Extroversion as Salvation

I attended an Easter service that could have been anywhere in the U.S. and couldn’t help but notice the emphasis. Beginning in Mark 16, the sermon contrasted the belief of some with the unbelief of others. The thesis: unbelief is a problem. So far, so good. The other texts brought into the mix (commonly cited in evangelical churches) included:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” [Jn. 10:10]

  • “Abundance” as it is commonly defined sounds a lot like extroversion.
  • The word used means literally “fullness, greater” as connected to “life.” The problem with the common misinterpretation of Jesus’ thought here is that elsewhere He clearly told us that our lives would include:

o   tribulation (Jn. 16:33)

o   being hated by others (Jn. 15:18)

o   being rejected by family (Matt. 10)

o   suffering, sickness, hardship

o   a sense of spiritual bankruptcy (Matt. 5)

  • It simply cannot mean the sense of prosperity, happiness, blessedness that is so often read into this verse.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” [Jn. 15:11] – the upper room conversation that includes the items listed above.

  • Fullness of “joy” is usually equated to being very “happy.” Did Jesus call us to a life of happiness or to a life that would be filled with “joy” or “rejoicing”?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” [Phil. 4:8]

  • Interpreted through the lens of positive psychology, this means “only look at the positive.”
  • If we actually think about truth, honor, justice, purity and true loveliness, will we experience an absence of negative emotions? Or, will we feel the pain of a fallen world devoid of these attributes, a world crying out for redemption? Happiness would not be the likely result of actually meditating deeply on these ideals.

The American culture is highly influenced by what has been called the extrovert ideal. This ideal suggests that extroversion is essentially the definition of mental health. We have seen this bias influence the psychological community. It is clearly evident among American evangelicals. Listening to contemporary American evangelical theology as presented in sermons across the country, one would think that being saved and sanctified is synonymous with becoming an extrovert.

Here are the most commonly cited aspects of extroversion salvation:

  • Optimism

True believers don’t fall into pessimism or even realism. They have an optimistic faith that is suprarational (above reason). If we become mature, we will not struggle with the by-products of negative thinking (hopelessness, uncertainty, doubt, etc.)

“You need to look at the end of the book; we win.”

  • Joy (the abundant life)

True believers are happy and filled with joy despite the adversity of life. They have a joy that is not connected to their circumstances. This effects all aspects of their lives (the way they grieve, the way they see their own sinfulness, etc.) They don’t allow the circumstances of life to get them down.

“If you aren’t joyful, something is wrong.”

  • Risk-taking faith

You don’t hear very many sermons on prudence or wisdom or carefulness. There aren’t very many sermons on the problem of over-impulsive foolish decision-making. The emphasis seems to be on faith understood as inherently risk-taking.

“If you don’t like risk and are hesitant to take it, you don’t have strong faith.”

  • Boldness (outgoing evangelism)

Real disciples don’t hide their light under a basket (translated, they are open and communicative with others around them in regard to their faith). True believers are openly and boldly evangelistic.

“If you struggle to talk openly and boldly to others about your love for Christ, you are probably ashamed of Him.”

  • Certainty (no doubt)

True believers don’t struggle with doubt or uncertainty. They don’t lose sleep with the sins of worry or fear. They have confidence in God and in their definite connection to Him and the resulting security they experience.

“If you struggle with doubt and lack certainty (sometimes called assurance), your faith is questionable.”

  • Fearlessness

True believers don’t fear. It is commonly (though erroneously) cited that the Bible tells us 365 times not to fear.

“If you often feel fear, your faith is weak.”

Symptoms of this culture

This extroverted culture is expressed in tangible emphases throughout the practices of the church. For example, there tends to be:

  • An overemphasis (in songs and sermons) on fear as the primary sin to be eliminated. (How does this effect those who struggle deeply and honestly with fear?)
  • An overemphasis on happiness (usually called “joy”) and other positive emotions as the key indicators of spiritual maturity. (How does this effect those who feel negative emotions deeply?)
  • An overemphasis on optimism as “faith” / pessimism as “unbelief.” (How does this effect those who see the glass as half-empty, who tend to be more realistic in their outlook on life?)
  • An overemphasis on boldness and evangelism. (How does this effect those who are not naturally outgoing and can easily engage a stranger in conversation?)

The effect of this culture on introverts

Approximately fifty percent of any congregation is introverted. Living under this spiritualized extroversion, they commonly feel shame (I don’t feel like a strong Christian) and invalidation (I wish I was more like the extroverted leaders) and continue to seek to be transformed into the image of the leaders they follow. This journey ultimately keeps them distracted from the healthy goal of being the unique person they were created to be.

What is salvation?

Salvation should be understood as deliverance from the guilt and power of sin, not an overhaul of our temperament. It is both an event and a process and includes the primary goal on God’s part of making us “holy.” Holy in this sense should be understood as nothing more or less than like Jesus, the perfect Man (and God) who perfectly reflected the image of God in His humanity. The pertinent question, “Wasn’t Jesus an extrovert?” Look at some of the evidence:

  • He boldly spoke truth to power, questioning the status quo AND spoke gently to those burdened down by the oppressive religious system.
  • He went intentionally toward Calvary, allowing Himself to be crucified there AND he often avoided the murderous crowd slipping away.
  • He spoke to large crowds for hours or even days at a time AND the crowds wore Him out.
  • He came to redeem us so that He would have joy AND He was called the Man of Sorrows who lived a life of thirty-three years filled with pain and grief.
  • He took action in the temple turning the tables AND He refused to get drawn into taking political action against Rome.
  • He describes His return as a warrior AND He came initially as a humble King seeking peace.

So, what was He? Maybe He, as the only perfect human to have ever lived and walked, uniquely embodied the entire continuum of extroversion and introversion.

Salvation, including sanctification, is about God making us more and more into the image of Jesus [Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:22-24]. If there is one key component to this transformative work, it is the emphasis on righteousness or holiness. In other words, the emphasis is placed on God making us like Himself at the level of our character and conduct. There is no emphasis on His making us extroverted (or introverted for that matter).

He takes us as image bearers and remakes us according the image of Christ, the perfect model of humanity. From either side of the continuum, we will resemble different aspects of the person of Christ, while we all are moved closer to His character and holiness. Notice that Paul did not tell Timothy (likely an introverted pastor) to become more extroverted, nor did he advise him to teach similar things to the people in Ephesus. We would do well to follow Paul’s advice to young Timothy.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead

a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [1 Tim. 2:1-4]

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