On April 7, author, and playwright-turned-pastor Dave Schmelzer interviewed me for a podcast posted 4/19 on his website: Not The Religious Type, on the Blue Ocean platform. It was a great experience, and I really want you to listen to it. However, first I’d like you to know a few things about Dave and his work among the Harvard/MIT-dominated culture of Cambridge, MA. It will really help you understand what in the world Dave and I are talking about.
I’ve known Dave since we were classmates at Fuller Seminary (CA) back in, well, back “in our student days.” 3,000 miles and ten years later, Sue and I had the joy of watching Dave, his wife Grace and entrepreneur-turned-pastor Charles Park plant a thriving church of 1,000+ in a city that is still regarded as a “graveyard of preachers.”
Dave’s unique ability to communicate the gospel free of religious trappings has enabled him to guide even hardened Harvard skeptics to faith. Dave’s approach grew out of his own journey from atheism to faith while a student at Stanford University, and his subsequent difficulty in finding a church that seemed to preach the actual faith he had discovered in Jesus. He notes:
Having entered faith from aggressive atheism, I found myself baffled by my experience as I visited churches. On the one hand, they seemed to be talking about this faith I’d discovered. On the other hand, they were talking about things that seemed, to me, to be peripheral at best. What was I missing?
When God unexpectedly hijacked Dave’s career as a culture-making playwright in order to become lead pastor at a failed church-plant in Cambridge, he was determined NOT to create THAT type of church. He wanted someplace where atheists would feel as welcome as “inculturated” Christians, and where Jesus, not religion, was the big deal. Two driving concepts shaped Dave’s approach.
The first he calls “centered set” faith (see video above). It is an approach to faith that keeps Jesus as the focus of his church’s culture, rather more exclusive secondary issues. The goal is that people entering Dave’s church for the first time won’t have to learn a new “religious” culture to fit in. Instead, they are encouraged to move toward Jesus from within the vantage point of their own culture and personal journey.
The other concept is what Dave calls, “Stage Four Faith.” Dave bases his system upon the work of psychologist and best-selling author M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled By, etc.). In Dave’s book Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist (which I use as a textbook in my Theology of Ministry class), Dave explains:
Peck talks about an odd thing he’d noticed in his practice. Some patients would begin therapy as deeply troubled, deeply religious people. He’d help them, and—to his mind—part of their clear growth would occur when they’d leave their religion behind. Other patients, just as troubled and then just as helped, would find faith as a result of their work together. What did that mean? That question agitated Peck into proposing a four-stage theory of human spiritual and emotional development.
Schmelzer explains Peck’s theory and its application this way:
Okay, now that you’ve waded your way through all that, you are ready to enjoy Dave and my conversation on faith, and culture, and Hollywood, and the Ivy League.
See also my paper on Strengthening Blue Ocean Stage-Theory.