A Critique of Pastor Dave Schmelzer's Central Thesis in His Book, Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist

Pastor Dave Schmelzer wrote a book called Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist. He and I have been interviewed together on a very popular and respectable Christian program called The Things That Matter Most (publication date March 1st). For a Christian program that's supposed to be fair with both sides, it wasn't. You'll be able to see for yourselves when they post it.

For now let me offer a critique of Pastor Dave Schmelzer's Four Stage faith typology, which can be read in detail right here. If you want to fully understand my critique you need to read what he wrote.

My critique:

This is all rhetoric and completely irrelevant to the truth claims of Christianity in any meaningful sense.

Dave improperly inserts atheism into a rebellious questioning third stage. But there are children who are brought up in good homes without any religious faith at all. Surely someone cannot say these children have been living all of their lives in the third rebellious stage. They were merely raised as non-believers. Only if they question their own atheism could someone say they are in stage three. So to be consistent, the third rebellious stage for the Christian would more properly describe backsliding or questioning Christians, since this is a spiritual four stage process, not a non-spiritual one.

The bottom line is that I could just as easily take these four stages of spiritual growth and apply them to Mormons.

Stage 1: criminal Mormons

Stage 2: rules-based Mormons

Stage 3: rebellious Mormons

Stage 4: mystical Mormons

So this has nothing to do with the truth claims of Mormonism or of Christianity.

The whole reason Dave argues this way is because he claims to have a relationship with an imaginary being. To me that’s representative of young children who play pretend games, not adult thinking, anyway.

To read our further exchange on the value of religious experience read this, leaving him with no reason to believe at all.

[Edited for additional comment below]

I think the four stage process Peck proposes simply represents a four stage personal maturity process. We never ever completely leave any of the earlier stages--sometimes they are necessary.

You can apply this maturity process to spirituality if you want to, or skepticism, or knowledge in general, so long as you keep the focus the same. I could just as easily say that all Christians are in stage 3 from a non-spiritual focus, for I think they are rebelling against the evidence, you see, and I do!

I know of skeptics who think Christians are stupid. I don't consider that a mature stage 4 understanding of the issues that separate us at all, although, I grant that some believers are stupid, as are some skeptics. There are people who think they have all the answers on both sides of this debate, and it is a debate! It's a debate about what to believe. It's a debate about what rules we should live by. And I have every right to rebel against the rules Christians set up, just as Christians might rebel against the rules I might set up. In fact, if atheism were the dominant view in society I could claim that Christians are stuck in stage 3! So you cannot circumvent this whole debate by punting to stage 4 faith. The debate remains regardless.

Let's be done then with this as a focus for describing anything about the content of what a person believes or knows. It doesn't at all. It merely describes the stages that mature adults go through. Some adults never move on to a more mature understanding, I know. But one can have a mature understanding of Islam or Mormonism or atheism too. That's why I describe myself as an "agnostic atheist." I'm not sure there isn't a God but I don't think so. Now that's a true stage 4 if there ever was one! Which Christian here would say the same thing? Which one would say "I think there is a God but I'm not sure"?

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