Personality Theory and the Humanist Dilemma

While reading the book Please Understand Me:  Character & Temperament Types [1], I was struck at the way in which the book’s defense of personality theory and the need to understand where others are coming from, and especially its consideration of different major types of having different “gods,” with its constant focus on Greek mythology and complete ignorance of the Bible showed it the Jungian conception of personality theory as being part of the humanistic false dilemma.  This false dilemma is manifest in all humanistic fields of study and shows itself as the problem between the many and the one.  The dilemma that all humanist theories in any field face is that either they reduce into anarchy (subjectivism) or tyranny (reductionism), either ignoring the variety of human motivations and perspectives or denying the fundamental unity behind such diversity.  When you ignore God, you must put some sort of false religious belief in its place that fails to meet the biblical standard of diversity in unity.

Let us examine briefly how this is so.  In a humanistic model presented by Kiersey and Bates, there is the assumption that each person will view their own personality and temperament as the “right” way to view things and other viewpoints as “wrong, and to avoid conflict it is therefore necessary to recognize that other ways of viewing life are equally valid.  Without a common moral standard to judge behavior by, this book’s approach ends up allowing each person to judge themselves by their own standard, and to do what is right in their own eyes, whether that involves immoral sexual behavior (accused of being an NT specialty–with its interest in the unconventional) or whether it involves short term relationships with a lack of commitment (an SP tendency according to this book).  This sort of “many ways” anarchic perspective seeps through in every page of the book and mars what could have been a very great book.

The book does not explicitly mention the biblical approach to “temperament and personality type” at all, probably because the authors are unaware of it (as are most Christians, undoubtedly), but speaks very harshly against models like Freud’s and Adler’s that assume all human beings have one motivation.  After all, to the humanist, the only other option other than many equally valid but different ways is one way that everyone must fit into.  There is either tyranny or anarchy, and no third option.  The book itself speaks eloquently and consistently against the tyranny of a one-size-fits-all model (which it intriguingly presents as a “traditionalist” SJ approach–which is rather tempting given my own largely negative experiences with closed-minded traditionalists who blindly and fiercely hold on to the past).

Nonetheless, the book fails to present the biblical model for personality at all, and for the remainder of this note I would like to examine it at least briefly so that the reader may understand how to resolve the false humanist dilemma this book poses concerning personality theory.  The most plain explanation of the biblical view of unity and diversity comes in 1 Corinthians 12, which is unsurprising given that Jungian personality theory springs from such pagan Greek roots.  This insight is so profound that Paul explains the idea of unity in diversity in two different ways.  Let us look at both of them briefly.

First, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Paul examines the difference between the different manifestations of the Holy Spirit within the lives of different believers:  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:  for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the workings of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretations of tongues.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

The second way that Paul explains his difference is by looking at a difference of function, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26:  “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not one member but many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were hearing, where would be the smelling?  But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.  And if they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I haven o need of you;” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  NO, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.  And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on those we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need.  But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

These verses are saying a lot of different things, but let us gain at least a few insights from them as they relate to the subject at hand, in the understanding that they apply in other contexts as well.  Different temperaments provide different gifts–and NT is a rational and intellectual, given great strategic insights, an NF is given the emotional intuition to feel joy when others rejoice and suffering when others suffer, an SJ is given the tendency to defend tradition and seek structure and order, while an SP is given the gift of seeking enjoyment (or joy).  All of these are gifts that come from God for His own purposes–and all of those gifts are to be used for His glory and according to His biblical standard of behavior.  There is unity because of our shared Creator and Father, our shared commitment to His way of life, our shared desire for wholeness even as we have some gifts in abundance.

The second passage tells us a related point about our differences in temperament and personality, and that is that our different functions are for the benefit of the whole body, and not merely for our own.  We are not all programmed the same way because God desires us to serve different roles within the Church for the benefit of everyone else.  God requires a diversity of talents and gifts in order to make a whole Church that is lacking in nothing, and to do that we must understand how we all fit in to provide that sense of balance and proportion and wholeness with our own individual and unique efforts.  We are not to let our personality or temperament, or our gender, our ethnicity, our social class, our educational background, or any other physical quality separate us.  When we become part of God’s Church all of those distinctions are to disappear–we are to become brethren, equals, serving others according to the gifts that have been given to us.  Those who have more gifts have more serving to do.  The end result is greater development out of the unity in diversity–neither schism nor domination of the body by a single function.

Let us now show briefly how the four main personalities serve the good of the Church as a whole.  Roughly 38% of people are SP personality types (or artisans).  These people enjoy working with tools–it is their task to exhibit and model enjoyment of God’s way and apply God’s way in action to those around them, which is their strongest suit.  Roughly 38% of people are SJ types (or guardians).  These people have the task of serving the duty of proclaiming the work and defending the integrity of doctrine, passing down the faith from generation to generation and ensuring that the faith once delivered is preserved whole and intact, which they are good at.  Roughly 12% of people are NF personality types (or idealists).  It is their job to ensure that there is no hypocrisy in the Church, that the outward piety reflects an inward conviction of the truth, and also their job to comfort the afflicted and provide gentle compassion and care to those who suffer in this wicked world.  Finally, the remaining 12% of people (myself included) are NT personality type (or rationals).  These people provide the future-oriented vision and direction for the Church, keeping a close eye on short-term and long-term goals, and provide the scriptural justification for its procedures and standards through their study and research.  Where change is needed to bring the organization in greater harmony with scripture, they make those changes.  That is their job.  The result of all of these people working according to their personalities and temperaments is a church that is whole and complete, lacking no function, able to fulfill its purpose of developing godly believers who develop spiritual maturity (see Matthew 5:48).  Is that too much to ask for?

Having examined the problem of personality theory as has been written by humanistic psychologists, let us examine its proper place and perspective in the biblical light.  Without an understanding of God’s standard, it is impossible to solve the humanistic dilemma of the many or the one.  There is no unity without total consolidation, no diversity without anarchy.  The only way to resolve this tension is to accept an unchanging and eternal standard of behavior applicable to all but with diversity and multiplicity of talents and gifts under that common standard.  The different approaches and backgrounds of others provide a richness of perspective and balance when there is a common standard agreed upon and accepted by all.  That common consent allows everyone to focus on their own development even while they benefit from the example and service of others with different gifts than their own, giving them a sense of balance to provide what is naturally lacking in their own life.  The result is better for all–without either the tyranny of trying to remake everyone in our image or the denial that all of us are made in the image of the same Creator.  Once the dilemma is properly resolved we can get about to doing our job and celebrating the work that others bring from their own perspectives according to the same godly standard of conduct.

[1] see review at

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Personality Theory and the Humanist Dilemma

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Child Whisperer | Edge Induced Cohesion

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