Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Theology and Personality

Theology and Personality

It is interesting to note how much one's personality affects one's theology. The American philosopher, William James, once wrote about two kinds of personalities, or two kinds of mentalities: the tough-minded and the tender-minded. The tender-minded believer tends to emphasize the comforting verses of the Bible, concentrating on those passages that emphasize the grace of God and the work of the Savior in doing everything necessary for our salvation. He or she may emphasize faith. The tough-minded may be a little less interested in those verses, and may, like the Book of James, tend to concentrate on works as a sign of the faith that is in one's heart.

The tender minded may also tend to feel their inherent sinfulness and the difficulty of living a pure Christian life, whereas the tough-minded might feel that it's not hard to live the Christian life if you just put out a little effort. In history, that difference was seen when Pelagius, from England, debated Augustine (though indirectly) in the 5th century. For Augustine, it was hard, next to impossible, to live the kind of life that God demanded, whereas Pelagius maintained that, with a little effort, one could live an almost--if not completely--sinless life.

I saw this difference in my Seminary days, when in a certain class a student (I believe he had an Indian background) argued, like Augustine, that it was very difficult to avoid sin. The teacher, who was obviously one of the tough-minded, argued that it wasn't all that hard. The student used words like "can't"---we can't really avoid sin. The teacher used the word "don't"---we just don't avoid sin, whereas in reality we can. Listening to this argument, I could clearly see the different personalities of the student and the teacher.

Personally, I am more like that student than the teacher, though I wouldn't use the word "can't" in that argument. I have always emphasized the grace and mercy of God, because I know I need a truckload of mercy if I am going to make it to heaven. If I err, it is probably in the direction of over-emphasizing God's mercy and attempting sometimes to tone down the harsh verses, though I never intend to deny their true meaning. The tough-minded, on the other hand, will seek to remind people of the justice of God, of the demands he makes, and of the reality of hell fire.

I feel like David Wilkerson, who, once when he felt condemned for something, said to God, "Lord, if your love can't save me, your anger never will!" (I think this was in his book, I'm Not Mad at God.)

Either God loves us, or he doesn't. If he loves us, he will love us forever. Paul said "[Nothing]...can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39). A love that is here today and gone tomorrow, isn't even as good as human love. I'm going to say this, because I sincerely believe it: If God doesn't love us deeply, and eternally, there is no such thing as love. Because even the greatest human love is shallow and fickle, and easily evaporates.

God's love is the only thing that will save me, so I will spend the rest of my life extolling his love, and recommending it to others. I grew up in a rather strict home where my Dad, though he was a good father, had a kind of unemotional personality. I can't ever remember my Dad telling me in so many words that he loved me. Is it any wonder, then, that I will grasp at those verses that emphasize the fatherly love of God?

Someone might say, "But Lonnie, what about the blood of Jesus? Isn't that what saves us?" Of course it is. But he shed his blood because he loved us. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

So, that's me, and that's my personality. And this personality of mine will probably always color my theology, although I try to be faithful to the true meaning of the Scriptures. From time to time, I will want to say a few things about love and mercy, so don't be surprised if some of my blogs are about such subjects. Forgive me if I go overboard. But if I err, I will always err in the direction of mercy.

Again, love is the only thing that will save me. And by the way, it's the only that will save you too. Remember Paul's words, "...who loved me, and gave himself for me."

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