Last week ACBC had a short “Truth in Love” podcast on personality traits. It was a helpful opinion from Jeremy Pierre that whet my appetite to write a bit more on the subject.
My time in the business world included taking the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) and the DISC assessment. The Myers-Briggs evaluate personality “types” based on 16 distinctive personality traits that result from the interactions among our preferences. It is based on the personality theory of Dr. C. G. Jung, and was later perfected by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs as an evaluation tool. I am an INTJ meaning I: Have a strong need for systems and organization, am a natural leader, spend a lot of time in my own mind, am judgmental, and am an ambitious, self-confident, deliberate, long-range thinker. The business world is interested in this evaluation and assumes that INTJ describes who I am/will be as an employee, co-worker, manager, and leader. Thus, I may be (and have been) pigeon-holed in my career based on the four letters – INTJ.
Christians are also fascinated with these type of evaluations. As a new Christian 40 years ago I remember the church’s fascination for the Four Temperaments: Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholic personality types. Christians were excited about this new discovery and were told that these, “make you who you are.” In the church I attended it became an excuse for sinful behavior (I can’t help it, this is who I am). This theory actually began with Hippocrates of Chios (470-410 B.C.) who taught that personality was determined by the four bodily humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. If one humor was out of balance, a physician would seek to either increase the deficient humor (medicine) or decrease excess (bloodletting). We are now becoming fascinated with Enneagram which is beginning to replace Myers-Briggs. Jeremy Pierre distinguishes these by the fact that the Myers-Briggs measures personality traits while Enneagram measures our values.
Can these be helpful to the biblical counselor? Maybe to a limited extent, in the same way that the DSM-5 may be helpful in identifying patterns of behavior. Personality evaluations tend to show how one reacts to situations in life and what traits/values one desires. But they do not identify who we are. We are not defined by our “score.” Ed Welch writes, “At this point, Scripture really kicks in. Scripture takes our knowledge of the person and places it in the larger context of allegiances and kingdoms. No psychological test will do that for you.” (Psychological tests: Are you for or against? March 25, 2009)
A biblical view of personalities doesn’t put our personality in a box, but recognizes that we change over time. I have a problem with the base assumptions of these tests.
First, they must assume that there are a finite number of personalities, and they have discovered, and determined, what those personalities are.
Second, they are based on the fact that one’s personality is set for life and never changes. This is contrary to the biblical teaching that when we bring the Word of God to bear in a person’s life, the Holy Spirit uses that Word to change and transform the person, making them more and more conformed to the image of Christ. And as cirsumstances in life change, often so do our test scores.
Third, too many counselees excuse their behavior on the basis that they are a certain personality.
Fourth, they are unreliable evaluations. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Jenn Shiomi Chen writes, “From a scientific point of view, neither Enneagram nor Myers-Briggs has reliability (measures consistently) or validity (is it measuring what it says it is).” In fact, even many of the questions these tests ask have a bias, and certainly we have a difficult time answering questions honestly when we know what answer we want to give, or person we want to be.
The Bible is much more concerned with character than it is with personality types (although we certainly see personality in some of the biblical narratives). God is more concerned with conforming us to Christ…taking the sinful aspects of any personality and applying the hope of Scripture that God can change us at the core of our being, which gives hope that personality is not fixed.
We are seeing more and more counselees who identify with their Enneagram score, which actually robs them of hope. We must challenge and correct this perception, being diligent to continually offer the hope that comes from the transforming work of God through the gospel.