Is There a Dark Side to Personality Tests?

The topic of personality tests can be a divisive one, whether you’re talking about the Enneagram, the DISC, the Myers-Briggs, or any other popular profiling system. I have friends who love them and who insist that taking the right test at the right time can profoundly change a person’s life for the better. Many of those folks have become test evangelists: They administer their favorite profiling tool to all of their friends and relatives. On the other hand, I also have friends who utterly despise personality tests. The second group is usually less vocal than the first, but they often nurse quiet resentments, feeling that these tests have been used to unfairly label them or box them in.   

For Christians, it can be hard to reach a consensus about personality tests, since the Bible doesn’t really talk much about “personality,” at least not in the way we tend to talk about it today. Some proponents of personality tests often quote passages like Psalm 139, which strongly implies that God uniquely created each person with particular traits. There are also New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 12, which discusses how the Holy Spirit has given unique gifts to each Christian, for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. While those passages do affirm the uniqueness of each person, however, they do not make a compelling case for the idea that we can categorize people into 4 to 16 distinctive types through the use of written tests. On the whole, the Scripture is much more concerned with our character than our personality type. It’s probably best to say that personality tests are “abiblical,” meaning that the Bible doesn’t prohibit them, but it doesn’t make a case for them, either.

Such tests can be useful to the degree that they increase our self-awareness for the purpose of helping us to become more like Jesus. In other words, if a test makes me aware that I’m prone to impatience, or to laziness, then I can pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to overcome those sins in my life. Or more positively, if a test helps me better understand what I’m good at – that I’m a great communicator or that I excel at physical labor, for example – then I can use that knowledge to serve and to edify the body of Christ. They can also help us to know how to relate to other people better. For example, different people respond to different communication styles, and that’s helpful to know.

However, I think there are a couple of dangers that can arise when we become too attached to these tests:

First, people sometimes use personality tests to try to place limits on what God can do in somebody else’s life. When I was about to graduate from seminary, I applied for a church-planting internship at a large church. They turned me down, not because my character was deficient or my training was inadequate. Instead, I was rejected strictly because my DISC profile results didn’t match their vision of a good church planter’s personality type. I took a course on church planting that same year, in which the professor stated with confidence that people who had my particular DISC profile were only suited to pastor in very small church contexts (if at all), and that any church planted by the likes of me was almost certainly doomed to failure. By the grace of God, in 2015 my current church entrusted me with helping to plant a new campus, and the congregation is thriving and growing. I point that out not to toot my own horn or even to say that bigger churches are somehow better than smaller ones, but instead to say that God is bigger than personality profiles. In fact, He delights in using unlikely people for His purposes. The Scripture is filled with such examples: David, Paul, Gideon, Peter, Moses. It’s a long and distinguished list. That’s not to say that personality testing is useless, but we need to be extremely careful to remember that we worship a sovereign and infinitely creative God.

Second, some people use personality tests to justify their own sin patterns. If you’re a bully who pushes people around, God won’t give you a pass because you’re an Enneagram 8. If you always abandon your biblical convictions in the face of the slightest pressure, you cannot hide behind the fact that you’re an Otter. The nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit don’t correspond to each one of the Enneagram types. All of them are meant for all of us. Again, the commands those of us who know Jesus seek to conform our personalities and our behaviors to His character. In the final analysis, we want to look more and more like Jesus than like anybody else.

To be clear, I’m not saying that our personalities are insignificant or unimportant. It’s clear that God made each of us with different strengths and weaknesses in order to build one another up within the body of Christ. Where I am weak, you might be strong, and vice versa. However, personality should always be kept in its proper perspective. Our goal as Christians is to allow the Spirit to shape us increasingly into the character of Christ. That means that some of the traits that we think are “just a part of our personalities” might in fact be sinful. They might need to change, in other words. Other traits that we don’t possess might be ones that we need to seek, in order to more closely emulate Jesus. And somebody who doesn’t seem to have the right “personality” might actually be somebody God wants to use in unexpected and wonderful ways.

So yes, try to be yourself. But even more than that, let’s aim to be like Jesus.  

3 thoughts on “Is There a Dark Side to Personality Tests?

  1. Bill Hobson says:

    Enneagram is darker than dark. It had its origins in the occult, in fact it was “given” by automatic writing. I get very concerned when I hear that it is being used in Christian circles as it has no place there.

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