The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) is a popular personality inventory first published in 1943 and based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types. The test was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, as a way to help people understand themselves and each other better.
The MBTI tests for preferences in four different areas and specifies sixteen personality types. The areas of preference include 1) a focus on the exterior world (extroversion, E) or the interior world (introversion, I), 2) a focus on basic information (sensing, S) or interpreting and adding meaning to information (intuition, N), 3) making decisions by first looking at logic (thinking, T) or by first considering the people involved (feeling, F), and 4) a desire for things to be decided (judging, J) or being open to other options (perceiving, P). The sixteen personality types are identified as combinations of those four preference; for example, ISTJ is a personality type that is basically introverted, focused on basic information, logical, and most comfortable when decision-making has been resolved.
The MBTI is a popular assessment tool. Whether or not people have taken the official psychological assessment, many have heard of the terms and have unofficially tested their personalities or self-identified with a specific type. Descriptions abound of general personality traits, strengths and weaknesses, best jobs for each type, best learning environments for each type, and even best romantic combinations of each type.
The Myers & Briggs Foundation is careful to point out that no one personality type is better than any other personality type. Also, personality types are not indicative of ability or character. The types are simply offered as helpful tools in better understanding oneself. Personality type might be helpful in making choices but should not be the only tool a person uses to determine career path, romantic partners, or the like.
The secular scientific considerations of the MBTI notwithstanding, is the idea that there are different personality types biblical? Are personality types something Christians should consider? Are they helpful in any way? Let’s find out what the Bible says.
We know that all humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We know that we are uniquely formed and that God fully knows us and fully loves us (Psalm 139). No two human beings are exactly the same. Nothing in the MBTI contradicts this. Simple observation tells us that some people seem energized by spending time with others whereas other people recharge best alone. The Bible leaves room for there being different types of people as well as for commonalities among the different types. The fact that John Doe is unique does not mean that every single thing about Mr. Doe is different from everyone else. It does not contradict biblical truth to classify certain general similarities among people.
The benefit of the MBTI for Christians is in helping us better understand ourselves so as to better serve God. Often, our personality traits coincide with God’s call on our lives. For example, we might tend more toward introversion and have as part of our call being a writer. Or perhaps we tend more toward extroversion and find that God has asked us to host large-group Bible studies. Knowing our “natural” strengths can help us be attuned to the places where we can serve most effectively; knowing our “natural” weaknesses might help us avoid paths that would more easily trip us up.
Understanding personality types can also help Christians better love and serve others. For example, when we know that one of our friends tends more toward introversion, we’ll know that time spent together one-on-one is probably more meaningful than time spent together in larger social settings. If our friend tends more toward extroversion, we’ll know that he enjoys being included in social activities so we can be sure to invite him. Understanding personality types can also help us more easily forgive others. For instance, when an introverted friend says “no” to our invitation to a get-together, we might not take it as personally. Or, when a person who is a “thinker” talks first about the bottom-line in a church staffing decision, we can recognize that his words are not due to hard-heartedness but to the way God has naturally wired him for analysis.
One danger of the MBTI for Christians, or for anyone, is in making personality type inflexible and using it to justify stagnation. One’s personality type does not excuse one’s bad behavior, nor does it limit one’s ability to change or to do (and enjoy) things not stereotypically within the type. An introvert is still called to share the gospel. An extrovert is still called to spend time alone with God. A thinker should still consider the people his decisions affect. A feeler is still expected to be a good steward. When God calls us outside of our comfort zone, personality type is not a reason to disobey. If anything, a call of God that challenges our natural inclinations gives us more opportunity to trust Him and a deeper understanding that it is only His work in us that causes amazing things to be accomplished (see Zechariah 4:6).
Another danger of the MBTI is in allowing it to define the totality of our identities. A Christian is first and foremost a child of God (John 1:12). Our personality is something God designed, and it is certainly something to explore so that we can bring glory to God. But we are defined first by Jesus. Paul was willing to lose all things “that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own . . . but that which is through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:8–9).
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI can be a helpful tool in understanding God’s unique design of humanity, and of yourself specifically. It hints at both the order and diversity with which God created the world, demonstrating His logic and His artistry. Understanding ourselves can help us better steward the gifts God has given us. Rather than try to become someone else, we can thank God for His unique design and make the best use of the gifts God has given us.