Christians have a moral obligation to adjust their personality type to the truth that God has revealed

I read a piece online recently, written by an evangelical author, detailing his attendance at a theological lecture, in which the proposition was proffered that one’s view of the atonement is influenced by their psychological makeup.

So, for example, if you are prone to low self-esteem and feelings of guilt, then you will tend towards penal substitution. If you are an optimist, you lean towards Christus Victor. And so on.

This makes intuitive sense to me; however, the author took exception to this.

As the author is an Anglican he makes the point that the Book of Common Prayer exudes the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, and that this must be viewed as either a reflection of Thomas Cranmer’s psychological bent, or as Biblically faithful.

If this is to be viewed as Biblically faithful, then, the writer argues, we have a moral obligation to adjust our personality type to the truth that God has revealed, rather than ‘foisting’ our psychological profile on the atonement.

An interesting argument indeed and one that is deeply problematic.

Personality types are formed through both biological and social influences. In terms of social factors, this tends to occur in the early years through a myriad of interactions and relationships, both positive and potentially negative. As any psychotherapist will tell you, it takes much therapy to effect even a small change in ingrained personality types.

To state there is a moral obligation to change a personality type through sheer force of will in order to accept a doctrine is simply not helpful; I should know, I tried it.

This approach leads to a very uncomfortable and potentially damaging form of dissonance.

Trying to ram ourselves into a doctrinal box that runs counter to our true selves, simply doesn’t work in the long term. And what if we do, only to discover that particular doctrine to be largely discredited by the majority of believers, including the early fathers and large swathes of the Church.

Or what if we have suppressed ourselves in order to accept a doctrine that turns out to be more nuanced than we were led to believe, or should have incorporated additional facets?

This is what happened to me and it still angers me.

The simple truth is, our personality types impact enormously on our relationship with God, and our understanding of Him, in both positive and negative ways.

Take for example the person who has experienced a troubled relationship with a human father. They may very well project this in some form, in their relationship with the heavenly Father. This might sound negative; however, the person may seek the feminine aspect of God – as exemplified in Proverbs and elsewhere – and reach a much deeper understanding of this aspect of His nature.

Take another example, the person who due to childhood, experiences intense abandonment fears. These folk may endeavour to take hold of God in a far more tenacious manner than others.

The truth is inescapable that we will project our sense of self in some form or another, on to God, which will inevitably influence our relationship understanding.

It is perfectly acceptable to presume that damaged personalities and minds could potentially permeate a persons faith, leading to a distorted or damaged faith.

But who is not damaged in some shape or form?

Is it not possible to presume, that those very folk that hold certain doctrines in such a fundamentalist and unwavering manner, to the point whereby they must declare fellow brothers and sisters as dissenting heretics, are themselves simply acting according to their own personality type / trait?

Is God, who appears to delight in variety, really desiring his children to be devoid of diversity?

Looking at His Church, I don’t think so.


7 Responses to “Christians have a moral obligation to adjust their personality type to the truth that God has revealed”

  1. Caral Says:

    Interesting post.
    I’m always a little wary, of claiming any one theory of the Atonement, as the only one ‘true’ and biblical theory. I could easier write a small dissertation on the problems and flaws of Penal Substitution, the major one being the forensic focus on propitiation, whilst to the larger extent ignoring expatiation, but perhaps that’s another story.

    I would say that one thing we can be really certain of, is in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord enables us an At-One-Ment with God.

  2. Charlie Says:

    Haha, I guessed straight away which blog you read this on, instantly verified by a quick visit to said! It’s a bit pathetic really. I don’t think it deserves the serious reflection you have given to this post.

    That said, I suppose it is an extreme version of something that is around in a lot of churches, the sense that you can only be a proper Christian if you are a certain type of person. I’ve just never seen it expressed so blatantly before.

  3. Ben Trovato Says:

    Stuart, I think you hit the nail squarely on the head when you suggest that such an approach is the product of the personality type of those who advocate it. Indeed, by their own reasoning, how could it not be. A pretty sad circularity, if you ask me.

    ‘Let us create man in our own image.’ Do we really think one personality type can be the full image of God Himself?

  4. marc Says:

    Perhaps a little way off from the blog but this time looking at the writers of the gospels rather than the readers; determining personality types etc. Do NT scholars not use these tools today in determining the intent of NT writers – social milieu and all that?
    Just read a fascinating little paper put out by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, titled ‘The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church’. The paper makes interesting reading – use the search button (press Ctrl and click) on the article and type in ‘psy’. The paper is required reading for the CCRS.

  5. timothy parker Says:

    This poses in stark honest but failing ways ultimately the concerns for a true objectivity and true subjectivity in theology. This is our faculty of reason and our minds often get us in a mess , that is why what is highlighted here is not to be taken as merely comic or tragic, but requires of us diligent use of reason which is the cognitive aspect of faith. Subjectivizing forms of faith as we have here and the result is that the object of our faith is occluded and Jesus is not our Objective Lord stand over against us at the same time as being for us reconditioning or refitting for us a much needed true subjectiivty based in him and not in ‘our’ humanity. timo

  6. An escapable ‘truth’ Says:

    [...] Regarding this, from Stuart: Christians have a moral obligation to adjust their personality type to the truth that God has reveal…. [...]

  7. Roger Pearse Says:

    I wouldn’t want to comment on all this without seeing the original, and defining clearly what we’re discussing.

    But in my experience God goes with the grain, rather than across it, except in the key aspect that all of us, who are unconverted, are pointing the wrong way and need to be repointed. So it seems to me that a lot more care is needed in all this.

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