Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Personality-Influenced Theology

Donald Miller writes on something I've been thinking for years: that perhaps people's theological beliefs are more driven by their own personalities than we'd ever like to admit.

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? And have you noticed that people who obsess about the second coming also like science fiction books? Of course those are general statements, and the most offensive thing you can say to a twenty-something is that people might have common characteristics (they hear “nobody is original”) but, honestly, and I mean really, really, honestly, is this something you’ve noticed?

So I’ve been wondering how much our personality goes into our understanding of God? And I’ve been concluding that, well, it goes into our view of God quite a bit.
I know that I'm not drawn to Calvinist beliefs, not because I necessarily think them untrue, but because my own personality reacts to its rigidity and traditions. I see this in how I relate to God--comfortable with mystery and abstract ideas, embracing emotions while not being driven by them, and living in the tension between opposing beliefs. I wonder if personality plays a role in our spiritual influences; I find myself reading and appreciating far more Rob Bell and N.T. Wright than Mark Driscoll or John Piper.

So what's your take on all this?


  1. I've often wondered about this as well, but never had it expressed quite this way (you're right in my experience, by the way, all of the hard-core Calvinists I know are pretty b&w people).

    I am an INFP and I identified with your description of how you view God. I never saw my kataphatic view of God as being related to my own personality. It certainly is food for thought.

    The question for me then becomes how one reconciles varying theological systems within Christianity if personality has much to do with how we understand God and Scripture. Does staunch adherence to a particular system mean that we are overemphasizing a facet of Scriptural truth and Divine revelation simply because that is the part of God we can see in our personality, our individual flawed reflection of the imago Dei?

  2. Eric, great thoughts! I'm not sure it has to be viewed as "staunch adherence" as much as it is a celebration of how big our God truly is. If we could fit Him into one singular system of our own creation, we surely would still be missing so many important facets. The key is to not allow that bigness to spread into universalism or relativism, but to remain grounded in the truth of who God is.