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Your personality type & your religious bias

Donald Miller wrote a blog recently posing the question, “Does your personality influence your theology?”   He asks, “Have you ever noticed Calvinists think in black and white? And I’m not just talking about their theology, I mean they think in black and white about everything? If they w…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Donald Miller wrote a blog recently posing the question, “Does your personality influence your theology?”
He asks, “Have you ever noticed Calvinists think in black and white? And I’m not just talking about their theology, I mean they think in black and white about everything? If they weren’t Christians, wouldn’t they just manifest their personalities in some other fight, some other black-and-white way of viewing the world? And have you noticed that people who obsess about the second coming also like science fiction books?”
Most of us can’t see ourselves outside the fish tank in which we’re swimming. People who struggle with controlling other people tend toward a rules-based faith. Those who like to study tend to think of discipleship in the light of reading books. We interpret spiritual reality through the filter of our temperament.
After finishing Miller’s blog, I found a comment by Christine Slobodin especially provocative:

Don, While I’m not all that
familiar with the Enneagram, I’m well acquainted with the observations
you’ve made correlating one’s personality with their theology. As a
psychotherapist who’s been practicing for more than 10 years, I’ve
noticed that an overwhelming majority of the clients I’ve seen who are
in recovery for substance abuse have been Pentecostal. At the same time,
almost all of the individuals I’ve worked with who are recovering from
sex addiction have all come out of stricter denominations (in the cases
I’m working with it’s been Reformed Baptist).
Interestingly enough – I’ve also observed
that those patients who’ve continued to work with me for a longer period
of time (more than 3yrs) have displayed significant shifts in their
theological orientation and in most cases have changed churches and/or
What do you think?

Comments (17)

  • Totally believable. Just today I read something that shed light on how my personality type has affected my response to religion and interacting with others. I grew up knowing salvation is “grace alone, faith alone–and both from God”. I was never taught works-based salvation but because of my background, I became independent-minded very young.

    Feeling “I am responsible for me” can and did subtly translate into that plus “and friends disappoint, can’t really be trusted.” Never had a co-dependency problem! But my sense of inter-dependency with others is solid, and increasingly so.

    Now that God has exposed that lie He is eradicating it and replacing it with a deep, tender affection for friends new and old, a stronger sense of responsibility for them, and a freedom I did not know I lacked. I’ve never been happier or known greater joy. And I know it is His love growing within.

  • Reading this from the beginning disturbed me was not sure why and still not exactly sure why but I have to say my spirit doesnt seem to be in agreement with it at all . I believe that backround and upbringing is probably your biggest reason for choice and I understand that your upbringing may effect your personality type so I can understand where this is all coming from. I think its almost offensive to me though to lump this all in which religion type you would fall in. My God is way bigger than that , He created us each own personality uniquely our own differing from all others not for a exuse for what religion we would follow or fall under. I believe its the condition of the world today especially with all its lies, deceptions, I orientated, etc all the things the enemey tries to do is more the cause for choices even in religion and denominations .Jesus came to set us free from all that by knowing the truth and freedom that rest in Him! When each of us come to that recognization is when we will become One true body In Christ and that will have nothing to do with our personality type!!

  • I kind of think that might be the point…..

    Our personality types/quirks play into most of what we do. Whether it be the friends we surround ourselves with, the work we do, vacations we take, cars we drive, charities we sponsor, or even the churches we attend.

    And that just speaks to the human interference that has created the different denominations and opinions. If there weren’t these different personalities driving doctrine and policy within churches and it was ONLY God we followed, wouldn’t we all just be Christ-followers? There would be no reason for Baptists, or Pentecostals, or Catholics, or any other branch of “Christianity”. We would all just identify from the tree of Christ.

  • I’m tracking a bit more with Kathy. This particular blog (and the psychological track) is the perfect example of regarding one another according to the flesh rather than regarding one another according to Christ. The call to do the latter is quite clear. Feed the perspective of flesh and we get more flesh – divisions, life-long struggles,, etc. Feed the perspective of who we are in Christ, individually AND corporately, and there are no bounds to His glory in and through us!

  • ditto schifano- interesting blog.

    I wonder if a lot of the reason so many people leave a/the church is just the fact that that church is incompatible with their personality?

  • I’ve never actually considered this before, but at first thought I’d join those who disagree. You go to any church and you will find a diversity of personality types.

    From my own experience, I think a person’s personality can change several times throughout their life. I used to be more black and white. Once I started learning more about God, things became more complicated. I started to see things, not as separated, but more intertwined. I seem to be going in reverse from what Miller stated. As I found myself drifting away from “black and white”, I found myself moving closer to Calvinism(though I wouldn’t call myself a 5 pointer). Although, I think there are some things that we need to be black and white on… like close-handed issues- like the Gospel.

    A person’s belief system, or worldview, is at the core of who they are and that radiates outward to affect the rest of their life. This would lead me to believe that a person’s theology influences their personality, rather than the other way around. If a person’s worldview changes, so does who they are(2Cor.5:17). Not to say that “this worldview leads to this personality type”, but I think as a person’s worldview changes or becomes more refined, their personality will change as well.

    I think the main reason why we have so many divisions in the Christian faith may seem like personality differences at the surface, but if you dig to the root it is most often because of sin- more frequently than not, Christians fail to love the Church as Christ loved her and gave Himself for her(Eph.5:25). So, since Joe doesn’t like Stan’s preaching style, Steve can’t stand the way Jane dances during the music, Adam wants to go to a church where he won’t be judged for his tattoos and occasional beer, or Henry won’t put up with immature believers who are still trying to figure out their theology or those who just flat out disagree on some minor issue- now we have divisions…

    …Then again, it could be completely innocent. Paul and Barnabas did separate because of some difference, but they did so in mutual love and respect for each other and not to work against each other. Good can come out of a division as long as Christians remember to love each other, primarily, and not let the reason they divide be because they are having a hard time loving their brothers and sisters.

    …Just some initial thoughts… interesting discussion.

  • Great blog, I agree. I don’t think every single Calvinist sees everything in black and white and so on and so fourth, but I do agree with the majority of what you’ve said. Interesting thoughts.

  • Ian – WR Oct. ’08

    I’m definitely inclined toward the dissenters as well.

    My experience echoes Matt’s, insofar as my theology has shifted and diversified as my knowledge of God and maturity in Christ has grown.

    In FACT … this perspective is verified in pop psychology. Off the top of my head, I know that the wildly-popular Myers-Briggs type indicator urges people to fill in the gaps and eccentricities in their particular types as they move toward personal maturity.

    MOREOVER … it was God’s idea first: that being of “one mind” is a key feature of the Body as it grows into Him who is the head. That is, as we grow into spiritual maturity, our theology must *necessarily* expand and accept bigger pictures of who God is, and what His body can look like.

    SO … I offer this: that many of the aforementioned differences in theology may persist in a believer’s life simply because their natural predispositions have never been adequately challenged. This probably also means their fears and hurts as well.

    And perhaps THAT is the case simply because our churches have succeeded so completely in quarantining the hands from the feet, the feet from the eyes, from the ears, from the mouth, etc. etc. Bad move.

    Just my conjectures.

  • Though this in an interesting thought, I’m inclined to disagree with both Miller and Slobodine because I think their views convenient but overly simplistic. I’m a Presbyerian pastor of 19 years within the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition though I’d also characterize myself as a theoligically Reformed charismatic who appreciates a wide range of perspectives within the confines of orthodoxy. I’m policitally centrist (no party affiliation) and hardly a black and white thinker (though I confess I wish things were so clear). My experience tells me that addicts, black and white thinkers, as well as open pluralists come from every leaning. The common denominator is human brokenness.

  • Ian – WR Oct. ’08

    I’ll go a little step further, now that I think about it.

    Anybody who’s ever tried to personality-type lots of their friends will find that SOME fit very neatly into the boxes of, say, the Myers-Briggs. But, significantly: OTHERS DON’T. Some people seem to straddle the types entirely. To them, the model is useless.

    This leads me to a simple conclusion: personality types are not real. They are not actual quantifiable groupings that EXIST as such. Instead, they’re just MODELS that SOMETIMES correlate with real life in useful ways.

    This is just like the concept of a COLOR: any physicist can show you that a color is just an arbitrary interval of wavelengths on the continuum of the EM spectrum, and where one color ends and another begins is just a matter of who you ask!

    PERSONALITY is a continuum, just like the EM spectrum, except way more complicated.

    All this is NOT to sweep the last 100 years of psychology under the rug. I only submit that: MAYBE Don Miller’s blog is ultimately describing the various parts of the Body of Christ themselves, with all their strengths and eccentricities and pitfalls … albeit describing them in a convoluted and missing-the-point sort of way.

    The POINT, then, is that perhaps God’s already given us a framework for all the “personality types” that we’ll ever need to care about. Like in Romans 12. Or Ephesians 4. Or 1 Corinthians 12. These are real differences in the body that were mapped out by God and put there ON PURPOSE.

    AFTER that, to account for the REST of the glaring disparity we see in the Body, as some have already noted … is sin, and its wages.

  • I could not believe that I was reading this! What a slam on Penticostals, Baptists, Calvinists and studious Christians! How would you react if I included my personal (equally unfounded) observations on those who go on short term mission trips?

  • Interesting discussion; the indignation in some of the responses is surprising. Miller and Slobidn put forth premises based on their experience. They are not stating it as truth but rather have interpreted their observations as defined by the data and surmised. I still find it interesting. I don’t discount it at all.

  • I like Andy’s comment: “My experience tells me that addicts, black and white thinkers, as well as open pluralists come from every leaning. The common denominator is human brokenness.”

    While I would agree that Miller and Slobodin aren’t claiming absolute truth, words can be hurtful. I am guessing they are trying to figure these things out themselves and were maybe a little too hasty to clump people together, interpreting solely from their own experience. It isn’t wrong to interpret from experience, but as Christians, we need to remember that the Word of God is our ultimate authority. If our experience (subjective) doesn’t agree with the Word, something is wrong… and I’m guessing it’s either our understanding of our experience or our understanding of the Word… But in everything, “bearing with one another in love.” (Eph.4)

  • I remember reading that on Don’s site. and i remember reading the same comment from the psychotherapist.

    so i think i went through the same emotions you did.

    the Calvinist part reminded me of one guy i met, hyper-Calvinist, who was also the strongest black/white personality i ever met. he was the most critical guy. everything was TERRIBLE or THE BEST EVER. people’s attitude’s, t shirts, U2, social justice. everything was at one extreme or the other.

    what i also find fascinating tho, is the comments above me. especially the ones that are disturbed by this blog. how it ‘limits God’, ‘pigeon holes people into beliefs’. i think it bothers people because on one level they know it is at least partially true, and on another level, it seems to rationalize something sacred like theology/faith. rationalizing our faith can be scary.

    i was surprised how this Don Miller quote from the same blog defined me:

    “Then there is the scholarly type, who tends to understand everything from different angles, but has trouble landing or stating they believe in much of anything. They are on a search, looking for truth, and don’t like the idea of having arrived. These people make great Bible Scholars because they try to understand an idea from various angles, and yet they have a very hard time landing, mainly because they feel like when they land, they stop learning.”

    i’m very indecisive when it comes to theology.

    anyway, forgive the shameless plug, but i’d be interested to know what you think of my latest blog post. it’s similar in subject.


  • I suspect there is no personality bias in religious conviction. It’s tempting to think there is, but such a large number of people believe in God, it seems unlikely religious faith favors certain personality types. In 1990 in the US, about 50% of people believed in creation, about 41% in ID and 9% believed in either. I doubt there are personality biases in belief in ID or creation.

    I can’t find anything correlating a major personality classifier with religious conviction. If anyone knows of one I’d be most appreciate if you could please mail me. Again it would have to be a large cohort study. The psychoanalyst’s observations above are probably not indicative of any pattern at all since her numbers would presumably be in the very low tens of people.

    People’s personalities don’t usually change much, however, people may become atheists after many years of strong conviction. The opposite also happens in late adoption of faith.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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