Friday, November 07, 2008

A Review of Willow Creek's Follow Me (Reveal): Which comes first? Spiritual growth or spiritual behaviors and attitudes?

(Part 7 in a series)

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me with Follow Me is its flipping around of the causal story of Reveal. The first discovery reported by Reveal was that progress on a spiritual continuum was a powerful predictor of long-term spiritual growth (pp. 33-37). In other words, the more that people identify Christ as central in their lives, the more likely they to have spiritual behaviors and attitudes reflective of spiritual growth. These include tithing, evangelism, serving, love for God, and love for people.

Spiritual continuum → change in spiritual attitudes and behaviors

In Follow Me, however, the story goes the other way. In presenting possible catalysts for progression along the spiritual continuum, Follow Me lists the first catalyst as spiritual behaviors and attitudes (p. 27, 31-35).

Spiritual attitudes and behaviors → change in spiritual continuum

Taken together, the message of Reveal and Follow Me is that if you want Christians to read the Bible more, you should move them along the spiritual continuum (that is, increase the centrality of Christ in their lives). In order to move them along the spiritual continuum, you should have them read the Bible more. While Follow Me explicitly acknowledges that evangelism can be both a cause and an effect of growing faith (p. 46), the same could be said about every factor examined in the book.

The net result is circular logic that I’m not sure is helpful or practical for church leaders. For example, one of the two “breakthrough” discoveries of Follow Me is that reading the Bible is a powerful catalyst for spiritual growth. Neither the data nor the conceptual models employed by Reveal and Follow Me tell us whether this is true. It could be that spiritual growth results in an increased appetite for reading the Bible, or it could be both, i.e., bidirectional causality.

My guess is that the most helpful model will prove to be one that doesn’t separate spiritual identity, behavior, and attitudes, but rather one that combines them as the desired outcomes. They become different facets of one, underlying concept, and the question then becomes:

? → spiritual growth and spiritual continuum.

Next: Is the spiritual continuum useful?


Jeff L said...

Interesting stuff...this reminds me of Aristotle's thoughts on character: your decisions influence your character and your character helps determine the decisions you make. You social scientists have as your subject the most complicated object in the universe: the human mind. Will we ever have a full understanding of humans and their behavior? Unless the mind can ultimately be reduced to the brain, probably not. That, as you have suggested, the studies probably are substituting effects for causes may show just how difficult it is. And, as Christians, we have to take seriously the possibility that God somehow interacts with people to cause (help?) spiritual growth. I think we need someone to survey God...

Brad Wright said...

Very good point.... I agree that we're studying something crazy complex.

I'll look into websites for surveying God. :-)