The Enneagram. Myers-Briggs. Strengthsfinder. These are only a few of the personality tests that will have skeptics scoffing and junkies beaming like the Cheshire Cat. Some of them have been around for more than 60 years even though it feels like it’s been the past decade that we’ve obsessively monogrammed and Instagrammed their results. We’ve seen personality profiles emerge in colleges, professional development meetings, and even marriage counseling.
As fun and potentially trivial as some make them out to be, it’s intriguing to think about these tools in a spiritual sense. Does what man determines about us reflect how God made us? Can man discern a layer of our makeup in a forty-minute multiple-choice assessment?
John Calvin once wrote in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” While the latter seems to be a whirlpool of complexities, research has shown that knowing ourselves is maybe not as mystical but puzzling nonetheless.
We can be categorical about our gender and ethnicity and eye color. When it comes to genetics and biology, we can match our height and weight to a doctor’s chart instantly. There isn’t one part of the human body that we haven’t separated into types: ears, chins, faces, breasts, waists. These categories, while excessive, make sense to our society. We have come to find comfort in them. So if man-made charts can help us take a lens to our bodies, why is it so improbable that some tests can take a lens to our personalities?
Some people may fear that classifying personality types only boxes us in. This makes complete sense to me. It would be miserable to know that there are only nine kinds of individuals in this vast, big world and I’m another mass production of type ‘2.’
However, Scripture says, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth ” (Ps. 139:14-15, ESV).
Scripture does not say, “I praised you, O’ Lord, for my ENFP makeup.” No. Scripture shows us that we were designed with unbelievable complexity. But if I were to share that I classify as a 5’5 female with flat feet and an oval-shaped face, you’d know a lot about me. I would check off some boxes on your clipboard.
Yet you’d only know fragments of all that Papa God has fashioned me to be. Why do we fear personality tests being any different?
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV). Personality tests can’t expose a transcript of our souls and a timeline for earthly wounds, but they can take a peek into our underlying motivations. They can help identify social inclinations, feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. This information, while short-handed to God’s medical records, is widely appreciated in discerning how I can be more like Christ. If I know what I am afraid of, I can better overcome fear.
Jesse Eubanks, Founder and Executive Director of Love Thy Neighborhood, is a certified instructor in the Enneagram of Personality. Known for analyzing childhood inclinations and consequential behavior, the Enneagram has been used in Christian circles to identify blind spots and explain sinful patterns. Therefore, test results can prompt us to “get in the river at Grace, where it runs the swiftest, at where God can do for [us] what [we] cannot do for [ourselves]— which is heal those places,” Eubanks says.
When we can interpret our sins, we can better see the flesh. We can better see God. We can work in a community with less judgment and more understanding of the lies we’ve believed and the talents He’s given. We can be more intentional in our relationships, appreciating contrariness and recognizing fingerprints of His personality.
We can’t, however, wear numbers as our identity badges. No matter how insightful personality tests may be, they aren’t Scripture; they aren’t Truth (with a capital ‘T’). We’ve been made in the likeness of God, and with that comes a genetic code so complex that no earthly cryptograph will ever be accurate.
Now a Heaven-powered, angel-dusted, gold-encrypted computer? That might come a little closer.
Featured Image by Nick Hillier