. I'm still ranking everyone around me and figuring out where I fit.

What am I to do? Trust the process? Act with love always? Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to tell you later.