Empirical theology in the service of the Bible and the Anglican Church
Submitting InstitutionYork St John University
Unit of AssessmentTheology and Religious Studies
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
The Practical Theology group's collaboration with other researchers and
churches has helped faith groups to understand how clergy and lay people
engage with Scripture, leading to developments in the theory and practice
of preaching. Consultancy and research by Dr Andrew Village has helped
inform the Bible in the Life of the Church project of the Anglican
Communion, an important attempt by a global denomination to shape its
practice in relation to its sacred Scriptures. Research on Bible beliefs
has informed the debate about Creationism and evolution that arose in 2009
during the celebration of Charles Darwin.
The underlying impetus has come from two main sources. The first is the
development of interest in `real' readers among biblical scholars.
Although this has mainly focused on how the social location of scholarly
readers affects their interpretation, there is a growing group of biblical
scholars who are engaging with 'ordinary' readers. The second source of
impetus has been the realization by churches that social and psychological
factors cannot be discounted when trying to understand theological
disputes about the status and interpretation of Scripture.
Two main lines of research have informed empirical studies of Bible
reading in faith communities:
Development of reliable empirical instruments. Most empirical
work on Bible beliefs before the 1990s was based on general population
surveys in the United States, with instruments poorly suited for use
among churchgoers. Single-item questions on beliefs about biblical
literalism, for example, were being used as proxy measures for a range
of religious and political beliefs. These measures had some success in a
North American context, but were wholly inadequate when applied to
Christian groups in the UK. The work of Andrew Village (Village, 2007)
remedied this through a study of lay people in the Church of England.
Village showed how constructs such as horizon preference, biblical
conservatism and biblical literalism could be assessed by reliable and
valid instruments. These instruments were developed among a range of
Christian denominations, and enabled key dimensions of biblical beliefs
to be assessed quantitatively.
The application of Jungian psychological-type to biblical
interpretation. The idea that psychological-type preferences might
shape biblical interpretation was first suggested in a book based on
different interpretations of the Gospel passages from the Revised Common
Lectionary (Francis, 1997). The theory was unproven until a successful
collaboration with Professor Leslie J. Francis demonstrated an empirical
link between psychological type preferences and interpretative
preferences among both lay and clerical members of the Church of England
(Village, 2010; Village & Francis, 2005).
The research programme has developed in several directions over the last
- Village developed theoretical ideas from the clergy study of how
psychological type might impact the work of biblical scholars, and these
theories were proven in a study of scholars from the Society of Biblical
Literature (Village, unpublished).
- Francis, Village and others have used preaching workshops to examine
in more detail the interpretive practice of lay Readers and clergy using
qualitative methods (Francis, Robbins, & Village, 2009).
- The role of imagination in Bible reading (represented by a long
tradition in church and a rapidly expanding discourse in academic
biblical studies) has been examined in relation to the psychological
profile of readers (Village, 2009, 2012).
Psychological profile and social factors have been shown to influence the
choice of `interpretative horizons', a term widely used in hermeneutics,
but not previously applied to `real' readers in empirical research
References to the research
Village, Andrew. (2006). Biblical interpretative horizons and ordinary
readers: An empirical study.
Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 17(1),
Village, Andrew. (2007). The Bible and lay people: An empirical
approach to ordinary
hermeneutics. Aldershot & Burlington VT: Ashgate.
Village, Andrew. (2009). The influence of psychological type preferences
on readers trying to imagine themselves in a New Testament healing story HTS
Theological Studies 65 Art. # 162. (1), 6 pages.
Village, Andrew. (2010). Psychological type and biblical interpretation
among Anglican clergy in the UK. Journal of Empirical Theology, 23(2),
179-200. doi: 10.1163/157092510X527349
Village, Andrew. (2012). The Charismatic imagination: Clergy reading Mark
Pentecostudies, 11(2), 212-237.
Village, Andrew, & Francis, Leslie J. (2005). The relationship of
psychological type preferences to biblical interpretation. Journal of
Empirical Theology, 18(1), 74-89. doi:
Details of the impact
The impact of this body of research has been felt in several areas,
- The Bible in the Anglican Communion
As a result of the research noted above, Andrew Village was asked to act
as consultant to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) for their Bible
in the Life of the Church Project (BiLC). This project was
commissioned by the Anglican Communion in the wake of the global
controversies related to homosexuality and other issues that threatened
the cohesion of the Anglican Church. At the heart of these disputes are
issues about the use and authority of Scripture, and the project was
intended to help the church understand how the Bible is used by its
members. After a meeting in Durban in November 2010 a questionnaire survey
was set up that used the research instruments already developed. The
initial results formed part of the final project report (ACC, 2012), and
follow-up work is planned.
Issues of biblical authority, veracity and applicability remain of
central importance for many `ordinary' readers. Beliefs about the nature
of Scripture are central to explaining how it is interpreted, but these
beliefs are complex and shaped by a variety of factors. Quantitative
research on ordinary readers is revealing how these different factors
interact, and why simple explanations do not always suffice. For example,
the effects of educational experience on levels of biblical literalism
vary even within a single denomination. Research that makes these effects
clear is helping denominations such as the Anglican Church to better
understand the forces that are currently creating internal tensions and
The impact of the YSJU research input to the BiLC project has been to
help members of the ACC working group recognize that, without some attempt
to reach `ordinary' members of the denomination, there is a danger of
assuming that the only relevant view of Scripture in the Church is that
which is wholly derived from the educated, informed and interested
sections of the hierarchy. The survey has shown how other voices might
potentially be heard in a debate that has profound significance for
members of an internationally important religious denomination.
- The SIFT method of preaching
Psychological type measures such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are
widely used among churches to help individuals to better understand
themselves and to help groups to function more productively. This is not
without some critique, so it is important that there is a sound body of
evidence to ensure that any application of psychological type is valid and
Research on psychological type in churches has shown that congregations
and clergy have distinct psychological profiles that differ from each
other, and from the public at large. This means that it is especially
important that those responsible for teaching or preaching in churches
understand the way in which psychology shapes the hermeneutical task of
delivering a message to a particular group of people.
The SIFT method of preaching (Francis & Village, 2008) is based on
the theory corroborated by the research mentioned above. It has been
applied to specific lectionary readings (Francis & Atkins, 2000, 2001,
2002) and to the general theory of preaching. SIFT preaching is
increasingly being discussed by preachers (for example it was the theme of
the Church of England's annual lay Reader's conference in 2012) and taught
through workshops delivered in the UK. The theory predicts that people
have different preferences for acquiring and evaluating information, and
this may shape the way that sermons are heard or the Bible read. Preachers
are using the results of the research to their advantage, by shaping
sermons that ensure their listeners can appreciate biblical expositions
using their preferred ways of psychological functioning.
- The Bible and Creationism
The 2009 celebrations of Charles Darwin spawned a number of publications
and research studies. Empirical studies were aimed at the general
population, and left some church groups feeling that they had been
misunderstood. A survey of mainly conservative denominations in the UK in
2010 drew on the research expertise of the Practical Theology group at
YSJU, and was sponsored by church groups interested in understanding in
more detail what Creationists in the UK believe about the Bible, creation
and the environment. The impact of this study has been to move the debate
from a simple description of beliefs among churchgoers to a more
analytical understanding of what factors predict different beliefs, and
why Creationist beliefs persist in some church traditions.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Bible in the Life of the Church
Publications linked to project:
ACC. (2012). Deep engagement, fresh discovery. London: Anglican
Amos, C. (Ed.). (due 2013). Anglican approaches to the Bible.
Norwich: Canterbury Press.
Website for Church of England Readers conference 2012 (based on SIFT):
Review of psychological type and Bible research:
Reviews of Preaching with all our Souls
`This reviewer [...] approached [this book] with caution, only to find his
fears disarmed and his prejudices challenged [...] finding its results
both surprising and enlightening.' Church Times, February 2009.
"Leslie Francis and Andrew Village's book is valuable for experienced
preachers wishing to revise their approach to hermeneutics and rethink
their communication skills, as well as for theological students just
beginning to develop an understanding of homiletical approaches to
teaching sacred texts... Francis and Village turn a useful psychological
diagnostic tool into a way of breathing spiritual depth and resonance into
the teaching life of our churches." Reviewed by Jane Wallman-Girdlestone
in Expository Times, September 2009.
"The joining together of these two well-established traditions, one based
in the theological domain the other within the psychological domain,
provides the world of preaching and hermeneutical biblical interpretation
with a unique perspective on preaching to reach out to all members of a
congregation. This book is highly recommended not only for those whose
mission it is to preach the biblical texts, but also for those who strive
to apply psychological-type theory in real and meaningful ways. The great
potential of the SIFT method of hermeneutical interpretation not only lies
with its applicability to preaching, but also with its potentiality to be
applied to other areas (such as, say, teaching)." Emyr Williams in Mental
Health, Religion & Culture, August 2012.