Various components influence the preacher’s study for and preparation of a sermon. Some of those components tend to be objective and can be addressed in an academic fashion—the preacher’s view of the text (doctrine of inspiration), his approach to the text (hermeneutics), tools for understanding and analyzing the text (linguistic tools, historical background, discourse analysis). Other components, however, are more internal, personal and subjective—his experiences, his spiritual condition, his personality.  The same tools are placed in the hands of unique individuals who then use those tools in a somewhat different fashion in the perception and processing of the text.

Carl Jung explored the inner workings of the individual which govern interaction with the world. Personality types, in Jungian psychology, recognize two functional orientations to the world (extrovert and introvert), two perceiving functions (sensing, which focuses on details; and, Intuitive, which sees patterns), two processing functions (feeling, which processes relationally; and, thinking, which processes logically) and two functions which then interact with the world (judging, desiring very clear meaning; and, Perceiving, willing to embrace some mystery and ambiguity).

The grammatical-historical hermeneutic approach to the text (which Dallas Seminary teaches and embraces) leads to and relies upon certain methods and tools to discover and validate the meaning God intends.[1] Unique individuals who have unique experiences and unique personality types[2] employ the same methods and tools of a grammatical-historical hermeneutic in ways that are predisposed by their experience and personality type. Which is to say, communication is not strictly a mechanical process but inherently relational, involving the inner working of the human being. The proper use of the grammatical-historical hermeneutic in the hermeneutic cycle sets the boundaries of interpretation and so hinders disparate interpretations, but interpretation and proclamation will never be a mechanical process.

Questions that arise when this is considered are: How does personality type affect the perception, processing, and organization of biblical material? As God utilized the uniqueness of the human author under the guidance of the Spirit in the writing of Scripture (the doctrine of inspiration), does the reading of Scripture now become a mechanical process? Governed by the Spirit, does the reading and study of Scripture not also reflect, honor and utilize the student’s uniqueness (the doctrine of illumination)? Can uniquely different people employ the same tools and arrive at somewhat different, although not disparate, perspectives, conclusions and points of resolution while still being faithful to their commitment to honor the text and the author? David Barr explains this process saying,

. . . the interplay between text and reader is a dynamic interplay between the fixed and the variable: Two people gazing at the night sky may both be looking at the same collection of stars, but one will see the image of a plough, and the other will make out a dipper. The “stars” in a literary text are fixed; the lines that join them are variable. The incidents depicted in a text are like the fixed stars of the heavens, objectively available to all. But the constellations depend on our observations. One observer draws lines between these two; another between those. The metaphor would be more compelling if one believed that the stars were placed with purpose by some grand artist who was trying to tell us something. But even so, it reminds us that the construction of meaning is neither an objective nor a subjective process; it is both.[3]

Self-awareness encourages us to consciously be aware of our subjective processes as we study the text.  Francis explains,

One way of looking at Jung’s model of psychological types is by comparing with our experience of handedness. We are all generally equipped with two hands, but we instinctively prefer one over the other. Consequently, we develop more skills with our preferred hand; and, at the same time, neglect to develop the less preferred hand to its full potential. If we were to try to take notes, say in a lecture or in a sermon, with our less preferred hand, we would notice three things. It would take a lot more concentration and make it less easy for us to listen to what is being said. It would be slower to write and much less easy to read. It would be much more tiring and draining on our energy resources.[4]

Francis observes, “In the context of hermeneutical evaluation, cognitive psychological models indicate that some decisions about meaning may be driven by semi-automatic processes that are hard to recognize and difficult to control [subconscious], whereas other decisions require the more conscious application of hermeneutical ‘rules’ or method.”[5] Self-awareness of one’s personality type predispositions allows one to be aware of those subconscious predispositions, consciously address them and develop areas that might otherwise be blind spots or areas that might not be fully explored.

In understanding how our unique personality type approaches the text, perceives what we see (sensing or intuitive), processes our discoveries (feeling or thinking) and organizes our thoughts (judging or perceptive), we will be more thoughtful students and more effective preachers.  In seeing ourselves and knowing what our uniqueness brings to the text, we have the ability to differentiate between our thoughts and the authorial intent of the divine Author. In knowing how we tend to perceive, process and then proclaim the text, we can grow, overcoming our weaknesses and building upon our strengths. As we do these things in solitude, in His presence, the truth of God resonates in our hearts and through our words touches the hearts of men.


familySteve grew up in Denver and the Lord found him in the Rocky Mountains on a beautiful life changing night in June of l971. He is a testament of what the grace of God, the love of a wonderful woman, the blessing and honor of being entrusted with five great children, the privilege of being a pastor and the friendship of some of God’s choice servants can do in a life.  He is ‘in process.’

 

 

[1] Eric Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967).

[2] M. X. Seaman, Illumination and Interpretation: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Hermeneutics (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2013). In this book, Seaman discusses the interrelatedness of the coordinate doctrines of inspiration and illumination. The Holy Spirit uses, honors, and works through the personality of the human authors of Scripture to give an objective text; even so, the Holy Spirit uses, honors, and works through the personality of the reader. This is not to say that reader determines the meaning of the text but that the Holy Spirit, utilizing and honoring the personality, opens Scripture to the reader in a way that is consistent with his predisposition.

[3] David L. Barr, “Using Plot to Discern Structure in John’s Apocalypse,” Proceedings of the Eastern Great Lakes and Mid-West Biblical Societies 15 (1995): 23-33, accessed October 11, 2013, www.wright.edu/~dbarr/plotrev.htm.

[4] Francis and Village, Preaching, 97.

[5] Leslie J. Francis and Andrew Village, Preaching: With All Our Souls: A Study in Hermeneutics and Psychological Type. 1st ed. (London: Continuum, 2008), 32.