Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Empirical Explorations into Biblical Theologies of Grace: Employing the SIFT Approach among Anglican Clergy

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Empirical Explorations into Biblical Theologies of Grace: Employing the SIFT Approach among Anglican Clergy

Article excerpt

Within the Christian tradition, grace is a core theological construct that challenges a number of commonly accepted assumptions that underpin modern capitalist societies. Although many such societies are currently motivated by or have their roots in the broader Christian tradition, little critical dialogue seems to have been engendered with this core theological construct. Such an observation raises questions about how church leaders currently understand the theology of grace, how seriously they engage with this construct, and how actively they seek to engage this construct in interpreting and critiquing the societies in which they live.

The Empirical Science of Grace

Fresh interest in the empirical science of the theology of grace has been stimulated by Emmons, Hill, Barrett, and Kapic (2017). In their review of this emerging literature, they identified a small number of quantitative studies (Bassett, 2013; Bufford, Blackburn, Sisemore, & Bassett, 2015; Bufford, Sisemore, & Blackburn, 2017; Watson, Morris, & Hood, 1988a, 1988b) and a small number of qualitative studies (Bronte & Wade, 2012; Dreyer, 1990; Hook & Hook, 2010). Emmons et al. (2017) also identified five fields in which the empirical science of grace could be further developed, drawing on psychological theories and psychological methods: 1) The connection between grace and wellbeing and psychological health; 2) the obstacles to accepting and experiencing grace; 3) the connection between religious cognition and thinking about grace; 4) the developmental origins of receptivity to grace; and 5) the way in which cultural factors may influence receptivity to grace. These five fields are offered as an indicative rather than as the definitive framework for future initiatives within the empirical science of grace.

The present study is positioned within the emerging tradition of empirical research in the science of grace identified by Emmons et al. (2017) and adopts their working definition of grace:

We define grace here as a gift given unconditionally and voluntarily to an undeserving person by an unobliged giver, the giver being either human or divine. (p. 4)

The present study also proposes a sixth field within which empirical research in the science of grace might be advanced. This sixth field is located at the intersection between the psychology of religion and empirical theology and suggests that individual differences in conceptualizing and expressing understanding of grace may be related to the science of biblical hermeneutics.

The Empirical Science of Biblical Hermeneutics

A significant strand within biblical hermeneutics has been provided by the approach known as reader perspective. The reader perspective approach recognizes that distinctive characteristics of the reader shape the interpretation of the text. in developing the reader perspective approach, sociological categories have played an important part in defining the location of the reader (see Segovia & Tolbert, 1995a, 1995b). Key sociological categories that have emerged in this context include: sex, leading to feminist readings (see Schottroff & Wacker, 2012); power, leading to liberation readings (see Botta & Andinach, 2009); and race, leading to black readings (see Brown, 2004). These sociologically-informed approaches have tended to be theoretically rather than empirically driven.

Another stream within the reader perspective approach to biblical hermeneutics has been informed by psychological theory and grounded in empirical research. Within this stream Jungian psychological type theory has played an important part. Psychological type theory, as originally proposed by Jung (1971) and as subsequently developed by a series of psychometric instruments including the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (Keirsey & Bates, 1978), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers & McCaulley, 1985), and the Francis Psychological Type Scales (Francis, 2005), distinguishes between two core psychological processes: the perceiving process that is concerned with gathering information and the judging process that is concerned with evaluating information. …

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