Two Cultures

All my life I had always heard that the church is full of hypocrites, but for the first 30 or 40 years I never believed it. Like everybody else I ever met, I tended to project my own values and habits on other people, and I was not a hypocrite, so of course all the other God-fearing conscientious church members weren't hypocrites either.

I was wrong.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) identifies four pairs of polarities. God created each personality type for His purpose, and the Bible is pretty balanced in its treatment of each type. There are Introverts and Extraverts in the Bible, and God has work for both kinds of people. Moses was pretty much Extravert; Elijah was more of an Introvert (when depressed and afraid for his life, he went off into the desert alone). Similarly for the other categories. I want to focus here on the third: Thinker/Feeler.

Although the descriptions don't always bring this out very well, the Thinker/Feeler distinction is about values, what is most important in your decision-making process? The Thinker values truth, logic, and justice; the Feeler values personal relationships, by which they usually mean unconditional affirmation. The Feeler accuses the Thinker of being uncaring; the Thinker accuses the Feeler of being dishonest ("little white lies" for the sake of preserving the relationship). God sometimes affirms (He went after Israel like a nurturing mother), but  truth is a moral absolute (it is impossible for God to lie). Relationships are everywhere, but God cannot righteously command them.

However the Feelers have taken over the western evangelical church, and pushed the Thinkers out of their midst. The Feelers have deified their relationship values and told the Thinkers they are not welcome unless they check their brains and integrity at the door. The Thinkers have taken that advice and stayed away, which gives the Feelers running the show even more opportunity to develop their relational values.

How often have you heard that being a Christian is about a relationship with Jesus Christ? Where is that in the Bible? Except for the verses about "abiding in the true vine," I cannot find it in my Bible. Being a Christian is about repentance, turning away from sin and living a life of virtue empowered by the Holy Spirit. But repentance requires confrontation, which is a Thinker thing, anathema to Feelers. So we don't hear much about repentance, and when we do, it's always in vague general terms, not repentance from particular sins (which is confrontational), but a general "feeling" of sadness for being such a sinner, followed by relief and joy that God overlooks our sin without our needing to make any specific changes in our lifestyle. Very relational and affirming. Very unBiblical. Even the section about abiding makes it contingent on repentance: nonproductive branches are pruned away (very confrontational, very Thinker).

Confrontation is a Thinker thing. Ignoring the other person's faults is thought to be a relational thing. Well, you cannot just ignore everything that is wrong in the world (and especially when it impacts your own life), so the Feelers are forced to speak out against the wrongs -- but never to the guilty party. To your face they say only affirming things, meaningless platitudes that don't offend anybody; behind your back they gossip about all the wrongs. I even had a leader in a church-related institution tell me that was an acceptable way to get the information to the party who needed to know. I told him I would be insulted if somebody did that to me. But I'm a Thinker. When I'm wrong, I want people to obey God's Word and tell me [Matt.18:15], and preferably not tell other people unless and until after I refuse to correct the problem.

Instead the church today teaches us "Don't criticize." If we had more people openly speaking out against wrongs, then we'd have more repentance, and people would have an honest self-esteem that comes from doing things right, instead of the modern version that hides (and thus perpetuates) all faults and allows us to feel good about being wrong. This value system has crept into the American education system, so that our high-school students rank at or near the bottom of the nations being tested in math and science -- but they have very good self-esteem.

Not all American students rank so low. Our top math and science students score competitively with the other nations. These are Thinker types who overcome the Feeler mush they get in school and do well in spite of it. They become scientists and engineers and technologists. They are on one side of the chasm separating C.P.Snow's Two Cultures, and the Feelers are on the other side.

But these Thinker types are not in the churches! Why? With a high value on truth, they should be in the front rank of Christians, but they don't even come. Because that critical thought process which makes them good scientists is deprecated in the church. They are told, in effect, to stay away (or else become who they are not). So they stay away.

With no Thinkers in the church, there is nothing to keep the Feelers from pushing their values to the limit. Instead of honesty, we value being Nice (to your face). Jesus had a word for that kind of behavior: Hypocrites. The church is full of them, and it's only getting worse. We even honor the fact: "If you ever find a church that is [not full of hypocrites], don't join it; you'll spoil it." That's only true for Feelers. Thinkers are not hypocrites.

I still go to church. It doesn't do much for me, because the messages are aimed at Feelers and Feeler-wannabes. In Sunday School, the class is all guys; they can take the honesty, but even there it is covert. They and I just sit there like lumps through the rest of the services. I go as a public expression of who I am in relation to who God is.

For two years I worked in the Computer Science faculty of a Christian university. I would have hoped they would be more accepting of Thinkers, because computer programming is consummately a Thinker activity, but I was told that the top value at small colleges like this is the relationships. Not honesty. Not integrity. Not carrying out the university mission "preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society." The students cannot be leaders if they are not critical thinkers. But the top value there is relationships, by which he made it clear that speaking the truth (not even in love) to your face is not a part. Gossip is OK. Flattery is fine. I don't know what kind of relationships you can have based on flattery and gossip and hypocrisy, but I want no part of it.

So I guess I'm not welcome there.

The church I attend lets me come and put my money in the plate. The university, on the other hand, paid me. As long as we continue to pretend that they really want me to teach students computer science in "a Christ-centered caring academic institution," I can do that. My experience, however, is that the pretense is paper-thin and easily punctured. Then all that unresolved hostility comes out and hits the proverbial fan and splatters all over everything. And I get fired.

Why is that? I have been thinking about it for nearly a decade now.

Truth, Repentance, and the Christian Faith

Try this little thought experiment: Listen to any preacher or evangelist describe what it means to be a Christian. One popular line goes like this: "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." Ooh, it gives me warm fuzzies just thinking about it. Now find that line in the Bible. Better, find it in what the Eleven Disciples preached in the early church. It's not there. Did they get the gospel message wrong? Or did we?

Sometimes you can tell what's important to a person by how much he (or she) says about that topic. Take "love" as a concept in the Bible. The Greek word agape (agaph) or its verb form (agapaw) is most often translated "love" and occurs some 257 times in the New Testament. 1John 4 has a lot about God's love, including the two verses we all like about how "God is love." But in the rest of the Bible, most (62%) of the verses are about our love, not God's, and another 5% is about God loving, but not us generally; only one third of the verses proclaim God's unconditional love to us, and that mostly in the writings of John, plus a little in Romans.

Then there is the meaning of "love" in the Bible. But that's a whole different topic, deserving a separate treatment.

We Can Do Better Than This

In Jesus Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus [Gal.3:28]. Does that mean that there are no longer any such things as gender or national origin in the church? Of course not! Only that your Jewishness or masculinity offers no advantage at all before God. By extension, then, neither should your MBTI personality type. There should be no bias for Feelers, nor against Thinkers, in the church (nor the other way around, of course), except as commanded explicitly by God.

The most important implication is this:

Stop elevating Nice over Truth. God is not "Nice" and neither was Jesus, the Apostles and the Prophets. They all preferred telling the truth about wrongdoing, even (or maybe especially) when it hurt. Check it out. That's not the same as making disparaging comments about non-moral issues like God-given appearance or body parts. If somebody is doing the best she can with God gave her, encourage her. If somebody else did something offensive that he could have chosen to do otherwise, tell him to his face and do not tell other people. That's gossip, and even the pagans know it's wrong. But God reminds us "if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently" [Gal.6:1]. There is no cause to make it harder on him than necessary. Cruelty is not a virtue.

Let me expand on that gossip idea a little. Some 20 years ago I did a Bible study series with another Biblically literate young man, at least part of which delved into some of the obscure passages in Leviticus. We encountered there a curious verse in Lev.19:14, the same chapter where the Second Great Commandment is first given: "Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord." What does it mean to "curse the deaf"? They can't hear you anyway! It makes more sense when you realize that the stumbling block is meant to be understood as another instance of the same forbidden behavior: Don't put a hazard in front of a person who does not know it's there, so to take evasive action. A curse calls down God's wrath on the sinner; let the poor sucker know what you are doing so he can pray for mercy and forgiveness. In today's culture, the curse might come from another person to whom you have slandered this person; for God's sake (literally!) do it in his hearing, so he can defend himself. Sometimes it's necessary to say negative things to other people about a person, which could negatively impact his job or other assets, but at least let him hear what you are saying so he can rebut it. As a matter of policy, I try never say anything more negative about a person behind his back than I have already said first to his face.

For example: Some time ago I sought some professional services from a certain state-licensed provider. The encounter involved a breech of ethics from which he remains unrepentant (his pastor apparently understood the problem, but declined to carry out his pastoral duties, a common problem in a Feeler-controlled church). There was only one other licensed provider in the county, and it's hard to get into a discussion about those kinds of services without comparing the two. In anticipation of such a discussion topic, I told him what I was likely to say about him and invited him to make any corrections he wanted. He replied but had no corrections to offer. He may not have liked what I said, but he cannot accurately accuse me of doing it behind his back. Yes, I could choose to say nothing about him at all, but that is dishonest to the next customer who then in ignorance chooses him over the more honorable vendor. Tell me what is the most honorable choice for me here: I believe I made it, but I'm open to correction. In a church that accepts Thinkers and Feelers as equals, this wouldn't even be a hard question.

Tom Pittman

Rev. 2003 December 22 (some historical referents changed to past tense after I left the university, I think in 2005)
Clarifying remarks added 2009 April 24

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