'People are different by design. One way we can speak of this difference is by the concept of personality types.  After having a conversation about personality and spiritual development I dusted off some old notes and took another look at how personality traits and temperament influence our practice of the  spiritual disciplines (prayer and bible study etc.).


Personality, preference and Spiritual Disciplines


Personality types are helpful descriptions that enable us to get a sense of who we are. Because of our personalities, we have preferences, and our preferences relate to how we relate to and process the world. Robert Kaplan and Dennis Saccuzzo believe "the underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values, and motivation"[1]  Just as we tend to favor either the right or left hand, so too we exhibit a particular direction in the way we view life, God, and even how we practice spirituality.

The danger with preferences when it comes to spiritual disciplines are that we practice what is easy or comfortable to us. Our personality type naturally inclines us to some disciplines more than others. We enjoy those spiritual disciplines that are in line with our personality and rarely, if ever, engage in the disciplines that actually take, discipline! When you were young Christian this is part of the process. But there comes a point you must enact some measure of structure and discipline if you are to grow as a christian. This a far cry from legalism for  grace opposes merit not effort.

I’m not necessarily advocating that you take a personality test, just that there is a measure of wisdom in knowing yourself. Especially, when it comes to practicing the spiritual disciplines, knowing your natural tendency and  common avoidance explains why you do some spiritual practices but not others. In An Invitation to a Journey, theologain Robert Mulholland notes,

“Left to ourselves in the development of our spiritual practices, we will generally gravitate to those spiritual activities that nurture our preferred pattern of being and doing. The shadow side of our preference will languish unattended and unnurtured...The results of such one-sided spirituality can be devastating to our spiritual pilgrimage.” (Mulholland Pg 69)

So for the undisciplined knowing what practices will be a good entry point is wisdom. Also for those a little farther along the path knowing that resisting your preferences and doing some spiritual disciplines that are harder for you is the next big step in growth. Those things that run against our preferences  needs to be developed and strengthened.

Just because we are not inclined or “good” at doing something does not excuse us from action, particularly when that action is commanded by Scripture! No one gets to say because of my personality type, that scripture does not apply to me.


Understanding Myers-Briggs

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a helpful tool for grasping the effect that personality has on our life with God.   Myers-Briggs is comprised of 8 preferences in pairs on a sliding scale

E - I     extroversion ----- introversion
S - N   sensing ------ intuition
T - F    thinking ----- feeling
J - P     judging ----- perceiving

The first and last pairs are called attitudes because they represent the orientation of the individual in regard to the world and where they gain energy and motivation.

E – extrovert: stimulated by the outer world of people and things
I – introvert: derives energy from the inner world of ideas, concepts, feelings, and spirit

J – judging: primarily concerned with how things should be.
P – perceiving: primarily concerned with how things are.

The middle pairs of preferences are called functions. They have to do with the method one uses to relate to the world or to oneself.

S – sensing: concentrates on what is available to the senses (visible, audible, etc.)
N – intuitive: concentrates on the inner sense of things

T – thinking: uses the intellect to arrive at a conclusion through reasoning
F – feeling: makes decisions based on how one feels about things

Since the Myers-Briggs is an epistemological-based assessment. It is very helpful in the field of education. David Keirsey an educational psychologist categorized the 16 Myers-Briggs types into four major temperaments. The simplified groupings touch on the predominate way we gather and understand information as well as our general temperament in relationship to the world.

SP: The Artisans
SJ: The Guardians
NF: The Idealists
NT: The Rationals

One thing of note, Myers-Briggs is not a personality test. In populate culture a personality is thought of in a deterministic way, like it is a fixed absolute that determines who you are.  Myers-Briggs is an Assessment or indicator of your preferences and personality traits that you currently hold. If used correctly it can function as a self-assessment to identify areas in which to develop. Part of Christian growth particularly in the areas of character and ones inner life (desires, and preferences) aims at becoming a whole person. Said another way, Part of holiness is whol-i-ness. Seeking wholeness is fundamental to becoming a mature human, who exhibits basic self-awareness, social and relational appreciation, natural empathy and clear headed thinking.

Christian seldom ask the question, "Which area of life do I need to work on to become a whole person?" Some people are good at being Christian but unable to spend a day in solitude, silence, and self-reflection without turning on the TV or swallowing their tongue. Others can't sustain personal relationships without becoming codependent or burning every bridge in sight. Since i am on this rant, still others are so spiritual they act like odd balls of uncomfortable awkwardness or "holier-than-thou" dysfunction. Sadly the reason is because they skipped over growing as a human and ran head long into Christian experience and practice.

Assessments like the Myers-Briggs help you see yourself from a vantage point. Such a perspective allows the person to learn about themselves in a constructive way. This new perspective opens an avenue in which you can give all you know of yourself to all you know of God. An avenue that allows you to work on balancing overtly strong preferences with its counterpart bringing them to a balance and understand how God personally made you to most naturally engage with him. As well as see those aspects of yourself where you need to exert more discipline for you don't naturally engage in those disciplines.


Personality, prayer and how we most naturally engage with God.

Below are some characteristics of each Myers-Briggs type and some notes on how they will tend to experience God in prayer and in the existential aspects of spiritual life. Look for both the one most like you and unlike you realizing that both are important in becoming well rounded christian. But first, let me set the stage by introducing Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina (“sacred reading”) is a historic, time-tested method of Scripture study and prayer dating back to the Middle Ages. (If you are getting nervous, go read Martin Luther’s “Letter to My Barber” and you’ll see that this is exactly what he prescribes). Here are the various aspects of practicing the Lectio Divina. They are not steps per say more aspects but many move through them in the order given.

Lectio: slow, thoughtful reading of a text of Scripture
Meditatio: welcoming this word from God into our lives; chewing and ruminating on it
Oratio: responding to God in prayer
Contemplatio: Listening to the Holy Spirit and enjoying the presence of God


NT Characteristics - The Rationals

  • Logical, rational, intellectual
  • Thirst for truth
  • Long to understand, explain, master, excel
  • Straightforward and direct
  • Tend to be impersonal/insensitive
  • Appreciate excellence and seek to avoid mistakes
  • Demanding of self and others
  • Love planning; tend to be very future-oriented
  • Generally excel at whatever they do

NT Prayer:

  • NT’s are the most mystical and contemplative of all the types. They thrive on earnest, thoughtful pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
  • Authors Michael and Norrisey recommend that NT’s practice “Thomistic Prayer,” which is essentially discursive meditation: taking a biblical/theological truth and “walking around in it,” studying it from every angle and contemplating its facets and implications.
  • NT’s will especially thrive in the Meditatio step of Lectio Divina.

Thomistic Study and Spirituality
Recommended by St. Thomas Aquinas and using syllogistic methods of thinking (looking at it from every angle) and orderly progression of thought from cause to effect (rational thinking to arrive at an appropriate conclusion). NT's have a great thirst for truth and for the freedom that flows from knowing truth. They desire to comprehend, explain, predict and control. The tend to be leaders, and also tend to pursue perfection and see stupidity and incompetence as the worst possible faults. They can be overcritical and are often work-a-holics. They are poor losers -- very competitive. They tend to be impersonal in relationships. NT spirituality is ordered and question-oriented. May use seven auxiliary questions: "what, why, how, who, where, when, with what helps" to explore the text. the discipline of deep Bible study with a systematic method, consulting commentaries and theologians as you come to the objective and reasonable meaning of the text is natural to this type.


NF Characteristics - The Idealists

  • Creative
  • Optimistic
  • Verbal/outspoken
  • Great need for self-expression
  • Deep feelings; love affirmation, hate criticism
  • Excel at empathy, understanding, compassion
  • Natural “rescuers” of others
  • Want their outer life to be totally congruent with their inner self
  • Often dissatisfied with the present

NF Prayer

  • NF’s must experience personal relationship with God. They are always looking for deeper meaning, insight, significance. Journaling is often key to the prayer life of an NF: they tend to pray best “at the point of a pen.”
  • Michael and Norrisey recommend that NF’s practice “Augustinian Prayer,” or transposition: imagining the words of Scripture as if God is speaking them directly to me, right now, in my current situation.
  • NF’s will tend to thrive in the Oratio and Contemplatio steps of Lectio Divina.

Augustinian Prayer and Spirituality
Named in honor of St. Augustine -- who developed rules of spirituality for the monks and convents in North Africa. The key word is projection, using creative imagination to transpose and apply Scripture to today's situation. Especially used by NF's who are usually creative, optimistic, verbal, persuasive, outspoken, writers and speakers; good listeners, counselors, conflict resolver and peacemakers. Handling negative criticism is difficult for NFs, but they blossom under affirmation. Visionaries. Prayer is a discourse between God and the self. Journaling prayers and writing a confession to God is an natural discipline for the NF. What is meant by confession means more than just asking for forgiveness of sins. It means probing one's past to see God's hand and search out one's inner motives and psychology in a written conversation with God. (For more on this way of writing read Augustine's confessions).


SJ Characteristics - The Guardians

  • Deep sense of obligation
  • Want to feel useful – givers, not receivers
  • Very practical, common-sense
  • Strong work ethic
  • Value tradition, authority, structure
  • Conservative and stabilizing
  • Guardians of the values
  • Tendency toward pessimism

SJ Prayer

  • SJ’s prefer regimen and routine, so liturgy is especially helpful and meaningful to them. They enjoy a sense of connection with history and with the past. Prayer books and tools will be especially helpful to them.
  • Michael and Norrisey recommend “Ignatian Prayer” for SJ’s: becoming part of the biblical scene through imagination. For instance, as you read of the crucifixion of Jesus, you imagine what it would be like to stand there in the crowd; as you read of the Exodus, you imagine what it would be like to be one of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.
  • SJ’s will thrive most fully in the Lectio phase of Lectio Divina.

Ignatian Reading and Spirituality
People drawn to this kind of reading often have a strong sense of duty, and a good imagination. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, developed this method in the 16th century. He took his inspiration from the psalms, which show a way of praying rooted in God's character and past works. In remembering and celebrating the salvation event, the people relive, participate in, and symbolically make past events real. practically it involved reading the bible with ones senses. Through multiple reads one engages what it would have smelt like, looked like, sounded like,  until the reader can fully engulfed themselves in the story.  Casting oneself back into the events of the past, one imagines the scene through all five senses, making the story real and present and becoming part of it.


SP Characteristics - The Artisans

  • Impulsive
  • Dislike rules and structure
  • Action-driven, crisis-oriented
  • Flexible, adaptable
  • Live in the present, love the “new thing”
  • Cheerful, witty, charming
  • Good entertainers
  • Thrive on risk and challenge
  • Best at short-range projects; dislike long-term planning

SP Prayer

  • SP’s have the least need for long periods of formal prayer. They tend excel at “practicing the presence of God” – experiencing God’s presence in the events of every day. Because SP’s are very sensory, being out in nature is key to experiencing communion with God.
  • Michael and Norrisey recommend “Franciscan Prayer” for SP’s: spontaneous, free-flowing, active prayer that emphasizes tangible acts of service and devotion. They embody prayer in all they do. Doing good deeds for others or giving gifts to others are prayerful, devotional activities for SP’s – more than all the other types, “their work is their prayer.”
  • SP’s will thrive most fully in the Oratio phase of Lectio Divina

Fransiscan Prayer and Spirituality
St. Francis introduced this type in the 13th century. It is characterized by an attitude of openness and willingness to go where the Spirit calls. SP's are impulsive free spirits, often witty and charming. They love action and work best in a crisis. They are good at unsnarling messes, making them good negotiators and diplomats. They tend to be flexible and open-minded, living in the present. They are best at short-range projects, because they need to see results. Centering life in God. Creation is a Bible – every sense is impressionable; Gospels are appealing as another example of the incarnation of God in creation. Appreciate the grand gesture, and given to just behavior. Although very sacrificial, SP's don't respond well to the symbolic. They usually dislike formal prayer, preferring spontaneous, impulsive prayer or seeing work, celebration, or enjoying nature, etc. as prayer.

End notes
[1] Kaplan, R.M., & Saccuzzo, D.P. Psychological testing: Principle, applications, and issues. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth 2009) p. 499 A helpful book in this area is "Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types by Michael and Norrisey"

Suggested readings
Harbaugh, Gary L. God's Gifted People (Augsburg, 1990).
Keirsey, David and Marilyn Bates. Please Understand Me (Gnosology Books, 1984).
Michael, Chester P. and Marie C. Norrisey. Prayer and Temperament (The Open Door, 1984).
Oswald, Roy M. and Otto Kroeger. Personality Type and Religious Leadership (Alban Institute, 1988).


Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith. It describes the beliefs and general religious outlook of modern Americans. Five core beliefs makeup this religious perspective.

  1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.


moralistic because it “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person.”


Therapeutic means it is “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherent” Thus it is not about things like “repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering …”


Deism is the “belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs—especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved.”

Smith writes about the vision of God this view espouses:

“the Deism here is revised from its classical eighteenth-century version by the therapeutic qualifier, making the distant God selectively available for taking care of needs… something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he’s always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

A Common Cultural Consensus

Author, Rod Dreher, in his work “The Benedict Option,” explains the scope of M.T.D. today. He explains the continuing problem as a shallow immaturity rooted a vapid knowledge because of a lack of real discipleship.

MTD is not entirely wrong. After all, God does exist, and He does want us to be good. The problem with MTD, in both its progressive and its conservative versions, is that it’s mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with oth­ers. It has little to do with the Christianity of Scripture and tradition, 10 which teaches repentance, self-sacrificial love, and purity of heart, and commends suffering -the Way of the Cross- as the pathway to God. Though superficially Christian, MTD is the natural religion of a cul­ture that worships the Self and material comfort.

As bleak as Christian Smith’s 2005 findings were, his follow-up research, a third installment of which was published in 2011, was even grimmer. Surveying the moral beliefs of 18-to-23-year-olds, Smith and his colleagues found that only 40 percent of young Christians sampled said that their personal moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or some other religious sensibility. It’s unlikely that the beliefs of even these faithful are biblically coherent. Many of these “Christians” are actually committed moral individualists who neither know nor prac­tice a coherent Bible-based morality.

An astonishing 61 percent of the emerging adults had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism. An added 30 per­ cent expressed some qualms but figured it was not worth worrying about. In this view, say Smith and his team, “all that society is, appar­ently, is a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.” These are not bad people. Rather, they are young adults who have been terribly failed by family, church, and the other institutions that formed-or rather, failed to form-their consciences and their imag­inations.

For the modern believer they may envision God as an everlasting Mister Rogers. Someone who is not a helicopter parent mucking in your bossiness and telling you how to live your life but a cardigan wearing Kind Butler who will be there if you need him.


Shallow Christianity

I want to conclude with a story and a suggestion. The story gets at how obvious this problem should be yet many cant see it. First the story,in His lecture on M.T.D, reformed theologian Michael Horton tells a story of a liberal theologian's experience of a modern conservative evangelical church service. He begins with a little back story:

While I was doing a post-doctoral research fellowship on the East Coast, a mainline theologian [told me about going] to his daughter’s and son-in-law’s house for Easter one year. And he said they go to one of these sprawling evangelical church growth churches, based on church growth models and techniques, and he says, “I thought it would be interesting to go with them on Easter Sunday.” He said, “I thought I’ll get them at their best.” Everybody’s at their best on Easter Sunday, talking about Jesus and the resurrection. He’s telling me the story. He said he went there and he knew that his children were going to try to evangelize him because he’s a mainline theologian. And he said, “I walked in, and there was nothing visibly that would suggest that I was in anything other than a mall. But I said, okay, I’m just going to sit down, and it’s not about that [the mall look], I’m going to sit down and wait for God to open His mouth and start talking to us with God’s greeting at the begin. [Referring to the liturgical blessing greeting invocation of the Holy Spirit] Well, there was no greeting from God at all. There was a greeting from the minister as if it were his living room, welcoming people into his presence, but not God addressing His people.”


He said, “I went through the whole service. I kept waiting. He thought, well, they’re evangelicals. They put everything into the sermon. There’s no liturgy, but they’ll put everything into the sermon. The Word of God all gets poured into this one half-hour presentation. I’ll wait for that.” And he said, “This was Easter. We had not yet sung anything about the cross and the resurrection. We had not heard any Scripture read. And we had not prayed. There had been a couple of quick, ‘hey there’s’ but not real prayer, corporate congregational prayer.” He said, “So we got to the sermon, and it was about how you can turn your scars into stars, and your crosses into stepping stones. Jesus conquered His opposition and so can you.” There was no gospel in it. It wasn’t about what He had done for us. It was about how what He did can be done by us too. After the service, They got in the car and drove home, and it was pretty quiet. And the son said, “Well, Pop, did you hear the gospel today?” And he said, “No.” He said, “Did it touch your heart?” “Did what touch my heart?” “Well, did… did the Spirit touch your heart?” He said, “How could the Spirit possibly have touched my heart? His Word wasn’t present.” He said, “I have been in liberal churches where there was more of the Word of God at least in the liturgy, than was in the whole service in what I thought was an evangelical church on Easter… I don’t know how you could imagine that I could have been evangelized today when God didn’t even show up.”

Horton gives the take away from the story

This situation can be found across the board. I’m hearing it more and more. When I was growing up, we knew the churches in town, where it was, Christless Christianity. But today you can’t point to anything. It’s across the board today. It’s across the spectrum from fundamentalists to liberal, from Arminian to professing Reformed.

A Short Spiritual Diagnostic

The spirituality of American Christianity is infected with M.T.D. Yet many can't see it. Ironically a liberal theologian, unsure on so many aspects of the faith could still diagnose the problem. If he can see it, why do we often fail to see it? I think it's because we fail follow Paul's admonition look for our blind spots  (1 Cor 11:31).

Occasionally setting aside time for self-evaluation is a good spiritual practice. In light of this I suggest we all do something of a soul diagnostic. Below is a short list of questions formulated to help you think through the problems associated with M.T.D and see if you unknowingly hold to some tenants of M.T.D.

Eight questions to discerning M.T.D influence on you. Read each answers yes or no.

  • Do I desire experience more than knowledge
  • Do I prefer choices to absolutes.?
  • Do I embrace preferences rather than principles/truths?
Do I seek comfort rather than growth?
Do you believe, faith must come on our terms or it is rejected.?
  • Have I enthroned myself as the final arbiters of righteousness?
  • Do I believe i am the ultimate rulers of our own experience and destiny?
  • Am I more concerned about social justice than sound theology?

If you get five or more ‘Yes’ answers you may believe aspects of MTD.

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