October 19, 2017

Do Personality Tests Add Value?

Personality tests are all the rage right now. From the “just for fun” quizzes on Facebook (what color are you? which state should you live in? who’s your historical twin?) to the more serious assessments used in the workplace (MBTI, StrengthsFinder) and counselor’s office (Love Languages, Birth Order, Enneagram), we are a culture consumed with learning more about ourselves.

Is that a bad thing? No. It can be useful, and even necessary, for growth.

Do we take it too far? Probably.

I tend to roll my eyes at the silly little Facebook quizzes. According to those, my tastes indicate I have a Master’s degree, my dog personality is a mastiff, and I’d wear a yellow shirt on the Enterprise (whew… at least it’s not red!). Yeah, right!

We all know those quizzes don’t really mean much, yet we’re driven to find out what they say about us — perhaps with the hope that it will reveal some profound insight about ourselves or the way others see us.

We’re driven to understand ourselves better — to know why we do the things we do.

That’s nothing new. We have sayings from as far back as the ancient Egyptian and Greek philosophers that encourage us to know ourselves, to center our basis of knowledge on understanding self. In fact, it was such a common mindset in ancient Greece that the motto “Know Thyself” was inscribed above their famous Temple of Apollo.

But those were pagans who did not understand that knowledge begins with knowing God. They centered their identity and aspirations on understanding SELF instead of understanding GOD.

Do Personality Tests Add Value?

But does that mean personality tests are worthless or even sinful? Hardly.

They can be useful, even for Christians, as they teach us to see ourselves through the eyes of others — and to see others through their own eyes. While the Bible is the ultimate mirror, these man-made assessments can also be helpful in their systematic approach to the common tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, mindsets and perceptions of various personality types.

The Value of Personality Tests

For instance, according to the Myers-Briggs assessment, I am an ISTJ. Besides simply being interesting to know, how does that assessment help me specifically? Here’s just a few ways:

  • Knowing that I am an introvert helps me realize that too much social interaction will wear me out. Does that mean I become a hermit? No (although some days I’d like to!). Does it mean I learn to pace myself, to strategically choose when and where my social interaction takes place, so I can maximize my capacity for interaction and put my best efforts into relationships? Yes.
  • Knowing that my personality is known for being dependable can encourage me to continue being that way, even when others around me approach commitments flippantly or casually. It is my natural tendency, and I can nurture it to become a true strength in work and ministry and even in relationships. It also helps me realize that the flip-side is just as true: I struggle being spontaneous. Yet learning to allow some level of that adds a level of warmth and fun in my relationships, and helps me a little more flexible in my activities (a must in ministry!).
  • Knowing that ISTJ’s tend to avoid emotion not only lets me relate very much to Mr. Spock 🙂 but also helps me understand why I have trouble relating to feeling-oriented females. It assures me that I’m not broken, just different. It also shows me that I need to put extra work into understanding and expressing emotion, if I truly want to engage with others for the sake of eternity.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture. The same thing is true of knowing your temperament, your enneagram type, your love language, your birth order characteristics, or your place on the sensitivity spectrum.

Certainly, those assessments can be taken too far. They are, in some capacity, ego-centric. They shine the spotlight on self rather than God or others. And if we’re not careful, we can drown in their carefully-labelled depths of analysis and categorization.

Personality tests are helpful and even necessary: but if we're not careful, we can drown in their carefully-labelled depths of analysis and categorization.

Unlike the rushing waters of Jackson Lake Dam, however, I believe these assessments can be useful rather than dangerous, when they’re filtered through the gate of divine truth. All truth is God’s truth, which means that not only is everything in His Word true, but also that any truthful facts found outside the Bible belong to Him as well.

In other words, just because it’s not written in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s false or not worth considering. That the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit never appears in Scripture; but that truth adheres to Scriptural principles of order in creation and natural laws put in place by their divine Creator. That a day has 24 hours is never recorded explicitly in Scripture; but we know the truth that God has determined the times and set boundaries on our days (and nights) with the sun, moon, and stars.

Therefore, we can find out things that are true even though they are not recorded in God’s Word. We can glean truth from academic subjects, and exploration — and yes, even personality assessments. When sifted through the filter of divine truth, they can be turned into a tool for understanding people better.

Through The Lens of Scripture

Suppose you’re taking the MBTI test for the first time. You fill out the questionnaire, struggling over some questions but knowing the answers to others immediately. You get your results, and it tells you some combination of 4 letters or words (Introvert or Extrovert, Sensing or iNtuiting, Thinking or Feeling, Judging or Perceiving). It probably also displays a spectrum for each possibility, and shows where you are on each one.

Hopefully you don’t see the long explanations and get too overwhelmed to dig any deeper. If you do, you’ve lost the benefit of the assessment completely. Simply having a “label” won’t do you any good: you need to understand that label, even if it takes weeks or months to dive into it.

Knowing that I’m an ISTJ does me no good if I stop there. But reading about the different tendencies, strengths, and weakness helps me understand where I add value to society and where I don’t. More specifically, it helps me realize how others perceive me and what I can do to overcome my weak areas (not necessarily sin, but challenges like not knowing how to express emotion — although any weakness can become a sin if it’s in disobedience to God’s commands).

This information contains truth, yet its specifics are not found in God’s Word. It can provide a helpful blueprint for growth into a more balanced adult. But it can not become a replacement for understanding my identity in Christ and obeying His commands.

Like the waters of a dam, personality tests must be filtered through the gate of divine truth.

Like the waters of a dam, the results of any personality tests must be filtered through the gate of divine truth. Anything that disagrees with God’s Word must be restricted, so it won’t cloud our thinking with worldly philosophies or sinful perspectives. Any truth that remains can be poured into the rushing flow of information that helps us make sense of the world.

I may be dependable, but Scripture tells me God is the only One we can truly depend on (Isaiah 55:6-11). I may value the pursuit of knowledge, but Proverbs tells me that true knowledge starts with knowing God — and to neglect that foundation is the worst kind of folly (Proverbs 1:7). I may have some pretty amazing strengths, but Scripture tells me we are nothing outside of Christ (Psalm 16:2; John 15:4-5). I may have some horrible weaknesses, but God tells me that He can use even the most broken of vessels to achieve His purposes (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).

Everything I learn from each man-made assessment must be looked at through the wisdom and instruction of Scripture! 

That includes understanding what God says about me (my identity in Christ) as well as what He commands all of us to do — whether we’re gifted in those things or not. For instance:

  • Giving gifts may not be my love language, but we are all commanded to show mercy and give generously to those in need.
  • Relating to people might be difficult, but we are all commanded to listen well, show compassion, and act with love toward all people.
  • Crowds may overwhelm my senses, but we are all commanded to practice regular fellowship with other believers.
  • Knowledge may be my strength, but we are all commanded to be humble, teachable, and open to correction.
  • Routines may help me thrive, but we are all commanded to be hospitable (whenever it’s needed), patient, and forbearing, and recognize that God’s timing is always better than ours.

We have to take the negative with the positive, realize that there are both strengths and weaknesses for every type, and then measure those results and recommendations against God’s commands and declarations. 

Remember, you are not just the sum of your personality type (more on that here). You are a child of God, and your purpose is to reflect His personality, to discipline your traits to maturity, so they become beautiful and holy in reflecting their Creator.

That’s the real value in personality tests.

Next time, I’ll share how understanding personality frameworks can help us understand others better, appreciate our differences, and learn to communicate better and work together despite those differences. 

Have you ever taken a personality assessment? Which one? How did it help you?

 

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