Personality tests like the Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs can be helpful tools, but when we place too much emphasis on them, we run the risk of pursuing a knowledge of self above our knowledge of God.

Jul 23, 2019   |  

Topic Identity

I’m an Enneagram five. An INTJ. An Achiever/Dreamer. A Gryffindor. 

If you’re familiar with any of these personality tests, it might feel like I just showed a lot of my cards. And to an extent, that’s true. You probably figured out that I’m introverted, analytical, logical, loyal, stubborn and slow to process emotions. 

Learning about these tests and results has helped others better understand how I operate, but beyond that, it has helped me understand myself. That sounds like a good thing, right? I’d argue it is (or at least can be)—that tools like the Enneagram can be beneficial. But we also risk putting too much stock in what is, in the end, just a tool. We can begin to overemphasize and over-value knowledge of self, prioritizing it over or forgetting altogether our need, first and foremost, for a knowledge of God. 

Chicken or Egg?

Though conversations about the Enneagram, Meyers-Briggs or “what animal you might be” feel a bit faddish to us, the wrestle to balance knowledge of God and self is not new to the believer. In Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin tackles this very topic. He argues that knowledge of self is important—we can really only understand our need for a Savior when we understand our own sin and brokenness. But he goes on to say that we can’t truly understand how small and flawed we are without first understanding the glory and awesomeness of God.  

Eventually, he takes a position, contending that knowledge of God must precede any true knowledge of self. He writes: 

"Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness...That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God."

What, exactly, is Calvin’s point? Is he saying that as believers, we are wrong to invest our time, energy and thoughts in understanding our bents and brokenness as a way to better ourselves as disciples of Christ? I don’t think so. But he’s clear that this must be absolutely secondary to the time, energy and thoughts we devote to seeking a knowledge of God. Our time is wasted if we spend so much of it deciphering how we might be unique or wired differently than those around us, versus deepening our understanding of the God of the Bible.

Why We Pursue Knowledge

So it’s clear that pursuing knowledge of God is important, but why is it important? 

We are sinful people, and because of that we just can’t truly see ourselves rightly. Despite the common grace of personality tests, how we view ourselves is distorted by sin. We need a viewpoint unmarred by sin—the infallible Word of God. 

Despite what some of these personality tests say, we will change. Our circumstances and personalities will change, but God never does. So we fill ourselves with knowledge of Him and root ourselves in what we know is true of the Unchanging One, as almost everything else (to one degree or another) remains uncertain. 

We simply don’t want to live lives oriented around ourselves. When knowledge of self supersedes knowledge of God, it’s clear what we’ve deemed more important. So we spend time learning about Him because the more we know about Him, the more we will love Him and our focus will begin to move away from ourselves and toward the Lord. 

Our Hope in Darkness

Like Calvin said, knowledge of God and knowledge of self inform each other. As we refocus our efforts on growing in our knowledge of God, we will, inevitably, gain a clearer picture of ourselves. And as we begin to see clearly the depths of our sin, we might be tempted to throw our hands up, admitting the impossibility of fixing all of those problems on our own. Or perhaps worse, we might try to do just that. 

But a deep knowledge of God saves us from ourselves in these dark moments of introspection. When we are confronted with our brokenness, we rest in what we know about the Lord—that He alone sustains, saves and sanctifies us. Instead of digging our heels into a battle for self-improvement we are sure to lose, we orient our identities—who we are—around who God is and the work He’s done in Jesus Christ. 

How We Engage 

So how do we get this balance right? What should we do when the next shiny new personality test rolls around? Rather than getting lost in what may feel like a brand new world of self-understanding, we need to prioritize our pursuit of knowledge of God. We ought to engage with Scripture and theological endeavors more frequently than we seek to learn about ourselves, remembering that our primary aim as we grow in knowledge of self is that we would become increasingly humble before the Lord. And when we do engage with the Enneagram or anything like it, we should do so in a way that is not altogether separate from our walk with and knowledge of God, anchoring ourselves not in our identities as a seven, ENFP or Badger, but as a son or daughter of the Father.