Psychology Isn’t Enough, but It Sure Helps: The Need for Personal, Spiritual Growth in Christianity

Someone once asked me if there are any aspects of Myers-Briggs® theory that I disagree with. I told them that my main issues have to do with ways it can be misused rather than with the actual theory. But as much as I like this type theory, I also acknowledge that it’s not a complete system for personal growth or even personality. Myers-Briggs® theory just describes how your mind works by talking about the psychological functions that you use most comfortably.

You can use type theory to help you develop those psychological functions, but they’re still not the whole story of your personality. There are other things we layer on top of that like personality traits, lived experiences, and personal beliefs. The functions are like a canvas we paint on; a foundation for building. They’re not the only things that make us who we are.

One of the dimensions that a system of psychological type does not cover is spirituality. That’s not to say that psychologists like Jung (whose work Myers-Briggs® theory is based on) would have denied there’s an essential spiritual component to humans. Far from it! It’s just that type psychology wasn’t designed to be a path in and of itself for spiritual growth. For that, we need something else.

A Connection Between Psychology and Spirituality

I had the idea to write this post last week, when I was listening to a podcast from Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge of Personality Hacker. They’d recently attended an Enneagram workshop where one of the hosts, Uranio Pae, made the statement, “Spiritual work without psychological work is dangerous. Psychological work without spiritual work is incomplete.”

As you might guess, since my blog is about the intersection of Christian faith and personal growth with a focus on Myers-Briggs® typology, this is a statement I pretty much agree with. I would not take it the same direction that they do, focusing on the Enneagram to supply the spiritual side of personal growth, but the basic claim is an important one. And even though I believe the Christian faith is the best path to a meaningful life, I also think there can be value in listening to people who’ve left Christianity when they talk about why it didn’t work for them.

Both Witt and Dodge came from Christian backgrounds, which they often talk about having “transcended.” I’m oversimplifying this, but from what I’ve gathered they feel the faith traditions they grew up with limited growth, did not supply a sense of spirituality, and (like much of organized religion) were missing the psychological piece. You can click here to listen to the podcast and hear the points they’re making in their own words. I have a great respect for both of them as teachers in the personality type community and I highly recommend their personal growth and typology resources. I want to make it very clear that I’m not bringing up what they say in this podcast to condemn or criticize their personal spiritual decisions. My only goal in sharing this is to illustrate what started me pondering this topic.

God created our minds just as much as He did our spirits, souls, and hearts. That we have a psychological side is just as true as the fact that we have physical, emotional, and spiritual sides. But we don’t often talk about that in Christianity and so I wonder, Is there a psychological side to spirituality that we in the Christian churches are missing? And if so, how can we recapture that in a way which honors God and makes His church a place that’s more inviting to people of all personality types?

The Need for Personal, Spiritual Growth in Christianity | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Anggie via Lightstock

Christianity Is Intended as a Faith for Everyone

I’m a firm believer in sticking faithfully to what God reveals in scriptures. We don’t get to pick and choose which of His instructions we want to obey, and we’re not the ones who make the decision about how best to worship God. If we want to worship “in spirit and in truth,” then we need to worship Him the way that He tells us to.

At the same time, I also think many churches (though certainly not all) tend to be too rigid in how we “do Christianity.” Sometimes it’s because we like to stick with our traditions because we’ve always done things this way and it’s comfortable. Sometimes it’s because we’re scared if we let in something “new,” even if it’s something that’s actually in the Bible, that will open the door for other stuff that’s not Biblical. And sometimes it’s just about controlling how others worship because we want them to do things our way, though hopefully that’s more rare.

I started writing about this topic nearly five years ago, in an article that was prompted by another Personality Hacker podcast where they talked about type and religion. In that first article, I made the statement, “If your brand of Christianity is driving a certain personality type away, there’s something wrong with it.” Operating on the assumption that God created all the personality types and that we each act as image-bearers for Him in our own ways, then it follows that He would not give someone a personality that’s incompatible with worshiping Him and growing into a mature Christian. Any religion claiming to faithfully worship the one true God must have room for all personality types. If it does not, then it would seem there’s something wrong with how we humans are constructing our churches.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we water down Christian doctrine to the point that everyone feels comfortable with it and doesn’t have to change anything about themselves. Comfort isn’t the point of Christianity. God wants us to acknowledge our need for Him and to let Him transform us so that we can become the people He means for us to be. The more we grow to be like Him, the more truly ourselves we become. But we should also acknowledge that different people have different spiritual needs and preferences (some of them hard-wired into our God-given personalities), and find ways as a church to help support those needs.

Ways of Connecting With the One True God

Some people feel spiritually connected to God through worship music or dance. Some need to have intellectual discussions about faith, and the freedom to ask tough questions. Some crave a deep, almost mystic, relational connection to God and other people. Some need rituals and symbols in their worship tradition. Some feel most connected to God through a community, others when contemplating nature in solitude.

None of those are wrong, and of course most of us don’t stick with just one way of worshiping and connecting with God. And all those paths of spirituality I just listed (and others as well) are Biblical. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6, WEB). There is only one way to God the Father and that’s through Jesus Christ, but within that Way there are many different methods He uses to connect with us. God “desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth” and He offers us quite a variety of acceptable practices that let us connect with Him using all our hearts, minds, and souls (Mark 12:29-31; 1 Tim. 2:3-4). He can fill whatever our personality-specific spiritual needs are if we bring those desires to Him. That doesn’t happen easily, however, if you’re in a church that’s discouraging of (or even hostile to) your preferred spiritual “pathways.”

The Need for Personal, Spiritual Growth in Christianity | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Shaun Menary via Lightstock

This discussion is making me want to re-read Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God by Gary Thomas. He strikes a really good balance in the discussion of personality type and faith, not straying into the too-rigid “everyone has to do things just one way” or the too-permissive “there’s no right or wrong path to God.” Rather, he focuses on a variety of Biblically supported paths of spirituality that are all contained in the one true Way. If you’re curious about this book, you can click here to get a copy (please note this is an affiliate link which means I’ll receive a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase).

People often think of Christianity as something that’s limiting or oppressive but there’s actually a lot of freedom for individuality and self-expression within the community of believers and the guidance of God’s laws. Yes, there are things He asks you to give up (most notably sins that separate you from Him) but your true self isn’t one of them. In reality, He’s the best path to figuring out who you really are and who you’re meant to become. Psychological growth work plays an important role, and personality type can be a part of that, but it isn’t enough on its own. We need that spiritual component as well.

Featured image credit: Claudine Chaussé via Lightstock

4 thoughts on “Psychology Isn’t Enough, but It Sure Helps: The Need for Personal, Spiritual Growth in Christianity

  • Hi, Marissa! I enjoyed your article today and it reminded me of a research paper done in 1998 by Leslie Francis and Susan Jones entitled “Personality and Christian belief among adult churchgoers”. The study investigated the relation between Myers-Briggs personality types and denomination preferences, worship styles, and other religious preferences. Francis and Jones have published a number of studies about Christianity and personality type, as well as several other subjects. Thought you might like to check them out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and thank you so much for the resource recommendation! I’ve read Leslie Francis’ book “Preaching With All our Souls: A Study in Hermeneutics and Psychological Type,” but I hadn’t tracked down his other writings yet. I’ll look up the article you mentioned

      Like

  • I definitely agree! If you separate MBTI from God and spirituality then you can fall into the trap of focusing so much on yourself that you don’t focus on your relationship with God and what he teaches. Following MBTI’s plan for personal growth can help you to become a more well-rounded person but it can’t help you to become a better person. That part comes from following God’s teachings, helping others, and developing a strong value system. Thanks for posting this article!

    Liked by 1 person

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