Recently, I got interested in the Myers-Briggs personality inventory again. I remember studying it in graduate school and feeling confused, except that the blurb I read on my four letter code seemed fairly accurate. This summer, I decided to pick up the original book, which is called Gifts Differing interestingly enough. Isabel Briggs Myers quotes Romans 12:6 at the beginning of the book:
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly…”
I never really thought of our personalities as part of God’s gift of grace to us. When I think of spiritual gifts I usually think of the gifts that follow this verse like prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy. But, what if my unique personality is one of the important gifts that God has given me and I am supposed to exercise it accordingly? Then, I should probably determine what it is and learn how to express it in a way that glorifies God and blesses others.
I read the book and found it fascinating. But, I have been even more intrigued as I have started to think and pray about the possible spiritual implications of this personality theory. I am more aware of how my personality manifests itself. I am also more aware of how other people’s personalities are different from mine. I notice these differences most when we interact with each other because our perspectives can be SO different. Even as we worship the same God and study the same scriptures, God uses each of our unique personalities and resulting perspectives to highlight different things that He is saying and doing.
Before I begin to explain some of these differences, I want to offer a brief explanation of the theory. It begins with perception and judgment. These are two very important processes that every person engages in. We all perceive the world around us and take in information about it constantly. There are two main types of perception: intuition and sensing. A balanced person makes use of both types, but people usually prefer one over the other. Sensing types (S) like to absorb information through all five of their senses. They are keen observers and they like to catalog their observations and build up a reservoir of information from which to make sense of their world. People who prefer sensing are so busy looking at the actualities all around them that they don’t have much time to give to ideas. Intuitive types (N), on the other hand, are so busy considering every possibility imaginable that they don’t always spend much time observing actualities. People who prefer intuition like patterns and they look for similarities between what they are observing and what they have seen before. They usually take in just enough information to know how to classify what they are observing before they move into decision making.
This brings us to judgment. After we finish with perception, then we are ready to make decisions. Again, there are two main types: feeling and thinking. Feeling types (F) make decisions based on how they feel about their perceptions. They consider the information that they gathered during perception and make the decision that feels right to them. Values are an important factor in making decisions for feelings types. Thinking types (T) make decisions based on what they think about their perceptions. They analyze the data that they collected during the perception process and then decide which judgment makes the most sense logically. Again, a balanced person should make use of both types of judgment, but people usually prefer one process over the other.
From there, you have to think about whether you prefer the external world of people, things and activities or the inner world of ideas and possibilities. God made each of us with a need for time to ourselves to rest, commune with Him and recharge. God also made each of us with a need for meaningful connection with others. So, no one person will prefer one of these worlds exclusively. Extraverts (E) usually prefer to be out in the world connecting with people, making things happen and engaging in meaningful work. They like to be busy doing and find these types of activities energizing. They do their best work in the outer world. They retreat and take time to themselves so that they will be at their best externally. Introverts (I) like to spend time in their heads, contemplating things that may be and imagining up possibilities. Introverts do their best work internally, through reflection. This energizes them and makes them feel excited to engage with the external world in order to see if their ideas will become reality. They prefer to spend time at home or in small groups with close friends. Being in large groups of people and connecting with people they do not know is fatiguing for them.
Finally, everyone has a preferred way of dealing with the external world. Some people prefer to approach the world with their perceptive process, either S or N. Others prefer to approach the world with their judging process, either F or T.
If you take the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, which you can do online for free, then you will be given a four letter code to describe your personality profile. The first letter represents which world you prefer, E or I. The second letter represents your preferred perceptive process, S or N. The third letter represents your preferred judgment process, F or T. Finally, the last letter represents which process you prefer when you deal with the external world, P or J. For extraverts (E), the fourth letter also reveals their dominant process.
I will use my personality profile, INFJ, to explain this more. I prefer the internal world of ideas and possibilities. I prefer the process of intuition when I am gathering information. I prefer using my feelings to make decisions. When I am dealing with the external world, I prefer to use my judgment process or my feelings. But, this is NOT my dominant process because I am not an extrovert. My dominant process, which I use in my preferred inner world, is my perceptive process or my intuition.
From here, I want to look at scripture and how I think that it sheds important light on these processes. I have only just started thinking about whether or not there could be evidence of these preferences in the Scriptures. I don’t want to force anything to fit what I want to say about the Meyers-Briggs theory, so where I don’t see a clear connection in Scripture, I will not make one. But, I will try to suggest possible connections and related principles.