The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith, by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co. 2004. 268 pp.

Instead of a traditional book review of The Critical Journey, I wanted to share a personal life journey, structurally connected to this book. I would strongly encourage you to get and read the book, but perhaps sharing my own journey will resonate with you in your own growth. Drs. Hagberg and Guelich talk about 6 stages in the journey of spiritual development. My review went pretty long, so I divided it up into sections. Numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers from the second edition.

Stage 1: The Recognition of God

I began my spiritual journey as a very young child. My dad was still in seminary, preparing to be a pastor, and both my parents talked about God all the time. Dr. Hagberg, in pages 34-35, states that people “enter into a relationship with God in one of two very different ways.” Those ways are described as a sense of awe, and a sense of need. She says that the sense of need is usually what occurs for adults (35), but children “seem more likely to recognize God in their lives through awe than are adults.”(34)

Although awe may have been part of that early childhood recognition of God, I don’t remember that part. I do remember being very concerned about the fact that my parents would go to heaven, but I would go to hell, if I didn’t accept Christ. So, even as a four-year-old, I felt an overwhelming sense of need. I have experienced that sense of awe, and along with it a renewed recognition of God, at other times in my life. I resonated with what she said on pages 37-39 about a natural awareness awakening a sense of the “presence of God.” (37). Some of my “awe-experiences” took place when I was alone in the Alps, or out hunting in the Wisconsin woods, as well as at the births of my children.

I don’t recall being stuck at this stage, but I have definitely experienced the sense of worthlessness that she describes on pages 43-44. As a teenager – like most – I struggled with a sense of worthlessness, and guilt and shame every time I did something I knew I shouldn’t. Perhaps because of growing up in fundamental Baptist churches, I had – and still sometimes have – the idea of “God and others constantly having expectations of us that we cannot measure up to.” (43). That sense of “worthlessness,” and trying to overcome it, probably helped keep me stuck at stage 3, “The Productive Life,” later.

Stage 2 The Life of Discipleship

This stage was the primary stage for me from early childhood through Bible college. Although other stages began to weave in and out of this stage, it remained my “home” stage for most of those years. In this stage, “we are apprentices,” (53) and I was. My dad usually was my primary mentor, in addition to a couple of teachers in our Christian school, my youth pastor, and a couple of professors in Bible College. It was interesting to read Dr. Hagberg’s description of Israel on page 55, in the section on “meaning from belonging” and see how our fundamental Baptist church saw itself as the true people of God. And, at this stage, I definitely had the “sense of rightness” that she describes on page 57, probably in far greater degree than in most of the years since Bible College.

However, on page 62 Dr. Hagberg describes two ways of being stuck at this stage: “rigid in righteousness” and “we against them.” Eventually, both of those were true for me. Although stage three began to also be part of my journey, I would never have gone through the wall later if it wasn’t for the fact that I broke some of the “Commandments” of fundamentalism.

  1. […] Spiritual Formation II: The Critical Journey, part 1 […]

  2. SHARAT BABU says:

    Thank you for the news.

  3. […] Spiritual Formation II: The Critical Journey, part 1 […]

  4. […] Spiritual Formation II: The Critical Journey, part 1 […]

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