The Promise and Peril of Personality Tests

by Michael Cheng

When you first meet someone, there are a variety of topics you may discuss to get to know each other. You might talk about where you both grew up, or you might each share your personal testimony. When someone asks you whether you are extraverted or introverted, they may follow that question with an inquiry about your Myers-Briggs acronym. The acronym categorizes you into a particular group to hopefully gain some quick insight about you.

Personality Tests: The Good and the Bad
Generally speaking, personality tests promise to provide more insight into who you truly are. But Christians must be careful to not think of the acronym as the bounds of your personality, like saying, “We can’t be friends, because you’re a Libra and I’m a Capricorn.” If we take Myers-Briggs as our example, there are distinctions between extraversion and introversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, as well as judging and perceiving. These distinctions thus categorize the believer into one of sixteen different “personalities.” The Myers-Briggs categories are defined as follows.

The classifications of extraversion and introversion are based on where you derive your energy: from others, or from yourself. Extraverts, therefore, get their energy from being with other people. Introverts get their energy from being alone. A more “sensing” person prefers to pay greater attention to information that comes in through the five senses, and a “intuitive” person pays more attention to the patterns and possibilities in the information they receive. Being a more “thinking” person means you put greater weight on objective principles and impersonal facts, while being more “feeling” means you care more about personal concerns and the people involved. Judging and perceiving is determined by whether you prefer a more structured or flexible lifestyle. 

Our personality might excel in some areas, and it might languish in others. Nevertheless, we should aim to obey Christ and become more like him in every way.

The test returns your percentage breakdown for each category. For example, you could be 40% extraverted and 60% introverted, thus highlighting that you likely derive most of your energy from being alone. Now, some of this may be helpful. God created each person uniquely, so we all have different strengths and weakness. But we can’t stop at a mere personality test. As believers, we are called to imitate Christ, walking as he walked (1 John 2:3–6). Our personality might excel in some areas, and it might languish in others. Nevertheless, we should aim to obey Christ and become more like him in every way. Christ lived a perfect life which means he always did what was appropriate. The following examples, therefore, were perfect and in total alignment with what was good in the sight of the Lord.

The Example of Christ’s Perfect Personality
Luke says Jesus often slipped away to pray (Luke 5:12-16). This deliberate action of isolating oneself leans more towards “introversion.” However, Jesus went over Galilee teaching and proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing every sickness/disease (Luke 4:43-44; Matt 4:23). Luke later recounts that Jesus did not avoid large crowds, but He faithfully preached (Luke 7:1; 8:4). These latter activities would tend toward the label of “extrovert.”  

Jesus had the best “sense” of reality. He knew who needed healing (Mark 2:5; John 5:6), and was able to assess the heart condition of all those around Him (Mark 2:16-17). Jesus, however, also had the greatest “intuition,” as He clarified rules about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and love that were misinterpreted by the Jewish leaders (Matt 5:21-48). This “intuitive” bent culminates in Jesus’ explanation of the Old Testament on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). 

When Jesus was tempted by Satan with what the world had to offer, he “thoughtfully” applied biblical truth to each temptation (Matt 4:1-11). Yet, Luke states that Jesus “felt” compassion for a sick woman (Luke 13:10-17) and healed her despite the objections of the synagogue officials, who had failed to be compassionate and loving (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus “felt” compassion for the spiritually sick people and spoke of the need for people to be saved with the gospel of the kingdom (Matt 10:35-38).

Jesus was in perfect alignment with the Father’s will. He perfectly “perceived” what the Father wanted and executed it every time (John 6:38). However, his earthly ministry also fulfilled the Law and prophecies of the Old Testament (Matt 5:17-20). Jesus “judged” every decision he made according to his purpose, but he “perceived” the Father’s will and adapted (Luke 22:42).

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a percentage “breakdown” of Jesus’ personality.

Scripture plainly shows us that Jesus responded appropriately to every given situation. The above examples showcase the fact that Jesus embodied each “personality” category perfectly. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a percentage “breakdown” of Jesus’ personality. He knew where to be more “extraverted” and where to be more “introverted.” He was a master of sensing, intuition, thinking, feeling, judging, and perceiving. Scripture does not even provide insight into Jesus’ tendency towards any of the aforementioned categories, because, ultimately, such categories are extrabiblical and grounded in naturalistic assumptions about human nature. These psychological categories may consist of elements that overlap with biblical categories, but they are not biblical categories as such.

The Aim of Every Christian
Therefore, because personality tests are typically grounded in naturalistic assumptions about reality and human nature, they fail to highlight an important fact: the Christian, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can (and must) hold seemingly contradictory “personality traits” in healthy tension. The believer is to become all things to all men for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:22-23) as we die to ourselves (our so-called “personalities”) and pursue life in Christ (Rom 6:4-8). This is why Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be imitators of God by walking in love, wisdom, thankfulness, and fear of Christ (Eph. 5:1-21). Indeed, Scripture gives us better categories, like the fruit of the Spirit, to measure our growth (Gal 5:22-26). Moreover, our proficiency in one category does not allow us an exemption for growth in another category. Like Christ, there will be times when we need to be alone with God, and time when we need to be with others.

Personality tests might shed light on where you excel and where you are deficient, but we must pursue growth in all biblical categories. Personality tests provide information about certain character traits, but we cannot allow them to stifle our spiritual growth by shoehorning us into artificial categories that Scripture does not endorse. After all, every person is created uniquely by God for a particular purpose (Eph 2:10; Rom 8:28). There are, therefore, as many personalities as there are people. Nonetheless, our life’s aim should always strive towards imitating Christ.

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