Quizzes pepper my Facebook newsfeed, with friends posting their results. I don’t usually take the quizzes myself, but I’ll admit to giggling or eye rolling along with the cyber crowd.
Although it may not matter much whether I’m a beagle or a golden retriever (as long as I don’t come out a yippy poodle), other test results—SATs, sports team tryouts, college placement tests—carry more weight.
Aptitude Is Everything
Consider Beatrice Prior, protagonist of Veronica Roth’s dystopian novel Divergent, set in futuristic Chicago. For Tris (as she renames herself) and her peers, an aptitude assessment given at age sixteen will point to the chief characteristic of one of the society’s five factions: selflessness (Abnegation); honesty (Candor); peacefulness (Amity); intelligence (Erudite); bravery (Dauntless). At the Choosing Ceremony, teens make a lifetime commitment to a faction.
In the novel, the system emerged following a great war, as leaders recognized the human capacity for evil. “They divided into factions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world’s disarray” (42). Identify people’s natural abilities, group them to capitalize on those abilities, and the world will improve.
At least, that was the idea.
Not surprisingly for dystopian literature, things go wrong. Fighting between factions erupts. Erudite members use their intelligence to inject the Dauntless with a serum that causes them to kill Abnegation. Dauntless bravery often looks more like foolish risk-taking than true courage. The virtue of each group is taken to an extreme, and left unchecked, these traits devolve into catalysts for violence and chaos.
Divergent Gifts, One Spirit
Although we don’t create factions in the church (at least, not on purpose), assessments that identify gifts and traits are fairly common.
Over the years, in various ministry settings and faith communities, I’ve taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the DISC, and several spiritual gift inventories, and I’ve worked with the Enneagram. Like Tris, whose inconclusive results classified her as Divergent, I often score similarly in two categories and wonder where I fit. Really, who of us can be reduced to a single label?
Can these aptitude tests provide us with anything to improve our world? Does Divergent offer any warnings about the dark side of our gifts? I’m aware that my own traits need grace and redemption. My Myers Briggs J can become intolerant of others’ disorganization, and my Enneagram 4 depth can disintegrate into hypersensitivity and self-absorption.
Sometimes I forget that my gifts aren’t “mine.” They’re for building up the body of Christ, not for building up my ego (Eph 4:12). Unlike the characters in Divergent, I don’t live apart from those with different dominant traits. I need the gifts of givers and teachers just as they need my encouragement. Our gifts are meant to function in community, with each of us part of one another (Rom 12:5).
It’s not just our gifts that advance the kingdom, though. Aptitudes can be venues for grace, but so can deficits. God seems to have a history of working through human frailty. I’ll leave the skyscraper ziplining to Tris and her friends—there’s not a Dauntless cell inside of me. But the One who lives in me demonstrates power in weakness, gives wisdom not to the Erudite but to the humble, and offers a deeper peace than any Amity-gathering could ever give (2 Cor 12:9; 1 Cor 1:21; Jas 4:6; Phil 4:7).
And maybe that truth—though no Candor ever speaks it—is the best gift of all.
Guest blogger Andrea Adams is an INFJ Enneagram 4 Hermione-like Great Dane. She teaches middle school English in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in Alive Now and various other devotional and educational venues.