Not long ago several twenty-somethings at my office circulated a personality quiz. Perhaps you have seen some version of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. It poses multiple-choice questions about preferences and behaviors, for example:
I am most comfortable being:
( ) Spontaneous ( ) A planner
These questions boil down to identifying your personality type as a selection from each of the following four pairs:
For a while in my twenties such sorting fascinated me too. However, I found that the four pairs just partly describe personality. The MTBI misses such fundamental personality polarities as compassion vs. selfishness, attention vs. detachment, gratitude vs. entitlement, patience vs. progress, and crunchy vs. creamy.
Most troubling to me from a scientific view: Some subjects were presented again with the same MTBI questions they had answered a few weeks before. Half ended up as a different personality type!
These quizzes try to objectively focus on what people do or would do rather than what people think or feel. Still, your answers to “what would you do” can vary a lot even in a short time, as in the half-hour from before coffee to after coffee. I can be extroverted with friends but introverted with strangers. I know analytic artists and intuitive engineers. I know people who both think and feel, and people who neither think nor feel. I know people who are painfully shy in conversation, but amazing encouragers with their music. “I am large, I contain multitudes.” In view of such weak foundations, I consider the MTBI at best a provocative start toward “know yourself.” It can awaken you to the diversity of personalities, which is a very good thing. But it does not reliably categorize personality. Take it, but don't take it seriously.
For less pretentious stereotyping, visit websites such as Zimbio. These will help you find, “What Harry Potter character are you?” or “Which Classic Cereal are you?” Join several results together to save time in introductions. “Hi, I am a Gandalf Cornflakes Elmo Varys Strawberry Hulk Aquarius Monkey.”
You see now why I returned my co-workers' MBTI form untouched. I exclaimed, “Thank you, friends, but people don't fit in these little boxes! We don't need no stinkin' boxes! I TRANSCEND THESE LITTLE BOXES!”
They shrugged and put me down as type INFP, which I think means “Passive-Aggressive Curmudgeon Nerd Monkey.”
Perhaps you’ve seen Christian personality quizzes. There's Body Life Discovery, Spiritual Gifts Inventory, and "Which Veggie Tales Character Are You?" Following are two probes from one such inventory.
1. You visit a friend who is sick. What are you most likely to talk about?
a. Talk about their problem. (P, T)
b. Ask them if they need anything done for them. (S, G)
c. Ask them how they feel. (C)
d. Try to cheer them up by talking about other friends. (E, L)
2. You are in a line in a cafeteria. The person in front of you drops their tray.
Which of these would you most likely do first?
a. Say, "Hey, you dropped your tray!" (P)
b. Say, "These trays can be very slippery." (T)
c. Try to clean up the mess. (S)
d. Find a cafeteria worker to clean up the mess. (L)
e. Say, "Don't feel bad, that could happen to anyone." (C)
f. Say, "No problem, let's go around and try again." (E)
g. While others clean up, get the person a a new tray of food. (G)
The parenthesized letters refer to Romans 12 gifts: Prophet, Teacher, Servant, Leader, Carer, Encourager, Giver. How did you do?
Further Bible study and discussion would spotlight people who exhibited these gifts, such as Jeremiah the prophet. There might be discussion of the role of training, and immature forms of gifts. For example, a bossy person might be developing toward prophet or leader. Or... might just need to repent of being bossy.
Thanks to such examinations, I can efficiently introduce myself to other Christians: “Hi. By God's grace I serve as a teacher a little like Paul of Tarsus with a touch of servant like Martha of Bethany."
"What? Oh. Well, think of me as part Archibald Asparagus and part Pa Grape.”
I think Spiritual Gifts inventories are about as useful and as useless as the MBTI, for the same reasons. They don't consider context, that a person who is compliant in the workplace may be bossy in the home. They can yield significantly different results from the same person when administered on different days. That said, the Christian quizzes were not made up from thin air. The Bible often mentions that God has given each person traits and talents, and offers four major lists of spiritual gifts.
Romans chapter 12:
“Each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses. In the same way, we are many, but in Christ we are all one body. Each one is a part of that body, and each part belongs to all the other parts. We all have different gifts, each of which came because of the grace God gave us.
1 Corinthians chapter 12:
“God works in all of us in everything we do. Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good.
If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body. But truly God put all the parts, each one of them, in the body as he wanted them. So then there are many parts, but only one body. … God wanted the different parts to care the same for each other. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor.
Together you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of that body. In the church
Ephesians chapter 4:
“Christ gave gifts to people—he made
Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, to make the body of Christ stronger.
1 Peter chapter 4:
“Most importantly, love each other deeply, because love will cause people to forgive each other for many sins. Open your homes to each other, without complaining. Each one of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace.
Having taken and administered Spiritual Gifts inventories, having studied the matter a while, I offer my conclusions.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.