Personality tests: Yay or nay?

April 15, 2019

I’ve never been a fan of tract homes. While I like symmetry and order, tract homes seem to lack creativity. You walk down the street and see Home A, Home B, Home C, Home B, Home A, another Home B, and so it goes. God doesn’t create cookie-cutter homes. He’s a much better designer. In his creation we see order and symmetry, but also complexity, beauty, and diversity. This is especially true in his creation of human beings. While there are some clear categories, such as two clear sexes, humans are created as unique individuals. People don’t fit into just four types of personalities repeated over and over. There are thousands of variables and these are changing over time as individuals develop.

Personality tests can sometimes box people in. DiSC, Enneagram, Myers Briggs all attempt to describe us and sometimes can be wrongly used to define us. I’m actually fascinated by personality tests; I enjoy taking them and have learned a lot from them. They have their place, but they also have their misapplications.

Personality tests can be wrongly used to excuse our sin.

Sometimes when we hurt others, we use our personality as the reason. “I wasn’t being rude. That’s just who I am.” We believe who we are is static, yet we arrogantly expect others to change to accommodate our personality. This ignores the biblical principle of considering others as more important than ourselves.

We can also use personality tests as a way of boxing ourselves in and letting our sin and temptations define us. “I can’t help this sin; that’s who God made me.” “I’ll always be a 2. I can’t change. I might as well give in to my people-pleasing.” Believing we can’t change is hopeless and untrue. It ignores sanctification. God is at work changing us. We are new creations. We aren’t stuck. Yes, there are some propensities I will fight until the day I die, but I’m not given over to them.

Personality tests can be wrongly used to accuse others.

“You are such a 7.” “Okay, Miss ENFJ!” “You always…” “You never…” “There you are showing your C again.” We categorize others and attribute motives to their actions. An innocent mistake or an off-hand remark can be perceived as characteristic of that person or as showing malice. Someone trying to serve and further a project can be perceived as domineering because they are such a “D.” As fallen human beings, we are all prone to what has been termed by social psychologists as the “Fundamental Attribution Error.” We often understand our own actions in light of the surrounding circumstances, but others’ actions we attribute to resulting from who they are. For example, when I cut someone off in traffic it is because I am late, I didn’t know where I was going, or I was thinking of the fight I just had with someone, but when someone cuts me off in traffic it’s because she is a jerk who doesn’t care about anyone but herself.

Defining others by their personality or interpreting their actions based upon a category ignores God’s work in others. If understanding personalities helps us sharpen our brother or sister, encourage them, or lovingly ask a question to better understand their motive, it’s good. If it leads us to accuse them, it’s not. After all, Christ sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us, while Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Which side do we wish to join?

Personality tests can help us better understand ourselves.

Calvin in his institutes links the knowledge of God and knowledge of self. There is a benefit to self-contemplation. Personality tests can expose us and show us our need for Christ. It can also help us live out who God made us to be for his glory. Taking the DiSC profile before I moved to my new job helped me expect ways the transition would be difficult for me. The report rightly identified that when I make decisions or bold changes I tend to consider all the potential failures rather than the possibilities. The profile allowed me to not be surprised by the list of horrible possibilities that came to mind in that transition. I was able to identify what was going on when my mind went down that path, to take courage, and to ask God and others for help as I walked through the move. Personality tests are helpful where they help us understand who we are in our gifting, propensities, and temptations so that we can better serve God and others.

Personality tests can help us better understand and work with others.

I can foolishly think everyone else sees things the same way I do. That assumption can lead to conflict. Personality tests remind me that not everyone else is motivated by the same things as I am or has the same thought processes as I do. It helps me celebrate and utilize my brothers’ and sisters’ gifting, and it also helps me work through conflict that comes while working on projects with people who differ from me.

At an event I was throwing with a friend, we had handwritten instructions posted on a piece of paper for the guests. All night long my co-host and I were at battle with one another moving the sign. She kept moving it to a more prominent place. I kept moving it to a less-visible place where the instructions were accessible when needed but weren’t an eye-sore. We got frustrated with each other. We talked about it later and laughed, but it wasn’t until a personality test told me that aesthetics was one of my highest values and utility one of my lowest, that I realized what had motivated our war. With this knowledge of myself, instead of being annoyed with her, I could have recognized why it was important to me, recognized she was trying to be practical, not annoying, and I could have created a more attractive sign to accomplish both.

Personality tests can be wrongly used to box ourselves or others in, or they can be used to grow in understanding, humility, service, and to celebrate diversity. Personality types can be helpful in describing how God created and wired different human beings. They should not be used to define ourselves and others. Enjoy and delight in differences. Be challenged by a friend who thinks, responds, or is motivated differently than you in a situation. We are all humans in progress. Personality doesn’t excuse my sin or hopelessly define me or others.

Jenn Kintner

Jenn Kintner serves as Office Coordinator in Nashville. She takes care of general office management and serves as an assistant to the Executive Vice President. Jenn has a B.A. in Biblical Exposition, an M.A. in Biblical Counseling, and graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with her Doctorate of Education. Read More by this Author