Educators often scale abilities so we map “critical thinking” or “induction” or “knowledge” from the basics to the higher levels. Christian leaders often talk about “spiritual maturity” or “spirituality.” Sometimes we ask what “depth” or “devotion” mean or what they look like in reality.
Recently I was pondering this question and so jotted down a few ideas. Then I wanted to express it in ways that were simple and clear. And I didn’t want the words to be anything but simple and brief.
So, I’ve got a map from Level One to Level Six in (Christian) Spiritual Development. The logic of this is not hard to see: I’m convinced that we begin as selfish and even narcissistic beings while the highest level of spiritual maturity is utter absorption and union with God in Christ through the Spirit. So I tried to map the move from selfishness to God-centeredness.
So, I propose this map and ask for your feedback. By the way, this is yours. Do with it what you want. No need to ask me for permission if you want to use it in a class or a sermon or in a small group discussion. The first three are more or less “seekers” while from level four to six they become increasingly devoted.
Level One: I
In this level a human is self-absorbed, perceives himself or herself at the center of the universe — or acts that way, and lives a life that is shaped by self-consumption.
Level Two: I and God
In this level a human is both self-absorbed and aware of God. God is out there and “I” am here. We’re in this world together. In some ways there’s room for God but God isn’t given any room. Deism fits here.
Level Three: God and I
In this level a human shifts away from self-absorption to giving way to God. Theism fits here: there is a real God, that God is creator and sustainer and worthy of worship. The human senses accountability and responsibility before God, but God is not yet defined in Christian terms in a clear and robust manner. Here God is God and “I” am not.
Level Four: God in Me
In this level a human has a “personal” relationship with God, often in Christian terms or quasi-Christian terms, and God is perceived as at work in “me.” God is “for me” and God supports my ambitions. God is perceived as “serving” humans — and God can be relied upon to work in this world on “my” behalf. Health and wealth gospels fit here; therapeutic gospels fit here.
Level Five: I in God
In this level the perception is changing to see that it is not so much God at work to bring about “my” ambitions but that the “I” is now in this world to love and serve God and to bring about God’s “mission” (God’s ambition).
Level Six: We in God, in Christ, through the Spirit
In this level the “I” becomes welded with God’s People — the “I” is part of the Body of Christ. It is not about “me” but about what God has done and is doing and will do in Christ — life, death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, second coming, kingdom, God as All in All. It is about being gospel-drenched. The “I” becomes more of a “We-shaped-I.” The God in whom we dwell is made known in Christ, in the cross, in the resurrection. We are wired to glorify God in Christ through the power of the Spirit.
This shapes Vocation, it shapes our Bible reading, it shapes how we perceive “church,” … in fact, this scale shapes everything we do from morning until night.