The danger of the 2nd Naiveté
Much of the work that I do every day revolves around content and communication. And recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about a book I read a while ago by James Fowler called Stages of Faith.
It’s an incredible book with really penetrating and deep insights, but one of the things that’s been stuck in my brain the last little while is the last stage of faith which Fowler calls the 2nd naiveté. The basic premise of Fowler’s stages is that faith development is very similar to human development. You start with the first stage of Naiveté, where everything is “faith like a child” and you primarily adopt your faith because it’s your parents. Everything is simple. It’s not terribly complex. There are absolutes. Nothing is terribly “angsty.”
Clearly it doesn’t stop there, though. That’s the first stage.
As you might imagine, the normal pattern emerges where people often reject the faith of their parents or completely deconstruct it (similar to adolescence/young adult-hood), only to rebuild something that might be similar, but distinct to what they now hold as their own beliefs.
Eventually, many people end up with a faith similar to the first stage, which is why it’s called the 2nd naiveté, but it is born through the fire of suffering, deconstruction, rejection, pain and reconstruction. Things, once again, feel simple. There seem to be absolutes. You’re at peace with your faith. But they key thing is that you went through a process to get there.
One of the things I’ve observed about people who reside in that last stage is that there are usually good at communicating to only 2 of the six stages: The first stage and the last stage. They actually can become quite poor at talking to/with people who find themselves in the other stages. It’s as if they have forgotten the process they went through to get there.
Let me give an example.
I knew a man who had a catch phrase that he’d use over and over again: “I’m just going to put my little hand in his big hand and walk where he leads me.” He’d say it constantly and it could be his answer to almost anything. Now this was a man who had a deep and abiding faith in Jesus and knew him well. This wasn’t a trite statement for him, but one born in the fires of life and conflict. He was speaking a profound truth from the depths of his soul.
But the problem is that he didn’t also communicate how he got there.
Increasingly as he’d say it, people would get irritated, frustrated and even angry. Why? Because if you aren’t able to articulate the process of how you got there (or the accompanying belief that the same process awaits all of us), you really can’t help anyone, can you? It sounds like you got there by some magic light switch in the sky and not a process where you got to simplicity by going through the fires of complexity. And if you don’t present it otherwise, you either come across as foolish or condescending.
So as I’m observing people in these different stages, I can’t help but think how important it is that we remember what it was like to be in those stages. What was important and helpful. What it felt like. How we needed to be invited and challenged. How it didn’t happen overnight, but was a process that the Holy Spirit guided us through and brought others into our life to lead us through it as only the Great Shepherd can.
In other words…as we grow in maturity, it’s incredibly important that we don’t grow tone deaf. We must remember where we’ve been, what we experienced and what helped us grow and change so that as we lead others, we can do the same for them.
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