This week, we’re publishing Human Being: Insights from Psychology and the Christian Faith by Jocelyn Bryan. Here, Jocelyn gives us her thoughts on what the book seeks to offer.
We are all unique, but we are all similar too. No one is a replica of anyone else, but there are, nonetheless, many things we share in common. As each of us makes our inimitable journey through life it will resemble many other journeys, but it will always be our own distinctive journey. This poses the question of how within this our infinitely diverse and common humanity, we make sense of being human. Extending this further – how do we answer profound questions such as who am I? What are the main things which have contributed to who I am, and to the journey I have made through life? How much of who I am is due to my parents and their influence – both genetically and the way they parented me? Who am I like and why? How much can I realistically influence who I am and who I will become? These are huge questions concerning our identity and personhood and what it means to know ourselves. But they are also huge questions concerning our faith, and how we understand ourselves to be creatures created and loved by God. As Christians, we believe that God knows us better than we know ourselves; God is active in our lives, and through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, God can mould and transform us. Therefore who I am and who I will become involves the work of God.
My hope for this new book is that it will change the way you think about yourself and other people, but more than that, I hope it will encourage you to reflect on how faith in God transforms who you are and the ensuing story of your life. I believe that the power of the gospel narrative is unleashed when the story of salvation is woven into the personal narrative of our lives. But our personal narrative is more than just our story, because it also the material from which we construct our personal identity and make sense of our life. It defines us, and the integration of the story of God into our personal story changes our understanding of ourselves, others and the meaning of our life.
Psychology is an academic discipline which seeks to understand the nature of being human and the way we make sense of life. The psychology of personality in particular offers significant insights into the question of who am I and how did I become the person I am. In recent years the contentious relationship between psychology and theology has mellowed, and a more positive approach acknowledging the benefits of complementary perspectives and a dialogical approach has begun to emerge, particularly in the field of practical theology and science and religion.
In Human Being I examine resonances between the two disciplines in order to discover fresh insights into what it means to be human. I begin by reflecting on the role of narrative in psychology and theology and how this informs our understanding of ourselves and others. For example, in answering the question who am I, we inevitably draw on the events and episodes which are defining moments in our life story. I am a wife, a mother, my children are young adults, I have been a Christian for most of my life and I have lived in Durham for over thirty years since graduating from Durham University. These are the markers in a vast kaleidoscope of countless experiences which say something about who I am, but they fall a long way short of fully describing me. For that you also need to know something of my personality. For example, am I an extrovert or introvert, am I prone to being anxious, am I conscientious, am I agreeable or prone to being angry? But even these personality traits are not enough for you to know me. You will want to know what motivates me and gets me up each day, what goals and values I hold, what I strive for in my life and more of my life story. These questions are in the province of the psychology of personality, but it is also the case that the answers to them are influenced profoundly by my faith and my understanding of what it means to be the person God calls me to be. The two cannot be separated, and so Human Being is concerned with examining the interaction between faith and personality and what it reveals about being human.
By exploring personality and some of its components, then placing them in conversation with the extracts from the narrative of scripture, Human Being illuminates the factors that influence and shape us to become the people we are, and the role played by faith in this process. It is a book about the work of faith within us. In it, I reflect on the psychology of human goals and motives and how the Christian faith changes the things we strive for and what motivates us. I examine the relationship between our emotions and our personality, and how these can change in the light of faith. I explore the psychology of self-esteem and the resonances between the virtue of humility and optimal self-esteem. Some surprisingly common ground between the discipline of psychology and the Christian faith is uncovered that I hope will enrich our understanding of the wonder of being human, and the way in which belief in the story of salvation can transform and enrich human life.
Human Being has already been praised by The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, who called it an “inspiring and extremely useful book that brings much-needed clarity and theological imagination to bear on a wide range of personal and pastoral issues”. You can order a copy on our website here.