Psychological Type and Biblical Interpretation

Much important work in the field of religious statistics has been undertaken by psychologists of religion. In general, it is relatively little-known outside the immediate discipline of psychology, partly, perhaps, because it tends to be based upon specialized samples rather than national surveys of the whole population.

A recent example of the genre is Andrew Village, ‘Psychological Type and Biblical Interpretation among Anglican Clergy in the UK’, Journal of Empirical Theology, Vol. 23, No. 2, 2010, pp. 179-200.

Village’s research involved the completion of a questionnaire measuring psychological type preferences and biblical interpretation by 364 male and 354 female clergy ordained into the Anglican Church in the UK, mostly into the Church of England, between 2004 and 2007.

Respondents were asked to read a healing story from Mark 9:14-29 and then forced to choose between interpretative statements designed to appeal to particular psychological type preferences. Ten sensing-intuition and ten feeling-thinking pairs of statements were included.

Psychological type was measured by the Francis Psychological Type Scale. Sex was used as a control variable because of the widely reported finding that women are more likely to prefer feeling over thinking compared with men. The Village Bible Scale was also deployed to control for biblical liberalism or conservatism.

The 718 clergy showed an overall preference for introversion over extraversion, feeling over thinking, and judging over perceiving. There was no preference between sensing and intuition. The only difference between the sexes was the much stronger preference for feeling over thinking among women.

Women were found to be less biblically conservative than men. Biblical conservatism was also negatively correlated with introversion, intuition and feeling, indicating that it may have been most prevalent among clergy who preferred extraversion, sensing and thinking.

In terms of the biblical interpretative choices based on Mark 9:14-29, there were no correlations with preferences in either psychological orientation (extraversion or introversion) or attitude towards the outer world (judging or perceiving).

After allowing for sex and Bible beliefs, the number of intuitive (versus sensing) interpretative items chosen was positively correlated with a psychological preference for intuition over sensing but not with preference in the judging process. 

Similarly, the number of feeling (versus thinking) interpretative items chosen was positively correlated with a psychological preference for feeling over thinking, but not correlated with preference in the perceiving process.

The study both confirms and expands a similar project conducted in 1999-2001 by Village among a sample of 404 Anglican laity, the majority of whom had little or no theological education. This investigation is most extensively written up in his The Bible and Lay People: An Empirical Approach to Ordinary Hermeneutics (Ashgate, 2007).

While such research demonstrating a linkage between psychological type and biblical interpretation clearly has an academic purpose, it is also designed to have a practical application in the pulpit, by suggesting ways in which preaching might be shaped to allow listeners of different psychological profiles to access biblical material in their preferred styles.

The book Preaching with all our Souls, by Leslie Francis and Village (Continuum, 2008), explores this dimension further. A good general introduction to the psychology of religion is provided by Francis, Faith and Psychology: Personality, Religion and the Individual (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2005).

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