Jesus: Introvert, Part 4

And your point is . . . ? I saw somebody recently wearing a hat that carried that snarky question. Tuesday night, as I sat in a meeting and listened to a member of our group rambling on about things that almost made sense, I wished that I had 25 such hats for everyone in the room, on signal, to put on.

People do tend to go on and on. In fact, you might be thinking that I have gone on and on about this whole Jesus as an introvert thing. So far I’ve tried to convince you that Peter was an extrovert (easy), that John tended toward the introvert side (a bit less easy), and then that Jesus himself was an introvert (harder yet). But let’s imagine that you agree with me on all of these previous claims. You might find yourself asking, “And your point is . . . ?”

To answer that, let’s first consider what Jesus as an introvert does not mean. It does not mean that he had some debilitating social anxiety, that every encounter with people beyond his inner circle was endlessly painful. Introversion is not a sickness, although, as Susan Cain, in Quiet, argues forcefully, it is sometimes treated that way by many in American society. We sometimes hear people worrying about their child who won’t “come out of her shell,” but we never hear about kids who won’t go into their shells.

The introvert tends to need alone time and tends to value time with a close circle of trusted friends. The introvert tends to spend more time in his or her own head, working out complex ideas. The introvert is more apt to listen to opposing ideas and to make those holding such ideas feel valued. Contrary to popular opinion, introverts can take bold and decisive action, but they’re more apt to have thoroughly evaluated the situation before charging into action. Introverts can be terrific leaders.

Extroverts can do many things well also. It’s not as if Jesus didn’t know what He was doing when He selected Peter as a key apostle. Without those extrovert qualities, the church probably would not have exploded onto the scene as it did. Yes, I know that the Holy Spirit had a little bit to do with that early success, but God nearly always works through people.

If American culture placed a high value on introspection and reserve, then I’m not sure I would have much of a point in saying the Jesus was an introvert. But we place great value on the person of action. And we tend to discount the value of the person of thought. If Jesus was an introvert or, perhaps a more palatable formulation, he possessed the best qualities of both introverts and extroverts, then shouldn’t we, as the body of Christ, take efforts to value both tendencies?

If I’m right, then without valuing introverts we wouldn’t have these words from John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him,and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.–John 1:1-5

Can you imagine Apostle Foot-in-Mouth Peter sitting still long enough to frame these words? But can you imagine the contemplative John stepping up to preach on Pentecost? We need our introverts and extroverts together.

What’s my point? That’s my point.

Jesus: Introvert, Part 3

Dog person? Cat person? To my mind this split in the human psyche is one of the great moral indicators of our time. I’m an unapologetic dog person, and frankly I’m not sure how much to trust cat people. Regardless, though, I’m almost certain that Jesus was a dog person. Why? Well . . . it’s because I’m a dog person.

While I might be joking in the paragraph above, it is certainly true that people tend to see in Jesus many qualities that reflect themselves. I’m not saying that a coward will think Jesus a coward as well, but that person might tend to stress the passivity of Jesus, the turn-the-other-cheek teachings.

It’s for this reason, I think, that extroverts tend to think of Jesus as an extrovert, and I must admit that my assumption that Jesus is an extrovert probably derives my own inward-looking tendencies. Still, I have evidence to back up my position.

We’ve already considered the possibility that Jesus had at least one prominent extrovert disciple, Peter, and one who might be classed an introvert, John. I’d like to emphasize that neither of these personality traits should be looked at as a weakness or a flaw. So with all that stated, let’s look at the introvert evidence on Jesus.

In Luke 5:15-16, we see a perfect example of Jesus showing his introvert stripes:

But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

The extrovert would have reveled in the crowds, yet rarely if ever do we see Jesus getting energized by the crowds. Even at the Triumphal Entry, when we can imagine Jesus really getting into the excitement of the day, we don’t get that sense. But in this Luke passage, we see the Savior not just praying, but withdrawing to pray. And he didn’t just withdraw into a house but to deserted places. And he didn’t just do it this one time but “often.”

In the next chapter, Jesus chooses His disciples in 6:13-16, but before that he spends the night alone on a mountain praying. In Matthew 14:13, upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus does not seek to grieve with friends but gets in a boat to withdraw. In John 7:10, Jesus sends his disciples to Jerusalem for the festival but then attends secretly and alone.

By contrast, can we think of a case in which Jesus seeks out crowds? He often pulls his disciples away to teach them separately. He sends them out in pairs to do the work that he could have done better and then he sends out even more pairs to pursue that same work. Would an extrovert have been able to be such a hands-off manager?

Look at the images of crowds in the 2014 film Son of Man. Jesus seems to be thrilled to be among the hustle and hubbub of the crowds.That makes good film, but is it an accurate portrayal of the Man?

Okay, I’ve convinced you that at least Jesus had some introvert behaviors. But so what? We’ll take up that question when this topic concludes tomorrow.

Jesus: Introvert, Part 2

“Blake just doesn’t say much.” I must have heard my mother say this 20 times about my taciturn nephew. Indeed, Blake is not a big conversationalist. He’s not one for big parties with loads of different people. He hangs out with a few friends, and actually has conversations with them, which would surprise my mother. Blake, unlike the extrovert Simon Peter, who we considered yesterday, is almost certainly an introvert.

When Jesus was calling disciples, He knew He would soon be telling them to

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. –Matthew 28:19-20

Doesn’t it make sense that, knowing He would give them such an instruction and depend on them to carry the good news to far-flung people and places, he would pick extroverts like Peter? Perhaps, but as Susan Cain’s book Quiet explains, extroverts are not the only ones who can get things done. If she is right about how introverts and extroverts can complement each other, then we should expect that Jesus would have selected some introverts for His team. I want to suggest that we need look no further than John to find such a follower.

Now before I make my case, I’d like to take up a couple of details that would seem to argue against John as an introvert. In Luke 9:54, brothers James and John ask Jesus if they should call down fire on an unfriendly village. Is that the action of an introvert? This question misunderstands the nature of introverts. They are not always passive or gentle or silent. I can easily imagine John talking with a close friend, his own brother, and then, after consideration, bringing this idea to Jesus. The same sort of thing could be said about John forbidding someone not of their group from casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Luke 9:49).

But what positive evidence do I have for John as an introvert. My first and strongest argument would come from his gospel. John’s gospel is remarkably different from the others. Mark, traditionally the gospel most associated with Peter, is almost all action. Where Peter the extrovert was drawn to events, John the introvert thought things through carefully and thoroughly. There are, of course, events in John’s gospel, but they are placed amid much more of Jesus’ teaching and preaching. No other gospel writer has anything approaching the philosophical altitude of John’s first chapter.

John also, with those exceptions noted above, is willing to stand back and let others act or speak. He’s with Peter in a number of situations, but he always lets Peter take the lead.

John is known as “the Beloved disciple.” Why? Was he being vain when he referred to himself as the disciple Jesus loved? I’d like to think that maybe Jesus was drawn more closely because John, unlike Peter, knew how to shut up or have a thoughtful conversation.

None of that, of course, proves anything about Jesus being an introvert. I’ll need to wait until tomorrow to deal with that.


Jesus: Introvert, Part 1

The job applicant, K., came in and made such a tepid impression on me that I assumed we were wasting our time listening to her for the next hour. By the time she finished a teaching demonstration and answers to our questions, she’d moved to the top of my list.

K., you see, is an introvert, doing her best work inside her own head, relating to the world in quiet but profound ways. The glad-handing and networking necessary to get a good academic job are things that she simply has to grit her teeth and struggle through. She’s far too smart not to do that, but it does not come easily.

8520610I’m an introvert as well, although you wouldn’t know it from my teaching. When I walk into the classroom, I bring the bells and whistles, but that is a studied act. I, like K., do my best work inside my own head. It was this aspect of my personality that drew me to Susan Cain’s book Quiet when a friend mentioned it. Cain discusses the powers of introverts and the way that they are misperceived in (especially American) culture.

As I read the book, a question bounced around my mind. Was Jesus an introvert? I almost feel heretical suggesting such a question, but that feeling gets to some of the thoughts that Cain explores in Quiet. We have a tendency to assume that Jesus was an extrovert and to think that introversion is somehow problematic, even pathological. So maybe we can sneak up on the question by rephrasing it: Did Jesus have introvert tendencies or behaviors?

To begin to answer that question, let’s all agree that Simon Peter is definitely an extrovert. Peter is the guy who, on the Day of Pentecost, does not seem to hesitate a moment before jumping up and launching into his famous impromptu sermon beginning at Acts 2:14. I can imagine the other eleven standing there and looking at each other, knowing that somebody had to say something. I can also imagine the introverts among the eleven being greatly relieved when Peter opened his mouth.

Peter is the guy who, as a former pastor of mine said, “Only took his foot out of his mouth long enough to put the other one in.” Peter’s motto seemed to be “Speak first; think later.” He’s the one who tries to lop off a guy’s head in Gethsemane. It’s Peter who wants to step out of the boat in Matthew 14:28-30:

 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.

No introvert would have done that. They might have thought it. They might have even envied Peter his boldness, but they wouldn’t have done it.

So yes, Peter was an extrovert, and I believe that Jesus chose him for those qualities, but that really does not answer the question suggested in the title. Before we do that, we’ll need to look at another disciple who, I’d suggest, shows more introversion. But that’s tomorrow.