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Family, Marriage, Counsel

Temperament Theory
by Ed Vasicek

Tim LaHaye made temperament theory popular in the evangelical world in the early 1970's when he wrote Spirit-Controlled Temperament. LaHaye revived a temperament theory first proposed by the father of physicians, Hippocrates himself. Hippocrates, who lived around 400 B.C., suggested that the four temperaments were caused by excesses in bodily fluids, such as phlegm, bile, etc. His list of personality types has fared well over the centuries.

Many modern management specialists, counselors, etc., still think his four divisions of personality types have merit. I am among them. But figuring out an individual's personality type is not that simple. Although some folks are heavily weighted toward one personality type, and thus easy to peg, most of us are combinations, although one type usually prevails. 

These four personality types go by many names, and some modern analysts even use animal names. I'll list those originally named by Hippocrates with alternate terms given in parenthesis.

The first two temperaments are considered extroverted. First we find the Choleric (doer, achiever, dominator, controllers, go-getter), the type of person that gets things done and makes decisions but hates detail and struggles with impatience. Cholerics make great high-level executives, businessmen, foremen, and entrepreneurs. Cholerics love to hear the bottom line information first and like measurable results. In the Christian world, Cholerics often favor Mark's Gospel because it is short, to the point, and action-oriented. They tend to see love as good deeds done or ministry projects completed. Deborah, King Saul, and Nehemiah are Biblical examples of a Choleric. Recent presidents noted for this personality: L.B. Johnson, Richard Nixon. Key words: achievement, pro-activity.

The second extroverted temperament is the Sanguine (influencer, risk-taker, entertainer, motivator, feeler, and life of the party). This personality is often very inspiring, is sometimes described as having "charisma," is winsome and convincing. They make excellent salespersons or seek out occupations providing variety, excitement, or frequent change. Sanguines bring life and enthusiasm with them. On the negative side, they can be shallow, vacillating, and display a nasty temper.  In the Christian world, Sanguines often favor John's Gospel with its emphasis on love and tend to view love as a feeling. "From the heart" is a key Sanguine term. They may also become critical of other personality types, criticizing them as "lukewarm." Sanguines who are blended with another personality type (who are both excited and faithful, for example) are special servants in the Kingdom of God. Simon Peter and Sarah are examples of the Sanguine temperament. Recent president noted for this personality: George W. Bush. Key words: passion (feeling), experiences.

Phlegmatics (relaters, loyalists, steadies, laid back) may be somewhat introverted before groups, but are often cheerful and gifted conversationalists when placed in one-on-one settings or in "safe" groups, such as a classroom. Phlegmatics are noted for their sensibility, stability, understanding of people, and enjoyment of routine. They are often exceptional listeners. Negatively, unless they develop good routines, they are tempted toward laziness and procrastination. They may be overly cautious. Career-wise, Phlegmatics gravitate toward teaching grade school, counseling, or a steady routine work. In the church world, Phlegmatics tend to see love as maintaining good relationships and being there for others when needed. They are the types of people who can teach the same Sunday School class for 25 years and be proud of it, just the opposite of Sanguines in this regard. Their favorite Gospel is usually Luke, with its emphasis on people. Abigail and Barnabas are Biblical examples of this relational personality. Recent president with this personality: Ronald Reagan.  Key words: relationships, loyalty.

The fourth personality type is usually the most introverted, the Melancholic (thinker, analyzer, and perfectionist). Melancholics value quality and order. They make great surgeons, dentists, engineers, negotiators, philosophers/intellectuals, legal secretaries, or accountants. They are sometimes falsely accused of being cold, when, in reality, many Melancholics are merely quiet. Melancholics often have deep compassion, but they are shy about expressing their emotions. Of all personality types, they are the most misunderstood. Negatively, Melancholics can be perfectionist and idealistic.   In the Christian world, Melancholics often show love by being thoughtful, kind, and serving in low-key, behind-the-scene areas of ministry. Others use their artistic/musical talents to honor Christ.  They prefer the Gospel of Matthew because it is systematically arranged.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, who "quietly pondered these things in her heart" is an example of a melancholic, as is Moses. Recent president noted with this personality: Jimmy Carter. Key words: truth, consistency, and justice.

Since most of us are combinations of these personalities, we are usually of more modest disposition. This means we have both the strengths and weaknesses of these personality types to a lesser degree. You can see how we need one another to "even and mellow" us out. Unfortunately, the tendency is for birds of a feather to flock together. We tend to exalt our own personality type and look down upon those who differ.

Unlike grade school teachers, who are usually Phlegmatic, or salespersons, who are usually Sanguine, pastors are pretty much evenly divided across the spectrum. Your pastor is about 60% Phlegmatic with splatterings of each of the other personality types.

Our Highland Park Church population is dominated by Phlegmatics and Melancholics, but significantly enhanced by a number of key Sanguines and Cholerics. Part of Body Life is learning to accept and respect one another, contributing our individual strengths and compensating for individual weaknesses. Being aware of these differences helps us work together better. As we view the pros and cons of our own personalities, we can focus upon areas in which we need growth. For most of us, that means moving in toward the middle.

But many questions remain. Do different temperament types dominate a society in a given generation? Where are the trends heading? Where does temperament come from? How does our temperament affect our perception of what love is? How much about ourselves and others should we try to change, and how much should we accept? Sounds like good fodder for future articles!
Pastor Ed

Reprinted from the December 2002 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.

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Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA
765.452.1779
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