Conversatio Divina

Part 3 of 12

The Value of Christian Maturity

Dan Speak

The second session of the 2024 Martin Institute Christian Formation Workshop involved a presentation by Dr. Dan Speak (philosophy, Loyola Marymount University) and comments by Dr. Charity Anderson (philosophy, Baylor University). The session was hosted by Dr. David Vander Laan (philosophy, Westmont College). Dr. Speak’s paper was titled “The Value of Christian Maturity: Two Potential Extrinsic Values of High-Octane Christian Maturity.” In light of the first session’s emphasis on the expectation of Christian maturation, this session explored the value of Christian maturation.

Below is a summary and some key quotes from Dr. Speak’s paper. In the short video of Dr. Speak from the workshop, he summarizes the main points of his paper. Unfortunately, we were unable to record Dr. Anderson’s response.

Download and read the full presentation paper, The Value of Christian Maturity by Dan Speak.

01.  Summary

Speak defines “Christian Maturity” as a “process” by which one seeks “to form the kind of character that Jesus would have if he were living out our lives.” Speak’s vision of maturity is two-fold: it includes both Jesus’ characteristic way of living life in relation to God (his “spiritual” character) as well as Jesus’ characteristic way of living in relation to other persons (his “moral” character). Speak locates a “discipleship gap” “between how I think, feel, and act with respect to the core goods and how Jesus would think, feel, and act if he were me.” Speak views maturity in terms of the shrinking of this gap and sets out to address the epistemic and social value of maturation. He concludes that only a “high-octane” (i.e., a noticeably different) kind of maturity can be said to be of any real value.   

Speak focuses on what he calls the “positive epistemic” and “social” value of Christian maturity. By “epistemic value” he means the idea that, “when Christians become robustly mature, their lives become a kind of evidence in favor of the truth of Christianity.” Speak does not think mere moral decency or moral failure are enough to significantly alter the likelihood of Christianity’s epistemic value in one direction or the other. Rather, it is only a “high-octane” kind of maturity (something like what we see in bona fide saints) that will achieve a kind of recognizable difference in epistemic value. Speak contends that “widespread increases in the number of folks exemplifying high-powered Christian maturity . . . could very well constitute uniquely powerful evidence of the truth of Christianity.” 

In turning to “social value,” by which he means, “to increase human wellbeing, to contribute positively to human flourishing, to improve systems of justice, to develop cures for various diseases or to reduce poverty and its deleterious effects, etc.,” Speak warns that merely promoting something like agape love, without training in expertise, technique, or an eye for the common good, will not “cash out” in reality. For Speak, mere sainthood, apart from the robust kinds of expertise required to address social ills and promote the common good, is not enough. To promote social value, Speak calls on “disciples to become wise cooperators within a community committed to wise cooperation,” and to develop the “technical and theoretical expertise” to do so. For Speak, as much as we need to form new Francises, we need equally to form new Dorthy Days and Dag Hammarskjölds. 

Speak concludes, “that widespread increases in Christian maturity really could fund substantial increases in epistemic and social value,” so long as in the case of epistemic value, maturity grows “noticeably beyond what we could expect to arise from ordinary moral development,” and in the case of social value, maturity is “marked by a set of perhaps surprising dispositions toward the production of wise cooperators.”  


02.  Key Quotes

“Maturity will mean, in addition, recognizing the possibility of callings into medicine, economics, engineering of various kinds, political leadership, activism, education, wealth management, philanthropy, etc. Importantly, the kind of openness to and encouragement of vocation in these domains will be substantially motivated not (or at least not only) by interest in personal and local goods but by a broader concern that the Body of Christ have hands and feet for every kind of activity needed for the cooperative goods.” 

“My considered view is that widespread increases in Christian maturity really could fund substantial increases in epistemic and social value. But in both cases, I think our reflections reveal that the goods cannot be secured by what we might call low- or moderate-octane maturity. In order to secure the epistemic goods, the widespread maturity would need to be such that its realization is more likely on the truth of Christianity—and, so, would need to go noticeably beyond what we could expect to arise from ordinary moral development. In order to secure the kind of collective social goods upon which I have been focused, the widespread maturity would need be marked by a set of perhaps surprising dispositions toward the production of wise cooperators.”  

“A final question, then, is whether we ought to build the potential promotion of these kinds of goods into the structure of our concerns with Christian maturity. That is, we are left wondering whether our efforts to make disciples should be measured at all in terms of the way that the project may or may not conduce to these goods.” 

03.  Application Questions

  • Various biblical passages can be read as endorsing the epistemic/evangelistic value of Christian maturity. For instance, Jesus claims that his disciples’ good works will point persons to his Father (Matt 5:16). And many persons testify to the moral appeal of Christian community playing a part in their conversion. How does that square with Speak’s skepticism that persons are rational in thinking Christian virtue is a good reason for thinking Christianity is true and Christian vice is a good reason for thinking Christianity is false?  
  • In considering Christian maturity and the relationship to the common good, how might we develop formation models that appreciate and incorporate the need for the theoretical and technical expertise needed to bring about certain social goods (e.g., we need economists and food distribution specialists to help resolve food scarcity)? 
  • At what point in our discipleship programs do we need to spell out the complexities involved in collective action, systemic injustice, moral complicity, etc.? 
  • To what degree are our ministry models good at producing contemplatives or activists, but not producing contemplatives-in-action (e.g., Dag Hammarskjolds)?