A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“But though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are ‘cold’ by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity (p. 130).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I love the balanced and nuanced approach the Lewis takes to the subject of temperament (i.e., personality; disposition: lion-otter-beaver-retriever; Myers-Brigg’s Type Indicator, etc…). I would summarize Lewis’ thoughts on the subject in four statements.
1. Temperament is real. People are different. These differences can be classified in legitimate and helpful ways. Children are born with innate preferences and tendencies that remain constant across the life span, often withstanding even traumatic events or major changes in their social environment.
No one classification system “holds the market” on describing these differences. Each test and classification system embeds certain biases of the author which may distract from pointing people to greater dependence upon Christ. Some people will identify with the descriptions of one test over another; others will reject being classified at all (don’t tell them the tests usually predict that).
2. Temperament is amoral. Having one temperament is not morally superior or inferior to another. There is no “Jesus temperament.” I would go so far as to say that it is unhelpful to depict Jesus as the perfect balance of all temperaments (whether you have 4, 8, or 16 in your system). That has a strong tendency to “make God in our own image;” a tendency Christian counseling literature is prone to do.
Someone may be naturally melancholy (given to depression), analytical (given to anxiety), introverted (avoidant of biblical community), or judging (given to over-confidence). These dispositions would represent their most common temptations, and therefore be considered what Scripture calls “the flesh,” but the pervasive temptation would not be inherently wrong unless acted/fixated upon.
3. Temperament is a moral challenge. Our personality does make certain moral duties more difficult or less pleasurable to fulfill. However, God does not write a unique set of expectations for all 16 combinations of the MBTI.
I believe Romans 12:3 applies to this challenge. Paul warns against thinking too highly of ourselves – a common temptation for each person to think his/her approach is “right” or “obvious.” Temperament, like every other unique aspect of a person, has a tendency to be self-centered. Paul also says God has assigned a measure of faith to each person – meaning some acts of faith/obedience are easier for certain people.
4. Temperament is not who you are. The reason all these things can be true is that there is a “you” who has a temperament. Your temperament reveals the values that you most naturally hold. They were given to you (like your body, talents, and intelligence were given to you) to be stewarded for a purpose.
When we define ourselves by our temperament (or body, talents, or intelligence) we lose the sense that God called “me” to steward “what He has given me” for his glory and begin to fall into pride or insecurity. Both pride and insecurity begin to use God’s gift as a reason why we are the exception to God’s rules.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.