Podcast Episode: Justin Barrett | Why Theology Needs Psychology

Sometimes people fear psychology, because of the perceived potential to be used to explain away their belief in God. Experimental psychologist Justin Barrett joins Jim Stump in this episode to discuss why he believes in the opposite. He also tells all about the new project he’s directing, the TheoPsych Project which aims to bring theology into contact with the mind sciences by bringing theologians and psychologists together to learn and think and talk with each other.


Looking forward to this! Dr Barrett is terrific

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I really enjoyed it. I’ll have to listen to it again though when there is not so much on my mind and constant interruptions. Busy semi chaotic morning lol.

I was surprised to hear about the fear of psychology erasing a need for religion or therapists replacing pastors. I’ve lived all over and even have friends who are counselors and psychologists, including atheists, and have never heard that being voiced from either side.

I was always taught that a psychologist is someone who helps develop theories on behavioral patterns through nature and nurture. A psychologist helps guide you towards self realization on the cognitive choices you make including those subconsciously made. To help you learn your thinking patterns and teach you emotional intelligence and how to improve those things or learn to avoid them or at the very least be aware when something is triggering you without you knowing why and so on.

Never knew of this conflict until this podcast actually xd.

I’m surprised you have never heard this! My spouse is in mental health, and he finds that most of his counterparts do not have any religion, as they perceive it as a crutch or delusion.

I definitely see a connection to pastors thinking they are adequate enough counselors for their congregation and being hesitant to encourage them to reach out to medical professionals for their problems, especially if they can be perceived as “spiritual” problems. (But we talk about this more on next week’s pod, so I won’t spoil it!)


I definitely look forward to the next podcast then.

I have always heard religion is just a crutch to deal with the fear of dying but that’s been from all over. Even my old boss in construction was a atheist and believed religion was a crutch.

It’s strange indeed. Not sure why I have never experienced this. My family was not religious growing up. Just a few years when I was a kid my mom was going to a church but it was optional if we wanted to go. My dad was a agnostic leaning more on the atheist side. Went to church as a teen with a friend. But both my moms pastor and my friends pastor open talked about the need for people to get to talk with therapists and counselors to help them overcome issues and that of course as a pastor he would help but that his job was to spiritually lead us and teach us the word. I even distinctly remember a conversation where my mother’s pastor made a comment about how he can show you what scripture says about the Christian paradigm on how we should view money but that you would need a financial advisor to help show you the best way to do good with your money and that was the same basic view they expressed with struggling with sin vs struggling with a mental disorder. My friends pastor was a scientist before he retired from some company where he made sure foods were properly preserved and so on. He was a chemist of some kind. He believed in evolution as well so perhaps I was just lucky in that account growing up.

That’s the problem with anecdotal evidence. It’s very limited without a wide range of variables and data.


Totally! maybe you were just in a particularly healthy environment.


@HRankin, I’ll be looking forward to the next installment as well. I’ve long been interested in psychology. But psychology encompasses the work of not only Freud and Skinner but also Maslow, Perls, Schneider and Jung. James Hillman said psychology is first and foremost confessional in that when we try to say what it is we can’t help but say as much about ourselves as anything else. The popular magazines like Psychology Today give the impression that it is the study of tendencies in human behavior and thought patterns. Probably nice for Christianity to see that it isn’t the only thing riven by denominationalism.

Randy had given me a heads up about Barret a while back. He is a good speaker and I appreciate his effort not to collapse talk of theology, God and religion into something specifically Christian. After all, we’ve been becoming human for a lot longer than anyone has been specifically Christian. If we are going to look at how psychology could inform theology, we should be looking for something much more broad than any particular religion.


Hello all! Here is the link to the thread for the next podcast in the series. Enjoy!

With two psychology majors for parents, psychology was the closest thing to a religion in which I was raised. When at the age of 13 I constructed in my own thinking a rational basis for morality it was founded on psychological principles. In other words, the question of what is moral pretty much became what behaviors are most conducive to psychological health?

I was reintroduced to psychology at seminary and from this I presumed that this was a normal part of any education for ministry. But I found it rather difficult to discover how long psychology was a part of the required curriculum of most other seminaries. My guess is that this is something which varies a bit between the seminaries of different denominations.

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I was able to listen to this finally–what a great podcast. The cognitive science of religion seems to explain so much. This podcast showed more than I realized. It seems that both theists and non-theists can benefit from its insights.

If CSR is genetically programmed, it stands to reason that even if we reject religion, our instincts will transfer to other objects. If we continue to be theists, we can be aware of misapplications (and healthy ones) of our inborn tendency to worship and venerate the numinous or understand abstract reasoning and moral tendencies, as well as why we ascribe characteristics to them.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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