By Jeff S. Smith

Self-help books have become among the most popular titles written and sold today. Authors inscribe what they believe are the cures for everything from addiction to marital strife. The ascendance of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous also shows us that Americans are in the mood to have someone tell them how to solve their problems.

One thing that many of these books and programs have in common is a spiritual element. The author weaves his psychological remedy while reminding the patient to seek meaning from a higher being. That sounds good, but listen to the ecumenical tone of the language that yearns to apply to everyone while offending no one. It makes little difference if the reader is a Muslim, an earth worshiper, an agnostic, a Calvinist, or a New Testament Christian in the world of self-help’s “spiritual mosaic.” The reader imbibes the words and maneuvers his own god upon the author’s psycho-spiritual altar. Even the New Testament Christian can begin to think of God in the way the author portrays him rather than as God reveals himself in the Holy Scriptures.

This is where the line in the sand should be drawn, but more and more often, Christians are stumbling over that line and embracing psychological trends that either replace or abuse the Bible. The first question that should be raised and honestly answered is: Am I truly reading my Bible so much that I have time to seek spiritual growth in the philosophies and works of men (2 Tim. 2:15)? Another question that would require answer is: What do I expect to learn in this self-help book that I cannot learn from God’s own breath (2 Tim. 3:16)?

It is to be expected that a humanistic society should grow so dissatisfied with the Bible, perceived to be of no greater inspiration than War and Peace. Besides, the Bible has been “on the market” for 2000 years and modern man needs some new thing to excite his advanced intellect now (Acts 17:21). It seems as if this attitude originated with our generation, but it is hardly novel. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who were at least as enamored with their own thoughts and ideas as Americans today: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified . . . And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:2, 5). Ask again, are we reading our Bibles so much that we have time to pursue spiritual wisdom in the philosophies of men? What do we expect a man to tell us that is better than what Jesus said?

A book I picked up recently taps this desire for the “wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 1:20-22). Tim LaHaye’s Spirit-Controlled Temperament makes a deliberate approach to supplement the inspired teaching of God’s Holy Spirit contained in the Bible. The temperament doctrine is founded on what LaHaye concedes is a false premise. The great, though perhaps mythical, physician, Hippocrates, lived four hundred years before Christ and left medicine with its erstwhile Hippocratic Oath. He also dallied in psychology, attempting to explain the various personalities of men by tracing their characteristics to corresponding body fluids. He named the four categories Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, and Phlegmatic to pattern the function of the blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. LaHaye rejects the biology but builds a philosophy around the categorization anyway. Having said all that, he admits that “no person is a single-temperament type” (10). He then describes all men as crossbred in varying unknown temperament percentages. This doctrine strikes an enticing chord of validity (Col. 2:23)  all have distinct personalities and everyone is different, after all. He goes so far as to categorize Bible characters: Peter is a Sanguine, Paul is a Choleric, Moses is a Melancholy, and Abraham is a Phlegmatic (88). The reader is left to wonder where Jesus would fit into this system.

Tim LaHaye is a Baptist preacher and his false and subjective ideas about the Holy Spirit invade every nook and cranny of his temperament control doctrine. He expands Jesus’ promise to the apostles of supernatural ability by the Comforter to personally and miraculously enable all “disciples.” After explaining and recounting the events of Pentecost and the apostles’ immediate abilities to “witness in his power,” LaHaye promises that “we too can expect to have power to witness when filled with the Holy Spirit” (60). Actually, he gives the Holy Spirit a special job, that of curing “Temperament Weaknesses.” LaHaye writes on page 114: “The Holy Spirit does not automatically indwell every human being. On the contrary, He indwells only those who have received Jesus Christ by faith as Savior from sin.” LaHaye’s concept of the Holy Spirit is that of miraculously and personally indwelling every believer. Then the Spirit can begin to direct the believer, with or without the word.

But the word of God says that the Spirit toils today by means of his great spiritual and literary feat, the Bible, that is, his sword (Eph. 6:10-20). He supplies the engrafted word which is able to save the souls of men (James 1:21) and justifies man by faith which comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 5:1; 10:17). The Spirit dwells in a saint as the other persons of the Godhead do (1 John 4:12; Rom. 8:10; Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27)  not personally, but representatively through his word and its effect.

Our Calvinist author never misses a chance to extend the devil’s faith-only invitation, either. “If you are willing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, then invite Him in or, as the Bible says, `Call upon the name of the Lord.’ Salvation is not a long and tedious process  it is an instantaneous experience” (114). Now, LaHaye’s temperament doctrine is founded on his own false premise. Salvation in the Bible is termed obedience (Rom. 16:26) and our example of calling on the Lord requires the supplicant to act, not simply experience. Ananias told Saul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). LaHaye would lead the reader to confess belief and work on his temperament, but never move a muscle toward “tediously” obeying the gospel that Jesus preached (Mark 16:16, 1 Thess. 1:7-8).

Later, he recounts another “experience” in which he instructs a young man to get down on his knees and pray to be saved. “When he finished, he sat down and began to weep . . . Then it was that I saw the evidence of the working of God’s Spirit in his life as a new Christian . . .” (123). But Saul also sorrowed and even prayed, but was not yet saved, nor endowed with any power from the Holy Spirit, when Ananias asked him why he was waiting and told him to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16; cf. Acts 9:17-18). Without a single passage of Scripture and without invoking the gospel, “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom.1:16), LaHaye supposedly watches as the Holy Spirit invades this man’s heart and miraculously redirects its desires. Make no mistake, LaHaye teaches the temperament student that Bible study is helpful, but the Holy Spirit will find a way to change a man even without Scripture.

Like an infomercial, LaHaye packs the end of his tome with “before and after” testimonials to the power of his doctrine. He tells of using the temperament control of the Holy Spirit as a “supernatural source to change the angry disposition of man.” Another young man was healed in a single counseling session on marital problems. “As soon as he was seated, he went into an angry, 25-minute description of all the misery his wife had caused him and how psychotic she was. When he had finally unburdened him-self, I began to present to him the gospel of Jesus Christ in the form of the Four Spiritual Laws, which my 16-year-old daughter had introduced to me as the result of her training at a Campus Crusade for Christ conference. Because I had noticed that the Holy Spirit had used this method of presenting Christ in the lives of others, I wanted to try it” (122).

LaHaye accuses the Spirit of God of blending pop psychology with the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul preached “Christ and Him crucified” and excoriated those who “want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:7). LaHaye says the Holy Spirit has adopted the temperaments in a latter day shift of doctrine for a faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

That brings up an interesting point. The father of temperaments, Hippocrates, lived 400 years before Christ, which gave the Holy Spirit plenty of time to study his doctrine and adopt its terminology and potential for God. Those 400 years were a time of silence, so surely he could have been listening and taking notes. The Holy Spirit uses all sorts of common situations as analogies and parables in the New Testament (1 Tim. 5:18). Even some of man’s poems and hymns are apparently introduced to illustrate divine principles (Tit. 1:12). Why then are the pages of the New Testament lacking descriptions like sanguine and choleric?

LaHaye begins to conclude The Spirit-Controlled Temperament by promising that the “Holy Spirit will automatically introduce new traits and characteristics into an individual’s nature” (126). It is not so much that we will grow as disciples of Christ by keeping his commandments (John 14:15) or by becoming good workmen through careful biblical study (2 Tim. 2:15). It is that we can simply let go and let God do the work. LaHaye’s Calvinistic tendencies win out in the end. Salvation, even self-help, is an automatic work of an invasive and hypnotic Holy Spirit.

“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

When it comes to books like The Spirit-Controlled Temperament, ask if you are really reading your Bible so much that you have time to seek spiritual growth in the philosophies of men. And what truth do you expect to find there that you cannot find in the Bible?

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 15, p. 14-15
August 1, 1996