I've been struck lately by various "famous" people talking in interview about how they "grew out" of believing in God. Derren Brown talking to Chris Addison on Radio 4's Chain Reaction about how he used to be a "real happy clappy" evangelical and Jonathan Edwards on some piece of interview about the Olympics talking about how he was "over-zealous" about his faith when he was younger but how he got over it when he gave up serious sport.
Now of course the whole idea of maturing and going through stages of spirituality is not new, I'm hoping to look at ideas about faith development by the likes of James Fowler in a piece of research I'm doing for my ordination training and part of me is inclined to change the course of it slightly to look at this issue. If you don't know much about some of these theories, the Church of England has recently published a report on Faith Development (with particular reference to older believers) called Going on Growing which has a good summary of the various schools of faith development in its appendix.
I suppose these comments made me think about how we are preparing new Christians to progress to more mature levels of faith and spirituality without losing faith. Dealing with those inevitably difficult and imponderable questions to which there are no easy answers can cause many people (as Derren Brown himself discussed) to rationalise yourself out of faith. This time of questioning can begin in teenage or early adulthood or even later. How are we doing at helping people live with difficult questions or even how are we seeking engage them in exploring responses with depth rather than offering easy answers.
I think perhaps we need to be more open about doubt. Remember when Mother Theresa's private papers revealed that she had extended periods of doubting? Some people saw this as undermining her position as an example of a strong Christian and yet others drew a sigh of relief to hear that it wasn't "just me". I think Rowan Williams' very mature approach to faith, offering deep theological reflections on issues has help offer wider society a view of Christianity as something more than "blind faith" and perhaps we need more of that.
Many new Christians come to faith by being convinced of a strong certainty about God - yet how do we KEEP these people on track when doubts assail them? Of course it's difficult to come to faith without some sense of certainty but those of more mature years perhaps come to faith for different reasons. How are we doing at helping those beyond the certainty phase come to faith?
No answers at yet but I'd be interested to hear any other thoughts!