“You’re a three as well?”
“You’re the only five I’ve ever met in my life!”
“I can’t believe you both are eights and are dating!”
An excited string of comments lit up the room when a member of the campus discipleship team mentioned the enneagram. I could only look around and chuckle — incredulously — at my team members’ enthusiasm. I had no idea what they were talking about — much less what it meant to be an “eight,” for that matter.
There’s no doubt there is something intriguing about the way numbers on a test can strangely describe you. For one, we all have an innate desire to know more about ourselves, at least, about the bright side. There is something fulfilling about trying to pinpoint, “Am I more of an introverted thinker with extraverted intuition?” Or perhaps “introverted sensing with extraverted thinking?” But ultimately, is this personality testing craze that seems to be spreading through evangelical Christianity helpful?
“Is the term used in the Bible?” is always the first question my dad asks. So much of modern psychology gets off right there — we’ve invented terminology that is extra-biblical if not unbiblical. And we have to be cautious — such terminology has the potential to make sin seem more socially-acceptable (“I’m just not an empathetic person so the biblical command to ‘weep with those who weep’ doesn’t apply to me.”) While extra-biblical terminology is not necessarily wrong and can be helpful, we have to guard against allowing it to shape our worldview and self-view more than the Word.
For sure, 1 Corinthians 14 and Romans 12 make it clear that God has created us unique, each with valuable, but very different giftings that can all contribute to the body of Christ. In fact, Paul goes so far as to list off examples of these gifts. In addition, we do see the early church leaders recognizing and utilizing their differences to further their ministry. For example, it is clear that Barnabas had the gift of encouragement, what modern leadership theories might call a “transformational” ability to see potential in others, including Paul (Acts 9:27) and Mark (Acts 15:39).
However, the danger of personality testing is the potential to box people in, thus stunting their growth and development. The younger the person, the harder it is to nail down a particular type as they simply haven’t had a lot of life experience. It’s inevitable that we change over time, and all the more so when we are just blossoming into adulthood. Not only can personality testing at young ages be inaccurate, it can also be damaging to a healthy self-knowledge.
As in so many areas of life, balance is key. Knowing yourself can be key to maintaining a healthy Christian life. Looking back, I believe that many of my health problems throughout high school and early college were stress-induced from not realizing that I needed to time to recharge by myself. Being aware of that now has helped me know when I’ve had too much social interaction and some solitary time — and thus not only improved my health but also allowed me to have even more fulfilling relationships with others.
However, none of those realizations came about because of a test. Instead, I had the blessing of older, wiser believers (mainly my parents and a few mentors) speaking into my life, pointing out things about myself that I was not aware of. Could a test have been helpful? Perhaps. But there is something to the relational vulnerability that it takes to open your lives up to others and allow them to speak truth where it is needed most that grows you leaps and bounds beyond a test.
That said, personality tests can be incredibly helpful. I’ve seen particularly how being aware of other family members’ strengths can help me better understand who they are. It’s too easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that the way we think and operate is “right” and if anyone differs from us, it’s “wrong.” Instead, realizing that my parents’ and siblings’ differences are key in balancing me out enables me to better appreciate who God made them. Personality tests can also be key in offering guidance for how we can best serve the church or take dominion in a vocation.
In addition, tests can help us better understand where we need to combat sin in our lives. Often, our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. For example, because I am very strong in responsibility and discipline, I tend to work very hard toward achieving goals and take seriously everything I set my hands to. But where that can get lopsided is when I begin to put my identity in those achievements instead of Christ or resort to worry and anxiety when I don’t feel like my life is under control. Knowing these strengths and weaknesses has alerted me to watch for red flags for when I need to surrender an area to the Lord or step back and remind myself that my identity lies in Christ.
However, I believe that the principle of Romans 14 applies to personality tests just as much as it applies to our other cultural choices. If something is causing a brother to stumble, it’s not worth it. This can particularly be the case when it comes to tests like the enneagram, which has over a millennium-long history of ties to New Age movements and even the occult (I would recommend this article by the Gospel Coalition for a biblically-balanced perspective on the enneagram). It is true a number of Christians have invented their own versions of the test, and like the above article asserts, it isn’t necessarily wrong to take it. The concern, however, would be the possibility of causing others to stumble who associate the test with the New Age movement.
Ultimately, our goal as believers is not to become the best version of our true selves but to conform to the image of Christ. This does not mean ignoring our personalities but rather taking them to the cross and asking God to reveal in us areas we need to grow as well as giftings with which we can serve others. Sometimes, part of this journey includes knowing the sin tendencies of our natural personalities. For example, I would highly recommend Martin Lloyd Jones’ Spiritual Depression for an in-depth, biblical look on the weaknesses that we more introspective types can fall into. But in the end, the focus is never on ourselves. Christ is the center—and while gazing on Him, serving others. If He is the focus, the rest falls into place.
P.S. For a more detailed analysis of a biblical understanding of personality tests, I would highly recommend this podcast by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.