Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Seasons of the Soul:Stages of Spiritual Development

Bruce Demarest, Seasons of the Soul:Stages of Spiritual Development. IVP Books, 2009. 191 pages. ISBN 978-0-8308-3535-5

I have become quite interested in developmental theory and how it is helpful to understand life's stages. I have also found these theories to be helpful in understanding the stages of faith. The idea of the stages of faith has not been emphasized in my particular faith community. I guess I was first introduced to it through the Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan which I have read many times. The idea of journey is also prominent is classical Western literature: The Odyssey, The Divine Comedy, the Fairie Queen and others. Bruce Demarest asserts, "The journey is a prominent biblical metaphor for the Christian life from beginning to its fulfillment. The Christian life is not an aimless wandering but a challenging and sometimes perplexing pilgrimage to spiritual maturity and ultimately our heavenly home" (11). Demarest, in his book, Seasons of the Soul:Stages of Spiritual Development, argues that our spiritual journeys occur in seasons or phases. Spiritual growth is rarely in a straight line "toward heaven; it's more like an upward spiral. The Christian spiritual journey involves starting and stopping, digressions, and sometimes even reversions to previous stages. While God invites us to grow and mature, we retain the freedom to resist his gracious call, and at times backtrack. Since pilgrim believers still retain the sinful nature in this life, our journeys of transformation are ongoing throughout our lives" (13). The author said he was taught as a youth that when we come to Christ that we have arrived. But trusting in Christ is "only the beginning of a lifelong process of spiritual transformation and training in discipleship" (13). This idea of arriving when we first believe in Christ is the kind of idea emphasized from my own faith community. Though sanctification was sometimes mentioned, all the emphasis was on the initial conversion. This idea of faith as a lifelong process was foreign to my own faith community.

The author draws from Walter Brueggman's paradigm to organize the content of this book. This concept sees the life of faith as involving a "repetitive, threefold pattern." The first phase is spiritual beginnings. This is the phase when we first come to faith. The second phase is when we are disoriented by trials and difficulties. The third phases is when we are reoriented, "experiencing spiritual renewal." Demarest basically describes six stages in the Christian journey and not all people will go through all six. His ideas is related to Eric Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development, Kohlberg's six stages of moral development, and James Fowler's six stages of faith development. Initial orientation is the Demarest's first stage. This is the time when a person first believes in Christ. He is a new believer and he experiences the joys of salvation. Painful disorientation is the next stage where the believer encounters trials and difficulties. The third stage is understanding why we suffer. The next stage is the dark night of the soul. This is a time when we sense very little light or God's presence. The fifth stage is redemptive responses to our journey. This is a time of growing through trials. We are purifying ourselves for the presence of God. The last stage is joyful reorientaion. This is a time of healing, wisdom, journeying outward.

A strong part of Demarest's book is his assertion that trials and troubles are part of the Christian journey. God uses these difficulties to transform our lives. Another strength of the book is that it is accessible to diverse readers. It is easy to understand and he includes many examples from the Bible, spiritual writers, and his own life. The ideas of this book will help Christians understand the different seasons of the Christian journey. Sometimes we do not sense God's present not because we are backslidden, but because God is maturing us. This book will shine a light on our Christian journey.

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