In his book Faith After Doubt, Brian McLaren describes four stages of the faith journey—Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony—through which we move repeatedly over the course of our lives. As we grow in faith, our specific beliefs become less important than the revolutionary love to which we are called:
I have all kinds of mixed feelings about slogans. They often oversimplify and therefore mislead. But they’re pithy and memorable and therefore have some value. So, acknowledging my mixed feelings, I’d like to offer this pair of slogans to summarize the heart of our message so far:
Faith before doubt: it’s about correct beliefs.
Faith after doubt: it’s about revolutionary love.
In other words, the journey of faith through Simplicity and Complexity involves learning and perfecting beliefs. The journey of doubt through Perplexity involves questioning not only specific beliefs but the whole belief system approach to faith. Then, the journey into Harmony is a journey beyond beliefs into revolutionary love.
By revolutionary love, I mean love beyond: love that goes beyond myself to my neighbor, beyond my neighbor to the stranger, alien, other, outcast, and outsider; beyond the outsider to the critic, antagonist, opponent, and enemy; and even beyond the human to my non-human fellow creatures. In short, revolutionary love means loving as God would love: infinitely, graciously, extravagantly. To put it in more mystical terms, it means loving with God, letting divine love fill me and flow through me, without discrimination or limit, as an expression of the heart of the lover, not the merit of the beloved, including the correctness of the beloved’s beliefs.
Now I need at this point to make clear that I am not against beliefs. Beliefs are necessary. They are interesting. They are unavoidable. But belief, the act of holding a set or system of beliefs, is not the same thing as faith, even though we often use the words imprecisely and interchangeably. To explore the difference, let’s consider the insight of Alan Watts [1915–1973], a twentieth-century philosopher of Eastern religions who tried to capture the difference between faith and belief like this:
We must here make a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception. 
 Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity (New York: Vintage Books, 1951, 1968), 24.
Brian D. McLaren, Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It (New York: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2021), 116–117.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Brian McLaren on faith, beliefs, and doubt.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 09 (detail), United States, photograph, used with permission. Tory Hallenburg, Walking on Water (detail), 2018, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: Venturing beyond the monochrome of certainty, we walk into water and on ground we cannot always see. Our ripples spread beyond ourselves into this movement of faith.
Story from Our Community:
Last year when my faith was in tatters, a friend sent me the link to the CAC Daily Meditations after a chance meeting. I had just started receiving help for a stressful and frightening family situation. It was extraordinary how the Daily Meditations complemented my inner work over the course of 12 months. Embracing a non-dual way of thinking has helped me realize that I am fully known and fully loved—and it has become a bedrock for building a new and healthier way of being. This afternoon, I had a beautiful, real, and free conversation with my daughter who was almost estranged from me 18 months ago. My heart is full of gratitude. —Jackie B.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.