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Plundering the Egyptians: Toward an Empirical, Pragmatic, and Non-ontological Utilization of Jungian Psychology, and a Challenge to Titular Oneupsmanship

September 26, 2006

I don’t really have that much to say about this yet, but I thought of this title on the way to the office this morning and had to get it out here before Gorfchild makes his next post.

Basically, all I want to say is that I find the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) very useful.  We know that God makes people different.  We know that scientists have always attempted to make useful classifications of the observable differences in God’s creation.  It seems plausible, therefore, that differences in the cognitive tendencies of human beings could be usefully classified.  Such classifications are reliable to the degree that they are empirically verifiable.  And they are useful, especially in understanding how to work well together and forbear with the way that others think differently than we do.

But when Type Talk starts overreaching and tries to offer answers to bigger questions like, “Who am I?”,  “What is my calling?”,  “Is change possible?”, then we need to be careful.  I hope you will get busy in the meta and help me think of other uses and limitations of the MBTI.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2006 9:37 am

    Sir, that’s quite a title you got there. It borders on . . . parody.

    And your point about the limitations of the MB system is quite right. In later chapters of my exposition, I was planning on exploring these very issues. I imagine that stuff from this thread could come in useful.

  2. September 26, 2006 10:05 am

    No parody here! Don’t you know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?
    And it really is a challenge. You better bring it on your next post, buddy.

  3. September 26, 2006 11:07 am

    Excellent title!

    I think people should be very careful about saying — I’m a “X” so I just *can’t* do Y.

    I think of MBTI as providing useful adjectives & vocabulary, helping me improve communication with those whose preferences are different from my own, but it does not define me or place limitations on me. I can’t say that I am an INFJ and therefore I simply *cannot* be talkative, practical, rational or spontaneous and it certainly doesn’t mean that I cannot be sensitive to those who are those things. It’s a descriptive tool, not a box in which I (or anyone else) have/has been placed.

    I reserve the definition of who I am to: fruittart is a child of God, adopted by grace to the praise of His glory. The funky, quirky parts of us are part of what make us elbows and knees and shoulders of the body of Christ — we all have different gifts, we have different preferences and we can’t all be hands or feet or ears.

    My dear friend Egana and I can love one another better b/c she is sensitive to my need for space and quiet and thought and I am sensitive to her need for people, talking and thinking out loud (which I didn’t even think was a credible idea until recent years — thought is in your head; speech comes from your mouth and only after LONG and considerable amounts of thought). So in this case MBTI helps us live with one another in understanding and be gracious to each other rather than me thinking she talks too much and her thinking that I’m snotty and won’t talk to her! ;-)

  4. September 26, 2006 11:24 am

    lol, John Owen and Gorfchild would be so proud. :)

  5. September 26, 2006 11:48 am

    At the risk of overstatement (that’s another one of my spiritual gifts) I think that the real reason why our church has profited by our MBTI hobby is that we have talked with one another about our differences. Perhaps any personality theory would have been an equally profitable conversation starter. Now I’m totally unqualified to judge between competing personality theories, that’s why this is probably an overstatement. But I do believe that the post-testing conversations with friends are more profitable than the testing itself.

  6. September 26, 2006 11:51 am

    I did a lot more reading this morning about Jungian archetypes. That stuff gets real weird real fast. But most of the critiques written by Christians that I read of MBTI calling it a psycho-heresy were guilty of assigning guilt by association. Just because the idea of type came from Jung, doesn’t mean that everyone who finds the intraversion/extraversion distinction useful is a Jungian or in danger of being a Jungian. Similarly, just because I believe that Eastern medicine may have discovered some naturally revealed truths about the human body that Western medicine has missed by drugging every symptom, doesn’t make me a New Ager. Not every one who practices Yoga is channeling spirit guides, and not everyone who attends a martial arts class is a Buddhist

  7. September 26, 2006 1:07 pm

    isaiah543,
    I agree with your assertion that the main benefit is that we’re talking about our differences. I might say that MB is better than some other alternatives, but frankly, I’m not really qualified to judge between these systems, either.

    I like MB mainly because it made sense TO ME. I have no desire to assert anything authoratative about the system. If someone were to ask me, “But is is TRUE?” I would say that this not the sort of question you ask about such systems (or science in general, for that matter). The Bible is True; God’s promises are True. Everything else is induction, with various levels of rigor and empirical analysis.

    MB seems to me to be understandable based on some very simple, commonsense assumptions about how people work in the everyday world. In a sense, anyone could have come up with it.

    I have avoided reading Jung (nothing I’ve read about it has inclined me to do so). If understanding and helpfully applying MB requires a thorough and deep understanding of Jungian archetypes, then I’m not interested in it; it would fail my commonsensicalness test. As it is, though, I find that its foundational premises are quite plausible, and thus I am inclined to take seriously some of the assertions that flow out from those premises. (Not uncritically, though; but seriously.)

    And when I have done so, I have found them to be extremely useful, over and over again, possessing an explanatory power that I have benefited from immensely, especially in coming to terms with my own issues of relational brokenness.

    MB also has the advantage of not merely saying that people are different, but that people are interdependently different. We really need all the types. There are no better or worse ones. And I think that having a vocabulary for expressing these differences as positives (instead of our common way of talking about differences: “stupid”,”lazy”,”jerk”,”pansy”,”airhead”, etc.) is a valuable contribution.

  8. September 26, 2006 1:33 pm

    I’m with everyone else, and am looking forward to the Biblical critique of Jung (or at least MBTI, since I don’t know much about Jung). However, I agree with the aforementioned comments that it’s important to have a vocabulary to understand our differences- before I knew of MBTI, I just couldn’t understand why some people were just “mean” all the time. Apparently, they weren’t mean- they were J’s and good at critiquing and making judgments, but I didn’t know that, and before the vocabulary change, I was just convinced that I was the only one (and was different, and wrong)- or worse, that they were the only “different,” “wrong,” ones.

    In any case, I do think it’s important not to box people in, though- as I’m a great deal different than the others of my type that I know (though I much enjoy their similarities). We can’t account for sense of humor and conflict style and so on with MBTI, nor can we really use it to understand more about the Bible, unfortunately. We can only use it to understand people, and for that, it’s helpful… but within Scripture, there is enough to speak to every personality type over and over, and speak to the commonalities we all have (like, um, being sinners).

    Alright, back to work for me…

  9. September 26, 2006 10:48 pm

    I’ve also found MBTI useful in a similar way to role playing. MB suggested that I was a P rather than a J. In “trying on” the P type, I found that it fit more comfortably than J, but I was left puzzling over the appearance of my “previous” type. Other than the seeming mildness of my P, I often wonder how to explain why my J qualities persist. But I’m now more able to understand myself and my interactions with those around me, so I believe that the exercise was fruitful.

  10. September 27, 2006 10:16 am

    I agree with Gorfchild’s last paragraph — having a shared vocabulary that puts our differences in a positive framework is very helpful.

    Also, since my college roommate was a psych major and I think I took nearly every psychoanalysis test known to college students in the late 80s, I would disagree that any of them would have produced a similar result.

    Since psychology is a study of man, most Christians will (and should) cringe at anything beyond a surface look at the theories and practices of its ‘academic greats’, but there are a few kernals of truth to be found in some. The work that Myers and her daughter, Briggs, did to build on Jung’s types (they added the P/J) simply describes observable differences in people and I haven’t read much about them basing these differences in something like our dreams, our views of sex or something else — more of an empirical pattern found in people. Most other analyses quickly try to get at the root of what makes you behave this way — did your mother beat you as a child? Was your father emotionally distant? — and thereby dwell on the ‘power’ of man. Although MBTI built on Jung’s work, it is not saturated with references to the unconscious desires, etc. but simply talks about perferred behaviors, at least on the level that we have pursued it.

    As long as our discussions are based on how we are similar and different and how we can then use those to serve one another in the body of Christ and how we can better love one another with a gracious understanding of our differences, I see it as a good thing for us. If any of us starts to talk about the power of man being greater than that of God’s, we should be firmly rebuked.

    An interesting aside — Jung considered that a ‘fully developed personality’ should be able to run the full scale of each dichotomy; toodling around in a limited sphere of one end he considered to be ‘underdeveloped’!

  11. Egana permalink
    September 27, 2006 2:42 pm

    “I agree with your assertion that the main benefit is that we’re talking about our differences.”

    Speaking for the extrovert contingent, i think the main benefit is that you introverts are talking at all! *wink*

  12. Egana permalink
    September 27, 2006 2:49 pm

    the trouble I have with embracing my personality, is that it makes me painfully aware of my weaknesses. When I start doing something that i KNOW is going to be difficult for me, becasue of my type and my history with similar actions or endeavors, I begin to dread how difficult it will be, and the seemingly unavoidable failure lurking round every corner. I hate to fail. it makes me feel so stupid and useless.

    Now, instead of blithely trying all sorts of things, and failing at most of them (J standards on a P type almost always = fail), now i can DREAD the immenent failure. YUCK!

    Before, I jsut went ahead and failed, felt bad, and went on with my day. Now, armed with MBTI info, I can dread failure for weeks before the activity takes place. what a deal!

  13. September 27, 2006 11:44 pm

    I totally second what Egana said. It’s great to get to know all you introverted folks better. Actually, it’s just great to get to know everybody better… but really- I like all you introverts! And it’s fun to get to know you! And… and… keep up the blogging! And stuff!

    P.S. Egana cracks me up. That last sentence… totally wins for best amusement of the day… but maybe only because I”m an ENFP too?

  14. October 19, 2006 9:19 pm

    I’m not usually so aversive to “intellectual” conversations like this, but M-B is just… bleh.

  15. February 13, 2007 3:26 pm

    I read this yesterday in an article by David Powlison,

    “Labels are occasionally useful heuristically if we recognize them for what they are: crude taxonomic orderings of observations. But labels are elements within schemas of value and interpretation. Because diagnostic categories are philosophically and theologically “loaded”, a Christian who seeks to be true to the Bible’s system of value and interpretation must generate Biblical categories and must approach secular categories with extreme skepticism.”

  16. February 14, 2007 9:00 am

    that be some good verbage.

  17. redmingungit permalink
    June 18, 2009 5:55 pm

    Pastor Mike–what is your MBT?

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