Out of My Mind: What Kind of Personality Does Jesus Have?

In the April issue of Christianity Today Scott McKnight writes of an exercise he does in his course on Jesus of Nazareth. On the opening day of class he gives students a standardized psychological test divided into two parts. On the first part the students describe Jesus’ personality. On the second they compare their own.

“The test is not about right or wrong answers, nor is it designed to help students understand Jesus” McKnight explains. “Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.” According to McKnight, this is something we all do. “If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.”

 After reading McKnight’s article, I was reminded again of how little we know from Scripture about Jesus’ personality.  The Gospel writers emphasize the person of Christ but not his personality. I do not mean that they portray him as someone without a personality. They tell us that Jesus wept, was grieved and grew angry (Mark 3:5; 14:33; Luke 12:50; John 11:35).  They also give evidence of Jesus’ interest in the marginal people of his day–women, children, the poor, the despised and sinners (Matt. 9:20-22; 19:13-14; Luke 5:30; 21:2-3). But the picture we find of Jesus in the Gospels lacks the kind of chatty detail and color commentary that are a stock feature of modern biography and talk show confessions.

 What does this mean for us? Certainly, as Scott McKnight points out, this creates the possibility that we will try to conform Jesus to our own image. But it also provides God the opportunity to display the reality of Christ through a variety of personalities. Maybe this is what Gerard Manley Hopkins meant when he wrote:

 I say more, the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Here is a link to Scott McKnight’s article: http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/2010/april/15.22.html

Here is a link to Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem entitled “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”: http://www.bartleby.com/122/34.html

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John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

4 thoughts on “Out of My Mind: What Kind of Personality Does Jesus Have?”

  1. Good post. I think we do try to formulate our idea of Jesus after our own personality and strengths. I still remember an introverted teacher urging me to reflect on Jesus time alone with the Father. Always the extrovert, I pointed out that Jesus often brought his disciples with him. He observed insightfully, “I think he brought his disciples along to observe and learn from his example of how to be still”.
    Unrelated – I think Jesus probably looked a lot like Prof. Wilkinson, not sure why, that’s just kind of how I picture him.

  2. Prof. Rick Wilkinson. I suppose that’s a compliment to him. Gentle, unwavering teacher of truth, good at asking thought provoking questions, and unassuming presence with a strange conviction in his voice that is “with authority” higher than his own. Wish I had his e-mail so I could pass the compliment on to him.

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