How do you look at life? According to the brilliant Swiss-American physicist Albert Einstein, our choice of how to live life is simple. “There are only two ways to live your life”, he reportedly said. “One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Two Types of Thinkers
In Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers, developer of the renowned personality assessment that carries her name, assumed that Einstein was an Introverted Thinking Type. In other words, his type preferences would have been either ISTP or INTP. A look at the spirituality of Thinking types reveals that Einstein’s statement about miracles provides a good illustration of the two types of Thinkers. It appears that there are Thinkers who reject or struggle with the idea of faith in the supernatural, while at the opposite end of the faith spectrum are Thinkers who seem to move almost effortlessly through miracle-filled worlds. It seems hard to believe that, despite this major difference, both types of people share a preference for Thinking.
My ISTJ Friend is a Believer...
A friend and former Bible class teacher of mine believes that “...the universe is a wondrous place and the evidence of a higher power is all around us in creation.” My friend’s type preferences are ISTJ and his faith in God is central to his life.
...But He is Outnumbered
It would appear, however, that the Thinkers who reject faith are in the majority. As I discussed in a previous article, a study of 3,036 people which was reported in the MBTI Manual stated that the four top-ranking types who said they definitely did not believe in a higher power, and the top four types who weren’t sure, were all Thinking types. INTP, ISTP, and ENTJ made both lists. In the table mentioned above, the top four types professing a definite belief in a higher power were all Feeling types
The Clear T-F Difference
In discussing the question of belief in a higher power, the Manual states on p. 237 that “The clear T-F difference in responding to this question is in accord with the critical approach of Thinking types and the harmony-seeking desire of Feeling types.” The number of Thinkers who indicated that they did not believe or weren’t sure tells us that Thinkers experience challenges to developing and maintaining a life-sustaining faith. Yet, the majority of people of every type who took this survey said they did believe in a higher power, so that means there are indeed religious Thinking types. Apparently, these Thinkers have keys that allow them to unlock the door to enjoyment of a satisfying, life-directing faith, in spite of these challenges.
The Thinker’s Challenges to Belief in a Higher Power
Assuming that this is correct, what are the challenges that tend to determine whether or not Thinkers will have faith in a higher power? To investigate trends in how Thinking types regard God, I looked back at the responses many of you graciously provided, some time ago, to our survey on prayer.
The “critical approach” mentioned above perhaps includes not readily accepting what one is taught as a child or what the majority seem to believe. Rather than going along with what the majority believe, either to keep the peace or because they assume the majority must be right, Thinkers seem to want two things which may be less vital to Feelers. The survey responses seem to indicate that Thinkers want God’s existence to be scientifically provable, and once convinced of God’s existence, they want to feel confident that He can be understood and is worthy of our worship.
The Demand that God’s Existence Be Provable
I suspect that the response a Thinker gets to his questions about God’s existence will help determine whether exploration of this issue will become a spiritual turnoff or lead him toward the road to faith. Are his questions welcomed?
If he is told to just accept and not question traditional church teachings, most likely little will be accomplished toward opening a Thinker’s mind to the possibility of God’s existence. Perhaps believers can most help Thinkers discover the riches of faith by admitting that it is a choice which is based on evidence rather than absolute scientific proof. Perhaps it is not helpful to insist that God’s existence has already been proven or is obvious. After all, aren’t proof and faith mutually exclusive? Thinkers may need time to realize that, as listed in my dictionary, one of the definitions of faith is that it is belief that is not based on proof.
Is God Understandable and Worthy of Worship?
Thinkers seem to shy away from faith unless they are not only convinced that God is real but that He makes sense and can be understood. Some of them may have the impression that a higher power is something or someone they are expected to believe in blindly. It may seem to them that their felt need to understand who they are supposed to believe in isn’t welcomed. Perhaps they find church membership to be based on emotion instead of a more objective understanding of its teachings and beliefs, which would make Thinkers much more comfortable.
The Thinker’s Drive to Understand....
Many of your survey responses on prayer which I reviewed illustrate the truth of the following quote from the book Type Talk by Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen. According to the authors, one of the differences between Thinkers and Feelers is that “Both have feelings, but Feelers prefer to experience them while Thinkers prefer to understand them.” For example, we received a survey response from a non-denominational Christian who said he prays because he hopes “to get closer and further understand my Father.” His type code is ENTP. A Christian man with INTP preferences wrote that “I think some people want more of a fuzzy feel when talking to god but for me I want to understand the mind of God.” A male Christian with ISTJ preferences also said he prays “to get to know God more.”
...Can Either Pull Him Toward God or Push Him Away
While these survey respondents pray for increased understanding of God, we received surveys from other Thinkers who assume He can’t be understood and/or doesn’t make sense. Therefore they reject both Him and the idea of praying to Him, rather than seeking greater understanding of Him. So paradoxically, the idea of believing in a higher power turns some Thinkers off because, to them, belief in such a being doesn’t make sense. For others, perhaps for some of the reasons discussed below, it does make sense and so they seek greater knowledge of the one they believe in.
The Need to Be in Control
Besides their need to decide whether God makes sense and is worthy of belief, a desire to be in control might be another factor which could get in the way of any faith which might be developing in the mind of a Thinker. While at some level it is probably difficult for all people to admit to not being capable of doing everything and to surrender to God, I suspect this is particularly true of Thinkers.
Turning over control to something or someone else might seem to a Thinker to be shirking responsibility. We received a prayer survey response from an atheist with ENTJ preferences who described prayer as relying on an “imaginary superpower” and expecting help and miracles “out of nowhere.” To her a religious person “doesn’t want to take reality as it is and tries to put the responsibility on something” so that the “Lord decides what to do and to happen, not me.”
If There is a God, Do I Have Time for Him?
Once a Thinking type does come to faith in a higher power, further challenges may be ahead in finding comfortable ways of expressing this faith. As we can see, a Thinker’s challenges to faith can be classified as stemming from the nature, real or supposed, of God, or of Thinking types themselves. Included in the latter category could be the Thinker’s perception of what might be involved in believing in a higher power. What kind of worship might be required, and how time- consuming might it be? Perhaps some Thinkers feel the evidence points toward there being a higher power, but they worry about the time and effort that might be needed to worship such a being.
Emotional and Privacy Factors
For example, some Thinkers might be uncomfortable with their assumption that worship must be, or usually is, emotional. Perhaps they have experienced churches where they have seen a lot of hugging and/or members sharing personal issues and being emotionally honest. I suspect this would be especially uncomfortable for ITs.
A female Evangelical Christian with INTJ preferences told us in her prayer survey response that “Prayer is not a very emotional activity on a daily basis and occasionally when it does become that way, it is very uncomfortable.” Certain types of prayer could also present other types of problems for Thinkers.
Privacy, for example, could be an issue for ITs. Does the concept of an omniscient God, and being expected to pray aloud to Him before others, violate the Thinking type’s privacy? Perhaps Thinking types, especially those who also prefer Introversion, would rather not be so well known by others.
Keys to Unlocking These Closed Doors
The authors of Type Talk found that “The conceptual and liberal thinking behind Unitarianism and Christian Science often appeal to Thinkers, especially iNtuitive-Thinkers...Ultimately, of course, one’s religion has mostly to do with one’s heritage and upbringing, although we believe that one’s type may influence the fervor with which one practices a religion (p.211).”
Perhaps this is a way of saying that one of the keys which may help Thinkers move beyond questions to faith is finding a place where they can worship comfortably. Maybe this special place would be one that gives them a satisfying combination of something to think about without applying any pressure. A friend with INTP preferences told me that he enjoys churches where the sermons are about applying Scripture to modern day problems, and where the preacher explains what he thinks about various subjects and wants responses to his sermons. At the same time my friend enjoys the minister leaving things up to people’s own interpretation without telling them what to think. To him a good sermon consists of the minister saying “Here are my findings and what I’ve been thinking. What are you thinking?” He thinks this approach appeals to Thinkers because it allows them to look for inconsistencies.
I recently spotted a church near my apartment with a sign stating that it teaches people how to think, not what to think. I think that approach would appeal to my friend and many other Thinkers as well, because, sadly, I don’t find it likely that many churches would be comfortable with the Thinker’s drive to follow his or her own interpretation of Scripture. This same friend considered a church he formerly attended to be geared more toward Feeling types in its emphasis on praise and worship than on encouraging the members to think.
In his opinion, some churches show more of an orientation toward Feeling by shying away from deep applications of Scripture, preferring to focus on conversions and keeping sermons simple and accessible to new believers. In contrast, his Thinking preference is satisfied by preaching which gives him something to think about and digest, sermons which are like debates, asking for listeners to respond, instead of just presenting the facts. He also likes being able to push a preacher by asking questions and getting pushed back with challenging answers. In short, he wants to be intellectually engaged.
A Believing Family
The quote above from Type Talk sums up a couple of handy keys which can help unlock the door to faith for a Thinking type. Being raised in a family where a higher power is believed in is one of these keys.
Near the beginning of this article I quoted a friend with ISTJ preferences who believes the universe is a wondrous place. After being raised in a Christian home and serving in various church roles, he has this to say. “I also believe because I have seen God work in my life over and over. He has rescued me, comforted me and transformed me. I wouldn’t be half as nice a person without the measuring stick God laid out for us. That love transforms us.” My friend’s conclusion is that “...all those things add up to an interesting paradox...you don’t have to think...you know. And that is faith.”
My friend with INTP preferences quoted above is also from a believing family. He told me that INTPs need to experience God for themselves, without elaborating how they might do so. Perhaps like my Bible class teacher, he experienced God for himself by seeing Him modeled by his family. For believers like them, apparently, belief based on personal experience satisfies their need to know and understand God.
Of course, one’s belief or lack of belief in God or another form of a higher power need not remain the same throughout life, regardless of one’s type preferences. Surely we all start out wanting, perhaps even demanding, that our faith makes complete sense so we can be proud to share it with the world. Whether or not this attitude changes throughout a Thinker’s lifetime or not, might be one key to whether God will ultimately make intellectual sense to him and he will identify as a person of faith.
In response to my request for a contribution to this article, a co-worker with preferences for INTJ emailed me that he “wanted faith and religion to make sense. I wanted there to be definitiveness. Something clearly reasoned beyond doubt...I took the long, long questioning path and finally knelt down.” In his case, the simple process of growing up apparently had a big impact on his increasing tolerance for his lack of ability to have complete knowledge about God. “I was the dubious young boy. I was the dubious young man. As the adult man, I don’t expect that I can ever receive all the answers to my questions. Not completely. And that’s okay.”
Being Willing to Give Up Control
Another key that may unlock a Thinker’s door to faith may be his or her attitude toward our natural desire to be in control, discussed above. Religious Thinkers may see their need to be in control as something they’d like to overcome with the help of a higher power.
This was evident in some of the prayer survey responses I received while writing my previous article. One Protestant woman with ENTJ preferences defines prayer as a way to “...relinquish my hold on things beyond my control and/or understanding.” One reason she prays is to gain “...guidance in my acceptance of things I cannot change, fix or understand.” A Christian with ESTP preferences tells us that “My own understanding and other people’s cannot provide all the answers. Prayer opens up a new level of understanding. Sometimes it’s helpful when you’ve tried everything humanly possible, to hand over the worry to God.”
What Else is On Your Key Ring?
Thinking type readers, do you live your lives as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle? Have you found a special key whose unique essence makes it a perfect fit to unlock the door concealing the treasures of faith? If so, please share with us your challenges to faith and the keys that help you turn them into opportunities for spiritual discovery and growth!