Summer 2013

A $1.5 Million Question

Biola professor leads new research into how to measure humility

By Jason Newell

Moses, according to the biblical book of Numbers, was more humble than any other person on the face of the earth. But for the rest of us, how can we know — aside from divine declaration — where we rank on the humility scale?

That’s one of the basic questions behind a major new research effort being led by Biola professor Peter Hill, who said humility is both a fertile and difficult topic for psychology research, partly because it has been so challenging to measure.

“If I ask you, “How humble are you?” and you really are humble, how are you going to answer that?” said Hill, a professor at Biola’s Rosemead School of Psychology. “That creates a little bit of a dilemma. How do we measure humility? Can truly humble people self report that they are humble?”

In June, Hill and a team of professors from across the nation launched a three-year research project aimed at finding valid and reliable ways to measure humility — intellectual humility, in particular. Funded by a $1.5 million grant from The John Templeton Foundation, the research will involve four separate studies at Biola, Baylor University, Duke University and State University of New York at Buffalo. As principle investigator for the overall project, Hill is overseeing each professor’s work, while also conducting his own study at Biola.

Each project will explore a different set of approaches for measuring and understanding intellectual humility, Hill said. For his particular piece of the research, Hill plans to develop a series of multidimensional tests that measure both the general humility and intellectual humility of participants, allowing researchers to examine correlations and differences between the two.

General humility, Hill said, involves having an honest perspective of one’s own limitations and strengths and having a low concern with status. Intellectual humility, meanwhile, relates more specifically to acknowledging the limitations of one’s beliefs or knowledge levels, he said.

“The idea is that intellectual humility is probably a subset of humility in general, but we don’t know that,” he said. “Somebody could be pretty humble overall but not in the intellectual realm, or vice versa, so we want to explore that.”

The Templeton Foundation grant will allow two years to be spent conducting, analyzing and collaborating on research. A third year will be spent disseminating the results, with Hill and others writing for publications and offering educational seminars around the country.

When finished, Hill said the research could have a number of practical applications. One use might be for pastors who want to assess themselves or their churches in terms of how well they are living out the biblical call to be humble. The measurement being developed at SUNY, which involves comparing people’s self-reported humility scores against the scores given by others, could be a particularly interesting experiment for churches, he said.

“Sometimes I think Christians get a rap — either a bum rap or we deserve it, I don’t know — that we talk about being humble but we don’t come across as being very humble,” Hill said. “What if a church was willing to put their reputation on the line with people in the community, where everybody asks their friends at work to complete this measure about themselves? How would we come out?


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  • Mary E Lewis August 27, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    I believe it takes a great deal of general and intellectual humility to thoroughly obey the commands of Jesus and YHVH (YaHavah). Accepting what Jesus did for us on the cross is more than ritual leading to salvation. One cannot walk the Christian walk in anything but humility. The Christian stance is found in the

    BELIEVER’S ATTITUDE—in the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13

    BELIEVER’S OBEDIENCE—In the Ten Commandments first stated in Exodus 20:1-17 are the sum total of Christian behavior. Jesus summed it up as -- You shall love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37) and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39) These commandments are the basis of salvation. (Luke 10:25-28) Jesus loved us enough to die for us to save us from the penalty of death for Adam’s sin.

    BELIEVER’S RESPONSIBILITY— The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 sums up the who, what, why, when, and how YHVH’s word is to be listened to, conveyed to others, and protected from false prophets, as instructed by Jesus when he gave this command to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. 18—And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority is given to me in heaven and in the earth. 19—Go accordingly and teach all peoples, immerse them by the authority of the Father and the Son into the Spirit of YHVH. 20—Teach them to be watchmen of all things that I commanded you and know I am with you always, until the end of the age. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20-Word of YHVH Bible, Feed My Sheep Edition)

    Living in the Spirit of YHVH under the guidance of the seven spirits of YHVH will bear acceptable humble fruit on the vine of true humble Christian souls. Humble fruit is not mamby-pamby. It means laying down ones own strength, knowledge, and wisdom in exchange for the strength, knowledge, and wisdom of YHVH's ever-present Spirit. According to the Bible, the student can never be greater than the teacher who is YHVH by the omniscience of his Person. That is both general and intellectual humility. I recently saw a bumper sticker that said--Don't confuse majority rule with the will of God.

  • Rebecca December 31, 2015 at 8:50 PM

    Isn't the scripture already clear about how humility is measured?

    "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus ever knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that at the name of Jesus every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phil 2:5-11

    In John 13:1-17 didn't Jesus give us an example of humility by washing his disciples feet and calling us to do the same?

    Isn't the word of God in Heb 4:12 & 13 " and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. and there is not creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of HIm to whom we must give account."?

    Can't the church, the Body of Christ, have confidence in His Sovereignty like is stated in Daniel 4:37b "...And those who walk in pride he is able to abase."

    Is not the insight of our Heavenly Father so vital because of the truth of Jer. 17:9..."The heart is deceitful and desparately wicked, who can know it?"

    As soon as we seek to devise a way to be sure of our own humility, are we not endeavoring to take a role that only God can play?

    Does he not perfectly devise trials, which frustrate our attempts to find meaning and fulfillment apart from His way of the cross?

    Rom. 8:20 "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

    Gal. 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me and give Himself for me."

    I'm glad to see that Biola University is concerned about and understands the importance of humility. I pray that somehow you will not be deceived into leading God's people/churches into any kind of a confidence regarding humility outside of the very life of Christ within them. I pray that whatever self understanding any tools may bring, that they will be presented in the context of this overarching mindset of Christ's strength in our weakness. May both our strengths and weaknesses all be seen as nothing without the working of His grace, humbling us to display His grace.

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