My blog header indicates that this is “a blog about Integral Christianity,” but I haven’t explained yet what I mean by that.
First I should clarify what I mean by “Christianity.” For many people, Christianity centers around belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; any religious tradition that does not do this is something other than “Christian.” It seems to me, though, that the death and resurrection of Jesus were not central to the message of Jesus himself, so I don’t see why it should be central for us.
I prefer to think of Christianity as encompassing every tradition that is understood by its adherents to be committed to the Christian message, however understood. This last phrase—“however understood”—is important, because it’s not obvious precisely what “the Christian message” is. It’s not a given, even if most Christians imagine that it is. Part of being a Christian means seeking to understand “the Christian message” and striving to live by it.
Our understanding of “the Christian message” is necessarily an interpretation, and every interpretation is undertaken from some perspective or another. An Integral approach to Christianity will try to understand the Christian message from as many perspectives as possible.
There is no shortage of perspectives within the church. This fact is deplored by many, who believe that only one perspective—their own, naturally—should be tolerated. Others pay lip service to the idea of pluralism, but are often quite dismissive, ironically, of those who don’t share their enthusiasm for diversity.
Rather than bemoaning or celebrating the diversity of perspectives, I think it is more important to understand it. Why do Christians so often disagree with one another?
One reason, I’m convinced, is that there are many stages of development along a number of different lines: cognitive, spiritual, moral, etc. Something like this has been acknowledged within the Christian tradition from very early on. Paul was already distinguishing between the “spiritual” and “mature” on the one hand, and the “unspiritual” on the other, in his correspondence with the Corinthians (see 1 Cor 2.6-15), and the concept of the “three ages”—“beginner,” “proficient,” and “perfect”—was developed by patristic thinkers like Origen and Augustine.1
More modern and scientific models, like the seven-stage theory of James W. Fowler, shed a lot of light, I think, on why there are such divisions in the church. Everyone recognises that there are developmental differences between children and adults, but it is not sufficiently recognised that there are significant developmental differences between adults as well. An Integral approach to Christianity has to recognise this.
Not all differences in perspective can be attributed to developmental stages, of course. In a religious context we also have to take into account different states of consciousness, particularly those that we would associate with religious experiences. The relationship between stages and states, which has most successfully been explained by the philosopher Ken Wilber,2 is something that also needs to be understood.
Certainly there is more to it than this, but hopefully this gives some idea of where I’m planning on going with this blog.
1. The Greek word translated “perfect,” teleios, is the same word translated “mature” in the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. It does not mean “flawless” as the word “perfect” has come to mean in modern English. The Latin perfectus has a similar semantic range.
2. See especially Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 88-93. This is a subject I’m going to return to very soon.