PERSONALITY AND SCRIPTURE

Leslie Francis puts Jesus and Myers-Briggs together

THE PARABLES OF JESUS have long been recognised as revealing deep and penetrating insight into the human psyche. Jesus the psychologist certainly seemed to know what made people tick.

Modern personality theories provide a fresh framework through which the parables of Jesus can be studied, and through which Jesusí insight into human psyche can be evaluated. In this paper I propose to take one personality theory and to set that theory to work in exploring one of Jesusí best known parables.

The personality theory adopted in this study is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychological tool increasingly used in Christian circles. According to this theory individual differences can be best summed up in terms of four sets of opposites. These opposite poles are: introversion and extraversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, judging and perceiving.

The parable explored in this study comes from Lukeís gospel and concerns the less than harmonious relationship between two brothers, their father and the ill-fated fatted calf. In the old days this example of Jesusí teaching was known as the Prodigal Son. Jesus told a story about a father who had two sons. The sons were as different as chalk and cheese, as different as introversion and extraversion, as different as sensing and intuition, as different as thinking and feeling, as different as judging and perceiving.

Introversion and extraversion

It is all too easy for introverts and extraverts to misunderstand each other. To the introvert, extraverts appear noisy, shallow, brash and loud. To the extravert, introverts appear silent, withdrawn, moody and quiet. When extraverts face a major decision, they need to talk with others about it, and to act quickly. When introverts face a major decision, they need to withdraw from others and to think long before acting. No wonder introverts and extraverts misunderstand each other.

Jesus of Nazareth was well aware of the difficulties which introverts and extraverts experience when they live together. Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons: one was an introvert and one was an extravert.í The younger son was clearly an extravert and the older son was clearly an introvert. No wonder there was so much conflict in that family.

As an extravert, the younger son craved for the excitement of the outer world. He longed for the stimulation of people. He sought for the sounds of society. He yearned for conversation and for other people with whom to share his ideas, his energy, his enthusiasm.

As an extravert, he tired of the closed in environment of the farm. He was frustrated by the emptiness of isolation. He was exhausted by the silence of solitude. He was driven to distraction by the lack of company and by the absence of new people with whom he could relate. So he went off to seek new places and new people. He went out of his way to experience life as widely as possible and to savour the richness of the outer world.

As an introvert, the older son craved for the excitement of the inner world. He longed for the stimulation of isolation. He sought for the silence of solitude. He yearned for space away from other people to ponder his ideas, to recharge his energy, to sharpen his enthusiasm.

As an introvert, he avoided the excitement of the outer world. He shunned the stimulation of people. He distrusted the sounds of society. He was driven to distraction by his brotherís insatiable quest for company and for conversation.

He was totally content to stay on the farm with the small number of people whom he really knew, friends whom he really trusted. He stayed at home to experience life as deeply as possible and to savour the richness of the inner world.

Jesus of Nazareth said, `There was a man who had two sons: one was an introvert and one was an extravert.í Little wonder they found it difficult to understand each otherís orientation to life? But their father loved them both. In the same way our God loves and accepts the introvert and the extravert. For both there is a place in the Kingdom of God.

Sensing and intuition

It is all too easy for intuitive people and sensing people to misunderstand each other. To the intuitive person, sensing types appear unimaginative, boring, small minded and unnecessarily cautious. To the sensing person, intuitive types appear impractical, day dreamers, undisciplined. When intuitives face a new situation, they allow the mind to inform their eyes. When sensing people face a new situation, they allow their eyes to inform the mind. No wonder sensing people and intuitive people misunderstand each other.

Jesus of Nazareth was well aware of the difficulties which sensing people and intuitive people experience when they live together. Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons: one was an intuitive type and the other a sensing type.í The younger son was clearly an intuitive person and the older son was clearly a sensing person. No wonder there was so much conflict in the family.

As an intuitive type, the younger son was a visionary who was always alert to the unseen possibilities around the next corner. He was a man who preferred to trust his insight into the future; a man who could be relied upon for spotting new possibilities and trying out new things.

As an intuitive person, he became restless with the relentless routine of life on the farm. He became bored with the constant rehearsal of familiar pattern. He tired of counting the calves in the field.

So he looked at his share of the farm and instantly visualised what its value could purchase in the markets of the town. He saw no loss in leaving the past behind.

As a sensing person, the older son was a practical man who was content to live with the reality of the present moment. He was a man who preferred to trust what he knew from past experience; a man who could be relied upon to know how many calves were in the field. As a sensing person, he saw little point in speculating about the unseen possibilities waiting around the next corner. He placed no confidence in untested future possibilities. He was not interested in trying out new ideas. He looked at his share of the farm and loved every familiar detail; he wanted it all to remain unchanged. He saw every loss in leaving the past behind.

Jesus of Nazareth said, `There was a man who had two sons: one was an intuitive person, and one was a sensing person.í Little wonder they found it difficult to understand each otherís way of looking at life? But their father loved them both. In the same way our God loves and accepts the intuitive person and the sensing person. For both there is a place in the Kingdom of God.

Thinking and feeling

It is all too easy for thinking people and feeling people to misunderstand each other. To the thinker, the feeling person appears illogical, indecisive, and far too tenderminded. To the feeling person, the thinker appears inhumane, cold, and far too toughminded. When thinking types face a new decision, their first concern is to weigh up all the facts as dispassionately as possible. When feeling types face a new decision, their first concern is to ask how peopleís lives will be affected. No wonder thinking types and feeling types misunderstand each other.

Jesus of Nazareth was well aware of the difficulties which thinking types and feeling types experience when they live together. Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons: one was a feeling type and the other was a thinking type.í The younger son was clearly a thinking person and the older son was clearly a feeling person. No wonder there was so much conflict in the family.

As a thinking person, the younger son made his decisions in life on the basis of clear cold logic. He carefully weighed the pros and the cons and came to a balanced objective judgement. He argued for fairness and for autonomy.

As a thinking person, he saw other peopleís feelings as secondary to logical analysis. He saw human subjectivity as a sign of softness and weakness. He felt constrained by pleas for harmony and for interdependence.

So he looked at the logic of dividing the inheritance, but never thought how his action would affect the lives of the father and of the brother. He looked at the logic of returning home, but never thought of the emotional impact of his return on the lives of others.

As a feeling person, the older son made his decisions in life on the basis of how other people would be affected. He carefully weighed the human values involved and came to a humane subjective judgement. He argued for harmony and for interdependence.

As a feeling person, he saw logical analysis as cold, clinical and inhumane. He saw balanced objectivity as a sign of toughness and heartlessness. He felt constrained by pleas for fairness and for autonomy.

So he felt the hurt in his own life; he felt the hurt in the fatherís life when the brother walked out. He felt the resentment at the brotherís return, but never thought of the logic of the lost being found.

Jesus of Nazareth said, `There was a man who had two sons: one was a thinking person and one was a feeling person.í Little wonder they found it difficult to understand each otherís criteria in making the decisions of life? But their father loved them both. In the same way our God loves and accepts the thinking person and the feeling person. For both there is a place in the Kingdom of God.

Judging and perceiving

It is all too easy for individuals who prefer to present their judging process to the outer world and for individuals who prefer to present their perceiving process to the outer world to misunderstand each other. To the judging person, the perceiver appears disorganised, chaotic and downright irresponsible. To the perceiving person, the judger appears rigid, inflexible and obsessed with the constraints of structure and time.

When the judging types consider a day out they begin by formulating a timetable and a disciplined programmed, but may miss the most exciting possibilities. When perceiving types consider a day out, they begin by brainstorming all the things they could do, but may never quite get round to doing them. When judging types face a choice, they want the matter settled and closed. When perceiving types face a choice, they want to keep the options open and flexible for as long as possible.

Jesus of Nazareth was well aware of the difficulties which judging types and perceiving types experience when they live together. Jesus said, `There was a man who had two sons: one was a judging type and the other was a perceiving typeí. The younger son was clearly a perceiving person and the older son was clearly a judging person. No wonder there was so much conflict in the family.

As a perceiving person, the younger son felt constrained by the regular rhythm of the family home. He was bored by the unaltering pattern of life on the farm.

As a perceiving person, he longed for the freedom and flexibility of spontaneity. He wanted to respond to the new opportunities and to the new possibilities of each unfolding situation.

So he looked for the chance to turn his back on the life he had known so well and to break free from the constraints imposed by the expectations of the family and farm. He adapted well to the new life of luxury in the town, to the way of poverty in the time of famine, and to the restoration to the family home.

As a judging person, the older son felt disorientated by the changing expectations of his brother. He was amazed by the lack of predictability and by the sea of uncertainty.

As a judging person, he longed for the stability of the family home, for the familiarity of structure and for the predictability of routine. He missed the friendly presence of the fatted calf in the family field. He wanted longer notice of the family party. So he dug in his heels and refused to change his mind. He continued living the life which he had planned and refused to welcome changing circumstances.

Jesus of Nazareth said, There was a man who had two sons, one son was a judging person and one was a perceiving person.í Little wonder they found it difficult to understand each otherís attitude toward the outer world. But their father loved them both. In the same way, our God loves and accepts the judging person and the perceiving person. For both there is a place in the Kingdom of God.

Postscript

In the language of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the younger son was an ENTP and the older son was an ISFJ. As such they were complete opposites. As well as affirming the fatherís acceptance of both sons, the parable of Jesus highlights the weaknesses in both sons.

In their own ways, both sons are guilty of being inconsiderate, self-centred, and selfish. Both sons fail to see life from the perspective favoured by the opposite personality type. While the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator may help to explain human behaviour, it does not seek to excuse it. By offering insight into human behaviour, however, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator does empower individuals both to name their strengths and to work on their weaknesses. Through his teaching, Jesus the psychologist also offered insight into human behaviour. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus the Saviour transformed and refashioned us in his own image.

Leslie J Francis is D J James Professor of Pastoral Theology at Trinity College Carmarthen and University of Wales Lampeter. His recent book Personality Type and Scripture: exploring Markís Gospel is published by Cassell.

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