Friday, January 27, 2023

Brief Review of What Works: Gender Equality by Design

What Works: Gender Equality by Design What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read a lot of books and journal articles about bias and inequality. It's pretty common for those sources to offer a lot of recommendations for overcoming bias that sound like a good idea on the surface, but don't really have empirical support for their effectiveness and may actually backfire. What I appreciated about this book was that it focused more on what works empirically and frequently discussed what doesn't work or has backfired.

Another common issue in this genre is to advocate for the equality of a specific group in ways that are unfair toward other groups or possibly less beneficial for individuals, organizations, or societies. Once again, this book does a much better job than most but it's still not perfect in this area.

I would recommend this book to most people because I think it will be beneficial for overcoming bias and inequality, especially for anyone in a leadership role, and the examples or studies discussed are also pretty interesting to learn about. If you don't think you have bias, or are just curious about one of the many ways it can be measured, try taking an implicit association test (IAT) linked below.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Is the Enneagram Legitimate for Spiritual Growth?

This article is the paper I read at the Evangelical Theological Society annual conference in 2021. It's pretty long but is organized with lots of headings. If you want shorter content, here's an article I wrote on the accuracy of the enneagram and another one discussing why it seems to work if it's not accurate. This paper has also been adapted for oral presentation so citations may have been removed in adapting this paper as these are not always relevant for oral presentations, but I still have attempted to cite my work to avoid the appearance of plagiarism. Where I am merely reporting what others have done or said compared to my own ideas should be clear from the context and content of each statement. It is a product of my current research and is still limited in the scope of its analysis of the enneagram.


I’m assuming that if you are here, you have probably heard of the enneagram by now. For the few who may not have heard of it, the short answer is that it’s a personality typing system and personal growth tool. In the past 5 years, there has been an explosion of books, podcasts, businesses, and YouTube channels devoted to the enneagram. Available resources claim that it can improve every area of your life, including, but not limited to your own well-being, marriage, sex life, leadership, business practices, parenting, and most relevant for this conference, your spiritual growth and discipleship. 

Within the church, people are mixed. Some ardently oppose it while others elevate its status to somewhere between Jesus and the apostle Paul. I’m only partially kidding about the fervor people have for it, particularly Christians. There are seminaries using it, churches are teaching or hosting seminars on it, and enneagram books are often found in the Christian section of bookstores. Most of the Christian critiques of the enneagram focus on its suspicious or occultic origins and the theological issues with relating a self-help tool to salvation. Some of these critiques are valid concerns while some are probably better left as issues for an individual’s own conscience as Paul explains in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8.

I want to take a different approach to understanding the enneagram and evaluate it based on its own merits. I was first introduced to the enneagram while in seminary in 2017 by friends who were using it to aid their evangelism efforts. It was explained to me as a new and revolutionary approach to understanding people that was way better than anything else. At the time, I already had a master’s degree in psychology and had spent the last few years teaching college psychology courses, so I was a little embarrassed that I had not heard of it. Still, I just assumed I had missed a major new development and so I set out to learn more about it.

As I sought to learn about the enneagram, my primary concern was whether it accurately describes people, and this is the same approach I will take for this paper. I will only mention issues of its origins as they relate to its accuracy. The degree to which the enneagram can be successfully used for spiritual growth is largely dependent on its accuracy and other potential mechanisms for growth. In other words, if it makes false statements about the way people are, how can we expect it to change people for the better? Before discussing the evidence, I will explain in more depth what the enneagram is as this will be important to understand why it is subject to scientific testing and now it can be done.


What is the enneagram?

In the most basic sense, an enneagram is a shape. The prefix ennea- is nine in Greek just like hexa- is six and penta- is five in Greek, so enneagram just means nine-sided figure. The enneagram as a personality system gets its name because it has 9 different personality types, which are organized in ascending order on a circle. Think of it as a clock with 9 at the 12 o’clock position. 

The types are the primary aspects of the system but also just the beginning of it because the organization of the types is also important. See figure 1 for a visual (or your phone). Each type is connected to several other types in different ways. Every type has two wings, which can be thought of as a subtype. An important aspect of enneagram theory is that the wings can only come from one of the two adjacent types. For instance, a 2 can only have a 1 or 3 as their wing and is often written in short form as 2w1 and 2w3. 

The next most prominent feature of the enneagram are the intersecting lines connecting the types. These are the directions of growth and stress, which correspond to the direction people move to when they are under stress or when they are healthy. These are also referred to as the direction of integration and disintegration. For example, a type 1 will be more like a type 4 when stressed, but more like a type 7 when healthy. 

According to enneagram theory, your type (and to some extent, your wing) tells you who you are, which includes your strengths and sinful tendencies. The directions of growth are then the solution to overcoming your sinful ways so that you can mature personally, relationally, and spiritually. 

The final major aspect of the enneagram I will discuss are the three triads, which describe the general way of thinking for the three types included in each triad (Riso & Hudson, 1996), and are represented by the lines that look like an upside-down peace sign on the diagram. The three triads are the instinctual types (Types 8, 9, and 1), the feeling types (2, 3, and 4), and the thinking types (5, 6, and 7; Wagner 2021). 

There are many versions of the enneagram but for the most part, they’re all the same. They may use slightly different terminology, often swapping synonyms to describe the types and the system, but there are some minor disagreements regarding the content of the types. The main aspects of the system are largely consistent from one version to another (Wagner, 2021).


Type 1 Description

For the sake of time and lack of necessity, I won’t go through all nine types but I will give a brief description of types 1s to give a better idea of how the system describes people and how it functions. Type 1s are referred to as The Reformers (Riso & Hudson, 1996), The Good Person (Wagner 2021), and The Perfectionist (Cron & Stabile, 2016; Palmer 1988), but they all describe type 1s as good, conscientious, perfectionistic, and idealistic, amongst a long list of other attributes. 

A more detailed description according to Riso and Hudson’s EnneagramInstitute, says that type 1s are “conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic.”

Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective 
Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced 
Key Motivations: Want to be right, to strive higher and improve everything, to be consistent with their ideals, to justify themselves, to be beyond criticism so as not to be condemned by anyone. 
Addictions: Extreme dieting (fasts, diet pills, enemas) and in extreme cases anorexia and bulimia or alcohol to relieve tension. 

For personal growth, they suggest that type 1s “Learn to relax. Take some time for yourself, without feeling that everything is up to you or that what you do not accomplish will result in chaos and disaster…Your Achilles' heel is your self-righteous anger…Try to step back and see that your anger alienates people so that they cannot hear many of the good things you have to say. By now we should have a pretty good idea of what the enneagram is and how it works so we turn to the question of whether it can be scientifically tested.


Scientific Testing

Psychologists study a lot of different things: personality, IQ, depression, religiosity, well-being, marital satisfaction, memory, and just about everything else you can think of that pertains to people. As you can imagine, the better we can quantify these constructs, the better we can use them to understand people, predict their behavior, and improve their well-being. Every measure we use is tested for accuracy, which is part of the reporting standards for what to include in journal articles for every scale used in a study. 

Despite the claims of some enneagram advocates, there is nothing magical about the enneagram that makes it immune to scientific evaluation. In fact, every study testing the enneagram, except one, has been done by a proponent of the enneagram, which is evident by their hypotheses that predict the enneagram will be supported. The EnneagramInstitute proudly proclaims that their enneagram scale, the RHETI 2.5, “has been independently scientifically validated.” 

As an example, I counted the number of empirically testable claims just in the short description of type 1s and there were 41, not including relationships between claims. Claiming that type 1s are conscientious and impatient can be empirically tested by comparing type 1s to other types on conscientiousness and impatience. These are two direct claims, but there’s a third, indirect claim that stems from these two. If types 1s are impatient and conscientious, there should be a higher correlation between these two traits than for traits associated with other types. I did not count these hidden or indirect claims because that would have led to an astronomically large number of claims. 

These are just claims about a single type. The enneagram also makes claims about how the types relate to each other, how people act when they are stressed, how people make decisions, and how people can become healthier or more integrated, all of which are scientifically testable claims that are very similar to the types of things psychologists test every day.



When psychologists evaluate a scale for accuracy, they immediately look at the consistency of the scale. Wagner and Walker (1983) were among the first to develop and test their own version of the enneagram, the WEPSS. Their results yielded low consistency within the types with scores ranging from α = .37 to .78. For reference, .70 is typically considered the lowest acceptable value for this metric. 

Newgent et al. (2004) examined the reliability of the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) and found reliability coefficients for the nine types in their study ranged from α = .56 to .82 with three types falling below α = .70. Dameyer (2001) found the internal consistency for each type on the WEPSS and RHETI ranged from α = .35 to .84.

In contrast, Tastan (2019) and Yilmaz et al. (2014) developed novel enneagram scales and found slightly higher average values for their scales (α = .84 and α = .75, respectively). Yilmaz et al. (2014) only had one type fall below α = .70, but it’s unknown how many were below .70 for the Tastan (2019) scale because values for each type were not reported. Demir et al. (2020) also tested the Tastan enneagram scale and found lower values for internal consistency, averaging α = .76. Sharp (1994) conducted a factor analysis on each of three enneagram scales and found only five factors rather than nine.

However, Wagner (WEPSS Manual, 1999) found a 9-factor solution for his scale, but the Mental Measurements Yearbook notes that important details of the analysis were omitted, and the analysis was likely incorrect (exploratory factor analysis with forced factors and no confirmatory factor analysis). Yilmaz et al. (2014) also did a factor analysis with his version of the scale and found nine factors, but the scale items for his version and Wagner’s are not published in peer-reviewed journals so they cannot be properly critiqued.

While this may sound like a minor detail, transparency for the questions is vital for evaluation. For her dissertation, Scott (2011) helped create a new version of the RHETI, which is the basis for The Enneagram Institute’s claim that their test has been “independently scientifically verified.” She conducted several factor analyses to revise the scale and eventually achieve a nine-type solution. This is a good and acceptable process when done correctly, but the methods she used were suspicious at best. Not only did several questions fail to group with other questions for that type, some grouped with the wrong type. Rather than stating that The Enneagram Institute incorrectly predicted personality for those types, she simply used these questions as items for the other type and The Enneagram Institute did not change any of their claims.

Whether Yilmaz et al. (2014) and Wagner (1999) used similar or other questionable practices to increase the scores of their scales cannot be known without access to these scales and further investigation. The takeaway from these studies is that the enneagram types are not clearly delineated types. Imagine a painter’s palette with 9 colors on it. Enneagram theory claims there are nine distinct colors that have very little mixing between them. However, the results of these studies suggest the types are more like 9 shades of brown with just a hint of remaining color still discernable. In other words, the enneagram types are largely overlapping with very little distinctiveness to each type.


Multi-test Consistency

Another common way to evaluate a scale is by checking to see how consistent it is between multiple tests or human raters. If enneagram theory is correct, there should be very high agreement. If the enneagram types are more like shades of brown, low agreement would be expected. 

When examining how people score when taking the same test twice, Wagner and Walker (1983) found correlations between pre- and posttests that ranged from r = .17 to .78 with an average of r = .53 (SD = .11), which is very low. For reference, scores from r = .50 to .74 are considered poor to moderate (Portney & Watkins; 2015). When Wagner and Walker (1983) compared how people typed themselves after an enneagram training compared to how the scale typed them, they found inter-rater reliability between κ = .28 and .40 for the pre- or posttest. 

Demir et al. (2020) found virtually non-existent agreement between the Tastan enneagram scale and his own enneagram scale (κ = .11). For reference, scores between κ = .21 and .39 indicate minimal agreement (McHugh, 2012). Dameyer (2001) directly compared two enneagram scales (RHETI and WEPSS) and three independent enneagram experts (Don Riso, Jerry Wagner, and Virginia Price who is an associate of Helen Palmer). She found that only 42% of participants were classified as the same type by both scales, which is higher than chance but still low. She also found that the correlations between three expert judgments about the attributes of each type ranged from r = .09 to .94, ranging from virtually no correlation to high. 

These results indicate that the people do change their types, the types do not accurately describe people, the types are very similar to each other, or any combination of the three. Regardless of which is the case, they all show that the enneagram makes several false claims about personality. 


In addition to testing the consistency of the enneagram, other tests have sought to examine its validity. 

Koocher et al. (2015) polled 150 doctoral-level mental health experts to rate the degree to which they felt various psychological treatments or assessments have been discredited. The enneagram was rated as the second most discredited tool on the list of 89 items, behind the Szondi personality test (but ahead of the Rorschach inkblot test). 

In the only critical study of the enneagram, Edwards (1991) tested to the concept of wings by asking participants to arrange the types in a circle so that adjacent types would be connected and found that neighboring types were not placed together more frequently than chance. 

Maxon and Daniels (2008) conducted a twin study on enneagram types and found that twins did not share the same type more frequently than chance, which did not support their hypothesis, nor does it agree with other literature showing robust results for the heritability of personality traits among twins (Polderman et al., 2015). 

When relating enneagram types to other measures of personality, the enneagram does a little better (Hook et al., 2020). The results generally show that the enneagram types correlate with the other personality measures as hypothesized, but not all expected correlations are supported, and the strength of the correlations have been lower than expected. 

Once again, these studies all failed to support the claims of the enneagram, suggesting that the claims are exaggerated or plainly false.


Applied Tests

A handful of studies have sought to test the efficacy of the enneagram in practical situations. Godin (2013) found no significant effect on psychological well-being or unconditional self-acceptance after training participants on the enneagram. 

A study by Daniels et al. (2018) hypothesized that training participants on the enneagram system would lead to a stronger sense of identity but found no differences between the experimental and control group. Thrasher (1994) and Twomey (1995) both tested participants under stress and found that they did not act according to their enneagram stress direction.

Sutton (2013) compared the enneagram to the Big 5 for how well it could predictive other employment outcomes. She found that the Big 5 better predicted job self-efficacy and perceived stress by large margins whereas the enneagram better predicted job involvement; however, she did not use all five factors of the Big 5 for her comparison, making the results tentative at best because she compared the full enneagram to only a portion of the Big 5. 

The enneagram system, the experts who profit from it, and the scales used to type people have been tested in several ways and every single test contradicts the grand claims of the enneagram. The types seem to correctly identify how some people are, but in general, they are inaccurate and overly simplified descriptions of people. The secondary aspects of the system, including the directions of growth, which is the alleged mechanism for spiritual growth, seem to be no more accurate than random chance.


Why does the enneagram seem to work?

At this point, you might be wondering, if the scientific evidence against the enneagram is so strong, then why are so many people so strongly convinced that it works and how has it withstood the test of time? Once again, we can find answers to these questions from psychological science. However, to do this, I want to try something a little out of the ordinary for this type of forum. Rather than just tell you, I want to show you. As I read the following list of personality descriptions, count how many of them apply to you.
  1. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
  2. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
  3. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
  4. Disciplines and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
  5. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.
  6. At times you are extroverted, friendly, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
Bertram Forer (1949) took this list and seven similar statements from a newsstand astrology book and used it for a study on personality. Students were given a personality test and a week later, they received this list as the description of their personality, which they thought was unique to them. All 39 students rated the descriptions positively and 38 out of 39 rated it as very good (4) or perfect (5). This has come to be known as the Forer effect, and it describes our tendency to rate general personal statements highly accurate of us individually.

Here’s a fun video from an old Dateline episode showing the same thing.

For this next one, I’m going to need everyone to participate by trying to remember a list of words. When I’m done reading them, write down as many as you can remember.
















Quickly, try to write as many as you can remember.

Let’s skip right to the point. Please raise your hand if you had the word window on your list. If you did, you are like 84% of people. Unfortunately, window was not on the list. All the words related to window, but I didn’t say it. This is known as the DRM procedure, and it demonstrates how easily our memory can be selective or misled.

There are countless other ways that our minds are unconsciously tricked. When we watch a video of someone saying fa-fa-fa but the sound is dubbed over with the sounds ba-ba-ba, our brain overrides the auditory signal for the visual signal and we hear the F-sound even when we know it’s incorrect. This is called the McGurk effect. Then there’s confirmation bias, self-fulfilling prophecy, the false-consensus effect, belief bias, the backfire effect, the placebo effect, attribution errors, and several other observed effects that can explain how and why so many can believe something that is demonstrably false. 

The book Thinking, Fast and Slow is perhaps the best-known book that popularizes these types of cognitive biases but plenty of others do the same and discuss different biases (see You and Not So Smart, Think Again, Predictably Irrational, Blindspot, Fooled by Randomness, and many more).

Putting these biases together, several simpler explanations seem adequate to explain the popularity and alleged efficacy of the enneagram.

  1. The enneagram hasn’t really helped people as much as they think it has.
  2. Introspection and talking to others about their strengths and weaknesses has helped people, the enneagram was just the thing that led them to do that but wasn’t the actual cause of the growth.
  3. People in the most need of change are most likely to improve even if doing nothing (regression to the mean).
  4.  Coincidence. Even a broken clock is right twice a day so for some people, it likely has had revolutionary benefits for some people.
These biases also explain how the enneagram has withstood the test of time, however, there’s an even simpler answer for that. It hasn’t. While many proponents of the enneagram claim it is an ancient system, the evidence says otherwise. In the second edition of their book, enneagram leaders Riso and Hudson say they were mistaken about the ancient origins of the enneagram, attributing the system to Ichazo and Naranjo. Agreeing with this, Naranjo said in an interview that he and Ichazo made up its ancient origins to convince people it was accurate.

Negative Effects

Anyone who’s heard of the enneagram has probably heard several anecdotal stories about how helpful it has been, but what about stories of its harm? In 1949, Egas Moniz won the Nobel prize in medicine for the prefrontal lobotomy. It helped a huge number of people, but at the same time, it did severe damage to others. Any potential good that might come from the enneagram has to be balanced in light of the potential harm. Unfortunately, the people it harms are unlikely to come forward in a group of people who rave about it. Since there is no empirical research on the harms of the enneagram, we have to rely on indirect evidence and the same type of personal testimonies used to promote it. 

Since I have started to publicly speak out against the enneagram, I’ve had several people confide in me and relay other testimonies. The most drastic is a woman from North Carolina whose husband left her after a 22-year marriage after he got involved in the enneagram and learned his “true self.” While this is an extreme example, others have relayed similar stories of the enneagram causing relationships to end because one person realized their types are not compatible. Others have felt defective because none of the enneagram types described them. Even though it’s meant to help people grow, humans have a stronger proclivity to stereotype and judge, so the enneagram becomes an excuse for their own actions and a convenient way to place blame on others for their actions.



I once mediated a disagreement where two of the people were heavily into the enneagram. Their knowledge of the enneagram, and the other person’s type, led them to believe they understood what the other person was really trying to say. After the meeting, they felt the conversation went well and explained how the enneagram had helped them get to the bottom of the issue. On the other hand, when I spoke to the person who was stereotyped by the enneagram, he felt like he wasn’t heard or understood by the other two. Same conversation, two drastically different interpretations of the outcome because a tool that promises to give understanding led to false beliefs and expectations. 

Is the enneagram legitimate for spiritual growth? That is a question that is highly dependent on our own views of what is or is not legitimate. The overwhelming majority of scientific evidence shows that the enneagram does not accurately describe how people are, how they think, how they act, or how they grow. It has negative effects that are often overlooked while most of its apparent positive effects can be explained through other psychological mechanisms.



Bland, A. M. (2010). The Enneagram: A review of the empirical and transformational literature. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development49(1), 16-31.

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Daniels, D., Saracino, T., Fraley, M., Christian, J., & Pardo, S. (2018). Advancing ego development in adulthood through study of the Enneagram system of personality. Journal of adult development25(4), 229-241.

Edwards, A. C. (1991). Clipping the wings off the enneagram; a study in people's perceptions of a ninefold personality typology. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal19(1), 11-20.

Forer, B. R. (1949). The fallacy of personal validation: a classroom demonstration of gullibility. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology44(1), 118.

Furr, R. M. & Funder, D. C. (2021). Persons, Situations, and Person-Situation Interactions. In Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 667-685). Guilford.

Google Trends. Searched terms compared: “enneagram,” myers-briggs,” and “big 5.”,%2Fm%2F0n6gx,big%205

Hook, J. N., Hall, T. W., Davis, D. E., Van Tongeren, D. R., & Conner, M. (2021). The Enneagram: A systematic review of the literature and directions for future research. Journal of Clinical Psychology77(4), 865-883.

John, O. (2021). History, Measurement, and Conceptual Elaboration of the Big-Five Trait Taxonomy. In Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 35-82). Guilford.

Koocher, G. P., McMann, M. R., Stout, A. O., & Norcross, J. C. (2015). Discredited assessment and treatment methods used with children and adolescents: A Delphi poll. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology44(5), 722-729.

McAdams, D. P., & Pals, J. L. (2006). A new Big Five: fundamental principles for an integrative science of personality. American psychologist61(3), 204.

McHugh, M. L. (2012). Interrater reliability: the kappa statistic. Biochemia medica22(3), 276-282.

Palmer, H. (1988). The enneagram: Understanding yourself and others in your life. Harper & Row.

Pardilla-Delgado, E., & Payne, J. D. (2017). The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) task: A simple cognitive paradigm to investigate false memories in the laboratory. Journal of visualized experiments: JoVE, (119).

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Riso, D. R. & Hudson, R. (2003). Discovering your personality type: The essential introduction to the Enneagram. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Scott, S. A. (2011). An analysis of the validity of the enneagram. The College of William and Mary (Dissertation).

Sutton, A. M. (2012). But is it real? A review of research on enneagram. Enneagram Journal5.

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Enneagram Types from the Riso & Hudson (Enneagram Institute)


The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic


The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive


The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious


The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental


The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated


The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious, and Suspicious


The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered


The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational


The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent

Summary of scientific tests for accuracy of the enneagram

  1. Internal consistency: Questions for same types should receive similar scores.
    1. Mixed results ranging from bad to good.
  2. Test-rest reliability: People should be typed the same when retested.
    1. Mixed results from low to acceptable.
  3. Interrater reliability: Different sources (people or scales) should type people the same way.
    1. Scores were generally very to low
  4. Convergent validity: The enneagram types should correlate with other personality measures in expected way and not correlate with measures it should be different from.
    1. Results are mixed. The enneagram types often correlate with personality measures that they should correlate with, but it fails to correlate with some, the strength of the correlations are lower than expected.
  5. Predictive validity: The enneagram should predict behaviors and attitudes of people better than other personality systems.
    1. Results are mostly negative. The enneagram weakly predicted some outcomes, but typically, it did not and other tests typically performed better.

Further Resources:

I have already written about the enneagram on my website ( and will add this paper to it, along with more in-depth analysis.

For more information on the enneagram’s dubious origins or the theological concerns with it, see Enneagram Theology: Is it Christian? by Rhenn Cherry or The New Age Trojan Horse by Chris Berg.

To learn more about psychological biases, try the books Thinking, Fast and Slow, You are Not So Smart, Think Again, Predictably Irrational, Blindspot, and Fooled by Randomness.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Why isn't Apologetics more Effective?

Have you ever had a religious or political discussion with someone where you stated your disagreement in a carefully worded, factual, and well-reasoned response? How did it go? I'm guessing the other person didn't say, "Oh, you're right! Thank you so much." In fact, I bet it's more likely that they responded with something so irrational or incoherent that you couldn't even understand what they were trying to say.

Why it happens
There are several reasons why this happens, but they can basically be summed up by what psychologists call the backfire effect. This effect explains why people will sometimes strengthen their beliefs about something after they are presented with evidence against it. We like to believe that we're all rational beings who make decisions based on evidence, but that's just not the case most of the time.

The dual-process theory is the dominant theory among psychologists to explain how we think. According to this theory, system 1 is fast, unconscious, automatic, and emotional while system 2 is slow, deliberate, analytical, and rational. The issue is that we like to think that our rational system 2 is in complete control, but system 1 has much more control than we think it does.

If we believe something is true and are confronted with conflicting data, it is emotionally difficult, especially if it is a deeply held belief. When this happens, system 1 jumps into overdrive and hijacks system 2 in order to defend our original view so that we think we are being rational, but any unbiased observer can see otherwise.

The task of evangelism is to persuade people that their deeply held beliefs are false and that Christ is the only way to eternal life. Apologetics specifically tries to do this with evidence and reason. Unfortunately, this creates the perfect setting for the backfire effect so that in many cases, apologetics may actually cause people to strengthen their current beliefs rather than convert to Christianity! Does this mean that apologists are doomed right from the beginning and there is no point in trying? Not at all. There are ways to avoid the backfire effect for those who want to be effective.

Overcoming the Backfire Effect
Just about everything I can think of has positive and negative effects. If we focus too much on the positive or the negative, we increase our risk of erring. I don't think that most people know that the backfire effect is a possible outcome when they do apologetics, and if they do, they underestimate the likelihood of it. Learning (more) about the backfire effect can help us think about the potential negative outcomes of apologetics and evangelism rather than focusing too much on just the positive.

The backfire may seem discouraging at first, but my hope is it doesn't prevent people from doing apologetics and evangelism. Instead, I want to encourage people to learn about and apply evidence-based methods of influencing people so they can do apologetics more effectively.

If you want to get a more robust understanding of evidence-based methods of influence, I recommend the books Think AgainInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and How to Win Friends and Influence People. These are not Christian books, but they can be easily applied to apologetics and evangelism and they go into more depth than Tactics which is an apologetics book on effective influence. If you want to learn more about dual-process theory or more generally, how people think, I recommend the books Thinking, Fast and SlowPredictably Irrational, and Blindspot.

Books are great, but they are time-consuming, so I've written a few articles discussing several evidence-based methods of persuasion, which specifically apply these methods to apologetics and evangelism. I would recommend starting with the apologists' secret weapon and the super-secret weapon before reading the articles on persuasion methods for apologetics.

Rather than just ending with more on your to-do list, the one bit of practical advice you can use right now is to avoid arguing with others. As soon as a discussion becomes an argument, your odds of persuasion plummet. Instead, listen to people, ask sincere and inquisitive questions (not trapping questions), and if needed, apologize for any errors (factual or social).

Thanks for reading and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Complex Simplicity: How Psychology Suggests Atheists Are Wrong about Christianity

Complex Simplicity: How Psychology Suggests Atheists Are Wrong about Christianity Complex Simplicity: How Psychology Suggests Atheists Are Wrong about Christianity by Lucian Gideon Conway III
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a wonderful breath of fresh air in its genre. I've been reading and listening to apologetics materials for a long time now and I felt like I learned something new from this book, which hasn't happened for many years. The book was also written in a vastly different tone than other apologetics books which I think has pros and cons.

Most apologetics books will lay out the logical and scientific evidence for God and Christianity, perhaps focusing on just one small set of arguments. By contrast, this book focuses on the psychological case for Christianity. The author, Luke Conway, does this by responding to psychological critiques of Christianity and by presenting arguments that Christianity leads to human flourishing. Conway responds to such claims that Christians or Christianity is simplistic, close-minded, too authoritarian, and others.

Because the book focuses on these types of psychological arguments against Christianity, and Conway is a psychological scientist, he responds to these psychological objections in more depth than other books that cover them in passing. Additionally, Conway is a social psychologist, he has actually conducted scientific studies on the topics covered in the book so he is able to cite some of his own work, but he's also very familiar with others who have published scientific articles on the topics.

One of the things that social psychologists study is influence tactics and Conway uses his knowledge in that area to write in a way that is more likely to change the minds of unbelievers or doubting believers. If you're familiar with Tim Keller's apologetics works, Conway writes in a similar tone. Conway presents arguments for Christianity and responds to objections, but he does not mock nor is he condescending toward other people or their views if they disagree.

Conway also adds a good dose of humor to the book. It's not over-the-top, distracting humor nor is it passive-aggressive humor meant to hide ad hominem critiques. The overall effect is that it makes the book more enjoyable and gives the feeling that the author is a genuine and caring person.

I don't say this often, but I would recommend this book to anyone. For people who are or are not Christians, it will give them a new look at arguments for Christianity, and because it's written in a more friendly tone, it's less likely than other apologetics books to offend unbelievers.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Psychological Apologetics Resources

Psychological apologetics is a unique field that focuses on using and applying psychological sciences (which really includes all social and cognitive sciences) for apologetics. Very few people do work that could be considered psychological apologetics, especially if excluding people or works that are explicitly in the realm of psychological apologetics. If you want to get started in psychological apologetics, there aren't really any single sources you can pick up to get started. Instead, you need to piece together information from a variety of resources so you can become knowledgeable in both subjects, psychology and apologetics.

I've categorized the books by sub-genre rather than recommended reading order. However, I do provide a recommended order at the bottom of the page and I've classified the books into general tiers of relevance and/or importance for psychological apologetics. Here is what the tiers mean.

  1. Very relevant/important
  2. Relevant/important
  3. Somewhat relevant/important or overlaps content of books rated higher
  4. Least relevant/important or I just don't know much about the book.

While this list is pretty long, it's nowhere near exhaustive, especially considering all the books out there that focus on the integration of psychology or counseling with and theology. I included some of the more current ones, but there is so much more out there. Also, it should go without saying that I do not agree with everything in all the books, but some of them I think are relevant for the field. If you think I missed any important books, want more specific suggestions, or have any other comments, please contact me here

Psychological Apologetics Books

The books in this section are the closest thing that could be considered psychological apologetics without having to piece together resources from various other places. I listed this section first to highlight the sub-genre of psychological apologetics so don't be surprised that these books aren't recommended as first reads. These books only cover a narrow scope of the possible topics that fall under the umbrella of psychological apologetics.

#1. Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin (Ph.D.), who is not a psychologist but she gets people. This book fits under the banner of psychological apologetics because Rebecca responds to more psychologically oriented objections to Christianity and does so through an application of psychological principles. She focuses on objections from atheists in the field of psychology or related fields such as Steven Pinker and Sam Harris, among others, and exhibits deep concern for real people who are dealing with these topics in real-life situations. There are many good apologetics books, but I am hesitant to recommend them because they come across as uncaring to non-believers and set a bad example for believers. Rebecca is able to write compassionately while not compromising truth, which is a rare and much-needed skill. This is a great book for a basic-level understanding of the main objections to Christianity and a model for how to respond to those objections. I highly recommend it for apologetics enthusiasts, other Christians, and for unbelievers.

#1-2. Complex Simplicity: How PsychologySuggests Atheists are Wrong about Christianity by Luke Conway (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and Christian apologist. The tone and focus of this book are different from other apologetics books in a way that will be more appealing to skeptics and Christians alike. This is also the only book that focuses on the broad use of psychological science to defend Christianity, much of which comes directly from Conway's own research. I highly recommend this book for everyone. For apologists and other Christians, it offers a fresh new look at reasons for Christianity. For people who don't believe or might be struggling with severe doubt, it presents arguments in a way that is more appealing and therefore, more likely to be seriously considered. Here's a more detailed review I wrote of this book.

#2. The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich (Ph.D.), who's an atheist psychologist. Ironically, this book makes a pretty darn good case for Christianity and does so through social sciences. The author recognizes this and explicitly states that the data is not an argument for Christianity, but it is. In short, if Christianity is true, what the book reports to have happened is what would be expected. The book talks about the historical factors the led to the development of modern, Western society, and while there are multiple factors involved, the main factor is Christian sexual ethics and the Church's teachings efforts to spread those teachings.

#2. Born Believers: The Science of Children's Religious Belief and #2. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? by Justin Barrett (Ph.D.), who's a Christian cognitive evolutionary psychologist. I haven't read these books, but I've read a lot of Barrett's academic works. My understanding of these books is that he makes the case that humans are biologically predisposed to believe in God, and therefore, it is psychologically healthy to do so. 

#3. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism by Paul Vitz (Ph.D.), who's a Christian psychologist. In this book, which I also haven't read yet, he is responding to the Freudian critique that belief in God serves as a replacement for having a poor or non-existent relationship with a person's biological father. My understanding of the book and Vitz's position is that the opposite appears to be true, that people who have a poor or non-existent relationship with their father are more likely to be atheists.

Effective Persuasion for Apologetics and Evangelism

Perhaps the biggest gap in apologetics literature is the absence of evidence-based strategies for doing apologetics. There are some apologetics books that discuss this, and some do it fairly well, but they don't really go into the science behind effective persuasion methods or give a broad range of practical methods. The books listed are not Christian books and as far I know, only Carnegie is a Christian, but the strategies in these books are easy to apply to apologetics and evangelism.

#1. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant (Ph.D), who is an industrial and organizational (I/O) psychologist. This book could go in this section or the next and its ability to explain both how people reason and how to influence others is unique among other books. I listened to this book in two days and immediately listened to it a second time (at a faster speed) to process it even better. The book is a wonderful introduction for people to understand how people think and how we can overcome some common thinking traps in our own reasoning or help others avoid those traps. If someone were to ask me what's the first and most important book they should read for doing apologetics, I would recommend this one.

#1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and #2. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist and perhaps the foremost expert on persuasion methods. His work is widely used and cited for sales and marketing. Influence is the absolute single best book I know of for understanding how persuasion works.

#2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book is a classic and for good reason. I put off reading it for the longest time because I thought it would have little to teach me and little modern relevance. I was dead wrong. This book is a very practical guide for how to effectively influence people without being manipulative.

#3. Getting to Yes and #3. Getting Past NoThe first is by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton and the second is just by Ury. These books are essential reading in many business programs. These are excellent resources for learning how to negotiate with others, especially in a way that maintains long-term relationships.

#1. Contagious Faith: Discover Your Natural Style for Sharing Jesus with Others by Mark Mittelberg (M.A.). This book is a great guide for anyone who feels like sharing their faith is too awkward or confrontational. Mark gives great ways that all different types of people can share their faith without ruining relationships or coming across as weird. He talks about different types of people, but doesn't fall into the trap of limiting people to a single type. It's more of a personal and situational approach.

#2. Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness, Respect, and Truth by Michael Sherrard (M.Div.), who's a pastor and apologist. This is another one of the rare apologetics books that focuses on more effective methods for doing apologetics and evangelism. While it's not a psychological book, it does apply psychological principles well. 

#N/A. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl (M.A.), who's a well-known Christian apologist. This is one of the few apologetics books that explicitly focuses on practical methods for how to do apologetics and evangelism more effectively. It's very practical but it doesn't really get into the mechanisms underlying the methods, which is great for simplicity but leads to some issues with the application or presentation of the methods. For instance, the steamroller chapter depicts people who steamroll as overly emotional, immature, and dishonest which justifies the advice to shame them. This is an incorrect and overly simplistic view of people and the advice opposes what research shows will be more effective, which is to listen to them empathically. I've also seen Koukl and others apply the methods of the book in a way that more often than not is condescending, combative, and evasive, which again is neither Christian nor effective. There are some great recommendations in the book but too many harmful recommendations so I do NOT recommend this book anymore. I thought it would be good to include in this list because it is in the genre of psychological apologetics, it is widely used, and people ask me about it a lot.

Bias, Reasoning, and Decision Making

If you want to understand how to do apologetics effectively, you have to understand the way in which people make decisions and the variety of biases that affect our reasoning processes. In short, people are not nearly as rational as we often think they are. These books reveal a ton of ways in which our minds make mental shortcuts, often leading to false conclusions, and how we can overcome them. These books are not Christian books and as far as I know, none of the authors are Christians. While initially it may seem like these biases apply to religious belief, they apply equally to why people belief atheism is true.

#1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and noble prize winner in economics because his work was essential for the field of behavioral economics. This is the essential book for understanding decision 

#1. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that focuses on moral reasoning. This book will help you understand how people make moral decisions. This is relevant because moral beliefs strongly influence religious and political beliefs. His other book, The Coddling of the American Mind, is also pretty good but not nearly as relevant for psychological apologetics.

#2. Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji (Ph.D.) and Anthony Greenwald (Ph.D.), who are psychologists that focus on basically what the title of the book is. Most of this book focuses on blindspots when it comes to race and sex, but it's highly relevant for psychological apologetics because the mental processes they discuss apply to a broad range of topics.

#2. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on decision making. This book makes the point that having more choices isn't always good for us psychologically and often leads to less than optimal choices. It's very relevant in a society where people have lots of religious, political, and moral choices. 

#2. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, which is a book and a movie based on a true story about a professional baseball team that became very successful after they started using a revolutionary method of choosing players, which was based on carefully selected objective metrics rather than expert opinions. I haven't read the book but the movie is great. The story can really help gain an understanding of the biases in everyday life and how we're often blind to them.

#2. The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters by Daniel Wegner (Ph.D.) and Kurt Gray (Ph.D.), who are social psychologists that study consciousness and choice, amongst other things. The book talks about some of the underlying factors that affect our moral decisions.

#3. You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself Paperback by David McRane, who's a journalist the writes on thinking and psychological biases. This book is a rapid-fire explanation of a ton of biases in a fairly amusing style.

#3. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Money, Health, and the Environment by Richar Thaler (Ph.D.), who's a Nobel-winning economist. This book discusses how small, often unnoticeable factors affect our decision-making.

#3. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist. This book is similar to Thinking, Fast and Slow, but it's shorter and explains slightly different ways in which people make irrational decisions. It's a great book that's very enjoyable to read, but I would consider this book more of a second-tier book for psychological apologetics.

Sexuality and Gender

Sex, sexuality, and gender are probably the relevant social topics for Christians in our culture. My knowledge of the subject comes from more academic sources (the sources often cited by these books) so I am not very familiar with these books or authors, but from what I do know about the authors, they are respectable.  

#2. People to Be Loved: Why HomosexualityIs Not Just an Issue, #2. Living in a Gray World: A ChristianTeen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality, and #2. Embodied: Transgender Identities,the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say by Preston Sprinkle, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) that focuses mostly on topics related to sexuality and gender. I haven't read any of these books, but I have listened to several hours of his podcasts and YouTube videos. The guy knows what he is talking about and has a wonderful ability to engage difficult topics with love and respect.

#2. Is God anti-gay? and #2. Why does God care who I sleep with? by Sam Allberry, who's a pastor and apologist who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read these books and have limited experience with Sam's work. From the little experience I do have with Sam's work, he seems to be reasonable, knowledgeable, and compassionate.

#2. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story, #3. Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope, by Christopher Yuan, who's a theologian (Ph.D.) who experiences same-sex attraction. I haven't read either book and don't have much experience with Yuan's work.

#2. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, #2. Emerging Gender Identities: Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Today's Youth, #2. Homosexuality and the Christian: AGuide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse, who's a Christian clinical psychologist. I haven't read these books yet and am not very familiar with Yarhouse's work so I have no comments to add about these books.

#2. The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society by Debora Soh (Ph.D.), who's a neuroscientist who focuses her research on sex and gender. She is not a Christian and is quite liberal, but she still has some concerns about some of the activism around gender. I haven't read this book so I don' t have much to say on it, but you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#3. Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle by Michael John Cusick (M.A. x2), who's a Christian licensed professional counselor. I haven't read this book yet, but from my understanding, it's about the negative effects of porn on people who use it. This is relevant for apologetics because most Christians would agree that porn violates biblical morality and so we should expect negative side effects when we engage in it.

#3. Hooked: The Brain Science on How Casual Sex Affects Human Development by Joe McIlhaney (MD) and Freda Mckissic (MD), who are both obstetrician/gynecologists. I don't know if they are Christians or not, but I suspect they are. I have browsed a few sections of the first edition of this book, but I've never read the whole thing. Essentially, this book discusses the scientific evidence that casual sex or sex with multiple partners does not lead to better outcomes in life.

#4. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier, who's a journalist and not a Christian. I haven't read this book so I don't have much to say about it, but if you want to know more, you can read this review of it by Preston Sprinkle.

#4. This is Your Brain on Sex: The Science Behind the Search for Love by Kayt Sukel (M.S.), who's a science writer and as far as I know, she's not a Christian. She might be, but her Twitter account had quite a few posts the suggest she's probably not. I haven't read this book and know very little about it, but I do want to read it. I included this book because, for the most part, the science of sex supports what the Bible teaches about sex, although there are some people who twist or ignore some of the science to argue otherwise. 

Christian Psychology Books

#2. The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.), who's a behavioral neuroscientist. I've read most or all of this book and it's a good explanation of the biological factors that affect our psychology, both of which affect our propensity to sin.

#3. Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) and Pamela Ebstyne-King (Ph.D.), who's a developmental and positive psychologist. Both authors are Christians and in this book, they make the case that humans' ability to be social, get and use information, and exhibit self-control are what makes us unique. Based on these traits, we can make hypotheses about human flourishing, and when we do that, they align with the Bible and the science supports these traits so far. This book is a good introduction to evolutionary psychology and is a good place to start if you want to know more about that field.

#3. Enhancing the Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious Community and #3. The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, And The Church by Brad Strawn (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.), who are Christian psychologists. I haven't read either book yet but they're on my shortlist to do soon.

#3. The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? by Miguel Farias (Ph.D.) and Catherine Wikholm (Ph.D.), who are clinical psychologists. Farias is Catholic but I don't know if Wikholm is a Christian. I haven't read this book, but from my understanding of it, they argue that meditation and mindfulness are not all they're cracked up to be and can have negative consequences. I'm hesitant to put this book on this list until I've read it because I'm concerned they might oversimplify the research to promote their view, but I can't condemn them for that since I haven't actually read the book yet.

#3. Positive Psychology in Christian Perspective: Foundations, Concepts, and Applications by Charles Hackney (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist that focuses on positive psychology.

#3. The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#3. Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Theory and Application by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian social psychologist.

#3. The Psychology of Gratitude edited by Robert Emmons (Ph.D.) and Michael McCullough (Ph.D.). Technically, this is not a Christian book, but many of the authors in it are Christians, including the editors, and the research on gratitude generally aligns with Christian theology.

#3. Psychological Insight in the Bible: Texts and Readings by Wayne Rollins (Ph.D.) and Andrew Kille (Ph.D.), who are theologians. I haven't read this book or spent much time looking through it, but it's potentially very useful. My concern is that neither author has a psychology degree, which makes it more likely they will misunderstand the science of psychology in their work.

Integrating Psychology and Christianity

What seems to be the biggest topic of discussion about psychology is how to integrate it into theology. These are just some of the books that tackle that subject. To be honest, I'm not sure it's necessary to read a whole book on it, especially since so many of them get bogged down by abstract conflicts that may or may not be relevant or are probably not due to worldview differences at all. If you want to save the trouble, here's my article on the need (or lack of) for Christian psychology

#3. The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Domain-Based Approach by William Hathaway (Ph.D.) and Mark Yarhouse. I haven't read this book yet (it only came out a month ago) but am really looking forward to it. The approach they take based on the table of contents seems like it will be really helpful for being trying to gain a better understanding of integration.

#3. Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn from Psychological Science by Everett Worthington (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical and social psychologist. It's been a long time since I read this book so I don't have much to say on it. I recall having a generally positive view of it so it will likely be a good introduction to psychology for people who don't know the field very well.

#4. Psychology through the Eyes of Faith by David Myers (Ph.D.) and Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book yet. Myers is a Christian, although many reading this might consider him too liberal, but he is a well-known social psychologist who's written many textbooks. I'm fairly sure Jeeves is a Christian, but I don't know a ton about him other than he writes a lot on the intersection of psychology and Christianity.

#4. Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd edition: An Introduction to Worldview Issues, Philosophical Foundations, and Models of Integration by David Entwistle (Psy.D.), who's a clinical psychologist and appears to be a Christian. I haven't read this book yet, but I have it on my shelf and plan to read it.

#4. Psychology and Christianity: FiveViews edited by Eric Johnson (Ph.D.). I put this book here because it's relevant, at least on the surface, but it was disappointing. You can read my review of it here.

Clinical or Counseling Psychology

#4. Skills for Effective Counseling: A Faith-Based Integration by Elisabeth Nesbit Sbanotto (Ph.D.), Heather Davediuk Gingrich (Ph.D.), and Fred Gingrich (D.Min.), who are Christian counselors. This is a skills-based book so the typical arguments over how to integrate psychology and theology can be set aside for this one. Psychologists are great at talking to people and this book teaches methods psychologists use that can be applied to effective apologetics and evangelism.

#4. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness by Matthew Stanford (Ph.D.)

#4. Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling by Mark McMinn (Ph.D.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. 

#4. Sexuality and Sex Therapy: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Mark Yarhouse (see above).

#4. Modern Psychopathologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Barrett McRay (Ph.D.), Mark Yarhouse (Ph.D.), and Richard Butman (Ph.D.), who are Christian clinical psychologists.

Psychology of Religion Books:

Psychology is a science, which means the field is all about publishing in peer-reviewed journals. However, there are still some occasional academic books that get published. Here are some that are relevant for apologetics 

#3. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (MD) was trained as a physician but did a lot of work in psychology and even philosophy. There aren't really foundational books in the field of psychology, but if there were, this might be one of them. For this reason, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I haven't actually read it before (I read more journal articles). James was not a Christian, at least I don't think he was, but he was not overly critical of religion either.

#4. Cognitive Science, Religion, and Theology: From Human Minds to Divine Minds by Justin Barrett (mentioned above).

#4. Cognitive Psychology of Religion by Kevin Eames (Ph.D.), who's a cognitive psychologist and Christian.

#4. Neuroscience, Psychology, and Religion by Malcolm Jeeves (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Prayer by Bernie Spilka (Ph.D.) and Kevin Ladd (Ph.D.) 

#4. The Psychology of Christian Experience by W. Curry Mavid (Ph.D.)

#4. The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues by John Kildahl

#4. A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Cognitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion by Helen De Cruz (Ph.D. x2 in anthropology and philosophy) and Johan De Smedt (Ph.D.). I haven't read this book, but really want to. My understanding of it is that they examine aspects of natural theology from the lens of cognitive science.

The Brain, Soul, Consciousness, and Free Will

This category covers a lot and I plan to add more to this section in particular, but I wanted to have a place to add some of these books. They are relevant to psychology, but a lot of the people writing on these subjects are philosophers or scientists outside of psychology. I say this just to draw attention to that point because psychologists may have a slightly different take on the subject or rely on different sets of data to come to a conclusion. Also, there are a lot of implications for this subject from the books in the reasoning and decision-making section.

#4. Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.) and Warren Brown (Ph.D.) 

#4. Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? by Nancy Murphy (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher.

#4. Am I just my Brain? by Sharon Dirckx (Ph.D.), who's a Christian neuroscientist.

#4. Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion by Paul Markham (Ph.D.).

Other Relevant Social Science Books: 

If you want to understand psychology, you have to understand complex relationships between multiple variables. Nothing in psychology has a simple explanation. Psychologists look at everything through the lens of multiple interacting causes, which we separate and test through various statistical methods. These books are not all obviously in the field of psychology, but they are excellent to help people understand the need to look beyond simple and intuitive answers in order to get a full picture of reality.

#1. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, #2. SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, #2. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, and #3. When to Rob a Bank: ...And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven Levitt (Ph.D. economics) and Stephen Dubner (journalist). The books are interesting, fun to read, and informative. In essence, they will help you think like or see the world with more complexity, much in the way that a social or psychological scientist does.

#1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Ph.D.), who's basically a really smart numbers guy. He's a professor and a former stock trader. What most people don't realize is that psychology is hugely dependent on statistics. If you don't understand stats, you don't understand psychology. While this book is about investing and markets, the stats discussed are very similar to what is used in psychology and the underlying purpose of the use of stats is the same.

 #3. Outliers: The Story of Success, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, #3. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, #3. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, #3. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, and #2. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell, who's a journalist, pastor's kid, and as of fairly recently, a convert to Christianity (I think while writing David and Goliath). These books are not from a Christian perspective, even after Gladwell's conversion. In short, they won't say much that the books in the reasoning section will say, but Gladwell is so great and tying everything together with stories and a grand narrative.

#3. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (MD I think), who was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor. This book is a memoir of his time in the concentration camp. 

#3. The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark (Ph.D.), who's a sociologist that focuses on religion. This book examines sociological factors that led to the growth of Christianity in the first three or four centuries. Stark admits he was only an in-name-only believer when he wrote this book, but as a result of writing it, became a committed believer.

#3. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck by Chip and Dan Heath. This book is great for helping understand how to present information in a way that will help people remember it. What's the point in doing apologetics and evangelism if people won't remember what you actually said?

#3. Humility by Jennifer Cole Wright (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the science of morals and virtue. 

#4. Hearing Voices and Other Matters of the Mind: What Mental Abnormalities Can Teach Us About Religions by Robert McCauley (Ph.D.) and George Graham (Ph.D.), who are philosophers. I do not know if they are Christians.

#4. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded by Don Norman (graduate degrees in psychology and engineering but I'm not sure on specifics). This is an excellent book for understanding engineering psychology or human factors and how the design of objects affects us.

Fiction Books:

#3. Walden Two by B.F. Skinner (Ph.D.), who's one of the most well-known psychologists today, even though he died in 1990. He is best known for behaviorism and his work with conditioning. This is a fiction book he wrote about a utopian society based on psychological principles as he understood them when the book was first published in 1948.

#4. Animal Farm by George Orwell and #4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. These books are excellent representations of some of our most basic and universal psychological tendencies and what could happen if they're left unchecked.

Apologetics Books: 

I love apologetics. It is led me to become a believer. However, apologetics often has a bad reputation inside and outside the church. On the one hand, some of that reputation is unfair. People don't like it when facts and reasons get in the way of their beliefs. On the other hand, apologists tend to write and speak in a way that is very direct and confident. This is a very effective method for people who mostly agree with what is being said or respect the speaker, but it can be off-putting to people who don't already agree or don't respect the speaker.

For these reasons, I am very careful about the apologetics books that I recommend. These books cover the main arguments used in apologetics, and for the most part, do so in a way that is more winsome and not as overstated as some other apologetics resources. If you want to go deeper, there are a ton of other resources available.

#1-2. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace (M.A.), who's a cold-case homicide detective that converted to Christianity when he investigated the gospels in the same way he investigates cold-case homicides. This book is the result of that investigation. It's highly accessible and written in a friendly manner that is not condescending or argumentative. He also has a kid's version of this book that is great for children about 10 and under.

#1-2. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision or #3. Reasonable Faith, Third Edition: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig (Ph.D. in philosophy and Ph.D. in theology), who's a Christian philosopher, apologist, and theologian. Craig is probably the most prolific apologist of our time based on the high quality and quantity of works he has produced for academic and lay audiences. These books cover the same content, but Reasonable Faith is more academic and goes into greater depth. The tone of 

#3. The Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs and #1-2. Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions by Craig Blomberg (Ph.D.), who's a New Testament scholar and one of the foremost experts on the reliability of the New Testament. I've only read portions of these books, but I have read a lot of Blomberg's other materials, listened to him speak, and was fortunate enough to have him as a professor in seminary. He's extremely kind and thoughtful and writes in a way that isn't offensive to people who disagree. The Reliability of the NT is a much more academic and longer book, otherwise, they are similar in content.

#1-2. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller (D.Min.), who's a well-known and respected pastor, even among non-Christians. Keller is an intelligent and thoughtful communicator that speaks in a way that does not compromise truth, but at the same time, is not offensive to people who disagree. This book only scratches the surface of apologetics, but for the arguments it does cover, it does so in .

#1-2. Francis Schaeffer books. Really, any of his books are great and serve as excellent (but not quite perfect) examples of how to apply psychological principles to apologetics.

#4. Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World by Paul Gould (Ph.D.), who's a Christian philosopher that emphasizes the need for better cultural engagement in apologetics. It's not just as simple as stating a bunch of arguments to convince people.

Marriage, Relationships, Parenting, Leadership, and Discipleship

I lumped these categories all together because they are often lumped together (Marriage and Family) by psychologists and because the underlying psychological mechanisms are often the same. For instance, the same general leadership principles apply to parenting and work, the details are just tailored to each situation. As Christians, we should try to model Christ-like behavior, which is often judged based on the quality of our relationships with others. This affects our ability to influence those we have relationships with already or people who are able to serve our relationships with others. These books are a combination of Christian and non-Christian sources. They mostly align with Christian ideals, but there will be a few comments in these books that stray from the science and make philosophical statements most Christians probably wouldn't agree with.

#4. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf. This is a well-known leadership book and the basic premise, leaders should serve the people they lead, is a solidly Christian principle.

#4. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, Revised and Updated and Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: America's Love Lab Experts Share Their Strategies for Strengthening Your Relationship by John Gottman (Ph.D.), who's probably the most well-known marriage counselor because he has been able to predict divorce in the first five years of marriage with 95% accuracy based on his research. The degree to which this trend generalizes to all couples is debated, but it's still impressive. This book discusses the factors that are relevant and how to avoid the negative predictors of divorce.

#4. A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley (Ph.D.), Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, and Milt Bryan. Stanley is a Christian clinical psychologist (I think the others are too) and probably the top Christian academic for marriage resources.

#4. His Needs, Her Needs: Building a Marriage That Lasts by Willard Harley Jr. (PhD.), who's a Christian clinical psychologist. My wife and I read this book for premarital counseling and have gone through it a few times since. It's a great resource for couples to help them think more about their partner's needs than their own.

#4. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman (Ph.D.), who's a Christian therapist. This book is also geared toward thinking about your partners' needs rather than your own and is a great tool for helping people think about how to express love and concern to other people in all situations.

#4. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Dan Siegel (MD), who's a psychiatrist and probably the leading parenting expert right now. Most of his work is evidence-based and very good, although he does stray a little beyond the evidence from time to time to make points about his worldview. In general, though, I think his parenting advice is pretty solid and would be beneficial for people to follow. 

#4. Kevin Leman (Ph.D.) is a Christian psychologist who writes on marriage and family. The books I've read of his are great. None of his books are ones I would say are the best in the field, but they're all good (at least the ones I've read).

#4. David Schnarch (Ph.D.) is a clinical psychologist who focuses on sex therapy. I don't know if he's a Christian but I have seen him cited a lot by some of the author Christian psychologists on this list. On the one hand, there is some research showing Christians have better sex lives than others, but there are also a lot of people with damaged views of sex due to the church that these books can be helpful for.

Self-Help or Personal Growth

We tend to over-spiritualize spiritual growth as though it is somehow completely separate from other types of maturation, but in reality, it's really not. There are some resources by psychologists, some Christians and some not, to help you grow and mature as a person, which will help you grow as a Christian.

#4. How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals About Personal Growth by Henry Cloud (Ph.D.) and John Townsend (Ph.D.) who are Christian clinical psychologists.

#4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Ph.D.). who's a social psychologist who became relatively famous for her work on this subject.

#4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (Ph.D.), who's a psychologist that focuses on the way we frame things in our mind and how it affects our outcomes. This book, from my understanding, focuses on having a fixed vs. growth mindset. A growth mindset is when we think we can grow and develop, which I would say is a biblical concept, and it's generally better on all outcomes.

#4. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,  Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan Peterson (Ph.D.), who's a clinical psychologist. He's become famous for all kinds of other issues, but he's a legitimate clinical psychologist and a pretty smart guy. He's a bit more philosophical than most psychologists and willing to draw conclusions beyond the evidence more than most psychologists, but at the same time, he's aware of when he's doing it and has pretty decent philosophical grounding for it. In either case, I think his psychological work in these books is worth reading or listening to, even if he goes astray from time and time. He also does work with one of the top personality psychologists and has some interesting work in that area.

Other Christian Books:

#4. Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme, #3. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, #3. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church...and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins, and #4. The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World by Gabe Lyons. I've read the first two books and referenced the third one. Kinnaman and Lyons understand culture well and how to effectively engage people in it (which aligns with social science principles). What I have read and heard from them so far is great and very useful for apologetics and evangelism, albeit indirectly.

#3. Interpreting Scripture through Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards (Ph.D. New Testament) Brandon O'Brien  (Ph.D. in some field of religious or theological studies).

#4. Os Guinness books. Os is a pretty well-known Christian author who does a fair amount of apologetics and has a Ph.D. in sociology. He writes, speaks, and presents information in a way that models good psychological apologetics.

#4. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith (Ph.D.), who's a theology-oriented philosopher. This book exhibits a pretty good understanding of some of the psychological factors involved in worship.

Recommended Reading Order (top 10 only):

  1. Think Again
  2. Tactics
  3. Influence
  4. Complex Simplicity, The Reason for God, and/or another apologetics book, depending on how well you know the subject.
  5. Thinking, Fast and Slow
  6. The Righteous Mind
  7. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  8. Freakonomics
  9. Fooled by Randomness
  10. Pre-Suasion
  11. Blindspot

Other Resources

Blueprint1543 podcast or free online courses on psychology and theology. BluePrint1543 is an organization founded and led by Justin Barrett (mentioned above) with the goal of combining psychological sciences and Christian theology more naturally.

My Christian Psych list on Twitter, which includes Christians who work in cognitive or social sciences.

Psychological Apologetics FB Page, FB group, and Twitter.

The Apologetic Professor blog, by Luke Conway who's a social psychology professor and apologist.

The Ten Minute Bible Hour by Matt Whitman and Smarter Every Day by Destin Sandlin. I listed them together because they do a podcast, No Dumb Questions, together, and because they are part of this list for the same reason. They aren't apologists or psychologists, but they do work in a way that models effective methods for reaching believers and unbelievers. Matt teaches about the Bible and does do some apologetics in his videos while Destin does science and engineering videos and only makes it known he's a Christian by posting a Bible verse at the end of his videos and in formats outside his YouTube channel. They both approach their subjects with humility and respect for other views and model ways to interact with people they disagree with.

The Freakonomics and Revisionist History (Malcolm Gladwell) podcasts are great for all the reasons I mentioned above. Agree or disagree with them, that's fine, but the way they look at topics in greater depth and from more angles than we typically see in the media is what social scientists do. These podcasts can help you get in the habit of doing that.

The Moral Science Podcast by Amber Cazzell (Ph.D.), who's a social psychologist that did a postdoc in the lab I work in at Baylor. This is not a Christian podcast but it does cover a lot of topics that are relevant for psychological apologetics.

The Langauge of God podcast by BioLogos, a science-based apologetics organization, has had several episodes that relate to psychological apologetics. After quickly growing their episodes, the ones that seem most relevant are #s 14, 30, 31, 32, 33, 58, 65, 77, 79.

The WorkLife with Adam Grant (Ph.D.) podcast is a psychology podcast that covers a lot of relevant topics for psychological apologetics or just understanding the field of psychology.

The Hidden Brain podcast is a psychology podcast that will help gain understanding in various areas of psychology, some of which are directly related to psychological apologetics.

The CrashCourse Psychology playlist on YouTube.

Faraday Institute for Science and Religion videos and podcasts on the brain and psychology.

The Great Courses on Amazon/Audible Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality by Mark Leary (Ph.D.) and How Colors Affect You: What Science Reveals by William Lidwell. These courses will help you better understand people and how unconscious things affect our decisions.