Book Review: Introverts in the Church

As an Orthodox of Evangelical background, reading Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh is a lot like reading a more mature, polished, hopeful, greatly extended version of Spiritual Dissonance, my own “why Evangelicalism and I don’t get along” essay. It’s fine: decently written, nicely edited, carefully thought out, easy to read, pragmatic, pastoral, gentle, and aware of its own limitations. He even drops in positive references to desert fathers, Kierkergaard, and uncreated light (not on those words), which will always earn a writer points with me.

I seem to have some small, irrational hope that one day I’m going to open a book with a title like “Finding Your Inner Strength” or “”Living the Adventure” or “How to be Who You Really are in God,” and will find myself reading about the numinous darkness of the triune God inextricably joined in hypostatic union with human nature, and the interpenetration of created and uncreated energies in the sacramental newness of redeemed nature. And somehow it would not only say that, but it would show it, like reading poetry, or Russian novelists, with great lights and darks of the unveiled human soul… but it would say it in some way that wouldn’t sound all purple and contrived like as though I had said it. Or perhaps it would show me a window into the experience of someone rather unlike myself, but like enough that I could understand him, so that I might know what it is, for a brief glimmer of in instant, for that person to be as he is. Or perhaps it would have a jagged and incarnated look into the tangibility and there-ness of the world, solidifying everything it touches. At least I suspect myself of such a hope, because otherwise I can’t see why I always find the actual book that somebody’s actually written to be a bit of a let-down. This irrational hope leads me to be harsher with books than they deserve.

“As fascinating as your psychological processes no doubt are to you, I thought this was supposed to be a book review. Like, about a book. Not about you. Unless you want to relate that psychological process to the book, of course.”

Ah, right, I had almost forgotten. That’s because there’s something about metaphysics and pop psychology that turns up the introspective in people. That kind of book requires a response from experience, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. He recommends that church be more introvert-friendly, which as far as I can tell amounts to adopting somewhat Orthodox sensibilities some of the time with more silence, darkenss, sensory engagement, spiritual fathership, and perhaps a wee bit of ceremony. At which point I have the “I’ve got no dog in this race” reaction. We do all those things. It’s lovely. I would recommend it. But not — I hope not — because I’m an introvert, but because it’s more true to the central mystery of reality in God.

So then the question become one of: do I find it helpful to think in those categories, of introvert and extrovert? To which I suppose: partly yes and partly no. I find it a little helpful. I find it a little helpful because sometimes I am presented with the mysterious fact that certain people — usually people that are more socially energetic than myself — prefer noise to quiet, and I would otherwise find this difficult to account for. Some people seem to think that pretending study is a game is an improvement to simply studying. Some people seem to suppose that there’s something fun about crabwalking across a stinky tarp to crush condiment-filled balloons tied to other people’s ankles, and that it’s even more fun when other people are yelling at them. Some people, oddly enough, think it’s fun to fill the bottom of panty-hose with flour, attach it to their head, and try to swing it at other people. Whereas other people feel about these “fun” activities the way anthropologists likely feel about obscure and foreign customs. You consider fermented monkey brain roasted in alligator intestine to be a special delicacy? And you would like to serve it to me as a special honor? Why, thank you so much for your consideration, of course I’ll eat it. I find introversion and extroversion to be as good reasons as any to account for this odd contrast in styles. Does this observation merit a whole book? Likely not. But still, not a bad read.

While literarily I much prefer images that are inclusive of whosoever might relate to them (like the fox from The Little Prince), I can appreciate how pastorally it may be helpful to be a bit more psychological than metaphorical. At least I think I can. That might need a bit more thought, though.

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One thought on “Book Review: Introverts in the Church

  1. Oddly, too, I think we introverts are more likely to read a book about introversion than an extrovert is to read a book about extroversion. Come to think of it, ARE there any books about extroversion? There are action/adventure stories. Maybe that would be the proper analogy. And, come to think of it, I’m not big on those either.

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