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Personality, temperament, gifts, huh?

Codepoke made this comment on my last post on "personality types"

Still conflicted. :-)

If the Spirit has gifted you as a pastor and you torture yourself trying to prophecy, you have not benefited anyone. Some are eyes and some are feet. When the eye tries to do its part in the body by being walked on, good things do not happen to the eye or to the body. Taking guidance from a foot, savoring our food with our hands, and balancing the checkbook with our tongues would all be egalitarian but not spiritual.

Yes it’s possible to err with the personality message, but it’s possible to err with spiritual gifts too. It makes no more sense to throw the one out than the other.

If Jesus made the evergreen and the deciduous tree, should the deciduous tree feel guilty for not being always green? And if Jesus made one man an NF and the other an SJ will He iconoclastically make both into the “perfect” neutral personality?

Good points!

Let me make a couple of clarifications:

1) The trinity tells me that difference in no way compromises one-ness / equality.  One of my hobby horses is to allow the Persons to be considered in all their distinctiveness and not let them be dissolved into some common essence.  Humanity made in the image of this God will wonderfully reflect these distinctions.  Difference is not at all a bad thing!

2) There is definitely such a thing as natural temperament - ie a way that this Trinue God has made me.  Pre-fall and post-return we will still be gloriously different from one another and should not bemoan this fact but rejoice in it. The 'perfect' personality is certainly not 'neutral.'

3) There are definitely different Spirit-given gifts that do not work against unity but are in fact an expression of our unity - even in all our distinctness. (cf 1 Cor 12)

Posts like this one have me banging the drum for all these points.

4) There are spiritual gifts that specially equip certain people to serve the body in particular ways. 

5)  Having said this, we all have certain responsibilities to uphold even if we don't have that gifting.  Some have the gift of service (Rom 12:7) but all should serve.  Some have the gift of 'contributing to the needs of others' (Rom 12:8) but all should give.  Some have the gift of evangelism (Eph 4:11) but all should play their part in evangelism.  Some have the gift of administation (1 Cor 12:28) but all have admin to do, etc. 

6) I can bring my giftings and differentness to bear in a very rich way upon the tasks I'm called to do.  I will serve differently to you, give differently, evangelise differently and administrate differently - all to the glory of God.  And the church should definitely not seek to do those things in a monochrome way.

7) I recognize in myself advantages to being laid back when it comes (for instance) to admin.  If my deadline is Friday and an emergency comes up Wednesday afternoon it does not phase me in the slightest.  In fact I'm pretty cool when Thursday goes up in smoke too.  I know that I can work close to the deadline and that does free me to serve elsewhere with less distraction / guilt / pressure earlier in the process.  I also recognize that for larger projects those with the gift of administration can serve me by setting me mini-deadlines along the way and getting me to be more forward thinking.  In this example we're all doing admin but we're doing it in line with our different giftings.  Great!


8) I'm not sure Jesus made me 'ENFP'.  In fact I'm pretty sure He didn't.  I've read school reports from Australia (where I lived until I was 15) and I was hard-working, diligent, organised, focussed etc etc.  When I moved to the UK I found that I was ahead of the school curriculum by at least 18 months in every subject.  I also found that it really, really was not cool to work hard in the UK.  So I stopped.  I then went to a tertiary institution whose unofficial motto was "Effortlessly superior."  And that pretty much defined the personality idol that I sought.  Throbbing behind ENFP for me is this counterfeit motto: 'Effortlessly superior.'  I'm not purely and simply ENFP, I know in myself that I seek after such a persona, attempting to justify myself before this false god.  (I am an appallingly sinful, proud young man and I'm aware that my experience will not be the same as others.  But on the off chance that there are other who sin in these kinds of ways I offer these cautionary thoughts.)  

9) I certainly had the experience (and I know others have as well) of filling out my Myers-Briggs test and being aware that my answers conformed as much to an ideal that I nurture as they did to genuine reality.  This is what I mean about our personality types being aspirational.  There's a big part of me that wants to say 'I'm not an admin person.'  And this has nothing to do with my organizational abilities.  It is purely a kind of snobbery that says 'Admin is not rock and roll.'  Certain tasks do not conform to the image I have of myself.  And so I let them drop and I justify it saying 'I am not...'

10)  ENFP is not who I am.  ENFP has a great deal to do with sinful choices I have made in order to navigate life according to false views of identity, justification, true life.  I certainly do have a God-given temperament and I certainly do have particular spiritual gifts but I wouldn't equate that with my Myers-Briggs type.  Not at all.


Your example, codepoke, of doing admin in a different way from your gifted daughter is pretty much the perfect example of what I'm wanting to say.  You are well aware that just because Myers-Briggs calls you 'NFP' does not excuse you from being faithful in the tasks God has given you, rather your differentness gives you a distinct and valuable way of doing that.  And it certainly will involve, at many points, handing off things to others in the body who are gifted for it. 

If we're mature (like codepoke - I mean that!) we'll handle this with humility and joy!  Humility because we confess that these things are great things to do but that I am desperately inadequate for them.  Joy because I rejoice in the giftings of others and the Spirit-given unity we have in Christ's body.

If we're immature (like me!) we'll handle that with pride and/or despair.  Pride because deep down I'm saying 'I'm not that kind of person (whose abilities I don't greatly value anyway).'  Despair because I'd really like to be omnicompetent and not need help.

I'm sure I've overstated things in my usual soap-box style.  But you'll be aware by now that these issues lie close to some pretty strong idols for me - hence the vigourous tone and lack of nuance.  Correction and criticism always very welcome (he said in a very non-ENFP kind of way). 


16 thoughts on “Personality, temperament, gifts, huh?

  1. codepoke

    If I subtract a certain "soap-box factor," I think we're probably on the same page. :-)

    I'd bet personality profilers would gain immensely from what you've written here if they would add to their lists of "glories" of each type a list of "gories."

    + INFPs can frequently make glaring mistakes due to an unwillingness to either research problems thoroughly or interact with others who might do so with them.
    + INFPs frequently oversimplify problems and consequently jump to conclusions about solving them.
    + INFPs frequently fail to follow through on solving problems after the creative challenge fades and all that's left is the "work."
    + INFPs frequently imagine they can understand and solve the problems of others after hearing only the briefest surface explanation of what's happening in their lives.

    I can't say I've ever read a list like that.

    Maybe it's not the profiling that's the culprit, but our culture of positive affirmation at all costs? It seems we do the same thing with everything we possibly can, even going so far as exclusively identifying the "good" in a bad report card if we can get away with it.

    This has been a fun series. Thank you, Glen.

  2. Matt

    Hi Glen,

    Been thinking a bit more. I'm finding this discussion fascinating! I think you're right that most of the stuff on personality out there are broadly positive, (generally boxing - they give people labels (fig-leaves?) to wear or hide behind) and assume that if you 'work on' certain things you can turn any personality weaknesses into strengths.

    Thing is a crunchy doctrine of sin and the fall would suggest that every area of human experience is marred by sin - including personality. I think it's this understanding that most people take "right and wrong from nature as it is, instead of from what it ought to be". Based on that understanding it would mean that there are some things which reflect the fact we are made in the image of the Triune God and marring that things which reflect our fallen nature and habitual sinfulness of which we need to repent.

    One of the problems then with Myers-Briggs et al. (which I've done) is that is merges together these two strands. I think there is general revelation/wisdom in personality types and tests but if we go looking primarily there for clues (and uncritically) as to who we are we'll get a hopeless vision of identity because it ignores the revelation of who we are in Christ - that is identity received as a gift in relationship to Him. That really does change things and I think means that we must be very careful what we identity with. If I'm a ENFJ (I think) and that is the yardstick I use to determine my choices then it is dangerously close to (if not actually) Mastering me - rather than Christ as my Lord.


  3. Missy

    Okay, so it soaked in, but it wasn't until last night It hit me.

    I was talking to my husband (late and he was probably already asleep - but it works for me) about my youngest child and how frustrated I am that I try to mold his environment to suit his personality. How I am careful to select friends suited to it or warn others of his issues and instruct how to work around them. I talked about how hard I tried not to do this with my older two - not even moving low knick-knacks when they were toddlers, carefully teaching them respect. But somehow, for this "baby" of mine, I am willing to bend the universe. I was afraid that I'm creating an adult with an excuse for everything, then...


    Did I get it?

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Matt,

    the danger of our types "mastering" us is definitely there. And it's a vicious circle... I see myself a certain way, make choices in line with this, I then conclude that I *am* indeed this type, and make subsequent choices accordingly. It is self-fulfilling. Unless, that is, we break in with our identity in Christ and begin again from His indicatives.

    One of the things I want to do (leaving to one side the incontrovertible existence of charismata) is ask "Are you really just hard-wired that way? Really? All the way down? Or is there not a massive great dollop of choice defining your (apparently God-given) personality."

    It may take a whole life-time to disentangle all those chosen elements or you may never disentangle them all - after all, this is a cursed, sin-soaked world and these issues might well present *in practice* as a 'hard-wired' issue. ie in our experience they may present as 'natural, God-given facts of who I am.' But I don't think that's true on the deepest level - at least that's not the whole story anyway.

    (Perhaps you can hear echoes of debates on homosexuality here. Are people born gay? Or is it chosen? - the Christian who believes in total depravity would not be surprised at all if the first question were answered affirmatively. But we'd also want to say the second ought to be answered affirmatively no matter what the answer to the first. There's a massive dollop of sinful choice that's part of the mix for *anyone's* sexual orientation. Now it might prove more than a life-time's work to disentangle all those chosen elements and find a new orientation but in my opinion what you don't want to say is "this is the way God has naturally oriented me and I am completely helpless in this.")

    The other point I wanted to make was to pick up on your "crunchy" doctrine of sin (nice phrase!) Let's make sure our total depravity is not simply that there are discrete parcels of sins than are mixed in with the good, but that there is sinful distortion to everything. So even the best thing about my 'type' can actually be totally sinful (if used for my own glory for instance).

    Also - interesting that all WordPress bloggers seem to be NF types.


    Missy, yeah 'personality as excuse' is pretty much what I'm railing against. That's a good way of putting it.

  5. Missy

    Maybe this is off topic - but I was thinking that these "personality" categories we may fall in are not simply excuses or personality at all, but possibly the very inheritance of the Fall? I mean, look at what I am doing to my son. I am, have been, teaching him to expect his personality to be catered too. I've heard him tell someone, as an excuse, that he "has an anger issue." I've never said nor heard anyone say that to him - he's only 7! Since then, I have heard this excuse often in conversations of neighborhood kids. It seems that this ever-since-birth training in the adjusting the world to the "quirks of me" has been increasing since the beginning. It's only in these modern days we've even been able to choose what we do, let alone cater our employment to our Myers-Briggs type as HR encourages these days.

    Anyway, you've got me thinking about how I do this all the time, and the great blessings I have missed by simply not jumping into things and getting it done. The things I think are important - but difficult for me - I get praise and support for doing so well only because I try so hard. Like housework and admin - I'm no natural - but when I work at it, I can be rather impressive. They are shocked to discover how much effort it takes me. Honestly, it usually takes that much effort for all of us, so why should they be shocked? Cuz we've learned we just don't DO what we ain't good at!

    (I'm a secret WordPress blogger, shhh!)

  6. Matt

    Hi Glen,
    I think I got the phrase "crunchy" when referring to doctrine from Tim Keller, though I think he used it in a different context. True too, that I didn't then express it quite right. Yes, parcels of "good" and "bad" was not what I meant. I was trying to get at the fact that though we're heading towards "personality is sin" is this conversation here - "fig leaves of the fall" - I was wanting to try and nudge us away from utter depravity of personality. There is common grace, there is the imago dei, there is redeemed personality in Christ, there are Spirit given grace-gifts, there is maturity in Christ that though we are being transformed into his likeness doesn't mean that we will all be the same (in Trinity unity-in-diversity). Sam Allberry wrote a very interesting little post on that subject.
    Though personality is certainly fallen I think this means that as Christ's work on the Cross is applied to personality that it doesn't disappear (I'm not sure that personality is solely the constellation of my sins) but instead is redeemed and ongoingly changed.

    On wordpress - well, it just looks better! I did start out on in April but switched a few months ago.

    Hi Missy,
    I worked in HR for a year and as a teacher for two and I think what you've noticed is the inevitable consequences of people recognising sin, minimising its seriousness and then trying to "manage it". Quite a bit of therapeutic stuff I've read takes that approach, never calling something as wrong and then calling for repentance and looking to Christ and his work on the Cross, they simply manage one type of sin which is seen as being less socially acceptable into another type. Changing one idol for another. I think this is part of the deceitfulness of the heart. In the teaching world part of the difficulty is that some parents (and teachers) so want to preserve their idea about children's innocence that when sin is displayed in the child's life they don't correct, they don't train in righteousness by applying the gospel, they blame-shift to another child, they call it an "issue", they make excuses. Reminds me of the song Gee, Officer Krupke! Actually to just say 'they' would be hypocritical, I do it to - that's why I need the gospel!

  7. Missy


    I like that - "fig leaves of the fall." God made the fig leaves - God makes our personalities, but both have been used in a way never really intended - to cover up our sin. I do see your meaning, though, what I am saying is rather close to "personality is sin." But I definitely don't believe that. Rather that we use our personality to excuse sin, or in some cases "specialize" our sin - which I think is what Glenn is pointing out. I struggled with these posts, but I really trust God in the timing.

    Multiple times in the last week, friends have called or pulled me aside to discuss some sin they are struggling with. I assume they call me because I am what you call An Encourager. That's what everyone tells me, and that's my role. I like it - it feels good - and I've become accustomed to throwing out other thoughts and sticking to what I think is "encouraging." But each friend admonished me for saying things similar to, "I know what's in your heart. You didn't mean it that way," or "I don't have to tell you about the sin in that - you're big girl. I'll just listen and pray for you." Why? Because I was not helping them do what they came to me for - which was to help identify or verify what they believed to be their sin in the matter. I was not only shocked by the admonishments, but that it kept happening day after day. No one has ever said anything about it before. Then I began that struggle - wanting to tell them they should have gone to someone else, then, since encouraging is MY ROLE.

    Then Glen began these posts.

    Then I saw how I do this with me. It made me angry.

    Then I saw how I do this with my son. It frightened me.

    Thanks, Glen, for these posts and to the rest of you for talking about it.

  8. glenscriv

    Yes, good one Missy. I'm definitely *not* trying to say that distinctiveness of character is a sin! As Matt has re-emphasized the trinity blows such an idea out of the water.

    Let me re-iterate - tremendous distinctions and glorious personality differences will persist a billion years from now. But in a billion years I won't find my identity *as* 'outgoing' / 'shy' / 'diligent' etc.

    So I'm not at all suggesting that your encouragement should sound exactly like everyone else's. Rather your encouragement *and* your admonishment will be thoroughly Missy-like. BUT it does mean you won't flinch from admonishment when the time comes. And you're free to do that because you're not 'Missy The Encourager' you are 'Missy Hidden in Christ' and therefore you can comfort AND confront *AND* be who you distinctively are in Him. Christ frees us from ourselves so that a) we can serve and b) become who we truly are. In denying ourselves we become our true selves. In giving up our lives we find them, not in monochrome but technicolour!

  9. Pingback: Does the gospel create homogenous personalities? « Christ the Truth

  10. Pingback: Personality Types [repost] « Christ the Truth

  11. Si

    Years ago, codepoke wrote: "+ INFPs frequently fail to follow through on solving problems after the creative challenge fades and all that’s left is the “work.”"

    I'm experiencing that right now - having written 100 words of a 2000 word essay (due in 5 hours) in the last 2.5 hours, having worked out my argument and thus done the creative challenge. OK, I had 600 words done before that, but still. I'm just bored with it - the topic is pretty dull, my argument niggly and in the details (I can do short bursts of insight on small picture, but am much more comfortable in the big picture) and I was given three books to read, of which two were basically busy-work to skim with no enlightenment on the topic (and any topic other than the delusions of the authors and their 'tribe') so I'm annoyed.

    And that's another 10 minutes gone there. Gaaah won't someone save me from this body of death!

  12. NikoS

    Hi Glen,

    Much and sincerely agree with the outline of your thoughts here. But it might be a different case when we include "disability" issue here. There is spectrum of disability, loosely understood. A clear one, like heavy autism, and the subtle one, and also the undetected or unlabeled (un-named) yet. My daughter and wife are forgetful kind of persons. Heavy ones. They got me rethinking about expectations, diversity or "differences" to be more precise, common essence/image of man. I cannot say that I have been being faithful to them in terms of helping them effectively and lovingly improve their short memory. Once, I thought that this condition of forgetfulness might just be her comfort zone or protection from being responsible itself. Not sure anymore whether this is a sin or genuine disability because I think they can still choose to not be that forgetful. And that requires much much effort. It seems to me that understanding of "disability" or "type of personalities" could be neutral as it can be used to understand our present condition (and so we can move more effectively in the direction of image of Christ) or used to be our guard protecting our own spiritual laziness to be like Christ. So, all in all, we still need those conceptual tools to understand our present condition more fully, and so can we move more consciously and effectively to be more genuinely like Christ. What do you think?



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