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Personality Types [repost]

Part of my ordination training involved doing the Myers-Briggs personality test.  Now I realise that this is not strictly mandated by the Pastoral Epistles, but on the other hand it was a good old giggle. (See mildly amusing prayers for the 16 personality types here.)

I came out quite strongly as ENFP which means I'm an inveterate procrastinator, big-picture, no-detail, scatter-brained, last-minute, wing it with a smile and talk my way out of it later kind of guy.  At this point all the ISTJs (the opposite to me on all four spectrums) are waking up to why my blog really bugs them.  (Myers-Briggs did actually help me understand something of my bible college experience - the majority of Anglican ministers I trained with were ISTJs).

But already you're probably sensing what everyone should know about these 'personality types.'  They're not neutral.  They describe real patterns alright - and extremely hard-wired patterns too.  But a lot of what they describe are patterns of sin.  A good part of each of the 16 'personality types' simply identify chosen, self-protective schemes that enable us to navigate a cursed world along paths of least resistance.  Whether we buy into the 'loud' or the 'shy' persona, the 'organized' or 'shambolic', we're basically doing the same thing - finding a way to make life work apart from Christ.  By some combination of retreating from the thorns and sewing our fig leaves we hit upon a style of relating that minimizes pain and maximizes self.

Now we cluster together in different groups of sinners because there are natural contours to our make-up, and there are unique events shaping our development.  Those internal and external differences are not in themselves sinful.  What's more God redeems our Adamic personalities (rather than replaces them) and gives us distinct and glorious gifts.  This is all a very good thing.  Differences are not a problem.  Not at all.  The new creation will not be monochrome!  And different gifted-ness is not something to be ironed out in the name of Christian maturity.  We are trinitarian!  Our goal is not the absence of difference but the harmony of God-given distinctives.

The problem is not difference.  The problem in fact is a lack of distinctiveness to our personalities because instead we slide into personas that deny our particular identity in Christ.

How many times have we flinched from serving Jesus by making such claims as...

'I'm just not an extrovert.'

'I don't really do organization.'

'I'm not a morning person.'

'I get energy from withdrawing and being alone'

'I need order/control.'

'I'm not good with authority/structure.'

'I'm not a people-person.'

See more "I am not..." statements here, and their effect.

Even as we think of these deep-seated statements of identity it should be clear that they're not just descriptive.  They are also very strongly aspirational.  I got that sense even as I took the Myers-Briggs test.  So many of the answers I gave were actually the answers that I thought the artsy, laid-back Glen should give.  In fact it was almost exactly like doing the Star Wars personality test where I tried my hardest to come out as Han Solo (but ended up as Princess Leia.  My wife was the Emporer - but that's another post).  The point is our reactions to events are partly innate but also strongly determined by the persona we'd like to hide in.

So who's identity are we hiding in and why?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Col 3:1-4)

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Rest of series:

I am not...

Tearing down the idol of my personality

Conclusions

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7 thoughts on “Personality Types [repost]

  1. Si

    Personality types are quite helpful to see where your weaknesses are - as an INFP: I'm not the best at going out and being extrovert, things not being ideal bug me, sharing things is hard, ditto organising myself (untidy, dislike deadlines, etc)

    I shouldn't hide behind my personality, I shouldn't use it as an excuse. However I should use it as a chance to serve (big-picture thinking, seeing where things are a bit off, generous with time, finding it hard to say 'no' to doing something), and work on the areas which hinder me from being a team player or from maturing (introspection, organising myself, sharing, etc).

    Personality (or gifting) shouldn't be an excuse to hide behind, but a call to bless by serving - the difficulties are finding the best place to steward your giftings and personality traits, dealing with situations where you are working outside your giftings/against your personality traits and working to overcome sinful traits.

  2. John B

    I'm glad that I've never been in a church that used the MBTI.

    As you point out: our reactions to events are... strongly determined by the persona we’d like to *hide* in.

    Studies have shown that many of the results change on retesting, even after just a few weeks.

    So the tests are both unscientific and unreliable.

    I hope if the question of using the MBTI ever comes up in my church that the leadership would ask "why?", rather than "why not?". The burden should be on those who advocate introducing a program like this in the church. I've heard enough about Carl Jung to strongly question and resist applying his philosophy to pastoral counseling.

    All that I can see to be in favor of MBTI is that it's fun.

    "Lord help me be less independent, but let me do it my way."

  3. Glen

    I'm someone who changed personalities overnight (finding it hard to change back though!). One day I was living in Australia, very diligent and hard-working. We moved to the UK when I was 14 and - being a teenager in a new situation and desperate to fit in - I sensed immediately that hard-working / diligent did not play well in British schools and so immediately became the most lax, last-minute, apparently care-free (N and P) person you'll ever meet. That's the persona. It's been very hard to shake. To the point where I can't really believe those old Australian school reports. It doesn't sound like me. But maybe that was much more 'me' than the personality I've now adopted.

    Call it peer pressure or what the bible calls it: 'fear of men'. We've all got it. But not Jesus. He was truly Himself in all circumstances - not pulled into what the world wanted Him to be. He wasn't constantly taking the room's temperature in order to figure out what will play well in this circumstance. He was HImself, in a way we never quite manage. But we can start approximating it. Once that old me is crucified to the world and the world to me - then my true 'personality' emerges. But the old one has to die.

  4. John B

    In our old nature personality is something that we use like a theatrical mask. We're not limited to a single one, but can fashion other masks that we're more confident in using to gain acceptance within the different peer circles that we encounter. So in the old nature we're always wearing a facade that in turn interacts with the inauthentic personalities of others. MBTI might help us to recognize some of the masks that we use, but often seems to lead us into self-justification, excusing ourselves and accusing God, 'who made me this way'. God provides confession with contrition as temporal means for the mortification of sin.

    The new birth of the Spirit is a radical conversion from individual personalities to the only authentic personhood. The old nature has to die. The new man subsists in the person of Christ—identified with Him—and adopted by the Father. The Good News is Jesus' redemption of us from the lostness of individualism and death, to salvation in communion with Him and life.

    (Galatians 3:27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

  5. John B

    Speaking of Myers-Briggs, here's a blog by a self-deprecating INTJ (surely an oxymoron!) http://networkedblogs.com/6C26d

    The blogger is a New Testament Professor. NTs of any type are rare among educators. But the academy does provide an opportunity to bend wills to their own, and inflate secondary doctrines into tests of orthodoxy, all of which sounds like great fun!

    The post suggests that N.T. Wright is an ENFP, as is often the case with very gifted communicators.

  6. Tom Lake

    Hey Glen-bo,

    Another late post from me. I came out ISTJ (although in my year that grouping came out as a much smaller percentage of the total). I don't hate your blog though, and I see tonnes of detailed text examination going on in your posts. When you start posting about "Biblical Theology" (sorry Oak Hill guys) is when I hit the cross at the top right corner. Give me detailed exegesis and keep the big picture stuff to a minimum!

    I did find Myers-Briggs helpful in some ways mind. I definitely agree that it should be treated diagnostically and not revelatory though. I've heard people on POT saying that Evangelicals are certain Myers-Briggs types and Liberal Catholics others. For them, this is simply a personality thing, rather than a faithfulness thing. Very dangerous. Christ surely redeems my personality and so everything I think I am must be open to his renewal.

  7. Paul A.Zawolo,sr.

    Greeting's Sir,
    How are you,family and the ministry work?
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    God's Blessing's.

    Evang./Past. Paul.

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