Sunday, January 06, 2008

Faith Development: Von Hügel... 1/3

We have been preparing a session on Faith Development; Kate explicitly went with Fowler, I implicitly used von Hügel's The Mystical Element in Religion - thanks to Gerard Hughes' God of Surprises. Basically von Hügel in two volumes looks at three stages.
  • Infancy - where we absorb information;
  • Adolescence - where we make sense of what we know in our context through questioning and
  • Adulthood - where we have a growing awareness of an inner consciousness relating to God who is incommunicable and mysterious.

It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing these stages as successive stages to pass through; however each contains elements of each other. It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing this as a neat and simple explanation, or to dismiss it for exactly the same reason. What this, Fowler and others offer - with recognised faults - is a helpful support to help understand ourselves as we seek to 'know' the depth, width and height of God.


Also known as Institutional this stage is characterised by absorption of facts; an introduction to the great stories of faith and is an important stage on which to build and formulate questions of discovery. Religious infantalism is a real danger, where an individual remains passive in faith development, wanting to remain safe and secure with simple answers that meet basic needs of faith. Approach to scripture and theology is very literal and any questioning of God or faith is seen as disloyal and results in an entrenched approach to theology and faith. In isolation Infancy can result in a state of Christian neurosis as questions and thinking for oneself is a deep source of guilt. For adults religion is kept exactly as it was when they were children and is maintained as a theological security blanket.

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