When personality goes Pelagian

A few days ago, I wrote about personality tests (INTJ, thanks for asking). You can read that post here. If you can’t be bothered to read that, I argued that personality tests can be helpful in showing us our strengths and weaknesses but aren’t an excuse to ignore the commands of God.

Personality tests – much like oft cited ‘love languages’ – can help us understand something about ourselves. At their best, both help us to love others better. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of my own personality helps me to understand where I am likely not to love others as well as I should. It shows me where I need to work hard in order to overcome my natural tendencies as well as telling me where I am likely to serve with a level of ease. Likewise, love languages are less about insisting that everybody else loves me in my own special way and more about learning to recognise when others are showing me love in the specific ways they tend to do that.

The issue is when we make these things ‘me-centric’. If my personality type is discovered so that I can insist others treat me in particular ways because of that (apparently) immutable characteristic, that is something of an issue. It stops being a tool for self-awareness and growth and becomes a means of indulging traits (some of which will inevitably be bad – there are no fully sanctified personality types) as though there is nothing we can do about them.

The same issue exists with love languages. I have heard more than a few stories of people who insist that others love them in the specific way that they prefer. That turns the very thing on its head. No longer is it about seeking to love others, and recognising when others are loving us, and instead it becomes a selfish, self-seeking way of extorting from people whatever we decide we want or need.

Jesus calls us to ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ This is all well and good but all too often we then hear that and make ourselves the measure. I like being loved in this particular way, so I must love everyone else in the way I liked to be loved. It pays no attention to the thought that other people may prefer to be loved another way which we would want them to pay attention to in respect to us when the shoe is on the other foot. I should love people in the way they prefer because that is how I would want them to love me. But all too often, we become the measure.

There is a godly way to be introspective. It is right to look at ourselves and see if there are logs in our eyes and sins that need weeding out. But there is an ungodly way to be introspective, almost Pelagian in its own way, by looking inward, insisting God made me this way and all that he has made is good therefore you must treat everything about me as good too. That way affirmation of all sorts of sin lies.

Just as it can have the whiff of Pelagianism of itself, we may just regret the hermeneutic principle that gets us there and the doors it opens up as a result. If God made me this way, God only makes what is good, so you must affirm me – lock, stock and barrel – where can we turn when others apply the same principle to themselves? For the church, where does such a hermeneutic end? Let the reader understand.

We must be careful about absolutising our personality score.