Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

Free The Church

Spiritual Growth and the Trivium

Published on: Oct 24, 2008

Two books were sent for me to read. The first book I struggled to read and gave up on it. The second book, Not the Religious Type has caught my attention and I am currently enjoying my read of it.

The book is a semi autobiography of Dave Schmelzer coming to Christ and his discovering the differences between religion and spirituality.

In his third chapter, “How M Scott Peck Saved My Life” he shares Peck’s theory of psychological/spiritual growth. He lists four stages of growth.

Stage 1 Schmelzer calls the criminal stage which is characterized by the selfishness of toddlers who only care about their own needs. He says that people who remain in this stage can be found in two institutions, prisons and corporate board rooms. Stage 1 has the unregenerate who never come to Christ.

Stage 2 he calls the rules based stage. In children he says this is the grammar school age and is an age where life is lived by the rules. Two institutions where these kind of people are found are the military and church. Stage 2 has the believers in new birth, or people who have decided “to be good”.

Stage 3 he calls the rebellious stage. He compares teenagers as examples of this stage. After living by the rules they question as to why we are to follow the rules is asked. The institution that seems to support this stage are universities. Stage 3 has believers who see the faults of the church.

Stage 4 is not given a name by Schmelzer, but could be called the life transformation stage. Stage 4 is coming to grips with stage 2 rules. It goes beyond following the rules to understanding why the rules are there at all. From the faith point of view, it goes from “being good to please God” to “knowing God and understanding Him”. Stage 4 are believers walking close to Christ.

When I first read this chapter I thought about the believers who have left the business congregations to find a deeper relationship with God. I have been in those circles of believers now for 3 years. They have a heart for God and want to know Him deeper. Some have gone over the edge by lowering the Bible as equal to other religious documents. Some have even lost discernment as to what makes a person a Christian in the first place, accepting New Age people (who do not know Jesus nor are in covenant with Him through the new birth) as equal to those who are truly saved.

But I know our God is more than able to take care of His own and is not upset with their explorations. I know that He will bring them back to the foundations of Christ. I have a friend who has gone through that cycle, having been out of the main stream of Christianity far longer than I. She now has “stage 4” enmeshed with “stage 2” . She no longer simply follows the rules, but knows why the rules are there because of her walk with Jesus through the wilderness.

This list of 4 stages reminded me of the Trivium. I work with many home schooled children, and have read a number of articles on home schooling. One of the first articles I read was by Dorothy Sayer, who wrote her article on the Medieval Trivium for modern education back in the 1940’s. What she had to say about the Trivium dove tails with Pecks stages 2-4.

The Trivium was the foundation for Medieval education. The word means “three courses”. The first course is Grammar, the second is Logic, and the third is Rhetoric. But as Sayers explains, it is more than just topics of education, rather they are the phases of learning and growth. I would also add that these three phases compare with three stages in proverbs; obtaining knowledge, gaining understanding, and walking in wisdom.

Grammar is, of course, the elements of language. The remnant of the Trivium remains in our educational system when we refer to children in Grammar School. This is an age group of children before puberty who are taught facts and information in simply obtaining knowledge. Children of this age can not comprehend abstract concepts. They just need the information. Grammar school teaches more than just language. They learn math, science, art, and a host of other subjects. The point of Grammar school is that no matter what topic is taught it is taught by a facts only approach. Grammar school correlates to Pecks Stage 2 of rules. One does not know why, nor questions why there are rules, one simply follows the rules.

As I said in another blog, business congregations remain in the Grammar School stage. Christians who live their whole lives in these institutions do not get past this stage. If they do, and they remain, it wasn’t because of the institution. They will have become involved with other activities to experience their growth. Pulpits do give reasons why we should follow the rules, of course. But heart transformation comes by experience, not hearing only. As James said, we have to be doers of the Word. The whys of the rules become understood when one experiments with the rules.

Logic, according to Sayers, was taught to the pubescent, which in America is 7th and 8th grades. The Trivium becomes forgotten here, but these ages are nonetheless separated from teenagers for the same reason. This is the age when children start questioning the rules. They want to know why they have to obey the rules. This correlates with Pecks Stage 3 of rebellion. The Medieval educators understood this stage and reasoned that if they are going to question everything, they may as well do it well by their instruction in logic. As a learning phase this the training of all topics in the whys of the facts for understanding the relationships of the facts to one another. In proverbs this is understanding knowledge before gaining wisdom.

For believers who have outgrown the church systems, this rebellious stage is actually the quest for understanding the rules, although they may not be doing so consciously. They are seeking God in a more personal and experiential way. In this stage they are open to the traps of Satan, and many do stumble into those traps, but greater is He in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). God is able to make His children stand, and He will make them stand (Rom 14:4). In another post I talked about this experimentation as being similar to gymnasts developing spatial awareness. As believers we have to develop God awareness.

Rhetoric, which is the ability to express oneself, according to Sayers is the abstract stage. In this age, usually high school teen years, children develop the ability to comprehend abstract concepts and theorems. In training the Trivium for English speaking, they get the facts of grammar to know what is in the world, the understanding of logical relationships of those facts of life, then they gain the insight for expressing their comprehension with articulate rhetoric. This is the age where the children would also study theology. Grammar age: Bible stories; Logic age: lessons learned from the stories; Rhetoric age; understanding God to walk with Him and to defend the faith. This should be the age of wisdom. In Peck’s Stage 4 of life transformation for believers who rebel against the system, it is the time of maturity and wisdom.

God wants believers to reach stage 4. It is at this stage one truly understands God and His purpose for creation. It is at this stage that the believer can stand for the faith. It is at this stage they can willingly lay down their lives as martyrs. If we are to truly grow in Christ we must pass through the stages. The only concern is getting stuck in a stage. Thousands are stuck in stage 2 of living by the rules only and not truly appreciating by experience why they live by those rules. Some get stuck in stage 3 where their rebellion never comes to the knowledge of Christ (2 Tim 3:7). Paul mentions Hymenaeus and Alexander whose faith had become shipwrecked (1 Tim 1:19-20). But, praise be to God, there have been thousands upon thousands who have passed through all the stages and come to a deep knowledge and understanding of God and life and learn to walk in the wisdom of God. Such men as Polycarp and a multitude more who have lain down their lives for Christ. To them have they obtained the crown of life. That crown is Christ Himself.

Submitted on 10/24/2008

As I was writing this post I thought of you. I know that you are a teacher so this would have double relevance to you.

Submitted on 10/24/2008


This is fascinating how you weave the principles of the Trivium through our growth in different areas of life. This must surely apply to many things you haven’t mentioned as well.

Schmelzer mentions Stage 1 as the “criminal stage.” Yesterday while going through some things that belonged to my mother I ran across an old newspaper article that someone had clipped. I recognized the name of a man my mother had described many years earlier as the son of a Baptist preacher who lived down the street when she was a kid. This son had gone very, very bad and ended up in the pen. The article said he had recently been paroled to his home town. He must have been in his 60s or 70s when it was written. After outlining all the mob-like crimes he had committed througout his criminal career, the article rather sarcastically “welcomed” him home again. I always wondered how people can become so twisted, but this is a perfect example of someone remaining at Stage 1 until they are grown.

I think you and I have seen many people in Stage 3 (rebellious stage) in their growth in Christ. In fact–speaking for myself–I can say that for me it was a time of great temptation to throw off all the restraints. So, it’s good and it’s bad. Fortunately, there were people who challenged me every step of the way. The effect was to make me rethink everything I’d ever been taught of Christ and to force a lot of my opinions through the Cross.

What if I’d remained in Stage 3? I sometimes think of that. But in fact, I feel as if parts of me are simultaneously passing through different stages all the time. The goal is to bring them all into Stage 4. Even though God is the author of our salvation, we have the choice to cooperate with Him on this journey. This is what makes Stage 3 tricky. It’s easy to think we “see” now and charge off like a bull.

As you say, “our God is more than able to take care of His own and is not upset with their explorations.” Does that mean we are never to say anything when we see others going off the rails? As I shared above, people certainly did say something to me at times. Sometimes the speaking was out of wisdom and sometimes out of fear, but I had to learn the difference. I certainly fell into deception a few times, but a friend told me once, “The antidote to deception is having been deceived.” That is so true.

I don’t know if I am always right or wrong on everything, but I know people have been upset with me lately for coming down hard on those who compromise the gospel where the unsaved and the deceived are concerned. What they don’t know is that as a teenager I had gotten very heavily involved in the occult (fortune telling arts) myself while in Stage 2. This was not a harmless little thing.

There were several members in my extended family who had been involved in fortune telling, crystal ball gazing and necromancy and this had abounded to genuine demonic activity from which I was delivered at age 18. Fortunately, a few people did not compromise on their advice to me and I laid everything aside before really understanding the reasons for it. After my deliverance I felt like my personality stopped fragmenting, my four-year long migraine recurrences disappeared completely and so did my never-ending nightmares.

I suppose it might be argued that these demonic things have no power over Christian people–and maybe it depends on which part of the walk you are on. It might even be said that Father can deliver us all. Perhaps it’s true. On the other hand, some people never seem to be delivered of this weirdness. Is it their choice? Do they fall into a ditch and prefer their own solutions to Father’s so that they never get out? I don’t know, but I do know that God’s care of us has some correlation to our hunger to embrace Him.

Nevertheless, in all these things we may say that while there is life there is hope. Certainly, in the early days of my journey after the occult time, there were many advisors who brought me back to a slavish reading of the scriptures. Though it put me in some new bondage, it did burn the words into my heart and mind. When you read the divine words, they will talk to you when you are unaware and begin to mold you.

For sure, in my eagerness to unlock the secrets of God that would heal me and my life, I fell into habits of reading scripture 8 hours a day, reading many commentaries, listening to many sermons, going to conferences. I was not the “religious type” myself, but once the drive was on to learn God’s ways, I became so. Enter religious pride and then deception from listening to too many wrong teachers. Lastly entered disillusionment (not lack of faith).

In the end, I was left with nothing but “the dark night of the soul” and surprise at finding I had any faith left. This is when I learned that our faith is not our own. I don’t know how it works, but the Christ who indwells us has all the faith. Apparently we swallow that when we swallow the Christ pill and it becomes a part of us. In that realization I began to understand the Cross experientially. I no longer cared about “reckoning” myself dead–it was pretty obvious to me that I was dead. From that time the Lord began to live my life for me since I couldn’t do it any more. The rest is history now.

Submitted on 10/24/2008

That is an article in itself! You have made many significant comments. I copied them on notepad so I could address a few. You said:

“As you say, “our God is more than able to take care of His own and is not upset with their explorations.” Does that mean we are never to say anything when we see others going off the rails?”

God obviously uses people to speak into the lives of other people. What matters is prompting and the timing of the Lord when to speak.

You also said:
“I suppose it might be argued that these demonic things have no power over Christian people–and maybe it depends on which part of the walk you are on. ,,,Do they fall into a ditch and prefer their own solutions to Father’s so that they never get out? I don’t know, but I do know that God’s care of us has some correlation to our hunger to embrace Him.”

Christ has given us all power and authority over the enemy. The problem is that this power operates according to our faith. If we believe that we are acting in the flesh when it is demonic, then we will not use that authority, for example. Your last statement in the quote is excellent. The more we hunger for Christ the more we realize what we have.

You also said:
“In the end, I was left with nothing but “the dark night of the soul” and surprise at finding I had any faith left. This is when I learned that our faith is not our own.”

Boy ain’t that the truth! Your next comment answers this one.

“In that realization I began to understand the Cross experientially. I no longer cared about “reckoning” myself dead–it was pretty obvious to me that I was dead.”

This is step one to victorious Christian living, we are not dead because we think so, but because God thinks go. Step two is that we don’t walk in the resurrection because we think so, but because God thinks so. Great stuff, Kat.

Kristin Cole
Submitted on 10/24/2008

Alex & Amy, Dave Schmelzer is doing an online chat on Wednesday from 2-3 p.m. EDT at to discuss his book. It’s completely free to join in. Just log into Hope you can join.

kevin kane
Submitted on 10/24/2008

Hi Alex,

Appreciate the wisdom. These thoughts reminded me of a picture frame. Taking the landscape and framing it. What a great opportunity to understand and examine how a person would fit in a particular mode. A few years back someone referred to me as a “Spiritual Teenager.” Initially I was somewhat offended, and lacked understanding. Later, I got it. I would especially agree with the description of stage three. And understand the importance of advancing to stage four.

My friend and I were recently discussing a description of a “Spiritual Hippie.” Teenagers by the droves flocked to Berkley for unrestrained freedom (back in the sixties.) Free sex,drugs,and all other things lacking any structure or governing elements were beckoning them. We see a spiritual version of that taking place in the land today.

The results are spiritual disease, illegitimate birthing’s in the spirit, etc..

The protective nature of God is something to embrace and submit to. In that you are free!



Submitted on 10/24/2008

Thanks for your input. I do not want to put people in boxes, of course. My blog was simply jumping off a chapter in a book I read that bore witness to me. While God has clearly given us all growth patterns as demonstrated in physical maturity, I am sure that individuals my find themselves in different stages at the same time, depending on the subject matter. Blessings on you.

Thanks for the feedback. I will try and make it. I am almost done with his book. Blessings to you.

kevin kane
Submitted on 10/25/2008

Hey Alex,

Regarding: Stage 4 is not given a name by Schmelzer, but could be called the life transformation stage.

Quick preface: 1Cr 4:15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet [you do] not [have] many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

Considering you minister as a “Spiritual Father”, What would you consider to be practical steps to get to stage four and remain there?

This would be helpful to those desiring this place, but struggling with the how to components.

Thanks Alex.

Submitted on 10/25/2008

First, I did not know that I ministered as a spiritual father. I’ve always understood that Corinthian passage as referring to Paul’s part in leading them to Christ, but, of course, I could be wrong.

I don’t know if there are steps to stage 4 other than believing God that we have died with Christ and that Christ lives through us. Our daily choice is to accept that God is working His will in us as promised in Philippians 1:6, and our part is to follow God in His leading.

Knowing the leading of the Spirit seems to be the part that believers struggle with. Peace is central to that knowing, and not pursuing our own agendas (denying self) is its companion. Also, understand the season you are in. There are seasons when Father does little directing because we are already on the path.

Kevin, your question is a big question to answer. I am sure I have only scratched the surface for you.

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