Faith Without Extroversion is Not Dead

Let me start by relating a story unrelated to the book I’m about to review. There was an article in the Washington Post some years back that mentioned Louis Perry, a 61 year-old in South Carolina, who, a lifelong Southern Baptist, read Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith, a book promoting atheism. According to the article:

Thanks to Sam Harris, he had a religious epiphany in reverse. He was raised a Southern Baptist but never really connected to any of the doctrine. Everyone around felt a deep spiritual nourishment from church services, and Perry always left feeling as though he’d missed the point.

“For years, I thought there was something wrong with me,” he says. “I was always asking ‘Why don’t I get this? Why don’t I get this?’ And then last year I read ‘The End of Faith,’ and Sam basically explained it to me — there is nothing to get.”

 

I did a fairly exhaustive follow-up search on the internet, and could not find any additional information on Louis Perry. Thus, I can’t speak for him. I don’t know the guy. However, with this disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to make a bold suggestion: I wonder if Louis Perry was an introvert, trying desperately to fit into a world of Evangelical Christianity dominated by extroverts, and the accompanying styles.

Such is what is discussed in the book Introverts in the Church. This book is a look at the church, and the vocation of Christian ministry from the perspective of Adam McHugh, a self-professed introvert.

I was particularly impressed with the manner in which McHugh establishes his premise: that perceptions of what makes a good Christian, particularly in evangelicalism, are primarily pictures of extroverts. He cites a 2004 psychological study in which 97% of participants rated Jesus as an extrovert on the Myers-Briggs personality test. It goes without saying that Jesus is whom Christians look to as their ultimate example. McHugh further notes how most institutions in American culture, such as schools, businesses, government, etc., extroverts tend to be very successful. He provides numerous examples of introverted individuals who felt as though something was wrong with them because they did not fit into this norm where expressiveness and heavy participation in social events were the expectation.

He provides a convincing three-point explanation via the emphases of evangelicalism of why extroverts are at an advantage: emphasis on a personal relationship with God (manifest as emphasis on interpersonal relationships), biblical authority (people like to talk extensively about what the Bible means to them), and the emphasis on evangelism (current understandings of it are very extrovert-bent).

McHugh wisely notes that there are, however, limitations to using one’s personality as an excuse. God will use people for whatever purpose, and Scripture is full of people being used by God in ways completely outside their strengths, including in the realm of social interaction (Moses).

The one chapter I found a bit sketchy was where McHugh discusses introvert spirituality. He puts a good deal of emphasis on mystical experience, via the argument that introverts are more likely to feel the presence of God through contemplation. I was not personally a big fan of this, though perhaps that is my own preference talking.

The chapter that resonated with me the most was the one that detailed experiences of introverts in the church. It was with some amount of built-up anger that I recall some of my own experiences as an introvert. I can recall all too well the times in bible studies where, at the end, it was customary to go around the room and everyone would be expected to discuss “what God was doing in their life.” As an introvert, I chafed against this. It was never easy, and no matter how much I did manage to pull off, the more extroverted personalities would always have more apparently “spiritual” things to say, and I would feel an implicit comparison between them and myself being made. Similarly, I remember, which the book mentions, being drilled with questions about very personal feelings, almost feeling as though I was being examined by a prosecutor. Being compared to others, being scolded for not being “open” enough, and feeling stared at when not having sufficient answer can be very draining. Such was my experience being an introvert in evangelicalism.  And that ended up being part of my draw towards Anglicanism, as it allows for more personal reflection, and places less emphasis on visible experience.

Ultimately, I love the basic conclusion of the book: that while evangelicalism is indeed biased towards extroverts, and needs to address this issue, the main focus for all people should be how God is using them. God is all-powerful, and you can serve Him doing things you never believed possible. However, the church must still determine how to make it more conducive to more people. As stated, I have found solace in Anglicanism, as the “high church” is very conducive to an introvert. I suggest all introverts read this book, as it will probably speak to you about your own struggles, and offer creative solutions. I also suggest extroverts read it, as it is very important to get a view from another point of view, and understand what some might be going through.

This was a great book. Also check out Adam McHugh’s blog.

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