Temperament and Type

I Say Tomato, You Say Tomato

The music echoed through the auditorium. The room soon filled not only with singing, but with dancing of all kinds. With eyes shut and hands held high, they emitted an endless stream of praise and prayer; every tone, every word, soaked in heartfelt sincerity. It was a one of many nameless days in one of several nameless churches, and beneath the surface, I was always uneasy.

I cannot say how it happened. Perhaps it was the books I read, the conferences I attended, or even the other churches I visited. I know only that in some way or another, a sub-culture leached into my life that was not of my own church, but of the evangelical church at large. It was a sub-culture of emotional expression, steadfast devotion, and continued revelations that I never seemed to grasp. It didn’t matter how many times I closed my eyes, or how often I felt that faith was worth getting excited about—I was not like that.

The evangelical church has genuine foibles, and of those I am genuinely critical. But many frustrations are caused not because the church is in error, per se, but because it exalts some temperaments above others. There is often a distinct failure to understand that people are different, and that they deal with everything, even their faith, differently. This goes unnoticed because the offending personality traits are so perfectly subjugated: the individual, equating the exalted traits with godliness, is often the sole suppressor.

When people behave in ways that stretch the very fabric of their being, only so many things can happen. They will either become a shell of a human being, with no memory of who would have otherwise been; or they will wake up one day and realize that there has been a mistake. For me, many years ago, it was the latter. I have never since expected myself to feel certain ways, find meaning in certain discussions, or commit certain acts of piety. I am far from the person I wish to be, but far closer than I once was.

I can theorize on how all this may happened. For the one whose heart is worn upon the sleeve, a real Christian cannot help but cry tears of joy. For the one whose life revolves around obligation and duty, a true Christian will certainly spend extended periods of time in prayer. And though the duty-bound individual may not naturally cry tears of joy, he is bound, by duty, to try.

We might expect that the pursuit of God will result in a spiritual experience, and when the experience comes about—eliciting the most natural response—we may spiritualize the response. In this way, the manner in which faith is expressed may dominate faith itself. There can be no more fertile soil for hypocrisy.

It is no wonder that in the absence of a universal authority, the protestant church has fragmented into so many denominations. You cannot ignore the striking patterns. Denominational differences, in my experience, are not so much about theology as they are about type.

I could write endlessly about the specifics. The examples I have given are only a shadow of my meaning. I could discuss every nuance at length, and pin down every cause and effect. There may even be some value in that, for it might force one particular person to understand the faith of another particular person. But I am weary of exposition. I want only to ask everyone the favour, on behalf of everyone else—that we would recognize the value of type. Evangelicals should make an effort to understand personality types [1], and the way that people of varying types deal with emotions, faith, reason, and commitment. From what I have seen, the personality traits of some have been spiritualized within the evangelical church, and pushed away those who cannot abide by them.
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[1] The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which (in my opinion) I cannot overstate the value of, has recently caught fire amongst my friends. Things like that are not a solution to problems like this, but they are a small step in the right direction.

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3 Responses to “Temperament and Type”

  1. Christine Says:

    Interesting idea. I think I’m currently experiencing the opposite.

    I’ve kept my hands at my side during worship for so long because … that’s what is normalized at our church. If I did what I felt like doing, to feel like I’m actually worshiping God and not just performing (even standing still can be a performance), I’d be distracting. Yet I still can’t help but feel that to be more genuine with my form of expression, I should be dancing. I should be waving flags. I should be down on my knees. Yes, that’s probably my type. But I don’t want to find another church to be more “free” in worship. This is church, there should be a place for me here. Even if I’m the only one waving flags, who cares? I think the body of Christ should be diverse, not homogeneous.

  2. Stephanie Says:

    “They will either become a shell of a human being, with no memory of who would have otherwise been…” So very true. I think that actually happened to me before I was able to get myself sorted out. I still struggle with this at times.

    As for Myers-Briggs, it was a rather huge deal among my college buddies, and especially the Christians. One good friend related how her church actually had everyone take a test based on the MB with a Christian-specific spin and how it helped everyone appreciate everyone else immensely–far less strife over petty squabbles and misunderstandings. Perhaps not the only solution or a complete solution to this problem, yet it apparently works wonders for many people.

    As for me, I have far less enthusiasm for it, for a number of reasons: when I took the test, I found the questions absurdly simplistic, even too general, and that my answers to them would have to change depending on my mood, social circumstances, and many other factors. Yet, because I could see where each question was headed (they were that transparent) and because I already had a good idea of who I considered myself to be, I forced myself to give answers that might be accurate 60-85% of the time and that would lead to the correct overall assessment. Even so, when I sat down with my test-giver to assess the results, we basically ended up throwing them out: I *tested* very strongly “P” but, upon reading the thorough results descriptions, it was quite clear to me that I’m a strong “J” and was only answering “P” on questions because I was in fact trying to counteract the strong “J” influences in my life.

    Another friend of mine basically broke the test–when he took it, he landed right in the middle of everything. None of the questions could pin him down to one thing or the other, and he answered honestly. He has a definite personality which he is quite secure in, that much was clear, but the test was unable to describe it.

    This friend and some other people I’ve heard from have also found themselves, according to Myers-Briggs, to change personality type either as they age or as their circumstances change. They would re-take the test a few years later and find that they’d switched from I to E, etc.

    So, when it comes down to it, I personally find the MB test no more helpful or accurate than a Facebook quiz–and probably less so. I bet there are in fact some helpful, certified personality tests out there, but I would not call Myers-Briggs one of them.

  3. – Of course, Christine.

    – The test is wrong one out of three times, and is only created by taking people whose types were *certain*, and making questions that would identify such people. The “system” is extremely helpful and accurate, and I have never met a person whose behaviour does not make sense in light of it.

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