One of the more intriguing oddities that our psychologized culture has foisted on our Christian communities is their way of thinking about and explaining the reasons why people do what people do. I’m speaking primarily about psychologized personality tests.
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(In an employment environment, certain types of psychological testing can be valuable, so the employer has an idea of kind of person they are hiring.)
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Our unregenerate culture would not have made such headway with their opinions and speculations if the Christian community was not so fascinated with themselves. Ironically, Paul gave us the best news regarding who we were before Christ and now who we are, post-regeneration:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17
The Gospel is Too Simple
I realize that for many believers Paul was simplistic in his way of looking at things, especially the “intricacies” of psychology. He said that the connection between our behaviors and our Adamic fallenness is the reason we do what we do. A cursory examination of my heart motives reveals this essential truth: I’m selfish, and I need to change.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. – Ephesians 4:17-18
But our culture is head-over-heels in love with themselves. And because they cannot solve their “fallenness problem,” they have no choice but to recycle, regurgitate, and re-describe who they think they are and why they do what they do.
They are in darkness!
They are trapped in their fallen natures with no hope of ever escaping, apart from Christ. And because they reject Christ, they have to grope for nonsensical explanations of the soul. So they create, market, and profit from these tests.
Christians should not be so easily persuaded or intrigued by their sloppy psychology, which is why the Christian’s fascination with their pop psychology is mind-boggling. I cannot recount how many times I have heard the expression “I am a Type A personality.”
When Christians say this, they are merely explaining–in a sanitized way–why they do what they do. The term is so general that it tells me nothing about the person. And to say you’re a choleric, an otter, or a golden retriever is just as ambiguous and unhelpful.
Though Christians would be appalled to think they were excusing themselves from their sinful behavior by embracing this kind of psychologized nomenclature, the truth is they are rationalizing their “former selves” away. Often a response to these pop psychology approaches is along the lines of,
I am so glad someone understands me. Now I know why I am this way.
Don’t you think God understands you and that He has given you His Word so that you can understand you?
Which Letter Are You?
A man told me that he was a “Type A” personality. Essentially, he was explaining why he is the kind of husband that he is. And since he was pulling letters out of the alphabet to describe himself, I suggested that he pick two others. I said,
Why don’t you try a Type JC personality?
He either did not get what I was saying, or he did not want to change his behavior because he preferred Type A over JC. It’s been 13 years since our encounter, and he is still predominantly Type A over JC, and his wife is sad.
There are two primary reasons people buy into pop psychology’s nonsensical labeling of the human personality:
- We are self-absorbed and love to think about ourselves. Our Zodiac signs, temperaments, and other ways to examine our personalities intrigue us. While some call it an advance in the understanding of the soul, it is a distraction from the teaching of Scripture.
- We are illiterate, to varying degrees, as it pertains to theology and the application of it into our lives. We do not understand the biblical categories that describe the human condition, which prohibits us from discerning our human condition from a biblical perspective.
A False Continuum
(If you’re at least five out of six of these traits, you’re a “Light Pole Christian.”)
|Positive Traits or Strengths||Negative Traits or Weaknesses|
|You are straightforward||You are stubborn|
|You are generally happy||You are unrelenting|
|You stand for truth||You limit your possibilities|
Therefore, you are a “Light Pole Christian.”
Don’t worry; you’re not a Light Pole Christian. I just made up this assessment. I was sitting in my office looking at the light pole in my cul-de-sac. I drew a few metaphoric conclusions from my observations.
It is tall and, thus, “straightforward.” The lights at the top are bright, hence my “generally happy” conclusion. Because it is tall, I figured I’d throw in something about “standing for truth.” Get it?
Of course, I had to go to the negative side of the spectrum to have a balanced assessment. Stubborn and unrelenting were obvious conclusions. The “limit your possibilities” was a stroke of creativeness. It took an extra five minutes to come up with that one. The light, you see, can only illuminate so far.
If I have just described you, please know that you are not a Light Pole Christian. Don’t go there; stick with the Bible’s assessment of you. Accurate descriptors do not make biblically rational conclusions.
Some Christians sincerely desire to grow, but rather than maturing in their understanding of the Bible, they latch onto the culture’s explanations of the soul.
When they read what seems to be an accurate assessment of themselves, they attach “authority” to the person who provided the assessment. Why? Because he accurately described them.
Based on the power of persuasion and an insatiable craving to be understood, the Christian embraces the assessment and solution. And that becomes her new identity as a “Light Pole Christian.” It is not a broad jump to embrace a person’s conclusions if you believe they have accurately described you. It’s a false continuum.
A false continuum is precisely what drives the ADD and ADHD analysis. Assessing a child subjectively for ADD, which is the only method for assessing ADD, and giving the child a solution based on a subjective assessment is highly questionable.
I’m an Otter!!
Often the people who embrace pop psychology’s explanations for the soul share their newly found wisdom in giddy ways. I have heard many, who adopt this approach, share their “Otter-ology” with humor and light-heartedness.
By becoming Otters, Golden Retrievers, Sanguines, Phlegmatics, or Type A personalities, they unwittingly suck the power from the gospel message. God crushed His Son so we can be better than Otters and Light Poles (Isaiah 53:10).
These kinds of assessments are not the biblical route to a transformed life. Neither do they offer the biblical hope found in the gospel. Even worse, it places the focus more on themselves than the Savior who died for them.
It’s a mockery of the gospel.
If you are “in Christ,” may I persuade you to think and behave more like Christ? Make much of Him. Make less of yourself (John 3:30). Do people know you as a Type A personality or Christ-centered believer? Are people more aware of the results of your personality assessment or God’s assessment of you?
Thus Says the Lord
The proponents, who love God, have their “Scriptures” to support their claims. They don’t know that there is only one point to any text, and in the entire history of the church, no Biblicist has ever interpreted a text to support their predetermined ideas. Scholars call this proof-texting.
This backward method of teaching the Bible is not grounded in an understanding of what the various Bible writers taught. Proof-texting, simply put, is compiling a short list of texts that support precisely what the person has already decided to believe.
A lack of practical understanding of the Bible and a general weakness in local church discipleship processes was what gave rise to the biblical counseling movement in the 1970’s. God granted all things that pertain to life and godliness long before Freud and Jung entered the discussion.
It was Freud’s hatred for God that motivated him to create a new way to think about the human condition. Many others have followed his path, as the psychological community has evolved into the ever-changing world of DSMs.
Nothing can assess you better than the Bible, especially in the context of a caring, discipleship community. James gives us a clue as to how we drift from the Bible (James 1:22-25) as a primary means of God’s grace given to us to help us understand ourselves better.
The mirror, according to James’ inspired understanding, is the Word of God. James is saying that we tend to look into the Word (mirror), make some mental notes by assessing ourselves, and quickly forget what we saw. When we do this, we are tempted to find false cisterns that can’t transform us.
Testing Replaces Community
A critical key to scriptural personality assessment is a biblio-centric community. The Christian psychological tester has unwittingly replaced biblical community with secular testing tools. I understand the problem.
If you have never had consistent biblical fellowship in the context of a caring, discipleship community, where people were carefully and lovingly speaking into all areas of your life, how can you know the sufficiency of Scripture?
How can you experience the transformative help that God’s Word brings to our lives through the community of faith? Too many Christian husbands and wives do not experience this depth of biblical community, where careful, loving, observation, and correction is given to them to adjust them so they may mature in Christ.
Christian relationships can be so superficial that it leaves one longing for something else. This desire leads the Christian community to look outside the Bible and biblical contexts for self-discovery.
People who are willing to love me enough to show me what I do not see about myself is a vital means of grace. A person with this kind of community positions himself for the Bible’s assessment, and there is a context in place for long-term, transformative growth.
My first introduction to personality tests was more than 30 years ago. I wanted to understand me. I was desperate for change and weak in practical theology. I found a book that told me that I was a Phleg/Mel (Phlegmatic and Melancholy mixture). There were many compelling reasons why I wanted to know me.
- I wanted to be understood by someone.
- I wanted to understand myself.
- These new ways of thinking about myself were novel and appealing.
- It appeared to help me.
- It felt right, (or more right than anything else I had tried).
These reasons were compelling enough. Ironically, my life was not markedly better, and there was continued unrest in my soul. In hindsight, I see that my sanctification limitations were in proportion to my limitations in understanding biblical psychology.
The word psychology is a compound word: psyche and logos. The word “psyche” means soul and the word “logos” means the word or the study of the psyche. A psychologist is a person who seeks to care for the soul. The best psychologist who ever lived was Jesus Christ.
It would be wrongheaded to say that somebody knew more about the soul than the person who created it (Genesis 1:27, 2:7). And the most excellent psychology book ever written is the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16). It would be wrongheaded to think there is a better book that explains us.
The primary argument and the genuine problem that we have is a sufficiency of Scripture issue. This attack on God’s Word began in Genesis 3:6. And this issue centers mostly in an amalgamated soup of American-Christian-Centric-Biblical-Psychology.
Christians in other countries, who do not have access to these new tests, are not at a disadvantage because all they have is the Bible. These tests do not reveal more about you or get to the heart of who you are better than the Bible does.
There are no weaknesses in the Bible that make these tests desirable. These tests plus the Bible are not what you need to fulfill the two great commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).
Take the Bible’s Test
The Bible was never meant to be a self-help book or a testing tool, but due to a lack of discipleship some individuals have missed the point of the Bible and have taken it to support different approaches to self-help. This presuppositional worldview marginalizes the primary purpose of the Bible, which is Christ.
Wholeness comes through a right relationship with Christ that comes through the application of the God’s Word into your life. It is the “foolishness” and “weakness” of the gospel that perplexes individuals while steering them toward their presuppositional aspirations for self-help (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
- Nothing will expose the realities of who you are better than practically applying the gospel to your life.
- Nothing will help you transform into what you should be better than appropriating the gospel to your life.
- Nothing will set the trajectory of your vocational life better than applying the gospel to your life.
Though I do not want to reduce the Bible to a testing tool or a self-help book, I have laid out in a table Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, the “love chapter,” to show how the Bible can expose us for who we are.
I’ve taken all the words and phrases in the text and inserted the word “love” where Paul mentions it directly or implied. I did the same with the word Jesus. Finally, I want you to insert your name in the third column.
To be fully gospel-centered is when columns one, two, and three are the same. Of course, we know the gospel-centered life is a process that does not come to complete fruition until you meet your Lord.
|Bible Test||Jesus Test||Self Test|
|Love is patient||Jesus is patient||______ is patient|
|Love is kind||Jesus is kind||______ is kind|
|Love does not envy||Jesus does not envy||______ does not envy|
|Love does not boast||Jesus does not boast||______ does not boast|
|Love is not arrogant||Jesus is not arrogant||______ is not arrogant|
|Love is not rude||Jesus is not rude||______ is not rude|
|Love does not insist on its way||Jesus does not insist on His way||______ does not insist on his way|
|Love is not irritable||Jesus is not irritable||______ is not irritable|
|Love is not resentful||Jesus is not resentful||______ is not resentful|
|Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing||Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing||______ does not rejoice at wrongdoing|
|Love rejoices with the truth||Jesus rejoices with the truth||______ rejoices with the truth|
|Love bears all things||Jesus bears all things||______ bears all things|
|Love believes all things||Jesus believes all things||______ believes all things|
|Love hopes all things||Jesus hopes all things||______ hopes all things|
|Love endures all things||Jesus endures all things||______ endures all things|
Seeing Yourself Perfectly
This basic “test” taken, with humility, prayer, and among gospel-centered friends will give any believer a clear and sober assessment of where they are and where they need to be. To help you practically apply this “Bible test” to your life, here are a few questions and thoughts for you.
- How many categories in column three did you differ from in columns one and two?
- Ask God to give you specific examples where you’ve failed to model Christ for each category.
- Ask Him to give you specific and practical ways in which you can change your thoughts and behaviors.
- Share what you have learned with a trusted friend, and how you plan to transform, asking your friend to help care for you as you seek to change your attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors.
- Follow-up with God and your friend weekly, asking them to assess your growth while pointing out further areas of needed change.
- Would you rather be known as a Light Pole Christian or a gospel-centered one?
Also published on Medium.