Friday, December 18, 2009

What Defines Spiritual Maturity?

Lately, I've been wrestling with how we might conceptualize Christian spiritual maturity. Here are a few options that I have been considering.

Moral behavior - a person who engages in acts of service and giving and who does not engage in behavior that can be harmful to their self or others. Now, I know this is broad - how does one judge what is harmful? - but is this even the right track to explore? I firmly believe that Christian spirituality encompasses morality and ethics - that there is a changed life - but is this the essence of spiritual maturity, a critical component among many, or simply the byproduct of something else entirely.

Spiritual well-being - one popular scale for measuring spirituality in the psychology of religion is the spiritual well-being scale. This scale measures two things: a sense of well-being in one's relationship with God and a sense of well-being about life in general. Of course, we would expect that people who are mature will feel good about their relationship with God and might even feel good about their life, but again is this something that determines maturity? What about people who are struggling with their relationship with God and a sense of purpose in life, but nevertheless are faithful in their actions and their beliefs?

Intrinsic religious motivation - is spiritual maturity a state of being motivated towards faith for the intrinsic sake of faith alone, and no other reward? Intrinsic religious motivation suggests that we love our faith for its intrinsic characteristics and would remain faithful even if we were to face suffering. Does this characterize spiritual maturity, despite the fact that the person's faith might be completely twisted?

Beliefs - is spiritual maturity holding to the correct tenets of the Christian faith. Is Paul's argument that our minds will be transformed and renewed mean that we will find the truth in propositional form?

Closeness to God - does spiritual maturity mean that I feel close to God in all moments of the day, like Brother Lawrence? Certainly, the spiritually mature will often report a deeper sense of God's presence in their life where they find strength and comfort. Yet, can closeness to God lead to susceptibility to a narcissistic belief that one is acting as God's agent?

Of course, I am being somewhat critical, and possibly even cynical, of these criteria for determining what is spiritual maturity. Perhaps the answer is all of the above, that spiritual maturity cannot be reduced to one essential element (maybe "Christlikeness" but what is that?).

I think I would have to add that spiritual maturity is not a universal construct, that spiritual maturity is determined, in part, by the situation a person is in. Spiritual maturity will obviously look a lot different among a persecuted church than among American churches. And I would argue that this is okay, that God would have us grow to serve our communities, not to simply be idealistic models of perfection.

Any thoughts on this? Any criteria for spiritual maturity that you think should be added?