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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.

Spiritual Formation II: The Critical Journey, part 1

Stage 3 The Productive Life

This stage is described as the “doing” stage (73). This stage began in my teenage years, still concurrent with the “life of discipleship.” At first, the doing was part of the apprenticeship, as I “did” alongside my mentors. This stage is described as “the height of the faith experience” (74), and involving more effort. “It seems to be an almost insatiable period because everything is going so well.” (74) At age thirteen, I started preaching in our church, at first irregularly on Sunday evenings, then more regularly, and eventually Sunday mornings, when my dad was gone. I went to Bible College at age sixteen, and was immediately involved in service in churches. By age nineteen, I was traveling around the U.S. as part of a drama team, but was also the designated “evangelist,” preaching every day in churches and schools. In college, I was involved in drama and music, church ministry, etc. I definitely had the strong sense of “doing what is right and being useful.” (76)

I don’t think I was necessarily stuck at this stage, like I was with stage two. Although, it could be that I still function at stage three. As a missionary pastor, much of my life is involved in this stage. On pages 8-9, Dr. Hagberg discusses how we sometimes return to particular stages. This is probably the stage that I return to – although in the past few years, I think it may be being replaced by stage 5. On pages 93-94, we see that most “priests, ministers, and other spiritual leaders . . . have not been led through [stage four] themselves.” I definitely see how easy that would be. There is a security in stage three. (107) However, I do see two elements that led me – at least in part – past this stage.

The first element, in 1990-95, was the influence of a mentor, my senior pastor in my first church after college. He challenged some of the fundamentalist rules, and encouraged us to fellowship with, pray with, and work with those outside our little camp. He also introduced me to a wider range of Christian experience. This led me on to stage four, where I began the journey inward.  The second occurred much later, in 2007-2008, when I went through the wall. Looking back, I was living in stage three and four, concurrently, but a crisis initiated the wall.

Stage 4 The Journey Inward

Stage four is a “deep and very personal inward journey” (93). I would agree, but I also think this journey frequently happens in fits and starts. This journey started a little for me in Bible college, when one of my professors directed us to a Greek study of Romans 14, and I began to think about the implications of freedom in grace upon our fundamentalist legalism. In addition, my travels as an evangelist took me to some really great churches that didn’t hold so tightly to the strict rules of our college.

However, the first major challenge to stage three came through the mentor I described earlier. He was very intentional about pursuing a “personal integrity in relation to God” and to “releasing God from the box.” These are both mentioned on pages 97-99. In addition to our building bridges to our Assembly of God, Bible church, and Methodist brothers and sisters, we began promoting a much more grace-based approach to our walk with Christ. This necessitated some deep questioning on my part. Eventually, although both he and I, and our church, were kicked out of fellowship with the fundamental Baptists, I felt I finally had a healthy understanding of God and my relationship with Him. However, I don’t think I quite moved through the wall. Although none of the “stuck” issues on 105-107 quite resonate with me either. Dr. Hagberg’s point on page 108 about “committing to whatever it takes” as part of moving from stage four to stage five does resonate, though. So, either I went through a fairly painless wall, or I don’t remember the crisis quite so vividly anymore, or I returned to a healthier version of stage three.

Next up: THE WALL (sounds scary, huh?)


St. Paul's Cathedral, Londonfrom wikipedia

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
from wikipedia

As we begin to consider a strategy for reaching nominal Christians in Europe, we should first return to the Lausanne Committee’s work from 1980. Although this occasional paper is over 30 years old, it still gives us a good starting point. The paper focuses on nominal Christians among Roman Catholics, and as a result some changes would need to be made in light of the fact that 1.) a large number of Europeans identify with some other church and 2.) for all Europeans, identification with a specific church is less important than it was even just 30 years ago.

“Formulation of effective strategies for reaching nominal Christians among Roman Catholics involves at least five basic components: correct attitudes, correct doctrine, consistent lifestyles, community and interaction, and practical application and solutions.”[1]

“Correct attitudes” primarily refers to an attitude of love and humility toward Roman Catholics. Both are certainly needed, but of course, not exclusively toward Roman Catholics. Since church affiliation is increasingly less important, as is identification with a particular set of beliefs, perhaps a better, more contemporary strategy would be to search for, recognize and affirm ways in which God is speaking into the life of every individual, whether a nominal Catholic, Evangelical, or Anglican, or a secular, materialistic atheist who is still searching for meaning in life.

Within the strategy component of “sound doctrine”, the Lausanne paper contributors emphasize Bible study as the key to conversion to Jesus Christ. This certainly is key, but Jesus would remind us that simply hearing His words and assenting to them are not enough for a true disciple. Bible study and daily practice are key – not of course for a salvation based on our own works, but as evidence of a radically transformed life. Thankfully, the authors continue with several areas of doctrinal emphasis, including the lordship of Christ, that emphasize both a personal relationship with a Christ, and “that the new birth results in a progressive change of attitude and behaviour. Submission of the will and learning of daily obedience should be taught as basic to true discipleship.”[2]

Further components of the strategy outlined in the Thailand paper are: consistent life-style, one that demonstrates growth, witness and caring; community and interaction, emphasizing the Body of Christ and Family of God; and practical applications and solutions, where once again being a doer of the Word, and not simply a hearer is highlighted.

The Lausanne strategy presents some excellent guiding values for all who live in cultures dominated by nominal Christians. In fact, the paper could be redacted, removing references to Roman Catholicism, and serve as a valid starting point for evangelists in all parts of the “Christian” world. Probably all committed followers of Christ, living radically transformed lives, even those who still retain an affiliation with a church populated by nominal Christians, could then boldly agree with such a strategy to evangelize their fellow “non-practicing believers.”

Taking Jesus’ words into consideration, leaning on an understanding of what we know about “secular Christians,” and even using the Lausanne occasional paper as a starting grid, an effective strategy for seeing nominal Christians transformed by Christ must include the following elements: the Word; life-on-life witness; obedience-based discipleship; relationship and community; and the power of the Holy Spirit. Of course, these elements are present in any good strategy of Christian witness – and have been ever since Pentecost.    However, the application of such elements may be significantly different among “cultural Christians” from what it would be among tribal animists.

[1] Lausanne Occasional Paper  10: Christian Witness to Nominal Christians Among Roman Catholics, Thailand 1980 from

[2] Ibid.

At the beginning of March, I started a fellowship with international students in Lublin. There are several hundred students, from the U.S., Taiwan, China, Africa and other European countries. The American students, usually of Indian descent, are mostly Muslim and Hindu. Our fellowship has a core group of 8, mostly men, and they are excited about moving forward in Christ.

Just as the group was beginning, one of the HIndu students (V.) had an accident that resulted in a severe head injury. He was operated on, and placed in a drug-induced coma. His parents flew in from Texas, and everyone was concerned that he might not make it. The Christian students organized a prayer vigil, and asked the parents if I could come pray for him that Friday. They agreed, and then on Saturday, the doctors woke V. Over the next two days he improved rapidly, so that by Monday he was walking and talking, recognizing people and after two weeks, the doctors released him, saying he was completely healed. The Hindu parents attributed it to the Christians praying! Praise the Lord, and what a great way to kick off our international fellowship.
The students originally planned a prayer meeting on Wednesday, but the doctors said he would be awakened on Wednesday. So, V’s parents said they didn’t want a prayer meeting. About an hour after their decision, the doctors returned to say that V wasn’t improved enough to awaken him, and it would have to be put off until the following week. So, when the students returned to ask if I could pray for him, they were much more receptive.
This kind of experience is rare for me – and, by human standards, I messed it up. I didn’t touch him while I prayed – and the parents expected me to, I think. I totally drew a blank on his name – not a good thing to do when you are praying for someone, either. But. God is the Healer, He knew V’s name before anyone else did, and God touched V. I’m so glad that God’s power and healing have nothing in common with formulas, rituals or even our ability to remember someone’s name.
The whole experience, though, gave a great base for our international fellowship, but also preparation for me to be more cognizant of the ways God works.