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Does the gospel create homogenous personalities?

Here's a question Rich Owen asked me.  I've included my answer, but I thought it would be great to get your opinions too.  This is the question:

To what extent does the gospel require a homogenisation of personality?
 
I'm thinking about bearing with one another, rebuking one another, kindness... the hard edge of graciousness and integrity...  but gentleness etc. So as a simplistic example...
 
Person A is really very nice. Wouldn't say boo to a goose, tends to fall in line even if reservations are bubbling in the background - thinking very positively about others, perhaps naively, so is always looking for smooth and non confrontaional paths in dealing with people. It is not always obvious what they think about things because everything is tempered with caveats because they are gentle people in every way not seeking to offend.
 
Person B is also very nice but is very gritty, calls a spade a spade etc. Doesn't fall in line without having to be persuaded. Thinks very highly of others and so in love calls things pretty black and white - calls sin sin, points right at pride and invites others to be just as direct with them. They think positively about others, but analyse and challenge - likewise not seeking to offend - but knowing how pride works want to expose it directly.
 
These personality types are partly "considered" in that is what they want to be and think is best, but they also reflect how someone naturally is - some people are more gritty than others etc.
 
Anyway - that is my already unhelpfully stereotyped situation.
 
under those maxims of bearing with one another, etc should person B attempt to be more like person A so that person A hears them better? should person A be a bit more bullish so that there is more clarity and person B knows exactly where they are going?
 
does the gospel require these people to deny self in the sense that they are naturally fluffy or gritty, and as they move towards the other, modify personality to be more like each other... a homogenisation?

Here's my answer:

I wrote a series of posts on personality, idols, repentance, gifts, service, maturity etc here, here, here and here.  
 
Basically I think there are four elements to consider:
 
1) God-given temperament.  The triune God loves diversity.  When humans make ice we make ice cubes, when the Father makes ice He makes snowflakes and all that,
 
2) Idolatry which takes hold of our natural differences and creates idols that we serve and imitate (this is an all-pervasive part of 'personality').  For instance, the world, flesh and devil take hold of a person with an above average IQ to make them worship and serve their brain, or intelligence in general, or being right or knowledgeable or whatever. 
 
3) In Christ there is repentance for this idolatry which will mean acting against type.  2) means that a naturally sweet disposition will in some large part arise from flesh-dynamics that simply want to justify self, protect from relational pain, pursue some idol of 'niceness'.  Such a sweet person's repentance will involve assertiveness, standing up for truth etc while the bruque person's repentance will involve the reverse.
 
but also,
 
4) In Christ there is spiritual gifting which will very often redeem those God-given temperaments from 1).  The same Spirit through Whom I was made is the Spirit who gifts me in Christ.  He gifts me and gives me to the body of Christ in my distinctness to be a member of this diverse church.  
 
 
1) and 4) are the pre-redemption and post-redemption celebrations of diversity.  I think the last thing God wants is homogeneity.  The devil through the idolatry of 2) shoves us into some very bland temperamental boxes.  In this sense homogenisation is satanic.  Dan Allender talks about how a woman's flesh-dynamics lead her really only to three basic categories: good girl, party girl and tough girl.  There's a billion ways of being a woman if we live out our identity in Christ, there's only a few very narrow ones if we don't.
 
So yes broadly speaking I think repentance will look different for different people. (e.g. party girl should take responsibility, good girl should let go, tough girl should sweeten up.) But that's not because there's some 'average girl' in the middle that Christ is shepherding womankind towards!  Following Christ will mean expressing our God-given, Spirit-redeemed diversity not squishing us into some homogenous mould.  
 

Some follow-up questions to consider:

  • If the gospel doesn't create homogenous personalities then why do our churches, not to mention our ministry training bodies, churn them out?? 
  • Why is 'being nice' the bland medium that defines so much of our Christianity??
  • Is there space for confrontation in our homogenized churches?? 

 

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11 thoughts on “Does the gospel create homogenous personalities?

  1. Milton Stanley

    At the risk of sounding cynical, I've observed that Person A would be much better received than Person B in most churches, and those quality of A's that are, in fact, merely natural personality traits would tend to be viewed by other Christians as spiritual maturity.

  2. Paul Huxley

    Thinking out loud:

    "The triune God loves diversity."

    Well... some kinds of diversity. Diversity he likes among humans certainly includes male/female, and tribe/tongue/nation. I'm not sure that the Bible ever goes as far as to say that God loves diversity of personality types other than in relation to their roles and authority structures. eg. children should have an obedient attitude towards their parents, and not vice versa. Similarly 1 Cor 12. That's a diversity God loves.

    I like person B more.

    As you say, they're stereotypes. A is prone to ducking away from important confrontation. B is prone to causing confrontation where it's not needed.

    It's a case of ethics isn't it? In any given situation, is there a single, correct action one ought to take? If so, then homogenous personalities are the aim. If not, which seems more likely to me, they're not.

    We are all looking to be transformed to be like Jesus, so does that mean a homogenous personality?

    Consider Jesus talking to the woman at the well. Could Jesus have righteously answered her in a different way and remain faithful to God? Probably, but even if not, consider the different kinds of Christians who could be faced with that kind of situation. A Christian, 20 stone highland games Scotsman and a petite, Godly, elderly woman. Would it be right for those two to act the same way to the woman as one another? Surely not. God has gifted them differently and they could say the same words yet be taken completely different ways.

    So it seems to me that there's more than one way to cook an egg, so homogenous personalities aren't necessary. However, much more correctly homogenous personalities than present would be desirable - for example man C who is more like Man A on less significant things and more like man B on big things. But there's space for manouvre within man C.

    That was long-winded.

  3. codepoke

    ?

    A Rottweiler and a Border Collie don't have to become each other to become exactly what they were bred to be, but both have to quit biting. when biting happens, Person A bites with his tail tucked between his legs and Person B bites with his hackles up. But biting needs to quit happening.

    That doesn't make them homogenous.

  4. Gav

    I agree with Code in regards we should be who we are meant to be. But people should mature and change to a certain degree.

    You couldnt make up a football team or a production team with all leaders. It would be absolute chaos.
    You also couldnt make up these teams with all followers(the quieter type) as nothing new would get done, no innovation, no barriers broken etc.

    But you would hope that as each team matures, the personality differences compliment each other rather than pull against one another and the roles would change as well. So they will all bear fruit that contributes to the objective.

    So my opinion is we need all types.

  5. Missy

    It's my personality to people-please and avoid conflict. It's how I cope with fear and anxiety.

    But it's not my nature. I'm questioning and argumentative. I'm the kid who asked, "Why...why...why?" but then trained to stop with threat of punishment.

    I did not know this before I knew Christ. And most people didn't either - they thought I was joyfully self-sacrificing. Many people liked me that way, too. Some even see me as more of a "sinner" today than before. They didn't know the bitter root that grew in my heart and my silent disdain for them.

    I think we have very little concept of the sin in our hearts without freedom in Christ, much less the sin in others. We are often trained to be "white-washed tombs" and appear most pious in this state.

    I have to agree that we are not created to be homogenus. How could we ever be those various body parts that Paul talks about? A body of all torsos would be rather useless.

  6. Glen

    A passage I was looking at earlier:

    Eph 4:11-16:

    11It was Christ who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work

    Maturity is about unity in *faith* and *knowledge*. This is achieved by speaking truth in love (both the 'nice' and the 'brusque' are challenged by this). But growing up into Christ is not like a drop dissolving in the ocean - it's about different parts functioning in their distinctiveness.

  7. Rich Owen

    It sounds like most folks here agree with how Glen put his answer – thanks Glen.

    So where does this leave us?

    If, as is suggested, our churches unwittingly promote and are full of that bland medium (which I think we all agree is nearer to person A than person B), how would one suggest that this is the case without being marginalised?

    How can the vicious cycle be broken?

  8. Missy

    Rich,

    As odd as it sounds, my church actually lends itself to both attracting and cultivating type B personas. We've been under "operation" for a few years recognizing the folly of the "homogenous" church growth. It led to a legalism that just about crushed us. We've spent a lot of time learning about the personal balance between truth and grace as well as attempting to focus on consideration of others; their talents, desires, personal growth and personality.

    I think it requires a lot of optimism and faith that God really is working for the good of those who love him. It applies to others as well as ourself - something that many forget when considering the sheparding of less mature disciples. We can't encourage people to embrace where they are and allow God to cutivate them as He sees fit if we aren't really willing to embrace where they are at ourself.

    For us, it's been about encouraging people to look to Christ and to stop comparing each other to one another.

  9. Glen

    That's really good Missy. Whenever I forget that God is up to something in the lives of others I treat them badly - either I don't encourage where I should or confront where I should or have a vision for them or how they can serve.

    I think suffering helps in all this too. If a person has clung to Christ through suffering, that refinement process makes them thick skinned and open hearted.

    I also wonder whether (perhaps counter-intuitively) more of a culture of encouragement might actually help when it comes to rebuking. In my experience the people who never really confront, never really praise either. In the circles I move in encouragement for the preacher consists in 'Thanks, that was clear/faithful/helpful'. I wonder whether heart-felt, eye-to-eye, 'I thank God for you' kind of praise would move a few more hearts to engage more. I just think people are so detached from one another they neither praise nor criticise and remain in a deathly blandness.

  10. Missy

    Aye! Glen, I agree. To engage in a proper rebuke - love must be the foundation. (I suspect that this may be why Jesus died for us while we were STILL sinners!)

    It's a very difficult thing for a church to foster this officially. We tried for 25+ years, noting that being in each other's lives this way was how we finish the race. But the church fostering it made it forced and often insincere. What did make it effective was to see it modeled in mature disciples.

    But then, the minute you start trying to make those moments occur - it's no longer real. Just gotta be involved, get dirty and love people, I guess. I think churches marginalize it because of all the brainstorming to circumvent the work of relationships. There's no shortcuts.

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