Faith Styles

If you hang around with spiritual directors long enough, certain names show up again and again. Tilden Edwards and Rose Mary Dougherty, for example. Both have been publishing books about spiritual direction since the 1990s, and both had a hand in the formation of the Shalem Institute.

Another name that I’ve run across multiple times is John Mabry.

I first ran across Mabry’s writing when I was looking for resources about interfaith approaches to spiritual guidance. His book Noticing the Divine: An Introduction to Interfaith Spiritual Guidance was the first book I read about spiritual direction.

Faith StylesWhat impresses me about Mabry is that he’s both a pastor actively serving a congregation (Grace North Church in Berkeley, California) and a practicing spiritual director. In fact, he’s the Director of the Interfaith Spiritual Direction Certificate Program at the Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley as well.

(There’s a bit of a UU angle here. The Chaplaincy Institute and the Starr King School for the Ministry have a joint program to train interfaith chaplains.)

We recommned a couple of Mabry’s books in the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction: Faithful Generations: Effective Ministry Across Generational Lines and Faith Styles: Ways People Believe. I’d like to focus on Faith Styles in this post, and I’ll say more about Faithful Generations in another post.

According to Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat in their review of Faith Styles, “Mabry has developed a model of spiritual assessment that is both non-developmental and non-hierarchical in nature.”

What Mabry did was interview people about their faith using the following questions:

  • How is the Divine imagined?
  • What is the nature of one’s relationship with the Divine?
  • How does one construct meaning in the world?
  • What are the accepted sources of spiritual wisdom?
  • How is spiritual growth assessed?
  • What spiritual disciplines and practices are honored?
  • What are the advantages of the style?
  • What are the disadvantages?

Mabry discerned from those interviews six distinct faith styles;

  • traditional believers
  • spiritual eclectic
  • ethical humanists
  • liberal believers
  • religious agnostics
  • jack believers

(The Brussats note that jack believers are “known in some communities as ‘backsliders’ or ‘apostates.'”)

Mabry took his questions and used them to outline each of the different Faith Styles. Here, for example, is what a “spiritual eclectic” looks like:

  • The Divine is imagined as a spiritual force animating all of nature.
  • Pantheistic—there is no distinction between creation and the Divine.
  • Meaning comes by protecting the biosphere and all creatures, and by promoting greater consciousness.
  • The spiritual wisdom of every tradition, in one’s own experience, and in the body is honored.
  • Spiritual growth is assessed to the degree to which one can see through the illusion of separateness and realize one’s unity with all being.
  • Spiritual eclectics practice prayer, meditation, ritual, sacred reading, art, exercise, being in nature, and activism.
  • Advantages: diversity and spiritual generosity.
  • Disadvantages: Gullibility and a lack of groundedness.

Obviously this are some broad generalizations. But there appears to be some truth in each of Mabry’s styles.

What’s especially helpful here in terms of spiritual direction is the questions themselves. Discussing how a directee imagines the divine, or how they assess spiritual growth could be fruitful in a spiritual direction session.


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