A Book Review of “Spirit-Controlled Temperament” by Tim LaHaye

While temperament theory has been a subject of study for millennia, temperament therapy is the new kid on the block, relatively speaking. Since Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C. mankind has known of the temperaments, albeit under a different name and stemming from a fundamentally different understanding of their biological origin. Only in recent history have the temperaments been named and their biological source positively identified. In addition, the treatment and therapy for the temperaments is a still a new field of study and advancement on that front continues. In the 1960s, Tim LaHaye helped temperament therapy move forward with his book Spirit-Controlled Temperament. I will briefly explore the subject matter of this book in this report.

Tim LaHaye is probably best-known for his books in the Left Behind series, co-authored with Jerry B. Jenkins. Compared to those books – which are rather unfortunate theological disasters – Spirit-Controlled Temperament is lesser known but stands head and shoulders above the whole Left Behind series. LaHaye’s work with temperament theory and therapy is excellent material.

The first half of the book is devoted almost exclusively to the temperaments. LaHaye takes pains to explain how every person is born with a specific temperament, each of the four basic temperaments, the different characteristics of each temperament, and linking each temperament with a character or two from the Bible. An entire chapter is devoted to “temperament blends.” Rarely is a person purely one single temperament; people tend to have a mixture of two temperaments, one being the predominant and the other secondary. Even in the blends there are varying degrees of expression of each temperament, though in his book LaHaye deals with a 60-40 blend.

Each temperament has strengths and weaknesses. So LaHaye spends a chapter each dealing first with the respective strengths of each temperament and then the weaknesses of each. The strengths of each temperament helps everyone make a useful contribution to life. The weaknesses get in the way and lead to unfulfilled lives and heartache. However, as LaHaye points out, God through the Holy Spirit can turn our weaknesses to strengths or even eliminate our weaknesses entirely if we would be filled with the Holy Spirit.

At this point in the book LaHaye turns his attention to addressing the filling of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to temperaments. This is also where the wheels come off for this book. LaHaye really shines when discussing the temperaments. Unfortunately this section of the book is just too brief. Just over 100 pages of this book are devoted to the temperaments. The latter half of the book is LaHaye’s own theological spin on the Holy Spirit and psychological issues with temperament theory and therapy peppered in for good measure.

To be fair, LaHaye’s connecting of the fruit of the Spirit with the Spirit-controlled temperament is a very good point. Allowing the Spirit to cultivate these nine characteristics within us will enable the Christian to minimize weaknesses and accentuate strengths of their particular temperament. My main point of contention is with how one is filled with the Spirit in the first place. LaHaye never mentions the initial reception of the Spirit when one obeys the gospel in baptism. Granted, LaHaye comes from a theological background which views baptism only as a symbol of something which has already taken place (namely, salvation). Nevertheless, as Peter on Pentecost explained, in order to “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” we must “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2.38). Without this very important and vital step, no amount of asking for the Spirit will do.

Other issues with the later chapters include an overdependence upon absolute statements. For example, in his chapter on depression, LaHaye writes, “No Christian filled with the Holy Spirit is going to be depressed unless the depression is physically induced, in which case medical treatment is needed” (162). However, I read that Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53.3, ESV). If anyone was filled with the Holy Spirit of God it was Christ; yet He was still a man who apparently suffered from depressive tendencies no doubt induced by seeing the consequences of sin in this world. So it felt LaHaye’s chapter on depression is decent but rings hallow; it felt as though he was too harsh with this psychological condition.

Do not misunderstand: there is dynamite material in these chapters. The chapter on anger where LaHaye digs down to the root of our bitterness and vengeful feelings – selfishness – is quite good. The chapter on fear and its eight causes is good also. The chapter on selfishness and how destructive it is to relationships, especially marriages, is excellent. At the same time, though, I found that these chapters were extremely brief in dealing with the relation of these psychological issues and the temperaments.

Redemption comes at the close of the book when LaHaye circles back round to wrap-up this book on the temperaments by explaining how the Spirit modifies the temperaments. He goes one-by-one through each temperament and shows how the Spirit must bear fruit in the form of each of the nine (9) characteristics manifesting in an individual. Some temperaments have more work to do than others, but each one has fruit to bear.

Overall although I have my theological issues with LaHaye I found this book very insightful and helpful in discussing the temperaments. While writing about the temperaments, LaHaye is very good. When he is writing about psychological issues, he is decent. When he writes about theology, he leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Raptures

LaHaye, Tim. Spirit-Controlled Temperament. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992. Print.

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