What Place for Psychology in Understanding Faith?

262193_uman%20being%20finalThis 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.


SCM News, Summer 2016

We’ll be updating you quarterly via this blog with what’s going on behind the scenes, where we’re travelling and what we’re publishing. But keep checking the blog between times too, as we’ll be frequently updating it with guest posts from the authors of some of our bestselling and new titles. In the last couple of months we’ve already heard from Lincoln Harvey on the theology of sport , Bob Whorton on his book Voices from the Hospice  and Jeff Astley and Leslie Francis on the Learning Church series. We hope you’ll find the blog an interesting read. And don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter via our website, www.scmpress.co.uk, for special discounts and news about our latest titles.

Introducing SCM Research

scm research logo cropSCM is now accepting book proposals for consideration for a new strand to its publishing output – SCM Research. We hope to provide a vehicle for publishing research-level monographs, aimed primarily at an academic library market. Reflecting our aim to be a publisher of ‘cutting edge theology’ we hope that this new area of SCM will allow us to publish new voices from within the academy as well as established scholars within theology and biblical studies.

Our hope is that SCM Research will enable SCM to work even closer with the academic community it serves. If you have any questions about SCM Research or the wider SCM Press list, or would like to submit a book proposal, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the editor David Shervington (David.Shervington@scmpress.co.uk)

Michael Ramsey Prize 2016

Congratulations to Professor John Swinton whose book Dementia: Living the memories of God has been shortlisted for the Michael Ramsey Prize 2016.

252444_winton2John Swinton is Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care in the University of Aberdeen.

The shortlist was announced at the Bloxham Festival of Faith & Literature and we’re looking forward to the announcement of the winner at the Greenbelt Festival 26-29 August 2016, where John Swinton will also be speaking.

Dementia is Swinton’s second book with SCM Press and offers compassionate and carefully considered theological and pastoral responses to dementia and forgetfulness.

You can buy a copy of Dementia here


New from SCM this summer…

Following the publication of Jeff Astley’s What do we Believe? Why Does it 9780334054054Matter? in April, we’ll be publishing 2 more books in our Learning Church in the next couple of months – Encountering the Bible by Andrew Village publishes in June, whilst Conversations with the Old Testament follows in July. Look out for Jeff and Leslie’s piece on this blog, which gives a bit more detail about the thinking behind the series.


Jocelyn Bryan’s Human Being is published in June. Here’s what the Rev Dr Stephen Cherry has to say about it:

262193_uman%20being%20finalAll too often in the past attempts to address the relationship between psychology and theology have fallen short of their promise. In ‘Human Being’, Jocelyn Bryan shows what can happen when the subject is approached by someone who has studied psychology extensively and engages with theology professionally. The summaries of theoretical positions and empirical results are deft, the theological and biblical connections convincing, and the overall approach is both fresh and true to its subject matter. This is 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.”


This year sees the 150th anniversary of reader ministry in the Church of England. There 9780334054351are now approximately 10,000 Readers in the Church of England, many serving in parishes, taking services and preaching as well as doing pastoral work, while others engage in a variety of other roles. To celebrate this important calling, we’re publishing Instruments of Christ’s Love: The Ministry of Readers in July. Phillip Tovey, Sally Buck and Graham Dodds offer a fresh look at Reader ministry. The book is an ideal resource for Readers to consider their own specific ministry as well as for those exploring Reader ministry as a possible vocation.


265504_780334054474_mainGraced Life collects together the work of the late John Hughes, Dean of Jesus College, who died in 2014. John was a philosophical theologian with a breadth of interests. Nevertheless, there was an underlying and unifying project – to show the integral relation of grace and nature. He was thus able to hold together a romantic Christian Socialism, a love of culture and a committed pastoral ministry.  John integrated a rich catholic spirituality and theological understanding with an incisive critique of contemporary philosophical schools. The book is published in August.


The end of the summer brings the publication of Paul on Baptism. Drawing on recent9780334054764 scholarship on the Pauline tradition within early Christianity, the book examines Paul’s theology of baptism and highlights its practical application in ministry today.

Using a wide range of social scientific approaches to the ancient world and Christian origins, including identity, religious conversion, and ritual, the author Nicholas Taylor  explores the implications of this reconstruction for contemporary issues of baptismal practice, pastoral care and mission, aiming to bring the insights of specialists to those working on the frontline of pastoral practice.

In the diary this summer

July 12th -14th – British and Irish Association for Practical Theology annual conference, Limerick, Ireland.

September 17th – Durham Preaching Conference, St John’s College.

September 21st-22nd  – Association of Pastoral Supervisors and Educators, Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham

Learning Church

9780334053972This summer sees the publication of 3 new books in our Learning Church series, edited by Jeff Astley and Leslie Francis. We asked the editors to explain a bit more about the thinking behind the series.

The Learning Church Series has been developed for adult Christians who are beginning to reflect on and explore the Christian faith for themselves, either individually or on Church programmes of Christian learning under titles such as ‘education for discipleship’, ‘faith formation’, ‘adult catechesis’, or ‘exploring discipleship and vocation’.

The books in the series are designed to bridge the gap between popular writing on Bible, Church, or spirituality and the more academically-oriented and demanding material that is contained in textbooks of theology. The editors and authors have set themselves the task of providing material that is not only well thought-through theologically and educationally, but is also open to the learners’ real experience and learning needs. The Learning Church books therefore begin where people are by raising concerns about the topic under consideration with which the ordinary believer is already familiar. They then introduce relevant and meaningful connections with the broader Christian tradition.

The series is thus committed to taking the ‘ordinary theology’ of ordinary churchgoers very seriously, focusing on the readers’ reflective experience, before facilitating a ‘conversational theology’ that makes links between their own theological reflections and the different elements of the broader Christian theological tradition.

The volumes are written in a much more accessible style than the usual undergraduate textbook, and are aimed at a much wider constituency, including those who will have done very little academic study even of the kind that is available in school six forms. But the idea is not to leave readers where they currently are, but to structure and explore the material so as to entice them onto a journey that will eventually enable them to deal with the more demanding ideas and study materials that are required in undergraduate study.

The Learning Church books are neither modelled on the normal textbook format and style, nor pitched at the usual textbook level. As a consequence they may be appropriately used with pre-level 4 students, gently enticing them into and helping them to grow within the9780334054054 deeper theological learning required in accredited degree programmes. They may also be used with level 4 and level 5 students to provide a bridge between their current experience and the wider academic literature with which they will need to engage.

The books employ the academic apparatus of references and bibliographical details from the outset so that readers will have become familiar with these devices by the time that they meet them in other texts.

The next in the series, ‘Encountering the Bible’ by Andrew Village is published this month. It explores with openness and honesty the difficulties of trying to use an ancient text as a guide for contemporary faith.  

You can find out more about this, and the other Learning Church books on our website.