The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the work of Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, building on their understanding of the ideas and theories of Gestalt psychologist Carl Jung. MBTI identifies four indicators or dimensions, each with two polarities, eight different one-letter codes occurring in sixteen possible different four-letter combinations.
MBTI proponents argue the interdependence of the four indicators in determining personality types. I would not want to claim otherwise, but the four indicators are most easily understood independently. The introductory discussion here is not drawn from any particular existing explanation, but rather tries to capture the overall sense or (ahem) gestalt of their collective insights.
Each of the four indicators has two polarized letter codes. The various tests for determining an MBTI personality type assign numerical scores to each indicator to select one or the other of these single-letter extremities. Sometimes the numerical scores come out near the middle of the range. Whether the four dimensions are continuous and each person lies somewhere on the continuum of each indicator, or if the categories are hard and fast like gender (as determined by the X and Y chromosomes) and the mid-range numerical results only betray the inexact nature of the testing process, I am not in a position to say. I favor the latter interpretation and will discuss the indicators from that perspective, but whether the indicators are discrete or continuous has little bearing on the central theme of this treatise, which is the discrimination against a single indicator in American churches.
The four indicators in their usual order are
Sixteen different unique combinations may be formed by selecting one letter from each row of this table. For example, I am INTP. Another member of my family is ISFJ. I have a friend who is ENTJ.
Let's look at the significance of these indicators.
The first category distinction is Extravert/Introvert. From Jungian psychology we tend to think of these words in terms of preferences or activities, but the MBTI distinction is more about ``energy'' and ``recharging batteries.'' After a long hard day -- nevermind what made the day long or hard -- where do you go to recover? The Extravert gets out into a crowd to re-energize, the Introvert goes someplace alone.
The second category, Sensor/iNtuitive, is about processing data. The Sensor is detail oriented, while the iNtuitive looks for ``Big Picture'' generalizations. Sensors are aware of their surroundings and make good dancers and athletes; iNtuitives tend to be clumsy.
Most of this treatise looks at the third category, Thinker/Feeler, which is about values. It is not the case that the Thinker has no feelings, nor that the Feeler does not think; it is all about what is most important in forming decisions about what to do. The MBTI proponents tend to describe only the Feeler values as ``values'' but that is misleading. Everybody has values, everybody considers some issues more important than others; the only difference is, What is most valuable and what is less so? The Thinker places the highest value on moral absolutes like truth and justice, while the Feeler places ultimate value on relationships and affirmation. We will explore these differences in much greater detail in later chapters.
The fourth and final category distinction is Judger/Perceiver, which is mostly about the resolution of alternatives. The Judger feels discomfort leaving unresolved issues, while the Perceiver feels discomfort closing them off. This has secondary implications, in that the Judger wants to make decisions and tends to be a controller; the Perceiver on the other hand prefers to let other people make the decisions. The Judger keeps a clean desk at work; the Perceiver has piles of unfinished tasks everywhere. The ``P'' could equally stand for ``Piler'' or ``Procrastinator.''
I'm inclined to think of some of these labels as rather unfortunate. It is not the case that Feelers have feelings and that Thinkers do not, nor that Thinkers are ``out of touch with their feelings.'' Thinkers have feelings, but that is not their highest value; other things are more important to them. Judgers are not necessarily judgmental, which is a pejorative referring to negative assumptions about a person's internal thoughts and attitudes, quite irrelevant to jumping to conclusions on open issues. Perceivers are not necessarily more perceptive -- that is for the Sensor, and it is quite irrelevant to postponing decisions. And certainly the Thinker is not smarter nor more thoughtful than the Feeler.
It is noteworthy that only the Thinker/Feeler distinction has a significant gender bias, which I understand is about two Thinkers for every Feeler among men, and the other way around among women.
The Thinker/Feeler distinction is further loaded by a social class issue unique to modern America. By nature, Thinkers make better scientists and technologists, and technology drives the American and world economy. This gives Thinkers an implied (but unjustified) higher ranking in American social standing, with the result that ``Feeler'' becomes and is perceived as something of a pejorative in general -- except in the churches, where it is the other way around.
This brings us to the title topic, how the MBTI relates to the Christian religion in America. There are two facets to explore. I am a conservative in religious preference, and I accept the Bible as authoritative in all that it teaches. It is imperative on me (and in my opinion, on all good followers of Jesus Christ) to discern whether the Bible directly or indirectly promotes some subset of the MBTI codes as appropriate for the Christian life, thereby deprecating the others, or not. For if so, then we must seek to be or become those approved types.
Secondly, we need to look at the modern American
church to see if there is a de facto bias for or against some particular
types, and whether that bias conforms to or is consistent with the teachings
The list did not include Jesus himself, but numerous others made the attempt to give him a type. Their results were all over the map -- I suspect mostly showing how poorly people understand the MBTI factors, and probably the inadequacy of the information we have for that purpose. Some of these analyses tried to show that Jesus exhibited a balance of all types, but that conclusion was probably driven more by theological presuppositions than by the evidence. After all, Jesus was male, not androgynous, and Jewish, not oriental nor black. He had other particular attributes as well. He spoke Aramaic, not Greek or Latin or Swahili or Esperanto. There is no reason he could not have had a particular MBTI type suited to his ministry and purpose on earth. That Jesus had a particular MBTI type is no more compelling a reason to differentiate the MBTI types in the church than his masculinity is grounds for excluding women, nor is his Jewish ancestry grounds for excluding Gentiles.
Instead of looking only at particular Bible persons,
I thought it instructive to compare the eight letter codes with the known
teaching of the Bible. I did not find any published information linking
particular MBTI letter types with specific Bible teaching,
probably because it doesn't make much sense to teach people to become what
they are not, nor to exclude people with different personalities. So what
I have here turns out to be more of a list of people in situations exhibiting
Jesus instructed us to go into our closets alone
to pray, but the church is also taught not to forsake assembling together
for mutual edification; that sounds somewhat like recharging. Either way
seems to be appropriate, depending on your needs.
This has been an overly brief overview of MBTI
types in the Bible. I leave to others the task of searching them out exhaustively.
I hope you will let
me know what you find.
First, it is a proprietary idea, trademarked and thus somewhat controlled by its owner. That makes it exclusive, and the non-owners can feel slighted and therefore critical. However, it is an economic criticism, unrelated to the factual question of accuracy of the insights. The MBTI Trust management are capitalists, seeking to monetize their insights; their critics are essentially (small-c) communists who prefer community ownership and management of big ideas. The MBTI insights are too big to keep locked up in proprietary vaults indefinitely, but that does not make them false today.
Wikipedia -- no bastion of accuracy in contentious issues -- identifies several criticisms of MBTI. Criticism of an idea on the basis of its origin is no more valid than ad hominem criticism of a person on the basis of race or national origin. The remaining criticisms are all variations on the statistical reliability of the testing methods, or lack thereof. This is an unfortunate but observable flaw, which does not necessarily invalidate the insights.
It's not my place here to defend MBTI
scientifically, as I lack the necessary qualifications to do so rigorously.
I only observe that the MBTI insights explain a lot
of phenomena not otherwise understandable, which is certainly better than
a lot of what currently passes for science.
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Rev. 2013 October 2