My Thoughts on the I-Cycle (Part 4)

This is another installment in my series of posts on the I-Cycle. Here’s the post where I summarized the whole cycle.

The “God” phase is a quite momentous phase of the cycle, and one that often involves a radical transition from the phases preceding it. The “God” phase is where people come to believe that God has complete sovereignty over their lives, and that God ensures that His will shall be fulfilled through them. Unlike the previous phase (“God and I”), people no longer think that the fulfillment of God’s will is absolutely contingent on their obedience. God may choose to use them to accomplish His plans, but their obedience is something He predestined for them.

In general, one does not simply walk into the “God” phase. Many Christians are afraid to approach it, or feel that Biblically they cannot do it. Many of the objections involve fear that this phase’s conception of God’s sovereignty would cause Christians to abandon personal responsibility.

I view the “God” phase as a foundation for what comes next. I have come to think that if we take the mentality of the “God” phase as our highest truth, the concerns expressed by the critics of this phase may carry some validity. But at the same time, what happens if this foundation is missing?

There is a point which I believe the great majority of Christians could agree upon, which is that, excessive self-scrutiny and anxiousness over one’s spiritual state are not hallmarks of an ideal Christian life. The big question, then, becomes how to avoid these predicaments.

A common answer to this dilemma comes from the previous phase of the cycle, the “God and I phase”, where the belief is that when people choose to fully submit themselves to God, they enter a relationship with Him in which they serve Him out of love and He guides them continually so that they do not have to obsess over adhering to prescribed, written rules.

But, as described in my article on that phase, people can eventually get burned out in that phase when they become more conscious of the spiritual distance between themselves and the rest of the world. At that point, it seems that following God requires more and more conscious effort to avoid sliding down the ways of the world.

If people cross the bridge to the God phase, where they see God as completely sovereign, they often have a sense of relief. There’s a method to the madness. God’s hands are not tied. He does not have to simply yearn for people to follow Him. Even if people resist Him, His will is still being done in their lives.

This understanding of God’s sovereignty can address the issue of getting overwhelmed by the distance between one’s self and the world. In this phase, believers can see the operation of God through both saints and sinners. A believer’s life is not about striving to follow God instead of the world. Instead, it becomes about realizing that it’s God who has set believers apart from the world and instilled faith into their hearts.

If this understanding of God’s sovereignty is used as a basic framework for one’s faith, what does spiritual growth mean? We knew what it meant in the “God and I” phase, but now we’re in a whole new world. What does it mean to live and act in accord with the Holy Spirit under this new framework? What is the paradigm to orient our lifestyles?

The next phase in the I-Cycle theory seeks to address these questions. I should admit that I consider myself to still be in the learning phase with regards to the next phase we will discuss. Though I understand it at a conceptual level, I am still getting my head around exactly what it means on a practical, day-to-day level. But I invite you to join me as I examine material from several writers and speakers and share some ideas on what all of this might mean.

Views on Voting

Back in March, I wrote a long article about religion and politics. I thought that with the U.S. elections coming up soon, I should restate a point from that article, which is that, despite some things I said about politics and spirituality, I am NOT opposed to voting. In fact, I myself intend to vote in this election.

In general, I favor a pragmatic approach to voting. I do not vote strictly based on a candidate’s stated position or party platform on any select issues. The reason is that, I think virtually all political organization (whether conservative or progressive) have some anti-Biblical associations if you look deep enough. Groups with progressive values are trying to modify Biblical morality to fit 21st-Century philosophy. On the other hand, political organizations promoting conservative Christian values are often supported and influenced by religious systems that, I believe, misapply Biblical principles in a way that creates guilt or fear in people who are seeking to follow God.

This is why, when deciding how to vote, I do not start with the assumption that any ideology is inherently good or bad. My methodology is to look at the candidates and then consider whose approach to government would yield better results given current circumstances in the country and around the world. I consider results including economics, national security, morality, and the relationship of the U.S. to other nations.

Even though I have a personal tendency to gravitate toward philosophy and abstraction, I try to moderate that tendency when it comes to voting, and keep in mind that election outcomes affect the lives of many people. Thus, I seek to reason on practical terms and avoid getting fixated on far-reaching theoretical implications.

My Thoughts on the I-Cycle (Part 3)

The “God and I” Phase

This is a continuation of my series of post on Clyde Pilkington’s theory of the I-Cycle. Here are the links to Clyde’s video and my summary of the cycle:

Clyde Pilkington’s Video

My Summary

This post examines the “God and I” phase of the cycle. This is the phase where people decide to fully submit their lives to God. They decide to seek his guidance on all matters of life, and they commit to following His will instead of their own.

This is the phase which many Evangelicals hold as their paradigm. Often times, Christians enter this phase because they believe that, when following their own desires, they are getting into all sorts of trouble. Maybe they know what is right but cannot get themselves to follow through. Or maybe plans in life that sounded good at one time are going awry, causing continual frustration. Perhaps these Christians were involved in some truly noble endeavors, but lacked success in those pursuits and are growing weary, finding themselves in a quandary of guilt or self-questioning.

Thus, these people come to believe that the only way out of these predicaments is to follow God’s leading in all matters of life. Many Christians in this phase have a strong spiritual focus. For example, they may spend a lot of time in prayer and meditation. They place a lot of emphasis on following the Holy Spirit instead of their flesh or their minds. They believe that in order to live for God, they have to set aside their mental feelings and urges (which they consider to be corrupt and selfish) and instead follow their spiritual intuition, which they view as a deeper part of themselves that has the life of God.

Many Christians in this phase feel a sense of peace that they lacked before. Instead of simultaneously living for themselves but also trying to follow a set of religious rules, they feel free and empowered now that they can follow the Holy Spirit’s leading instead of trying to conform to fixed rules or ordinances that they never quite succeeded at. Furthermore, they perceive that their selfish tendencies are now being subdued since they are no longer tantalizing those tendencies with their own desires and ambitions of life.

I consider this to be the first phase of the “I”-Cycle that has a Biblical basis for fully living in it. For example, the Apostle James writes,

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15).

Also consider the following passage from the Apostle Paul,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect(Romans 12:1-2).

In this “God and I” phase of the I-Cycle, Christians often seem to be “on fire” for God. This is where being “separate from the world” really becomes a prominent part of one’s mentality. As opposed to the previous phase, where one’s faith is more of a private aspect of life, many Christians in the “God and I” phase take their faith public and engage in faith-related discussions with those around them.

Christians who have reached this phase often serve as “spiritual role models” for those who are in the earlier phases. Some Christians who reach this phase are comfortable living in it for the rest of their lives. However, there are others who develop tensions while living in this phase, which lead to further developments in their spiritual journey.

I want to describe some common characteristics in the journey to, through, and beyond this phase, based on many testimonies I have read.

Often times, Christians enter the “God and I” phase out of a sincere desire to know God’s will and have a deeper relationship with Him. They often have a healthy sense of humility and inward peace as they keep their focus on God rather than themselves. Their relationship with God is like a new world for them, and the spiritual distance between themselves and the rest of the world isn’t bearing upon their minds. However, there comes a point where they notice the distance.

When the distance grabs their attention, they observe that they are making a lot of sacrifices to keep God first in their lives, whereas other people are carelessly going about their own ways. At this point, they start becoming a bit self-righteous about their choice to follow God. They sense that they are striving to maintain their spiritual purity amid a world that’s going down the drain. They may eventually become overwhelmed and burned out.

At that point, some of these Christians step back into a mentality that resembles the previous phase of the I-Cycle, “I and God.” However, other Christians move forward into the next phase of the cycle, the “God” phase, which we will look at in the next post.

My Thoughts on the “I” Cycle – Part 2

The “I and God” Phase

I am continuing my interpretation of the “I Cycle,” a theory about spiritual development created by Clyde Pilkington from the ministry StudyShelf. Here is a link to Mr. Pilkington’s video (Clyde Pilkington – The I-Cycle). The “I and God” Phase is discussed during 2:10 – 4:00 in the video.

Here is my own post where I summarized the whole cycle (I-Cycle Summary).

In the last post, I looked at the starting point of the cycle, the old-creation “I” phase. That phase is where people feel that the world revolves around themselves and that they are entitled to have their desires met.

Some people live their entire lives in that phase. But others move beyond, and come to a point where they realize that they themselves do not have the power to overcome all of life’s challenges. They realize that they are going to need God’s help to get through certain circumstances. Thus, they enter the “I and God” phase. I will share my thoughts on this phase based on testimonies I have read and people I have personally known.

“I and God” believers are still, for the most part, making their own decisions for their lives, and going about their business as they would without their faith. However, they also keep God in their minds and see Him as being there for them when they need help. They may pray regularly, attend church, and read books about spirituality to see how God can help them. However, their faith is likely to be somewhat of a private aspect of their lives, and they probably do not talk about their faith to everyone they encounter.

These people do not like to be intruded upon. Their minds tend to filter out the words of preachers who would try to make them feel guilty, or tell them that they have to change their lives in some radical way. They are easily turned off by pushy religious folks. “I and God” believers often think that their religious life needs to be properly balanced with other aspects of life. When they read the Bible, they probably see it through the lenses of their own moral judgments, and more or less feel vindicated by the Bible’s admonitions, though they may be open to adjustment on some matters of character or attitude.

The “I and God” Christians are a widely varied group in terms of their spiritual walk. Some of them may be mature spiritually. However, others have a tendency to be viewed as “lukewarm,” “carnal,” or “baby Christians.” They could be seen as trying to get the benefits of being a believer without totally committing their lives to Christ.

Among “I and God” believers, lifestyles vary widely. Some of them are still very much living however they want to. However, my personal feeling is that their attitudes have changed from the previous phase. Instead of entitlement and being the center of the universe, their attitudes shift to rationalization. On one hand, they perceive that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to live. However, whether consciously or subconsciously, they rationalize to say that the way they want to live is morally acceptable. Thus, they see themselves as obedient to God while basically living however they want.

But there are other Christians in this group who are making efforts to live as they honestly perceive the Bible to teach. However, they may be troubled by a lack of self-control. They feel bad when they do something wrong, but the effort they make to follow through with repentances may seem somewhat lacking in fervor.

However, I also think there is a third group of believers within the “I and God” phase. These people are very self-disciplined, and are very much staying away from moral vices. They feel that they are good Christians by virtue of their self-controlled and motivated natures, and thus, even though they are still following their own ambitions, they perceive God’s approval to be upon their lifestyles.

There are some believers who remain in the “I and God” phase for the rest of their lives, and I am not trying to say that there is anything inherently “wrong” with that, for I believe it is God who determines what phase a person will reach in this life.

However, if people move beyond the “I and God” phase, it is often prompted by adversity or temptation which they feel they cannot overcome unless they completely surrender their lives to God. When they come to that point, they enter the “God and I” phase of the “I-Cycle.” We will look at that phase next time.

 

My Thoughts on the “I” Cycle – Part 1

The Old-Creation “I” Phase

I am doing a series on posts on the “I” Cycle, a theory about spiritual perception that was developed by Clyde Pilkington, who founded the ministry StudyShelf. I have recently come to believe that the “I” Cycle is an extremely powerful model for understanding the spiritual experiences of ourselves and those around us. I also believe it sheds new light on Scripture and reveals why the Biblical authors said some of the things they did.

In this post, I want to look at the starting point of the cycle, the old-creation “I” phase. Mr. Pilkington says,

Man starts his journey with the center of his world being himself. And as we move along, we begin to think that not only does the world revolve around us, but seemingly we sit on the throne of our own life . . . God is scarcely in our thoughts at all. If He is there, there is an attempt to keep Him at bay as we get older, because He’s confusing to us – He interferes with what we want to do. His thoughts bother us and trouble us (1:10 – 2:00).

It is sometimes perplexing how people, who seem to be nice, decent individuals, can suddenly act hateful or engage in very immoral behaviors. But I think what’s going on with these people is that they feel entitled to have their desires met.

Many of these people do not want to be hateful all the time; their priority is not to hurt others. They basically want to be nice people. But at the same time, they have urges and raging emotions, and they feel that it is their right to act upon these impulses. Seeing themselves as the center of the universe (whether consciously or subconsciously), their physical and emotional sensations are bigger than anything else in the world. Thus, when they are feeling something really intense inside, reasoning goes out the window.

You can try to tell people that some minor thing which ticked them off is not worth exploding over. You can try to point to devastating circumstances facing others in the world to put things in perspective. But suppose a person has a vision problem that makes everything in front of him look really big. You can try to tell him that the fly buzzing in front of him is small compared to Mount Everest, but he’s not focused on the size of Mount Everest at all. What he’s focused on is that fly in front of him which looks as big as a truck!

Some people in this phase are religious. But they are probably not focused on relationship with God. Rather, they probably associate religion with decent people and social order, and they want to be basically nice people after all. They may go to church because, that’s what they think good people do. Some of these folks may even become preachers, given that they see value in Christianity and want to promote it as a career, feeling that it would have benefit not only to others but to themselves as well.

However, they still see themselves as the center of the universe (although it’s probably somewhat subconscious at this phase). Why is it that we often hear about famous preachers who get caught in various scandals? Well, my view is that, it’s because many of those preachers still felt like it was their right to act upon their impulses; thus, they probably felt justified in living a double life. They preached against those behaviors because they thought that is what good preachers do, and they wanted to be good preachers. They probably perceived value in preaching against those sins, even though, in their personal lives, it was their right to act upon their impulses, which seem bigger and more important than anything else.

In the next post of this series, we will look at the phase “I and God,” where people come to realize that they truly need God’s help.

 

Here is the link to Clyde Pilkington’s video on the “I” Cycle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w53DgB9Fks

The “I” Cycle (Summary)

In my last post, I shared a link to the video where the writer Clyde Pilkington describes his theory called the “I” Cycle. I first heard about the “I” Cycle in 2013. I thought it was interesting, but it was not until here lately that I suddenly realized how powerful this model could be. I believe that this model for spiritual growth could profoundly address many of the debates facing believers today, in particular, the faith-works controversy.

Before I give my own thoughts on the “I” Cycle, I want to summarize Mr. Pilkington’s theory in case you didn’t have time to watch the whole video.

Phase 1: The old-creation “I”

This is where people begin life. Infants are only aware of their own needs. As they grow into early childhood, they gain awareness of the broader world but see the world as revolving around themselves, and feel entitled to have their desires met. Some people continue this self-centered mentality into adulthood.

Phase 2: “I and God”

At this phase, people decide to make God a part of their lives. They realize that there are situations in life in which they need His help. Although they may engage in church and prayer, they are primarily following their own pursuits and ambitions, even though they see God as being available when they need Him.

Phase 3: “God and I”

This is where people decide to put God first in their lives. They often realize that, left to themselves, they are creating a lot of trouble. So, they decide to surrender their lives to God and follow Him step by step.

Phase 4: “God”

At this phase, people put more emphasis on God’s sovereignty. They come to believe that God is not relying on their own obedience for His will to be fulfilled, even though He may choose to use them. People in this phase often reject the concept of free will.

Phase 5: The new-creation “I”

Here, at the completion of the cycle, people come to fully see themselves as new creations in Christ. In contrast to the “God and I” phase, people are no longer focused on “submitting” themselves to Christ. Instead, they see the life of Christ as inherently expressed through their lives. At the same time, in contrast to the “God” phase, people do not let their comprehension of God’s sovereignty inhibit them from getting into action or acknowledging their own accomplishments. They no longer think that God has to swoop in and do something with them in order for His plans to be fulfilled. Instead, seeing themselves as new creations, they are free to act without having to worry about some part of them interfering with God’s plans. Life is no longer about overcoming one’s natural state to conform to a “correct” state. Instead, as new creations, people are free to be who they are.

Here is the link to Mr. Pilkington’s video where he discusses the “I” Cycle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w53DgB9Fks

In my next post, I will share my own thoughts on each of these phases and how I see them reflected in the Bible, and the lives of believers. I also want to show ways in which this model could address debates in the church today.

The “I” Cycle

The “I” Cycle is an explanation that the writer Clyde Pilkington gives for what he perceives to be a progression in the way people understand their relationship with God.

I have found the “I” Cycle to be very enlightening when considering my own spiritual journey, and it has helped me understand other believers as well. Here is the video where Mr. Pilkington describes the theory.

Let me know what you think about the “I” Cycle, and any reflections or concerns that you would like to share!