Friday, August 26, 2011

Melancholic, Choleric, or Something Else? Books That Have Shaped Me – Part Three

Bob Rakestraw

“Temperament and the Christian Faith,” by O. Hallesby (Augsburg).

As a young man in my early twenties, only a few years into the Christian life, I was becoming increasingly aware of who and what I was. I had a healthy degree of self-confidence, I think, but was aware that I was different from many—perhaps most—of my fellow college students. This book by Hallesby, a well-known and highly respected theologian from Norway, made a great impact on me for good.

Hallesby’s very simple (but not simplistic) definition of “temperament” is “the soul’s essential response to its surroundings.” He examines four basic temperaments: sanguine, melancholic, choleric, and phlegmatic, and believes that each of us fits—for the most part—into one of these four temperament types.

Hallesby cautions, however, that “the temperaments are imaginary quantities. They are certainly never found in life just as we describe them here. Every person constitutes some sort of mixture of temperaments…. When we say that a person has a sanguine temperament, we do not mean that he lacks the other traits, but merely that the sanguine predominates in his blending of traits.”

Hallesby treats each of the temperaments under five headings: characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, hints for pastors and spiritual counselors, and self-discipline of the temperament being considered. As for the difference between temperament and personality, he states that the temperament “is just one of the elements in the life of the soul responsible for developing variations in personality.” He adds that “the temperament is reflected in the appearance and actions of the physical form, especially in one’s features and facial expressions.” I am able to mention only a couple of thoughts on each temperament type. The whole book deserves careful study.

The Sanguine may be summarized by the word emotional. The Apostle Peter is the biblical example. The sanguine lives in the present, enters into the feelings of others, is tender and sympathetic, and lives an abundant life. Some weaknesses are that he or she may be inconsistent, superficial and unreliable.

The Melancholic may be spoken of as deep. The apostle John is an example. The melancholic has a rich, sensitive nature, is deep and thorough, faithful and dependable. Some weaknesses are that he or she tends to be self-centered, too sensitive, uncompromising, pessimistic, passive, proud, impractical and hard to get along with.

The Choleric can be thought of as willful. The apostle Paul is an example. The choleric has strong will power, has natural qualifications for building character, is practical, has a keen mind, is quick and bold in emergencies, and is not dismayed by adversities. Some weaknesses are that he or she may be hard, impetuous, violent, too self-confident, haughty and domineering. The choleric is likely to be crafty, revengeful and dangerous as a criminal.

Finally, the Phlegmatic, who may be described as calm. James, the brother of Jesus, seems to have been a phlegmatic. This person is good-natured, calm, dependable, and has a practical mind. However, he or she tends to be slow, lazy, opportunistic, indifferent about others and supercilious.

Hallesby reminds his readers that there is no one “preferred” temperament. He states that each type is valuable and necessary in the work of God’s kingdom. He emphasizes that no one should think of himself or herself as “purely” one type, and he encourages us to discipline, modify and sanctify our basic temperament, without trying to obliterate who we are fundamentally.

Each one of us possesses potentialities for the other temperaments, and, as stated above, has some of the qualities of the other temperaments. While our temperament will change somewhat during each of the periods of life (childhood, youth, maturity, and old age), our basic inborn temperament will be an essential part of who we are throughout life. We are to thank God for how he has made us, and ask him to change those tendencies in us which are harmful to others or ourselves.

I was a very grateful young man when I learned that I was a melancholic. I understood myself much more fully after reading Hallesby than I ever had before. I praise God abundantly for this life-changing little book. Thank you, Lord, for informed and wise writers, with a strong love for you and a sensitive, compassionate heart for seekers of truth and godliness.

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