The Ride: Connecting to God in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and Beyond

Part 2 in series Finding God in Hollywood: Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World

Horseback riding is not a mode of transportation from one physical locale to another. It is a mode of transportation from one spiritual state to another.  And so are the classic spiritual disciplines.

by Gary David Stratton, Ph.D. • Senior Editor

Micaiah with ‘Maryland’: The crankiest and best horse in the Equestrian Center’s stable

As I write this, I am watching my daughter, Micaiah, take a riding lesson at the Equestrian Center in Burbank, CA. The Equestrian Center is, uh, shall we say, “oddly out of place” in urban Los Angeles. On my right, traffic on the Golden State Freeway (“the” 5, as we say here in L.A.) zooms by at 65+ miles per hour. On my left, horses plod around a riding circle at, well, a lot less than 65 miles per hour. What gives?

Why would anyone invest so much time and money striving to master such an outdated mode of transportation? It takes years to painstakingly advance through learning to walk, trot, cantor, gallop, jump, dressage, etc. Then, once you do achieve riding excellence, your top speed is still only a fraction of that of the traffic whizzing by. My daughter shovels, “stuff,” to earn her lessons, but most riders shell out enough cash to cover monthly payments on a luxury car. I mean, if your goal is to get from Pasadena to Hollywood, then this horseback riding thing is a total waste of time. Just buy a Jag and get on with it.

Yet if you think of horseback riding as something designed to get you somewhere on your busy schedule then you are missing the entire point. Horseback riding is not a mode of transportation from one physical locale to another. It is a mode of transportation from one spiritual state to another. The disciplines of learning to ride cleanse the rider of the soul-deadening effects of modern life and “re-center” their soul in a calmer, deeper place. My actress-singer daughter says it’s “rejuvenating.” Seeing the light and energy in her eyes after each time she rides, I believe her.

Spiritual Disciplines

Now at first glance, striving to master 2,000 year-old spiritual disciplines seems even more irrelevant than learning to ride a horse. I mean, at least horseback riding might help you land a role, or inspire a screenplay. What earthly good does it do to invest the time and energy it takes to master practices like prayer, meditation, fasting, Torah-study, or Psalm-singing? Sure, prayer can come in handy when you’re facing an audition, pitch meeting, or financing appointment. But this kind of “spiritual discipline” is practiced by everyone in Hollywood (even the staunchest atheists), and probably has about as much utilitarian value as wearing your lucky pair of socks.  Prep for your meeting, pay for some good coaching, and get on with it.

Yet, if you think of the spiritual disciplines only as something to get you somewhere in your career, you are missing the entire point. Spiritual disciplines are not tools for getting you from failure to success. They are pathways for keeping you alive spiritually in the constantly shifting landscape of success and failure that is Hollywood.

The Soul-Deadening Worlds of Power

The overarching characteristic of the Ivy League (and Hollywood) is what Schmelzer calls, “Grim drivenness.

Actor/Comedienne/Writer Susan Isaacs once challenged a crowd of aspiring entertainment industry students, “Would you accept God’s call to Hollywood if you knew that you would only have three successful years out of a thirty-year career?” Most wouldn’t, yet that is about the average for those who ‘make it’ here.  The spiritual disciplines are the means by which someone survives and even thrives, not only in the three years when they’re a hot property, but in the other twenty-seven as well.

Make no mistake, the competitive nature of all centers of power–Hollywood, the Ivy League, Wall Street, Washington, D.C., etc.–nearly always creates a soul-deadening culture. Former Yale Professor Henri Nouwen warned, “Our society is… a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul.”[1] Dave Schmelzer, principal at Blue Ocean, Inc. in Cambridge, MA asserts the overarching characteristic of his Ivy League community is what he calls, “Grim drivenness.”  Dave adds, “These are the brightest and most talented people in the world, and the very drivenness that got them this far in a highly competitive environment prevents them from ever really enjoying the fruit of their success. There is always another rung to climb on the ladder of success.”[2] Sounds a lot like Hollywood to me!

Yokes that Bring Our Souls Rest

Spiritual disciplines counteract this soul-deadening effect by nourishing the soul of the practitioner and re-centering the filmmaker, professor, stockbroker, and/or congressman in a calmer, deeper place. Prayer, meditation, study, etc. are means by which we deepen our connection to others and to God. Nearly everyone working in a pressure-filled environment can benefit from practicing them—from Zen Buddhist’s like Laker’s coach Phil Jackson, to Scientologists like Tom Cruise.

However, the spiritual disciplines play a particularly meaningful role in the Judeao-Christian tradition. They are part of what early Rabbis referred to as their yoke—the teachings and spiritual practices each Rabbi used to guide their students into a deeper relationship with God.[3] Like learning to ride a horse, the study of Torah—the principal spiritual discipline in rabbinic education—demanded the utmost commitment to move from one level of expertise to the next. Yet, the promise of a life centered in God and his ways made the effort worthwhile. (See, Rabbinic Higher Education.)

Connecting to the Life of God

Jesus of Nazareth built upon this rabbinic tradition to shape his own version of spiritual formation. Jesus told his first followers, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). He taught his disciples to pray, study, build community, and serve not to earn religious brownie points, but to form a deep attachment to God—to ‘rest’ in him. Like vines on a branch, Jesus promised his followers that if they would focus upon staying connected to the life of God, then the life of God would flow into them and bear fruit in everything they do (John 15:1-8). The spiritual disciplines are one of the key means by which we maintain that connection. (See, With Prayer in the School of Christ.)

USC philosophy professor, Dallas Willard, has worked tirelessly over the last few decades to describe how Christian spiritual formation can and should help us maintain our connection to the life and the love of God in the Academy, Hollywood, and beyond. He states:

“God’s desire for us is that we should live in him. He sends us the Way to himself.  That shows us, in his heart of hearts, what God is really like–indeed, what reality is really like. In its deepest nature and meaning our universe is a community of boundless and totally competent love.”

Personalizing the Process

Like horseback riding, staying connected to the life and love of God is not a one-size-fits-all process. It has taken Micaiah years to find the right stable, the right trainer, the right horse (the crankiest, but “best” in the stable), and the right sub-disciplines to learn to ride in a way that maximizes the ‘gladness’ riding brings her soul. The same is true for those seeking to cultivate a relationship with God. The disciplines that help one person are often torture for another. The key for some is sitting quietly in a beautiful sanctuary, for others it is walking in the beauty of nature, for some connection to God is found among books in a quiet library, for still another it is best found amidst music is a raucous worship service.

The point of spiritual discipline is not to perform some cookie-cutter religious ritual to make God like you better, but rather to find the pathways that best help your soul connect to the God who already loves you infinitely, ultimately, and unconditionally.

In the following weeks I will explore a number of the key concepts and disciplines that have been most helpful to a variety of leaders in Hollywood, the Ivy League, and beyond in living a soul-nourishing life in a soul-deadening world.  My hope is that we can help you create your own individualized set of spiritual disciplines that help you stay connected to the life and love of God even in the most pressurized situations.

Of course there is another way: the way of giving in to a soul-deadness. Will we? Or will we follow my daughter’s example and embrace an “outdated” approach to life, that in the end is the only one capable of transporting us where we really want to go—to the very heart of God.

Let’s ride!


Next post in series: Life on the Fast Track: Spiritually Thriving in High Stress Environments 


See also

Emmy Magazine Article Featuring Emmy-winning Producer Kurt Schemper, Director Korey Scott Pollard, and Gary David Stratton

Why Lent is a lot Like Surfing

Spiritual formation book recommendations:

The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence

Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, by Adele Alberg Calhoun

The Organic God, by Margaret Feinberg

The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster

Invitation to a Journey, by Robert Mulholland

The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen

The Life You’ve Always Wanted, by John Ortberg

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero

The Good and Beautiful Life, by James Bryan Smith

Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas

The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard


[1] The Way of the Heart (New York: Random House, 1981), p. 9.

[2] At least in the Ivy League it is possible to get tenure!

[3] M. Maher (1975). ‘Take my yoke upon you’ (Matt. xi. 29). New Testament Studies, 22, pp 97-103


Toward a Deep Blue Ocean: Forging a Robust Spiritual Development Stage-Theory, by Gary David Stratton

This paper was originally delivered at the 2012 Society of Vineyard Scholars in Minneapolis, MN. 

Jonathan Edwards placed the blame for Satan’s victory in the First Great Awakening on the failure of the stage-theory used by the pastors of his day. Are Blue Ocean churches in danger of a similar gaffe?

By Gary David Stratton, PhD • Bethel University

The great New England divine Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) penned perhaps his greatest work, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections,[1] in the aftermath of one of the more remarkable religious events in American history—the (First) Great Awakening (1740-1741). By the time he wrote Affections Edwards was already known as the chief apologist for an outpouring of the Spirit that had resulted as much as a quarter of the total population of New England professing conversion to Christ (See, Paparazzi in the Hands of an Angry God). Yet, in a tellingly autobiographical passage, Edwards opens Affections with the declaration that the real winner of the Great Awakening was Satan.

“I have seen the devil prevail… against… the late great revival of religion in New England, so happy and promising in its beginning.”[2]

What is interesting for our discussion today is where Edwards placed the blame for this Satanic victory: the failure of the stage-theory used by all New England pastors to guide seekers from initial stirrings to genuine conversion and spiritual maturity. This Puritan “morphology of conversion” comprised of seven distinct stages [3] was the centerpiece for nearly all preaching and spiritual counsel in New England.[4] Despite one of the most remarkable outpourings of the Spirit in history, resulting in tremendous spiritual hunger, enormous crowds, and multiplied professions of faith, Edwards believed that the Puritan stage-theory “sevenfold veil of prejudice” had actually left the church in New England in worse shape than it had been before this “mighty pouring out of the Spirit of God.” (More on why later.)

My remarks today deal with the stage-theory in use by a new generation of Christian leaders—also based in New England—who are seeking God for another society-wide spiritual awakening among, not among biblically literate Puritans, but post-Christian urban skeptics. I invoke the thoughts of Jonathan Edwards in hopes of highlighting just how crucial this conversation might prove for the future of faith in America. For as Edwards painfully discovered in the Great Awakening, whether they realize it or not, every Christian leader shapes their ministry and the lives of their followers from within the framework of an assumed spiritual stage-theory. The critical question is whether or not a given Christian leader’s stage-theory is thoroughly examined and up to the challenge of guiding individuals, congregations, and even society-wide movements spiritual maturity. As in Edwards’ day, developing such a stage-theory will require a collaborative project of careful intellectual, theological, and practical reflection, of which this paper is little more than a preliminary remark.


One of the more unique and influential “identities” surfacing in the Vineyard movement over the past decade has been “Blue Ocean”[5] churches seeking to apply M. Scott Peck’s four-stages of spiritual development to church practice. Peck’s paradigm first applied to the local church by Dave Schmelzer and Charles Park in the Cambridge (MA) Vineyard Christian Fellowship[6] and chronicled in Schmelzer’s 2008 book Not the Religious Type[7]  significantly shaped, not only the Cambridge Vineyard’s cultural engagement and rapid growth in a highly secularized and radically “unchurched” city, but also the growing Blue Ocean movement as a whole.

Unfortunately, as easy to understand and helpful as Peck’s four-stage model might be, its incomplete and oversimplified summary of developmental psychology, coupled with its disconnection from theological and spiritual direction paradigms not only limits its usefulness for guiding congregants into spiritual maturity, in time it could even prove as dangerous as the Puritan morphology scheme.

In this paper I will briefly explore Peck’s framework and the strengths of its Blue Ocean application in reaching skeptical secular communities, as well as the dilemmas of this paradigm stemming from weaknesses in Peck’s foundational model. I will then offer preliminary starting points for developing a more robust development theory based in a broader understanding of stage-theory and theological reflection.


The seminal work for most Blue Ocean faith development stage-theory conversations is M. Scott Peck’s 1993 book Further Along the Road Less Traveled.[8] Schmelzer describes his debt to Peck in chapter entitled, “How M. Scott Peck Saved My Life,”[9] and anyone who doubts that Peck is king in these discussions need only read the ongoing conversation on the Blue Ocean platform blog Not the Religious Type[10] to disabuse themselves of this notion.

A Four-Stage Model of Faith Development

Peck describes Stage One in faith development as “Chaotic/Antisocial” (simplified to “Criminal” by Schmelzer).[11] It is the state of lawlessness “absent of spirituality” into which all human beings are born and which 20% of the American adult population never surpasses.[12]

Peck’s Stage Two is “Formal/Institutional” (Schmelzer “Rules-based”):[13] a phase perfected by prisons, the military, and more importantly, the church. “Indeed, most churchgoers fall into stage 2.”[14] It is a stage marked by “rigorous adherence to the letter of the law” and the forms of religion.[15]

Peck’s Stage Three is known as “Skeptic/Individual” (Schmelzer, “Rebellious.”)[16] It is a transitional phase of religious doubt accompanied by inquisitiveness in other areas of life that marks adolescence for most Americans.[17]

Peck’s labels his most mature phase, Stage Four as “Mystical/Communal” (Schmelzer keeps the word “Mystical”).[18] While the content of Stage Four faith may look similar to Stage 2, the engagement is more nuanced and based upon the underlying principles of the “Spirit of the Law” rather than a rules-based system. [19]

A Fruitful Approach to Church Planting Among Young Urban Skeptics

Peck’s four-stage system has proven an ideal paradigm for churches seeking to reach skeptical university-educated adults in secularized urban settings.[20] Peck provides a marvelous structure for interpreting the spiritual journey of most highly intelligent and liberally educated Americans, such as Stanford grads (like Schmelzer and Park) and MIT/Harvard grads (like the Cambridge residents Schmelzer and Park are trying to reach).[21] By definition “Blue Ocean” leaders are seeking to reach Stage 3 skeptical/individual rebellious populations,[22] not by building Stage 3 formal/institutional rule-based churches, but rather by fostering Stage 4 mystical/communal churches.[23] Furthermore, Peck’s Mystical Stage 4 lines up extremely well with another key Vineyard and Blue Ocean value: John Wimber’s adaptation of Fuller Seminary professor Paul Hiebert’s[24] “centered-set” versus “bounded-set” thinking.[25] (See, Schmelzer on Centered-set thinking.)


Unfortunately, the very simplicity that makes Peck’s paradigm so easy to communicate and apply to church-planting strategies also makes it extremely shallow. While Peck admits his debt to the work of other developmental psychologists[26], he consciously “refines” more complex schemes of spiritual growth into four stages based mostly upon his own personal spiritual journey and adult counseling practice.[27] And there lies the rub. Some elements Peck leaves out of his developmental psychology are nearly as important as his stage-theory itself.  Allow me to briefly survey three gaps in Peck’s thinking, and suggest three ways that a deeper commitment to understanding and applying developmental/educational psychology to church practice might lead to a deeper blue ocean.

Peck’s Toxic View of Stage 1 Childhood Faith and Children’s Ministry

First, it seems to me that a deep blue ocean stage-theory would require a more robust understanding of children’s faith development than Peck’s scheme offers. By limiting his stage-theory to his personal and professional experience with adults, Peck unintentionally skews his Stage 1 toward its most toxic form. While there is clearly something defective in the maturity level of any adult still trapped in Stage 1; a child in Stage 1 is simply being a child. Age-appropriate Stage 1 children are clearly not “absent of spirituality” as Peck asserts.[28] So despite its value for guiding church planting among skeptical adults, Peck’s theory is often confusing for parents (and those ministering to children) seeking to build the faith of the next generation.[29]

Peck’s Missing Stage 2 “Constructive Social Hedonism” and Evangelizing Youth

Second, a deeper blue ocean stage-theory would need to develop a more robust understanding of the relationship between the “Constructive Social Hedonism” of Mythic-Literal Faith and adolescent evangelism.  Peck’s age-skewed paradigm virtually ignores the key transitional phase from childish faith to adult faith in adolescence.[30] This actual “Stage 2” is the critical phase in which children begin to transfer their experiences with the key adults in their life onto God. They begin to tell the master stories for themselves as they assimilate the beliefs and behaviors of their faith community (or non-faith community) into their own life patterns; albeit with a great deal of age-appropriate wooden literalism and a “what’s in it for me?” perspective.[31] Stage 2 is a crucial season of “Constructive Social Hedonism” wherein the community provides the rationale for why entering into this type of faith is in the best interest of the individual.[32]

No one enters Skeptic/individual faith directly from Chaotic/antisocial faith. We need a stop in Formal/Institutional rule-based faith to get there, and the only way to make that stop is through the exploratory transitional phase of “Constructive Social Hedonism.” By skipping this stage, Peck omits the need to “evangelize” young adults (not out of) but into Formal/Institutional Rules-based faith.[33] Attempts to create “Blue Ocean” faith in adolescents (and delayed adolescents in their 20’s and 30’s) without first guiding them through some sort of “Stage 2” catechism can and will create significant misunderstanding among parents, children, and young adults themselves.[34]

Kohlberg’s “Regressive Hedonism” and Adult Lifespan Development

Third, a deeper Blue Ocean stage theory would develop a more robust understanding of “Regressive Hedonism” and age-appropriate Mystical/Communal Post-conventional faith. Peck’s truncated scheme misses an important parallel between the exploration done in early adolescence and the exploration done in later adolescence.[35] Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage-theory of moral development highlights this omission. Kohlberg uses a scheme of three primary phases—pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional—but also emphasizes the important transitions between the major stages.  This scheme enables Kohlberg to note the parallels in the transitional phase between pre-conventional and conventional faith, Stage 2 “Constructive Hedonism,” and the Skeptic/individual transitional phase between conventional faith and post-conventional faith. He calls this phase 4.2 or “Regressive Hedonism,” because many if not most young adults who are rebelling against Formal/institutional faith are normally more motivated by hedonism and freedom from rules than by an actual pursuit of Mystical post-conventional faith.

This approach fits with the broad educational psychology paradigm pioneered by Piaget—assimilation, accommodation, disequilibrium. Development stage-theory insists that we gradually move through cycles of embracing systems (stage 3), doubting them (stage 4), and reengaging them at a deeper more principled level of understanding (Stage 5) in various areas of our lives over the course of our lifetime. People who do finally arrive at Mystical/Communal Post-Conventional faith in most areas of their life, do not so until after they turn 40 or even 50 years of age. We can point young adults toward mystical/communal post-conventional faith, but we dare not allow them to believe that they have achieved it in their twenties or thirties.[36]


Filling in these gaps and others like them will make for a much more robust Blue Ocean stage theory.[37] However, it will not fix the primary dilemma in Peck’s paradigm: the simple fact that it is a content/value neutral scheme. Like all contemporary developmental/educational psychology systems there is nothing uniquely Christian about it. As Peck points out himself, the faith of Buddhists, Muslims, and Presbyterians develop more or less through the same cognitive stages. As someone’s ability to reason abstractly increases[38], they progress along Peck’s “stages of faith.”[39] While this is certainly an important aspect of reaching intelligent and highly educated adult learners, it misses some important connections to historic Christian spiritual formation paradigms and connections to the key Vineyard doctrine the gospel of the kingdom. Allow me to suggest three preliminary starting points for developing a deeper blue ocean theology.

The Gospel of the Kingdom and Mature Faith

First, it seems to me that a deep Blue Ocean stage theory would need to develop a more robust understanding of the relationship between Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God and the “heart difference” between Formal/Institutional Conventional Rules-Based Faith and Mystical/Communal Post-conventional Principle-based faith. For instance, if you somewhat artificially overlay stage-theory onto Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, the usefulness of stage-theory becomes immediately obvious. Jesus’ call for a kingdom righteousness that “surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law”[40] is very much a contrast between Stage 3 Formal/institutional (rules-based conventional faith) versus and Stage 4 Mystical/communal principle-based post-conventional faith. Every teaching couplet comprises a statement from each category:

  • Statement 1: “You have heard it said: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, etc. (Stage 3: Formal/Institutional rules-based conventional faith).
  • Statement 2: “But I tell you, do not hate, do not lust, etc.” (Stage 5: Mystical/communal principle-based post-conventional faith.)[41]

This seems to make at least one element of stage-theory crucial for preaching the gospel of the kingdom, not only to young urban educated skeptic, but to everyone everywhere. It is not merely a matter of intellectual development. It is a matter of spiritual apprehension directly related to entrance into the kingdom. It is a principle so simple children can grasp it, yet so complex it requires a lifetime to master. A deeper blue ocean stage-theory can and must explore the crucial role of discerning between stage 3 and stage 5 minds and hearts of Christ followers on their journey to spiritual maturity.

Jonathan Edwards Emphasis Upon the Fruit of “Disinterested Love”

Second, it seems to me that a deep Blue Ocean stage theory would need to develop a more robust understanding of Jonathan Edwards views on religious affections and “disinterested love” as the highest stage of spiritual development. While Edwards rejected the Puritan’s strict seven-stage morphology, he still believed that it was possible to guide seekers through predictable pitfalls of immature faith into genuine maturity. What Edwards found so deadly in the Puritan system was its focus upon external actions, spiritual activities, and physical manifestations that could easily be counterfeited by the devil rather than upon the inner transformation made possible only by the work of the Spirit.[42]

For Edwards, “True religion, in great part, consists in the affections” [43]—meaning the heart’s[44] inclination toward God and away from the world and even one’s own interests.  While the beauty of Edwards’ thought is much too complex to unpack here, the bottom line is that he believed he had found the holy grail of genuine spiritual transformation: what he called “disinterested love”—what Bernard would call “love of God for God’s sake” (see section below)—which manifests itself in a Christlike love for others. Whatever a deep blue ocean stage-theory might look like, the final stage must cannot be limited to a contentless Mystical/Communal faith in anything. It must be a faith marked by a love of God for God’s sake, that manifests itself in selfless love for other believers, the poor, and even enemies.

Bernard of Clairvaux’s Phases of Loving God and the Dark Night of the Soul

Finally, it seems to me that a deep Blue Ocean stage-theory would need to develop a more robust understanding of historic spiritual formation paradigms such as the stage-theory utilized by Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avilla. Twelfth-century spiritual director, Bernard of Clairvaux envisioned the true Christian’s spiritual journey progressing through three primary stages—1) Love of self for self’s sake, 2) Love of God for self’s sake, 3) Love of God for God’s sake.[45] Bernard’s scheme fits nicely with Edwards’ highest level, but is simpler than Edwards’ exhaustive shotgun approach.

Bernard’s approach also provides a framework for better understanding the critical stage of faith John of the Cross first labeled as “the dark night of the soul” as the transitional stage from “Love of God for self’s sake” to “Love of God for God’s sake.”[46] It is a stage of “Deconstructive Individual Asceticism” that purifies of the soul of the innate idolatry of “Love of God for Self’s Sake” present in all Formal/Institutional faith. A deep Blue Ocean stage-theory can and should train believers to expect repeated visits to the dark night of the soul on their journey to truly Christian Mystical/Communal faith—love of God for God’s sake. [47] A fully developed spiritual development stage-theory might like something like the following diagram.


Jonathan Edwards’ challenge to revise the failed “stage-theory” of his day is as pertinent to the pastors and scholars of the Society of Vineyard Scholars today as it was to the pastors of colonial New England. Fortunately for America, Edwards challenge did not fall upon deaf ears. So many “New Divinity” pastors adopted his approach that they were able to help birth a Second Great Awakening (1800-1865) that moved beyond a short-lived flowering of spiritual interest into a decades-long movement of personal and cultural transformation.

So the question remains: will the Vineyard in general and the Blue Ocean movement in particular rise to his challenge? No stage-theory system is perfect, but one that has proved as fruitful as Peck’s is worth improving. While this paper has been merely exploratory, my hope is that it will help foster an ongoing conversation in the Blue Ocean movement and among all Vineyard churches toward the end of developing a robust paradigm for understanding the stages of spiritual development rooted in a deep understanding of developmental psychology, kingdom theology, and historical spiritual direction paradigms. As Edwards declared:

“Till this be done, it may be expected that great revivals of religion will be but of short continuance; (and) there is but little good to be expected of all our” efforts.[48]

See also


[1] Edwards, Jonathan. 1959. Religious affections. New Haven: Yale University Press. Originally, Edwards, Jonathan. 1746. A treatise concerning religious affections, in three parts; Part I. Concerning the nature of the affections, and their importance in religion. Part II. Shewing what are no certain signs that religious affections are gracious, or that they are not. Part III. Shewing what are distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections. Boston: Printed for S. Kneeland and T. Green.

[2] Ibid, 5,6

[3] Some pastors added up to three more stages and some used as few as five stages.

[4] Bloesch, Donald. 2000. The Holy Spirit: Works & gifts. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 106-110. See also, Gerstner, J. H. (1995). Jonathan Edwards, evangelist. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 12.

[5] “Blue” in both the popular political sense of “red state” Republican/conservative versus “blue state” Democratic/liberal sense, and the blue ocean “untapped market” sense of Kim, W. Chan and Mauborgne, Renee. 2005. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

[6] (now Greater Boston)

[7] Schmelzer, Dave. Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist. Carol Stream, Ill.: SaltRiver, 2008.

[8] Peck, M. Scott. 1993. Further along the road less traveled: the unending journey toward spiritual growth: the edited lectures. New York: Simon & Schuster, 120-145, 230-248.

[9] Schmelzer, Chapter 3, 17-27.

[10] Not the Religious Type website,

[11] Schmelzer, 18.

[12] Peck, 238. Adults often move out of this stage only by a sudden and dramatic “conversion” to a sub-cultural system of externally prescribed rules and roles in order to escape the personal chaos of their Stage 1 life. See, Ibid., 123..

[13] Schmelzer, 19.

[14] Peck, 123.

[15] Ibid., 238. Stage 2 people are extremely resistant to changes in or challenges to any religious system that brings order to their lives.

[16] Peck, 125; Schmelzer, 20.

[17] Peck, 238-240.

[18] Peck, 124; Schmelzer, 23.

[19] Peck, 238-240.

[20] As Schmelzer has stated repeatedly, this is the only purpose for which he intended its use: “the bottom line is not about this stage-theory stuff, no matter how helpful or insightful it might be,” the bigger story is about encountering God (27).

[21] Interestingly, Danish Christian existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard uses a similar paradigm to describe the faith development of intellectuals. Kierkegaard’s Aesthetic stage roughly corresponds to Peck’s “Chaotic/Antisocial” Stage 1 faith. His Ethical stage roughly approximates Peck’s “Formal/Institutional” Stage 2. Kierkegaard Religious stage is an ongoing integration of the Aesthetic and the Ethical into what Peck would call “Mystical/communal” faith. Blue Ocean devotees who function out of a sense of “arriving” at Mystical/communal post-conventional faith are in for a rude awakening as the Lord leads them into the next cycle of deeper maturity. See, Kierkegaard, Søren, and Alastair Hannay. 1992. Either/or: a fragment of life. London, England: Penguin Books, 475-590. Special thanks to Caleb Maskel for reminding me that one of my former (Wheaton) college professors, C. Stephan Evans, had been using Kierkegaard’s stages to describe the intellectual’s faith journey since the 1970’s.  See, Evans, C. Stephen. 2009. Kierkegaard: an introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 68-137.

[22] In both the “new customer” and “red state” meaning of the word.

[23] For an outstanding expression of this vision, see Charles Park’s 2007 National Vineyard Conference address “The Vineyard and the Urban Challenge,” available at .

[24] Hiebert, Paul. (1994). “The Category of Christian in the Mission Task,” in Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 107-136. See also, J.I. Packer’s tracing of Hiebert’s influence on Wimber in a chapter entitled, “The Intellectual,” in David Pytches, ed. 1998. John Wimber: his influence and legacy. Guildford, Surrey: Eagle.

[25] See, Not the religious type, vii, 37-50. For a great treatment of Hiebert’s influence on Wimber (and its problems), see McAnnally-Linz, Ryan. “The Problem of the Contested Center.” Paper delivered to the Society of Vineyard Scholars, 2010.

[26] He specifically mentions Piaget, Erickson, Kohlberg, and Fowler, 119.

[27] Also, his private counseling practice, and his interactions with Christian churches.Peck, 119-121.

[28] In fact, Jesus seems to indicate the exact opposite in highlighting something exemplary in children’s faith. Matthew 11:25; 18:3; 19:14; 21:15.

[29] One of the major struggles one hears expressed in the Blue Ocean circles is the complications created by parents/pastors raising second-generation Blue Ocean children with an eye on Peck’s scheme.

[30] Fowler, James W. 1981. Stages of faith: the psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

[31] Fowler, 52-57.

[32] As Richard Rohr observes, without the strong sense of self that is created by joining and internalizing the values of a rule-based community, we live “very warped and defeated” lives. Rohr, Richard. 2011. Falling upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 26.

[33] Or, dishonestly fails to admit that the professed Mystical/communal values of Blue Ocean churches actually function as a Formal/Institutional Rules for young adults in the movement.

[34] For a great treatment of how Skepticism has become the new Institutional/formal rules for the Millennial generation, see, Friesen, Mike. 2012. “Are Millennials Creating a New Religion?” Retrieved 4/6/2012 from

[35] An omission that can lead to misunderstanding and arrogance among stage-theory devotees.

[36] Anyone who has worked with undergrads and twenty-somethings in Blue Ocean settings knows exactly how important a teaching point this can be. This is not to pick on Blue Ocean twenty-somethings as unique. Anyone who has hung out with emerging/emergent church leaders will note some of the same semi-hedonistic arrogance masquerading as thoughtful deconstruction and engagement. But I digress…

[37] And I am deliberately omitting concerns that Peck’s model lionizes creative/entrepreneurial personality types (such as church planters) who are hard-wired to continually test boundaries, rather than more late-adopter personality types, who are hard-wired to stay within boundaries, so that being “edgy” is equated with “spiritual maturity.”

[38] Both by brain maturation and education.

[39] And Fowler’s and Kohlberg’s, etc.

[40] Matthew 5:20 (All verses in NIV)

[41] Matthew 5:27

[42] Affections, 255.

[43] Affections, 237.

[44] Heart, soul, and will are roughly synonymous terms in Edwards’ vocabulary.

[45] Bernard of Clairvaux. 1978 (originally 1153). On Loving God. trans. Jean Leclerq and Henri Rochais, 1978. Kalamazoo, MI: Cisterian Publications.

[46] John of the Cross, and E. Allison Peers. 1990 (originally 1586). Dark night of the soul. Grand Rapids, Mich: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

[47] Note: When I teach this framework in retreats/workshops with pastors, faculty, and leaders in Christian higher education, over one half of attendees identify “the dark night of the soul” as the best descriptor of where they currently fall in these 5 phases of faith. This is not surprising in that one-third to one-half of the Psalter are laments, written to process and worship dark nights of the soul. What is surprising is how the triumphalism of American Christianity wars against the acknowledgement of the importance of this crucial stage in Christian maturity. Few pastor/leaders can recall ever being taught to ‘lament’ in public or private worship, nor even hearing a public worship song written in a minor key.

[48] Affections, 7.

Blue Ocean Summit 2011: Hearing from God in Prayer and Society, by Dave Schmelzer

One highlight of our recent trip to New England was the Blue Ocean Summit in Cambridge, MA., where I was pressed into service on a couple of plenary panel discussions.

Stanford anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann, PhD, started the week off with a remarkable report on her study of the impact of kataphatic prayer (prayer where God talks back to people). It ended up shaping the entire conversation of the conference.

I will post more later, but here is conference organizer Dave Schmelzer’s summary of the week. Enjoy!


How I Spent My (Blue Ocean) Summer Vacation

by Dave Schmelzer (Adapted from Not the Religious Type)

This year’s Blue Ocean Summit took on a bit of a big-picture theme, with Tanya Luhrmann painting a picture of an experiential connection with God presenting a unique opportunity in a secularizing world, followed by our culture panel taking a pass at how centered-set faith makes a unique offer in many spheres of the wider world (Hollywood, publishing, academia, finance).

One of the more-intriguing themes at the recent Blue Ocean Summit was the thought that the sort of spirituality we talk about here might, in some ways, boil down to “Can we just skip the middleman?”

When God Talks Back

Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist, talked about her astounding multi-year study of people who talk to God in hopes that God will talk back to them.  I asked her before her talk: has anyone in human history done an anthropological study like this one, of the actual dynamics of what happens when people try to “relate” to God?  She hemmed and hawed for a moment and then said, “No.”

After hearing Tanya’s utterly provocative talk on what she learned, one implication we talked about was: is there a case to be made that we just bring this relational dynamic with God to anyone we meet who might like it?  Or do we need to take an intermediate step where we briefly change terms?

Do we need to tell our non-churchgoing friends, “Wow, your life can change if you learn to interact with this invisible but seemingly-very-real God and I’d love to teach you how to do it.  But first I’d like to offer you historical proofs that Jesus is the Son of God and, who are we kidding?, God himself.  And then I’d like you to sign off on that and pray a prayer to that effect.  And then we can get down to business about this change-your-life-by-interacting-with-God stuff.”  Maybe, we hazarded, we can just jump to that last part and see what happens?

Cultural Implcations

And then we enjoyed a really provocative “culture panel” with the following people: Jill Lamar (editor-in-chief of Henry Holt publishers), Peter Eavis (recent Wall Street Journal banking columnist), Brian Odom (Northwestern faculty in physics) and Gary David Stratton, PhD (moderator of the Two Handed Warrior online community and recent head of Act One, perhaps the largest gathering-point/training institution for Christians in Hollywood).

And we asked the question: is this sort of faith relevant primarily to people who go to churches?  Or is it directly relevant to the financial and publishing and Hollywood and academic worlds?  That gave us about an hour of things to talk about together.  But most-assuredly the upshot was, yes, take this to the larger world and get moving as quickly as you can pull this off.

Taking it to the Streets… I mean, Pub!

An intriguing capper came just after the summit finished, on Wednesday night.  Tanya joined about thirty folks in a nearby pub for another of our summer “Meaning in a Pub” gatherings, composed of about a third churchgoers and two-thirds folks from either other religious traditions or no religion.  She shared quite candidly about her really astounding tour of religious communities as an anthropologist–surely no one in history has lived even a similar life to hers–before turning things back to the tables for processing.

Later that night, over a glass of wine with Grace and me, Tanya shook her head and said something like, “You folks really are remarkable.  Believing Christians who truly live out centered set.  I don’t think I’ve seen that in quite the same way before.”

So just a few words on a time I’m still very much chewing on.  We may well have more to say soon…or we’ll ponder it in our heart.  Thanks so much to those of you who made it here, usually at the cost of real sacrifice.  I can’t wait to see where things go next.

But what do you think?  Can we offer whatever it is we have to offer to anyone, directly?  Or is a conversion of some sort required first?

Visit Dave’s Blog.



Two Handed Warriors at Eight Months

Reflections on the Relaunch of Two Handed Warriors

Dear Two Handed Warrior Community,

When Sue and I first launched Two Handed Warriors eight months ago we never could have imagined how many people would connect with our theme. All we had was a deep conviction that an unnecessary dichotomy between faith and culture has plagues both the quality of life and overall effectiveness of an entire generation of leaders.

Leaders adept at culture-making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith-building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith-building—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency–are rarely trained in the art of culture-making.

It is a dichotomy that not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership (and personal lives), it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn.

We launched Two Handed Warriors in hopes that it would inspire an ongoing conversation among educators, filmmakers, business and spiritual leaders devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith-building and culture-making. Our hope was that (in time) such a conversation might help birth a movement of intellectuals, artists, leaders, and philanthropists who could redefine faith and culture for an entire generation.

Our hunch was that such a movement of experts in such diverse fields could be unified by developing a common “school of thought” centered on a deeper understanding of “the stories we live by” at the deepest level of our societal and personal worldviews. Or at least that story was one place where filmmakers and college professors, musicians and CEOs, scientists and pastors could meet as equals and develop a common language for tackling the reintegration of faith and culture in their own lives and in the organizations they lead.

On the one hand, THW has exceeded our wildest dreams. Readership has outstripped anything Sue and I could have imagined. On the other hand, THW still has a long way to go in fostering the kind of conversation we envisioned.

Toward that end we are going to try a few new strategies in this next year.

First, we’ll be hosting a series of face-to-face conversations among key leaders in variety of settings–Entertainment, Education, Ministry, etc.–to help better understand the unique issues facing leaders in each setting and (Lord willing) foster the kind of relationships required for a deeper ongoing conversation. (The next step will be cross-pollination meetings between leaders in different contexts.)

Second, we are going to accept some graciously offered help in upping our social media game. These experts tell us that we are seriously under utilizing Twitter and Facebook and have a very time-consuming email system. Please be patient with us as we try new things and let us now if they are helpful (or not).  The goal is to build community, not annoy people.

Third, we are officially asking for help. We need to solidify our team of writers, editors, photographers, graphic designers, event planners, administrators, etc.  If you have the time and talent we have the need. We’ve got some exciting new pieces and projects in the works, but with my sabbatical coming to an end, we need HELP bringing the website to print and peer group gatherings to reality!

Finally, we want to say thank you to everyone who helped get us this far. We never would have made it without the generous help of so many dear friends. We’d like to give special thanks to Margaret Feinberg, Scot McKnight, Mike Friesen, Dale Kuehne, Dave Schmelzer, Lem Usita, Cheryl McKay Price, Cathleen Falsani, Lauren Hunter, Dean Batali, Sheryl Anderson, Phil and Kathleen Cooke, Erik Lokkesmoe, Jessica Rieder, Michael Warren, Monica Macer, Kurt Schemper, Kevin Chesley, Korey Scott Pollard, John David Ware, Jenn Gotzon, Chris Armstrong, Ashley Arielle, Adam Caress, Dennis Ingolfsland, David Kinnaman, Jay Barnes, Ralph Enloe, McCoy Tyner, Chris Fletcher, Neal and Laurie Barton, Todd Burns, Chris Easterly, Jeremy Story, Bret McCracken, Brian Bird, Ken Minkema, Rich Gathro, Peter Kapsner, Ray and Wendy Hanson, Craig Case, David McFadzean, Dallas Willard, Chuck Swindoll, John Ortberg, Tim and Char Savaloja, Lisa Whittle, Michael Hyatt, Randy Elrod, Ian Collings, Ken Stewart, Dale Schlafer, Dave Warn, Jeremy Story, Mark Russell, Amy Larson, Ben and Rochelle, Jake and Erin, Mario and Kathy, Bill Diggins, Brent Kanyok, Carol Shell Harris, Dave Warn, Doug Clark, Kelly Erickson, Drason Anderson, Keri Lowe, Scott Smith, Steve and Diane Dunkle , John and Laurie Bruns, Wes Wilmer, Wesley Tullis, William Bergeron, René Delgado, Stanley D. Williams, Shun Lee Fong, Jaeson Ma, Jim and Karen Covell, Rodney Stark, Dean Smith, Amanda Llewellyn, Bren and Melissa Smith, Kait Stratton, Ron Jesberg, Brent Kanyok, Randy Elrod, Deborah Arca Mooney, Libby Slate, Jack Gilbert, David Medders, Gabe Lyons and the entire Q Ideas team.

May your tribe increase!

Please let us know if you’re sensing a calling to pitch in.

Grace and great mercy,

Gary and Sue


For more info on Two Handed Warriors, see:  You Shall Not Pass! The Supernatural Power of Two Handed Warfare


J. J. Abrams, Stephen Spielberg, Woody Allen, Elvis, and God’s Unique Work in Us when We’re 14, by Dave Schmelzer

Playwright and Pastor Dave Schmelzer

Playwright-turned-pastor Dave Schmelzer is a true two handed warrior with a background both in theology (Fuller Seminary, ’87) and the arts (Stanford University, ’84.)

Dave leads a thriving church, The Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Greater Boston, writes fiction, and lives just outside Boston with his wife, Grace and their five children.

With four children in the arts I just loved his post. Each of my children were moving in their artistic vision by the age of 14.  I’m going to read it to my just-turned-15 actress-singer-writer daughter. You may just want to reflect on your own journey.


Woody Allen, J. J. Abrams and God’s Unique Work in Us when We’re 14

By Dave Schmelzer via

I read a fascinating opinion piece recently that pitched that age 14 is the most important one for any artist (or any person?). Age 14 was when Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney first heard Elvis.

“When I first heard Elvis’s voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody, and nobody was going to be my boss,” Mr. Dylan once said. “Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”

Mr. McCartney, the son of a big-band musician, abandoned his first instrument, the trumpet, after hearing Presley. “It was Elvis who really got me hooked on beat music,” Mr. McCartney has been quoted as saying. “When I heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ ” — which was released in 1956, when Mr. McCartney turned 14 — “I thought, this is it.”

Age 14 was when Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Gene Simmons and Stevie Wonder first heard the Beatles. Billie Holliday and Frank Sinatra first heard Rudy Vallee (!) at 14.

I just saw Super 8 this weekend–perhaps ill-advisedly taking my three boys (ages 14, 13, and 10) with me.  Two, nonetheless, loved it (as I did).  And it totally freaked out one son (which was understandable–it’s awesome, but as intense a movie as any of them have ever seen; when the lights came up I found myself trying to shield my 10-year-old from others–“Me?  Bring a 10-YEAR-OLD to this monster movie?  Pshaw!  I’d never do such a thing.”).

All to say, it’s J.J. Abrams’ homage to early Steven Spielberg movies like E.T. and Poltergeist, which came out when Abrams was…14. (I might be fudging here.  He might have been 15, depending on how his birthday aligned with the release dates.)…

Continue Reading



Podcast: Dave Schmelzer and Gary David Stratton on Faith, Culture, Hollywood and Ivy League

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.

My wide-ranging conversation with Dave strengthened my conviction that the principles Dave employs to help “Stage 4” Ivy Leaguers embrace faith might be key for Hollywood as well.

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?

Dave’s captivating book chronicles his journey from atheism to faith and how that journey taught him to communicate to the largely atheistic culture of Cambridge, MA.

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:


Note: For those who have heard me teach on the subject, Dave’s “Stage Four Faith” is basically the same as my “Stage Five Faith.” I use Kohlberg and Fowler’s concepts to add a stage between Peck/Schmelzer’s 1 & 2. (See link below to read my SVS paper on Strengthening Blue Ocean Stage-Theory.)

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.

Click for: Podcast with Dave Schmelzer & Gary David Stratton

See also my paper on Strengthening Blue Ocean Stage-Theory.

Listen to Podcast