The Dangers & Myths of Personality Tests

Anonymous asked a question:

I’ve followed you for a while. I find solace in your blog. I recently did a Spiritual Gift Test in my leadership group at church. I scored a 23 in Mercy and Administration (out of 25), but I scored an 8 in Faith. The test is a tool to show your best qualities to serve your church. It really struck me hard, as I struggle with what God’s intentions are for me, and what my path is. A lot of the time I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I just don’t know what to do anymore. 

Hey my friend, thank you for sharing your struggle here.

Please know: there are a lot of “spiritual tests” out there, and I wouldn’t trust them all very much. In fact, there are thousands, if not millions, of personality tests and horoscopes and “strengths finders” and “which Marvel character are you,” and while they’re fun, they should never become permanent labels that determine your growth and journey.

I have to ask, who is developing these tests? Is it like every other westernized test with a western bias? Are they evidence-based? And if so, how? How many people have been misled by these things? And in a hundred years when they develop better tests, are we all just doomed today?

The most famous test of all time, the Myers-Briggs, is absolutely not based on any evidence or science at all. It’s also highly binary without any sort of continuum or grey area. And since major companies have been hiring and firing people based on tests rather than interaction, it’s a really big deal that we take a step back from them without condemning ourselves to one singular fate.

In fact, if we take a step back from a lot of books and blogs, many of them can be helpful, but they should all be filtered through skepticism. Authors, pastors, celebrities, and “experts” can offer good-sounding advice that does nothing but sound good. Always, always discern.

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How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?

Anonymous asked a question:

How can we not judge others? What if they are doing something wrong and I wanna correct them? Does that mean I “judged” them? What if I categorized their action as a sin? Still “judged” them?

Hey dear friend, I believe this is one of those myths that needs to be cleared up with a big dose of nuance and balance.

If you ask most people about the general message of the Bible, we might say, “Love everybody” or “Don’t judge or you’ll be judged!” And those are true. The problem is: that’s way too simplified for our human condition. The Bible also offers many extra layers for us, because we’re all squishy fragile beings with three lb. brains that need more than a sloppy idea of “love” and “don’t judge.”

Love includes telling the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13:6). It includes accountability, wisdom, boundaries, and healthy exchange (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 1 Cor 6:19-20). We’re called to be as pure as doves but as wise as snakes (Matthew 10:16). Love doesn’t mean we let people off the hook, and there are plenty of examples where Bible figures spoke up at the risk of death: Esther, Nathan, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, who was beheaded for it. And saying “Don’t judge” is often a hidden ploy that really means, “Don’t judge me because I want to be selfish and destructive without your finger-wagging nagging.”

The famous passage on judging, Matthew 7, actually says:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

That final verse is important. Paraphrased, it says: First look at yourself, and then you can actually see someone else.

In other words, there’s actually a way to judge someone that isn’t a passive-aggressive, flesh-driven, smug, backhanded superiority, but a sincere effort to see the best in someone when they’re slipping up. It necessarily starts with looking at ourselves first. Am I judging this person out of my own need to win? To just get things off my chest? To just tell them off? To let them have it?

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Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Shawshank Redemption

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Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Columbia Pictures

Summary:
Andy Dufresne is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her extramarital lover. He is soon indoctrinated in a savage world of bargaining, machismo, corruption, and despair. But Andy is a silent unassailable force who through intellect and his child-like innocence gains favor with both the guards and the prisoners. He befriends Red, a longtime inmate, who berates hope but believes in Andy, and together they forge a bond that survives the decades.

Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Gil Bellows. Directed by Frank Darabont.

Questionable Content:
Graphic violence, quick visuals of a sex scene, language, implied prison rape, a vivid murder, and several suicides.

Why You Should See It:

Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best American films ever made. It did poorly at the box office and wasn’t well received, but picked up steam on VHS and is now a beloved, timeless classic. Only three years ago, it managed to fill 151 hours of basic cable television in a year, tying with Scarface and second to Mrs. Doubtfire, and still paying residuals to its principal actors and crew.

The movie works because we like Andy Dufresne. He’s perfectly imperfect. Some movies manipulate the audience into rooting for the main character by throwing all sorts of contrivances at him (see The Pursuit of Happiness or Patch Adams), but Andy must do his sincere best in a broken system that does not allow for hopeful men like him.

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Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show


The Truman Show (1998)
Paramount Pictures

Summary:
Truman Burbank, in one of Jim Carrey’s finest performances, is a nice guy with a nice wife, the nice house, job, and neighbors — but it’s all been staged for Truman. He’s the center of a global reality show in which he’s the only one who doesn’t know. From birth, he’s been raised on an engineered island with hired actors and millions of hidden cameras. If you think I’ve given away the big secret, this is only the start of the movie. Truman’s world slowly unravels when he finds clues that reveal the seams. He knows something is wrong; we find he has probably known it his whole life. He must decide whether to discover his reality or stay content on his perfect island.

Also starring Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, and Natascha McElhone. Directed by Peter Weir.

Questionable Content:
Some suggestions of sex, an unethical premise, and a scene of a man nearly dying.

Why You Should See It (Some Spoilers Ahead):

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Book Review: Heroes and Monsters

Summary:
Josh Riebock writes an incredibly honest, gripping autobiography (the best kind, of course) about his struggles as both a Christian and a human being. If you combine Donald Miller, Chuck Palahniuk, and J.D. Salinger, then here’s the wild creation that bursts forth.

Strengths:
I first heard of Josh Riebock through a quote on Tumblr that went viral, and then I saw that Riebock had written a book. Honestly, my ethnic prejudice thought it would just be another white guy complaining about his first-world-woes and I’m-so-mad-at-church-culture-and-my-daddy, but from the first few pages, I was swept up into a very broken, human story that’s sort of the untold jagged thread in all of us.

From insecurity to grief to rage to love to hatred, Riebock carries you into his struggle and doesn’t hold back on his craziness. It’s everything about you that you wanted to say in church and to your best friend, but were too dang afraid to be that vulnerable.

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The First Time Around Always Sucks: But That’s Growth

If you ever look back on your old creations — sketches, journals, dance moves, videos, or that squeaky song you wrote for the girl in sixth grade who didn’t know you — you will always cringe at your amateurish recklessness.

The first time through your masterful brilliant brainchild, you probably thought it was the greatest idea in the world. Now you run from it as fast as your friends bring it up to you.

But: we all go through this. It’s a clumsy, gaudy, lumbering phase of growth that requires a purging of all your awkward first moments, and it’s absolutely necessary.

It’s also okay. You can embrace the process and shed the old skin and keep pursuing your perfection. You’ll look back a year from now and possibly hate what you’ve made today — but that’s only a natural part of your growth. One day you won’t look back on any one single thing you’ve done, but rather see an entire mosaic in a single-hall museum of your creative journey: and that’s life. It’s a collaboration with yourself.

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Book Review: Disciple


Disciple
By Bill Clem

Summary:
Pastor Bill Clem of Mars Hill Church writes a work on defining a disciple of Jesus Christ, an ultimately disappointing book that is far too American and seldom convicting. While there are brilliant sections strewn throughout, the book is neither groundbreaking nor wholly biblical. A missed opportunity for a much needed discussion.

Weaknesses:
Despite my best efforts and Bill Clem’s best intentions, this is the definition of disciple that I gleaned from his work:

A disciple is someone who looks like Jesus and joins a small group community.

Of course, I doubt this is Clem’s goal. Yet the book is so American that I could never see it working in an urban or third world context. With an almost abstract, self-help style, Clem writes in largely conceptual strokes about mind-molding and relational-sharing, but hardly ever touches on the Great Commission to Go and to Make.

It might be unfair that I expected a book like Radical. David Platt’s seminal work on discipleship felt much closer to the biblical reality of carrying the cross, denying the flesh, and giving your all for Christ. When I read a book about disciples, I expect urgency and adventure, not megachurch-style small groups isolated in an upper-class neighborhood.

While Clem gives a nod to the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the great anti-Nazi preacher who authored The Cost of Discipleship and was hung for plotting against Hitler — in Clem’s work there was never any sense of risk or rejoicing. He instead makes discipleship appear like a nagging grandmother’s task of checklisting spiritual progress and attending church to copy the “stoic” personality of Jesus.

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Movies That Christians Should Watch: Apollo 13


Apollo 13 (1995)
Universal Pictures

Summary:
**Some spoilers ahead.**

Three men are sent into space by NASA in 1970 when the space industry begins to lose its luster, and suddenly an expedition to the moon becomes a rescue mission back to earth. The journey is cut short when faulty equipment explodes and these three men, with the resourcefulness of the control center on the ground, use everything at their disposal to make it safely home.

Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Gary Sinise. Directed by Ron Howard.

Questionable Content:
Intense scenes of distress and anxiety in a spaceshuttle, plenty of well-deserved yelling, some coarse language, and a woman taking a shower loses her wedding ring (no nudity).

Why You Should See It:
The indelible words of Astronaut Jim Lovell are embedded in our culture: Houston, we have a problem. The problem is more or less a mechanical failure that would hardly make sense to ordinary laymen, but the film slows down to present these historic trials piece by agonizing piece: leaking oxygen, low battery, rising CO2 levels, freezing temperatures, possible heat damage and disintegration, and a horrifying scene where the broken shuttle must make a perfectly timed burst for 39 seconds in one direction.

We know they survived in the true story, but it doesn’t make the movie any less tense. The flight director Gene Kranz, played by a brilliant Ed Harris in the best performance of the movie, passionately breaks down each problem with the crew like a math puzzle: except the stakes are human lives. Hope drives them to relentless measures. No one sleeps. You’ll never hear “insurmountable odds” quite the same way again.

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