Margaret Placentra Johnston
Exploring Spiritual Development
Spiritual Development Theory -
in Everyday Language
It has taken me multiple decades to understand the spiritual development stages enough that I could write about them.
You see, first I ran into them by surprise. The story about that appears in my book Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind. At first I was not really willing to accept that these spiritual development stages were really true. I was a little angry at first because if they were true, then I had a lot of work to do because I was not (and still am not!)at the last stage.
Then, as I thought it over, I began to realize that they did have some validity. They did match up to my own experience, and that of other people I had known.
Reading all the different theorists (see below) was no easy trick. It took me ten years just to get through a particular one of those books! I don't mean ten whole years. But I would start and stop, start and stop. It was not easy going. I feel knowing about the stages has really enriched my insight about religion and spirituality - in my own case and in terms of what I see going on in the world.
So I have decided to make it easier for my readers. I have tried to condense the works of the various theorists into more simple terms that most people can understand. I have named the four stages Lawless, Faithful, Rational, Mystic.
Spiritual Development Stages
Spiritual Development Theorists
It is really important to recognize that no one person actually exists in any given one of these stages. The stages are more like a tendency that can change over time - sort of like optimism versus pessimism, or being an extrovert versus an introvert. No one is 100% in either of these camps, and may tend more or less so according to changing circumstances.
So why do we study these stages if not to judge at which one a person exists? The real value of these stages is to understand what values, characteristics and trait are typical in spiritual maturity. They provide a roadmap showing which way is forward. Not all factors in our society (including many churches) strive to lead a person in a forward spiritual direction.
I prefer not to present these stages in chronological order. I feel they are more intuitive if readers consider the second stage first. The first stage can only really be appreciated in the light of the second and third stages.
The fourth stage is more difficult to understand. Though it is said to occur relatively rarely, I believe the fourth stage is gaining strength and momentum in today's world. That is what my second book, Rx for Spiritual Myopia will be about.
My book Faith Beyond Belief discusses the work of twelve noted theorists in spiritual development. A problem exists however in that they all came from different parts of the world, different fields of study, and in some cases, different centuries. So, they have failed to recognize each other, and largely have not acknowledged the commonalities in their works.
But the commonalities are unmistakable. I believe once a person comes to understand them, they can be led to a much more comprehensive and inclusive form of faith.
Many, many different experts have described similar stages, to the point where I cannot imagine why the spiritual development concept is not more commonly known in the world. I can see only good arising once this knowledge trickles down to the level of general public. But my work can highlight only a few such theorists. Some of the better known ones are presented here: