One of the most prolific promoters of the occult theory of the four temperaments is Dr. Tim LaHaye. We have confronted his work, as well as that of many others, in our book Four Temperaments, Astrology & Personality Testing.
The four temperaments theory is an ancient system devised to understand human nature and improve people by dividing them according to their basic temperament. The four temperament categories are Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, and Phlegmatic. Each category or type is defined by a list of descriptive characteristics. Then people are assigned to one or more types by matching the person with those descriptions.
As the theory has been passed down through the centuries, the descriptions of each type have been modified and expanded. Descriptive terms for each type are not always consistent among those who use the four temperaments system. For some, a particular characteristic, such as leadership, would be used to describe the Choleric; for others it would describe the Sanguine. Thus, the lists are not hard and fast. They vary according to the person who is presenting them.
Through the years, philosophers, psychiatrists, and psychologists have devised numerous typologies to classify people according to social behavior, modes of feeling and perceiving, attitudes, and even bodily physique as it might relate to temperament.
A brief look at the history of the four temperaments will reveal that their origins lie in ancient myths and occult practices. From ancient times through the Middle Ages, physicians and philosophers used their understanding of the four humors (bodily fluids), the four temperaments, and signs of the zodiac to treat diseases and understand individual differences among people.
The four temperaments were finally devalued and considered relics of limited, ancient attempts to understand and deal with individual differences. Although they remained a point of historical novelty, they were often totally ignored in psychology textbooks. In fact, few scholars give serious attention to the four temperament classifications, except as historical reference.
Nevertheless, the temperaments have been enjoying a revival outside scientific circles. Neaman noted in 1975:
Much degraded, but strangely influential, the traditions survive to our day in the popular forms of horoscopes and words like “sanguine,” “choleric,” “manic,” “phlegmatic” and “melancholic.” The modern world is experiencing a resurgence of interest in the relationship between genetics, birth seasons, physical traits and psychic dispositions.1
And nowhere are the four temperaments more popular than among astrologers and evangelical Christians.
The four temperaments evolved from a mythological, astrological view of man and the universe and were consistently combined with the signs of the
zodiac. They continue to be used to improve the human condition through knowing and tempering the strengths and weaknesses present at birth. Even though Christians who use the four temperaments today do so without the rest of astrology, the four temperaments are that feature of astrology made palatable for Christians.
Why Are They Popular?
The four temperaments, which had largely gone out of vogue since medieval times, have become popular among evangelical Christians in the same way that astrology has risen in popularity among nonChristians. Perhaps because of life’s ever-increasing complexities and numerous complex psychological systems, people are looking for simple ways to understand themselves and others.
The four temperaments are easy to understand and use. They offer simplistic explanations for the complexity of individual differences and propose simplistic solutions to complex problems of living. Furthermore, many Christians have confidence in the four temperaments theory because they believe it is reliable, helpful, and compatible with the Bible.
From the beginning, typologies were designed to help people understand themselves and improve their condition. Each of the four temperaments has positive and negative characteristics. Positive traits are called “strengths” and negative ones are called “weaknesses.” People then supposedly understand themselves and others through identifying positive and negative traits and fitting themselves and others into one of the four categories. Then with this so-called self-knowledge, they work to enhance their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. Once they put themselves and each other into boxes they won’t be as surprised when negative traits surface in behavior. There will even be an illusion of being able to predict behavior.
LaHaye’s Temperament System.
LaHaye introduced the four temperaments to evangelical Christians in 1966. The four temperaments had virtually been discarded after the Middle Ages and discounted as a valid means of understanding people, until a few lone souls discovered them among relics of the past and marketed them in twentieth-century language. One of those lone souls was Dr. Ole Hallesby, a Norwegian theologian who wrote Temperamentene i kristelig lys, published in 1940 and translated into English in 1962 as Temperament and the Christian Faith.2 LaHaye says he “drew extensively” from Temperament and the Christian Faith in writing his book Spirit-Controlled Temperament, which was published four years after the English translation of Hallesby’s book.3
Hallesby’s book has no footnote references to undergird his statements about each of the four temperaments. Therefore, his book is a combination of his own limited observations and the opinions of other unnamed individuals. Nevertheless, as he discusses the characteristics of a Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, or Phlegmatic person, he speaks as though what he says is fact. LaHaye follows in the same tradition. Although he does credit Hallesby for much of his material, he has no research or other support for the detailed delineation of characteristics. The categories and descriptions have been passed down through the ages in the same way as old wives’ tales, against which Scripture clearly warns (1 Timothy 4:7).
LaHaye continued to promote the defunct four temperaments in his book Transformed Temperaments. In that book he makes several errors regarding the history of the four temperaments. He apparently did not understand the depth and extent of the work by Claudius Galen of Pergamum in the delineation of the characteristics of the four temperaments. Moreover, he mistakenly says that Galen lived in the 17th rather than the second century.4 While this may seem inconsequential, it reveals the lack of solid research conducted in preparation for a book that purports to tell people how to utilize the four temperaments theory of personality for the purpose of spiritual growth.
LaHaye seems to have used minimal resources for his descriptions of the four temperaments. He primarily drew from Ole Hallesby’s book (which is totally devoid of academic references or research) and quotes from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, as recorded in Eysenck’s book Fact and Fiction in Psychology.5 LaHaye surely could not have taken the rest of Eysenck’s book seriously or he would have come up with somewhat different categories and would have been far more cautious in his pronouncements about the wholesale use of the four temperaments for spiritual growth.
In spite of LaHaye’s declaration that “the four-fold classification of temperaments is still widely used,” psychological theorists had generally abandoned the four temperaments typology. In fact, it is difficult to find recent academic material dealing with the four temperaments. Aside from their historical value, the four temperaments have all but disappeared from the research scene as antiquated, out-dated means of analyzing and understanding human nature. As for validation with external criteria, it is interesting that LaHaye would attempt to validate the temperament theory on the basis of handwriting experts.6 These graphologists claim that a person’s handwriting reveals his personality. However, numerous research studies have refuted their claims.7
Just as Freud believed that man is driven by unseen forces in his unconscious, LaHaye teaches that a person’s temperament is “the unseen force underlying human action.” He says:
There is nothing more fascinating about man than his temperament! It is temperament that provides each human being with the distinguishing qualities of uniqueness that make him as individually different from his fellowmen as the differing designs God has given to snowflakes. It is the unseen force underlying human action, a force that can destroy a normal and productive human being unless it is disciplined and directed.8
Immediately one assumes that knowing one’s temperament is essential if one is to escape destruction and become productive.
LaHaye also includes the occult psychiatrist Carl Jung’s Introvert-Extrovert typology in his scheme and places the Sanguine and Choleric under the Extrovert type and the Melancholy and Phlegmatic under the Introvert type.9 He also assigns the “universal sin” of anger to the Sanguine and Choleric and the “universal sin” of fear to the Melancholy and Phlegmatic.10 The charts and descriptions make the whole set-up look factual and reliable. However, these are arbitrary classifications and combinations. Throughout his later books he adds and embellishes the lists and even makes up a test that people can take to fit themselves into his system.
LaHaye contends that the four temperaments theory of understanding humanity is compatible with the Bible. He says:
The four temperaments seem to appeal to Christians because they are so compatible with many scriptural concepts. Just as the Bible teaches that all men have a sinful nature, the temperaments teach that all men have weaknesses. The Bible teaches that man has a besetting sin, and the temperaments highlight it. The Bible says man has “an old nature” which is the “flesh” or “corruptible flesh.” Temperament is made up of inborn traits, some of which are weaknesses.11
Then, since the Bible does not directly teach the four temperaments, LaHaye presents four major persons from the Bible in terms of the temperaments. LaHaye warns people about indiscriminately using the four temperament classifications on others.12 Nevertheless, he audaciously presumes to apply the four temperaments to Peter, Paul, Moses, and Abraham in Transformed Temperaments. He turns Peter into a Sanguine, Paul into a Choleric, Moses into a Melancholy, and Abraham into a Phlegmatic.13
In his book Why You Act the Way You Do, LaHaye turns King David into a combination of Sanguine and Melancholy.14 But, another teacher of the four temperaments, Florence Littauer, says that when people seem to have opposite temperaments, such as Sanguine and Melancholy, one of the temperaments is actually a mask.
LaHaye says that his four temperament books have reached “two to three million people,” but he is unwilling to debate this issue of the four temperaments publicly. In an effort to support his theory, LaHaye claims that “Solomon saw four kinds of people in Proverbs 30:11-14, more than three thousand years ago. About five hundred years later Hippocrates, ‘the Father of modern medicine,’ gave the temperaments their names.”15 Like many other justifications LaHaye gives in his attempts to support his defunct occult theory, this one fails upon inspection.
Let’s start by looking at Proverbs 30:11-14, which LaHaye uses in his effort to biblicize the four temperaments.
There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.
Now compare those four verses describing evil actions and attitudes with the four temperaments. To help clarify the comparison, we place one generally accepted characteristic next to each of the following four temperaments.
Sanguine — Cheerful
Choleric — Optimistic
Melancholy — Melancholy
Phlegmatic — Calm
It becomes immediately apparent that there is no relationship between the four verses in Proverbs and the four temperaments, except the number four. The Proverb writer is speaking of a generation or group of men who are prideful and rebellious and who are morally and spiritually corrupt. While he happens to list four groups, one can find other similar uses of the word translated “generation” in Scripture besides those four, such as the “generation of the righteous” (Psalm 14:5), the “generation of them that seek God” (Psalm 24:4-6), and “a stubborn and rebellious generation” (Psalm 79:13). Yet LaHaye propagates this falsehood to millions of people.
LaHaye says, “I always tell my critics that if they don’t like this theory for helping people—come up with a better one and I’ll use it.”16 We recommend something much better and it’s not a theory. It is TRUTH found in God’s Word. And it needs no augmentation or amplification by Freud, Jung or any temperament theorist. Will LaHaye use and recommend it as sufficient for life and godliness? He hasn’t thus far.
While one of the ostensible reasons for using the temperament theory is to help people see their weaknesses and sins so that they overcome them, the Holy Spirit does not need extrabiblical theory to point out sin. Because of the system’s pagan nature and the errors involved, a Christian may come into the bondage of trying to fix himself up through modifying his weaknesses and exercising his strengths, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to work in His way.
If we truly want to identify our besetting sins and our sinful habits, the Lord will give us ample opportunity to discover them. Our problem is not that we cannot discover our sinful tendencies without knowing the four temperaments. Our problem is not wanting to notice our own sinfulness. But when we are ready, the Lord is faithful to answer such a prayer as Psalm 139:23-24.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
The book Four Temperaments, Astrology & Personality Testing reveals the secular-occult roots of the temperament theory and critiques the use of personality tests and theories for categorizing people. Select link above for book description and ordering.
- Judith S. Neaman.Suggestions of the Devil: The Origins of Madness. Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1975, p. 8.
2. Ole Hallesby.Temperament and the Christian Faith. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1962.
3. Tim LaHaye. Spirit-Controlled Temperament. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1966, 1967 edition, p. 4.
4. Tim LaHaye. Transformed Temperaments. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971, p. 10.
5. Hans J. Eysenck. Fact and Fiction in Psychology. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965, pp. 55-57.
6. Tim LaHaye. Why You Act the Way You Do. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1984, p. 14.
7. Adrian Furnham. “Write or Wrong: The Validity of Graphological Analysis,” The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall 1988, pp. 64-69.
8. LaHaye, Spirit-Controlled Temperament, op. cit., p. 4.
9. Ibid., p. 112.
10. Ibid., p. 70.
11. LaHaye, Transformed Temperaments, op. cit., pp. 17-18.
12. Ibid., p. 19.
13. Ibid., pp. 30-131.
14. LaHaye, Why You Act the Way You Do, op. cit., p. 40.
15. Letter on file.
16. Letter on file.