The Bible, known to Christians as God’s Word, creates the foundation for believers’ theology and living in their faith. God’s Son Jesus gets sent to earth to fulfill the scriptures, ultimately leading to His sacrificial death to provide salvation to all those who will follow Him. Four gospels exist in the beginning of the New Testament, each sharing an account of Jesus’ life. Since “a person’s response to Jesus determines his or her final destiny,” urgency exists for all people to encounter and believe Him. A way to experience this now happens through reading scripture, particularly the gospels.
Readers can read the four gospels to gain a better understanding of the person of Jesus and His teachings. While they each follow the life of the same person, they each present different aspects of His ministry. Together they create a more complete picture of God’s Son. That there exist four accounts of the same story again hints at the importance of Jesus’ life and the salvation He brings. As each one emphasizes the themes differently and utilizes various styles, they can broaden appeal to all people. Every individual has a unique makeup, a different personality, and will be drawn to various aspects of Jesus and the life as His follower.
Personality type can play a role in which gospel will most appeal to an individual. The Myers-Briggs personality indicator contains sixteen types, which fall into four categories. While the gospels all contain the same story with the same overarching themes and message, each still possesses its own uniqueness. Reflecting that originality and that all people have their special makeup of traits, theoretically everyone would find more appeal in one gospel over the others because it resonates more with them.
Idealist is one of four categories, each containing four types, within the Myers Briggs personalities. All Idealists have the iNtuitive and Feeling preference (though can differ on the Introverted/Extroverted and Judging/Perceiving preferences), hence the reference NFs in David Kiersey’s book Please Understand Me II. These types typically get categorized based off their abstract language usage, including metaphor; focus on the future over the present and bigger picture over specific details; and appeal to personal relationships, community, and positive change.
Specifically the Idealist types typically feel closest to John’s gospel because it reflects these values and characteristics. Their communication oftentimes consists of abstract language, including metaphor, and John’s account contains phraseology that mirrors this style. The “I am” statements and passages interspersed throughout the book especially illustrate this. Overall themes, verses, and passages also illustrate the Idealists’ values revolving around authentic personal identity, relationships and community, and positive growth. A close textual analysis of the text reveals evidence of these values found in John; an ideological approach provides a foundation to share the Idealists’ values and then illustrate the connections between them and the gospel of John.
Specifically for overall concepts for the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, and the Idealists’ details specifically, a couple extensive books written to describe the types will provide appropriate background information. Isabel Briggs Myers identified sixteen different personality types, dividing into the four categories, each with four types within it, of Idealist (NF), Rational (NT), Guardian (SJ), and Artisan (SP). A person gets his type through a combination of four letters; each letter having two possibilities. The first will be I or E (Introverted or Extroverted), depending on how the person gets energized: by being around other people or by being alone. The second letter is S or N (Sensing or iNtuitive), which reflects how the person takes in information; it also plays a large role in how he communicates with other people. The third letter is F or T (Feeling or Thinking), which reflects how the person makes decisions. The last letter is either J or P (Judging or Perceiving), which reflects the person’s lifestyle. Briggs Myers and David Keirsey extensively outline these generalities and then how they specifically play out into each category and type in their books Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type and Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence. This background information creates a definition of Idealist as it will be used to illustrate why an individual with one of the Idealist personality types would prefer the Gospel of John over the other gospel accounts. Then the appropriate values of this type apply to the book of John. Samples of these overall themes include abstract language, use of metaphor, a focus on the future and the bigger picture rather than the present and specific details, personal identity, and more.
Malcolm Goldsmith’s book Knowing Me, Knowing God and Dr. Charles Keating’s Who We Are Is How We Pray: Matching Personality and Spirituality provide a closer examination of the personality types as they pertain to individual spirituality. This gives more detail on the Idealists’ needs in this realm and hint at what to look for in the Gospel of John that reflects these needs. Keating’s work provides a better foundation and more authority on the subject, but they both share great insight. For a lot of their analyses, they examine by each particular letter the differences between the two for each aspect. While they don’t go into greater detail on the personality categories, this still gives a lot of information on the iNtuitive and Feeling parts that combine to make Idealists. Keating’s work also highlights prayer styles that might appeal to various specific types.
Description of the Gospel of John
This criticism focuses on the text from the Gospel of John, a significant part of the bible. As one of the four gospels, John outlines the life of the Savior Jesus Christ. The apostle John wrote this particular gospel somewhere around A.D. 70, and the writing indicates that he was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and therefore a witness to Jesus’ life (ESV, 2015). It serves as a written account of the life of Jesus, as part of the bible that as a whole shares the Word of God, to illustrate the foundational theology, beliefs, and fulfillment of scripture for Christians in all time periods.
John first wrote this, not long after Jesus’ death, to “Jews and Gentiles living in the larger Greco-Roman world in Ephesus” (ESV, 2015). He pens his account to show his audience that Jesus was the predicted messiah and that through Jesus they can find salvation. After acknowledging His gift of life through His sacrificial death on the cross, they can develop a deeper relationship with God through developing a more complete understanding and knowledge of the truth. The gospel still has this same purpose and effect today. Throughout all the time it has existed, it has served as a tool for people coming to know Christ and growing closer to Him. Study of this part of the Word helps Christians discover the person of Jesus, encountering Him as a relatable individual whom one can emulate as a model for Christian living. The gospel’s ability to strike a chord with its audience draws the readers closer to the text, fostering a deeper understanding of and relationship with God.
To cultivate this growth, John chronologically covers events throughout Jesus’ entire life, starting with his description of God and how “’the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and ending with Jesus’ resurrection three days after His death (ESV 1:14, 21). As the events unfold, readers witness the miracles Jesus performs, such as the healing of a blind man and raising his friend Lazarus from the dead (ESV 9, 11). This gospel in particular uses more symbolism than the other gospels. The miracles and His teachings prove that He is the anticipated savior. His birth, life, and death fulfill the previously written scripture. He dies so that through Him, everyone may have life.
This criticism applies the Idealist personality types to the Gospel of John, looking through the lens of ideological criticism. Using this perspective illustrates why an Idealist would be drawn to the Gospel of John over the other gospels because of general themes and ideologies that fit the Idealists.
Ideological criticism examines artifacts to see reflected values in them. An artifact can share a person or group’s interpretation of a concept and even persuade those who encounter it to believe the same idea. Since so many items represent values on some level, an ideological criticism may be applied to numerous objects, ranging from artwork to literature of all styles to everyday cultural symbols like clothing. Examinations of these things allow critics to discover connections between the objects and the values they represent; it can create a better understanding of the culture or people who find the item important.
As Rhetorical Criticism points out, ideological criticism can be applied to almost anything. It lists “artifacts of popular culture such as advertisements, television shows, basketball games, concerts, coffee houses, computer games, lawn ornaments, films, Web sites, and songs” just to name a few common choices (214). Since this criticism applies to nearly any object, it makes it a viable approach for this analysis; specific Idealist themes can be identified and then found in the gospel, allowing me to illustrate that John appeals most to Idealists because it reflects what they value.
Applying Myers-Briggs to scripture through ideology provides a smooth way to articulate these connections. Each of these themes falls under the overarching theme of the Idealist personality types. They will be discovered through a close textual analysis of the Gospel of John. This application will reveal the evidence of the Idealists’ values of abstract language use, positive change, personal growth, and community within the gospel of John.
The Bible is a representative text of Christianity, but the Myers-Briggs aspect adds something new to the Christian living realm. People have begun looking into understanding personality to have a better grasp on individual prayer life; these include Keating and Goldsmith’s books pairing personality with spirituality. Some have hinted at the gospels each appealing to the different categories. The ideological approach provides a great way to connect personality theory to the scriptural text. This criticism provides a look at the Idealist personalities for their themes and then cluster instances in John that reflect those. This will highlight the important concepts of the Idealists and how John coincides with those, thus illustrating the Idealists’ attraction to John over the other gospels. This general discovery can help Christians realize that every individual’s spiritual life may be different, just as each life in general is different. Each person can find a personal approach to prayer that will bring him closer to God.
Idealists, as iNtuitives, tend to use more abstract language and focus more on the bigger picture as opposed to using concrete language and focusing on details. Part of this includes utilizing metaphor (Kiersey 121-122). The language used throughout John reflects this; this gospel contains Jesus’ famous “I am” statements, each indicating in a broad sense that He is God and the way to salvation. Among these seven declarations, Jesus describes Himself as “the bread of life,” “the light of the world,” “the door of the sheep,” “the good shepherd,” “the resurrection and the life,” “the way, the truth, and the life,” and “the true vine” (ESV, 6.35, 8.12, 10.7, 10.11, 11.25, 14.6, 15.1). Jesus speaking in metaphor in this gospel appeals to the Idealist personality types; they relate to the style of language and can look at Jesus and His speeches as part of the greater whole, the bigger picture. Rather than focusing on a myriad of specific, tangible details, this audience can read these “I am” statements to deepen their personal relationship with God through a greater understanding of Jesus as the way to salvation and eternal life because He gives life.
A passage containing an “I am” statement, The Vine and the Branches in the first half of chapter 15, especially illustrates several aspects of the Idealist personality types. As found in other parts of this Gospel, Jesus uses an “I am” statement; in this case, “’I am the vine’” (NIV 15.5). This illustrates the use of metaphor, and the metaphor spoken by Jesus also illuminates the greater idea that He is the source of life (which is also found in the passage where He declares that He is the bread of life). The vine and branches, all connected with one another also reflects the Idealists’ emphasis on community. The development of a live, blossoming plant also illustrates their influence and interest in personal growth.
Idealists thrive on relationships, where their interest in personal growth stems. Kiersey describes their natural allure to people: “Forming personal relationships, especially relationships which help others fulfill themselves, is of prime importance to Idealists, and they instinctively communicate caring for others and a willingness to become involved” (131). Again, the passage The Vine and the Branches reflects this value as it illustrates both an individual’s personal relationship with God and the community as held together as a whole. Jesus reminds His followers in verse four that they must remain in Him when He says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (ESV 15.4). This emphasizes the connection between a Christian and Jesus and the necessity to maintain it, abiding in God. It also shows how God holds everyone together, whether a faithful follower or an unbeliever, as each branch represents an individual (ESV 2054).
The direct objects of the “I am” statements, among other material objects mentioned in Jesus’ teachings, also serve as ways to better understand the greater truth in the messages. Commentary in the ESV Study Bible points out, “Though often misunderstood by Jesus’ hearers, the use of these tangible metaphors helps readers of John’s Gospel understand its message as they meditate on the analogies between these physical realities and spiritual truths” (2028). Idealists, as iNtuitives, especially like this because they seek a deeper understanding in seeing God’s hand acting in their everyday activity (Keating 61). In these passages, Jesus uses items encountered on a regular basis, thus giving the readers reminders of His presence in ordinary life. The objects themselves also require a deeper, abstract thought to see the greater significance as they include light, Jerusalem temple, physical birth, wind, water, food, bread, flesh and blood, door, shepherd, vine, cup, and breath (ESV 2028). Understanding the analogies and metaphors helps the Idealist readers make these connections between “physical realities and spiritual truths” as they encounter them on a daily basis (ESV 2028). The simple act of eating, among other seemingly ordinary activities, gives them an opportunity to reflect on God’s hand in their lives.
The very beginning of the Gospel sets up the story of Jesus’ life and lays out the foundation for the account, revealing Idealist values. Rather than detailing the events leading up to and of Jesus’ birth, as do the other gospels, John describes how the Word became flesh through Jesus. First off, this coincides with the iNtuitives’ focus on the bigger picture rather than on detail like those with the Sensing preference. This keeps the focus on the greater significance of the birth of Jesus: salvation. It ultimately does this through metaphor again: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (ESV 1.1). The whole opening shares that Jesus is the life, the light, and the truth of the world, themes that occur throughout the Gospel. Highlighting this and hinting at the ultimate salvation, verses 4-5 say, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (ESV).
Idealists, as all Christians must follow, have to take that leap of faith to believe in the truth presented in the Bible, following God’s Law and teaching. As Keating points out when describing iNtuitives’ spirituality, “’Pascal’s point is that we can have certitude…even when the reason is unable to prove that of which we have certitude…When Pascal says that principles are felt by the heart, he is obviously talking about intuition’ (F. Copleston, S.J., History of Philosophy, v. 4, Paulist Press, 1976)” (57). Between their iNtuitive and Feeling preferences, they can feel this certainty rather than having to solely think through it, which helps overcome the mysteriousness not yet revealed (Keating 57). Idealists, as people who pay more attention to the future and on the bigger picture of a situation, also focus on possibilities and opportunity for growth, a dreamer-like quality (Keating 60). Passages within John reflect these values.
When speaking to His disciples, Jesus illustrates the certainty of truth without having absolute knowledge in this mystery, requiring that leap of faith in feeling, when he says, “’If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (NIV 8:31-32). As he emphasizes the importance of remaining obedient to Him, walking in relationship with Him daily, He also again reveals the faith required to continue that.
Later, Jesus highlights the active participation in this leap and belief when He talks to Martha after Lazarus’ death (NIV 11). Verse 25 says, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (NIV). The question also applies to readers of the Bible. They must believe this to have the resurrection and life through Jesus about which He clearly indicates. The ESV commentary on these verses points out, “Resurrection from the dead and genuine eternal life in fellowship with God are so closely tied to Jesus that they are embodied in Him and can be found only in relationship to him. Therefore believes in me implies personal trust in Christ” and the preposition into provides “the sense that genuine faith in Christ in a sense brings people ‘into’ Christ, so that they rest in and become united with Christ” (2046). To attain this personal connection in relationship with God, a follower must indeed follow Christ by taking that leap to have faith in Him. For Idealists, this can happen relatively easy as they will use intuitive feeling to overcome strictly rational thought. This allows faith in truth, in the mystery of God.
Another part of a walk with God includes the Idealists’ value of the future, the possibilities held in that, and the opportunity for positive change and growth. Again, John has passages emphasizing these ideas. In chapter 14, Jesus tells His disciples, “’I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it’” (NIV 14.12-14). As hinted at within other verses, following Christ and sustaining a personal relationship with God brings about positive growth. Jesus even explicitly states here that His disciples, both then and now, “will do even greater things,” an especially appealing verse for Idealists as it alludes to the endless possibilities of what God can do, which Paul describes in Ephesians, saying, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (NIV 14.12; 3.20). As the word imagine indicates in the Ephesians verse, Idealists can follow their future oriented, dreamer styled thinking, resting in the hope and promise that God will act positively in their lives and provide a fruitful future.
The wells or springs of water theme found in John also emphasize these same values, again through the Idealists’ abstract language use. Through this motif, Jesus’ speeches share the promise of a future eternal life if one believes in Him now, starting a life in Him. In the passage about Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus says, “’Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (NIV 4.13-14). He also says, “’Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him’” (NIV 7:38). The living water, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, again indicates a focus on the future and positive growth in it.
The Idealist personality types will typically feel a closer to the gospel of John over the other gospel accounts because it reflects their values: abstract language use, including metaphor; focus on bigger picture and the future rather than specific details and the present; and emphases on personal relationships, community, and positive growth or change. The Bible containing four accounts of Jesus’ life, the most important story in the Scriptures, hints at the urgency for all people to have an understanding of Jesus so as to have a personal relationship with Him. As individuals vary in their unique makeup of traits, they will connect to different aspects of Jesus as a person and of their relationships with God as He acts in their lives.
As the ESV Study Bible shares, “Doctrine equips people to fulfill their primary purpose, which is to glorify and delight in God through a deep personal knowledge of him. Meaningful relationship with God is dependent on correct knowledge of him” (2505). A Christian develops a doctrinal foundation through understanding Scripture, gaining insight into the mind of God. Idealists can focus on John, in addition to the other gospels and Bible as a whole, to gain the greatest insight into the mystery of God. Idealists can especially gain this through reading John because that gospel reflects their values, allowing them to enjoy the abstract language use to connect real life objects and situations to God’s active role in their lives to provide meaning.
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Keating, Charles L. Who We Are Is How We Pray: Matching Personality and Spirituality.
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Keirsey, David. Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence.
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