Abstract: Creation Therapy is a form of Christian counseling popularized by Richard and Phyllis Arno. Creation Therapy is a therapeutic adaptation of Tim LaHaye’s temperament theory and is currently taught and practiced by the National Association of Christian Counselors and its affiliated ministries. This article demonstrates that despite being billed as a biblically derived form of soul care, Creation Therapy is predicated upon several unbiblical presuppositions and owing to these views, the resultant counseling methodology falls short of biblical soul care.1A form of this article originally appeared in Michael R. Burgos, Chris Chumita, Light Through the Spectrum: Essays on Biblical Counseling (Torrington, CT: Church Militant Pub., 2020), 125-42
Within ancient Greece, Hippocrates2There is some uncertainty as to whether these theories may be properly attributed to Hippocrates. Jouanna has noted that the theory of the four humors first occurs in the writings of Polybus, a student of Hippocrates. See Jacques Jouanna’s “The Legacy of the Hippocratic Treatise the Nature of Man: The Theory of the Four Humors,” in Philip Van Der Eijk ed., In Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers (Leiden, NL: Brill, 2012), 335-6. speculated that creation was comprised of four elements, namely, earth, air, fire, and water. He further conjectured that the human constitution mirrors the earth’s composition such that the human body functions upon the basis of four “humors:” blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Hippocrates attributed good health to a proper balance of the humors. Conversely, bad health or a bad state of mind was attributed to a humoral imbalance.
Hippocrates’ theory would go on to dominate medicine for several millennia until the scientific age dismissed it as a fanciful and dangerous myth.3Hunt notes that bloodletting, a popular means unto balancing the humors, had caused “incalculable” harm. Morton Hunt, The Story of Psychology (New York: Anchor Books, 2007), 18 However, long prior to being dispelled, Hippocrates’ theory would be developed into a primitive personality theory. Galen, a second-century physician, extrapolated humoral theory and determined that there were four personality types or “temperaments:” sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.
The sanguine type was even-dispositioned, warmhearted, optimistic, and energetic. The choleric was quick to action, assertive, and prone to hostility and anger. Depression, sadness, and anxiety characterized the melancholic. The phlegmatic type was listless and lethargic.4D. G. Benner, P. C. Hill eds., Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), 1233.
Several twentieth-century psychologists would build upon temperament theory, having long since jettisoned its humoral aspects. Today, however, most of the major schools of psychology prefer other explanations for human personality (e.g., social-cognitive and psychodynamic theories).
Temperament Theory Finds a Place in the Church
In 1996, Tim LaHaye published Spirit Controlled Temperament, introducing temperament theory to a Christian audience. His book resonated with evangelicals, eventually selling over one million copies. To summarize, LaHaye’s presentation asserts several key principles of contemporary temperament theory: “Temperament is the combination of traits we were born with; character is our ‘civilized’ temperament; personality is the ‘face’ we show to others.”5Tim LaHaye, Spirit Controlled Temperament (Tyndale House Pub., 1994), 16. According to LaHaye, it is impossible for temperaments to change, but the Holy Spirit can “modify” our temperaments such that they appear to be changed.6Ibid., 19. Further, “We are all a blend of at least two temperaments: One predominates; the other is secondary.”7Ibid., 51. Lastly, LaHaye introduced the “LaHaye Temperament Analysis,” such that people may discover their inborn temperament blend.
LaHaye never attempted to find biblical justification for the four temperaments except to assert: “In Proverbs 30:11-14 the wise man saw four kinds of people. About five hundred years later, the four were given names by Hippocrates.”8Ibid., viii. What LaHaye didn’t tell his readers was that a contextual reading of Proverbs 30 reveals that the four kinds of people cited by the proverbist refer to four varieties of wicked people:
There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers.
There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth.
There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!
There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind. (Proverbs 30:11-14)
The term translated “There are those” (Hebrew “dôr”) is literally translated “generation,”9Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 217. and refers not to four temperaments, but of four varieties of people who break God’s commandments. The first group violates the fifth commandment; “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12). The second group is guilty of hypocrisy, believing that they are “ritually clean” (Hebrew “ṭāhôr”, cf. Deuteronomy 23:12–14), but are instead covered in their own “excrement.” The third group is guilty of arrogance and pride, and the fourth group is guilty of using speech to destroy others, especially the poor (cf. Proverbs 25:18).
Despite his attempt, LaHaye’s iteration of temperament theory has absolutely no biblical (or scientific) basis. The Bible never states that our “temperament” is determined by our heredity and it never teaches us that our sin is ultimately a result of weakness brought about by our temperament.10I am not suggesting that people are not born with certain tendencies, both in character and disposition. These creational differences, however, are not to be confused with immutable temperaments born of heredity. The Bible doesn’t even acknowledge the category of “temperament” as Jay Adams observed:
[LaHaye’s] categories came from paganism, not from Scripture…Surely the framework for a system of counseling ought to arise from biblical exegesis, not from pagan Greek philosophy…11Jay E. Adams, The Practical Encyclopedia of Christian Counseling (Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2003), 175.
LaHaye’s theory is little more than a pseudo-scientific form of biological determinism baptized into Christianese; the resurrection of ancient pagan folk-psychology dressed in church clothes.
Richard Arno and his wife Phyllis are credited with designing their own Christian alternative to secular psychology. This method, entitled “Creation Therapy,” is essentially a therapeutic adaptation of LaHaye’s temperament theory. It includes a fifth temperament, the supine, which is alleged to refer to a conscientious and servile person.
Like LaHaye, the Arnos claim that mankind has an inborn temperament that “determines how he reacts to people, places, and things.”12Richard G. Arno, Phyllis J. Arno, Creation Therapy, 7th Ed. (n.p., 1983), 1. This “inborn” and immutable temperament is cited in distinction with the belief that “people are born as blank slates,” a viewpoint the Arnos claim was originated by Thomas Aquinas. This is a completely spurious claim as Aquinas held an anthropology that was thoroughly in line with Christian orthodoxy. In attributing the doctrine of tabula rosa to Aquinas, the Arnos have misunderstood this concept, having taken it to mean that the human mind and character are formless at birth. This, however, is a simplistic mischaracterization since Aquinas’ point in the relevant literature is that man is dependent upon his senses to give content to his experience and to express his intellect.13Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Vol. 1 (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1948), 421-8. Moreover, Aquinas had a conventional doctrine of original sin: “Christ alone excepted, all men descended from Adam contract original sin from him.”14Ibid., 501, cf. 415: “The sin in which a man is conceived is original sin,” and “original sin infects every part of the soul.”
The Arnos claim Creation Therapy is “the mechanism by which man is given the ability to find balance between body, soul, and spirit, allowing him to be the best that God created him to be.”15Arno, Creation Therapy, 19. The Arnos allege that their system identifies one’s “temperament needs” such that those needs can be met so that “all areas of the inner man” may be in “perfect balance.”16Ibid., 18. Character defects and sinful predilections are recast by the Arnos as “temperament weaknesses.” Indeed, the language of sin and grace is nearly absent from Creation Therapy. Once a counselee’s “temperament blend” is identified, counsel is issued upon that basis.
Following the example of LaHaye, the Arnos developed the “Arno Profile System” (APS)17Prior to the year 2000, the Arnos called their test the Temperament Analysis Profile or TAP. to help people identify their inborn temperament. The APS is essentially a coopted version of the FIRO-B test produced by humanist and psychologist, William Schutz. Schutz introduced a theory of interpersonal relations entitled “Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation” or FIRO. He argued that every person has three interpersonal needs: inclusion, control, and affection,18J.E. Roeckelein ed., Elsevier’s Dictionary of Psychological Theories (Amsterdam, NL: Elsevier, 2006), 218. and then developed a fifty-four question test (i.e., FIRO-B) in order to measure persons according to their three interpersonal needs. The Arnos recast the FIRO-B to fit their iteration of temperament theory calling it the “Arno Profile System.”
Having obtained a copy of the APS, I examined the questions to determine if this test was a legitimate means of gathering data such that meaningful and relevant counsel could be provided. What I found was a series of surface-level questions that are largely irrelevant to the problems faced by those seeking godly counsel. The test consists of fifty-four questions which may be answered with one of six choices ranging from “never” to “usually.” The questions in this test are designed to divulge what a counselee thinks about himself as it pertains to his temperament (e.g., “I let other people control my actions,” and “I like people to invite me to things”).
The APS is alleged to disclose what “temperament blend” the counselee has as it relates to Schutz’s three categories of inclusion, control, and affection. Once one’s temperament analysis is conducted via the APS, a creation therapist then attempts to issue counsel upon the basis of the set of preconceived attributes that are associated with the counselee’s temperament. As one National Christian Counselors Association (NCCA)19The NCCA is a degree and licensure granting organization founded by the Arnos. Located in Sarasota, FL, the NCCA has approximately eight hundred certified counselors in several countries. See intra. certified counselor put it, “Temperament holds the answers to every relationship problem.”20Rick Martin, God Created You: A Guide to Temperament Therapy (Charlotte, MI: Jesus is Lord Ministries, 2004), 5.
The trouble with this methodology is obvious: NCCA counselors are not counseling people, but are instead counseling temperaments. Instead of gathering data to truly understand who a counselee is and what he or she is facing, creation therapists merely find out which temperament boxes their counselee fits in so that canned responses can be offered to address the counselee’s problems. Such a methodology has more in common with astrology than biblical Christianity.
At times, it is hard to distinguish the Arnos counseling methodology from immoral manipulation. For example, when counseling “the Melancholy,” the Arnos insist that the counselor approaches the counselee with “intellectual superiority,” since people who have a melancholy temperament are “rebels.”21Arno, Creation Therapy, 73. They further instruct their counselors that “It is imperative that you establish your superior intelligence to this person.”22Ibid., 75. The Arnos suggest letting melancholic counselees “see your credentials” and that, “If they have a higher educational degree than you do, let them know that you have 25 years of experience.”23Ibid. Additionally, the Arnos require that their counselors “never confront a Melancholy counselee with their mistakes.”24Ibid. Not only is this approach manipulative, it is also utterly unbiblical. Jesus and His apostles taught that it is right to confront a brother with his sin in order to establish reconciliation, repentance, and righteousness (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Timothy 5:20).
From the perspective of secular psychology, the APS/FIRO-B test fails to live up to the hype. In 2003, the Buros Center for Testing, the reputable testing organization of the University of Nebraska, evaluated the FIRO-B. The evaluation revealed significant deficiencies: The FIRO-B “appears to fall short of the mark due to flaws in conceptualization and implementation.”25D. Oswald, 2003, “Test review of FIRO-B(tm),” in B. S. Plake, J. C. Impara, R. A. Spies eds., The Fifteenth Mental Measurements Yearbook, http://marketplace.unl.edu/buros/.
In his text, Case Studies: Epistlemological [sic] Validation of the Arno Profile System: Temperament Studies, Alex Appiah, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has attempted to mount a defense of temperament theory and the APS by demonstrating their efficacy via case studies. What this book demonstrates is precisely the opposite. In one case, Appiah writes of a woman named “Daniella” who sought counseling because of depression and anger. After having run her through the APS, Appiah then reviewed Daniella’s “inborn” temperament traits with her. Appiah then counseled her to adjust her life to fit these traits. For example, according to the APS, Daniella is “Melancholy-Compulsive in the area of Control.” Appiah then concluded that Daniella “Has a compulsive need to ‘appear’ competent and in control.” He then counseled her to “learn to submit to authorities while maintaining control of her own personal life.”26Alex Appiah, Case Studies: Epistlemological [sic] Validation of the Arno Profile System: Temperament Studies (n.p., 2018), Kindle Edition, loc. 1296. Not once did Appiah appeal to the Gospel nor its implications for this woman’s life. Never was the rich treasury of biblical wisdom applied to her anger and depression. Daniella was never confronted with her sin and her need for grace. Daniella’s counselor was focused upon the results of the APS and not the reality of her life.
Is the Arnos’ System Biblical?
Whereas the Arnos have asserted that their theory is rooted in the Bible and is completely in harmony with the Christian faith, Creation Therapy, like that of LaHaye’s temperament theory, is completely absent of biblical support. The only text Arnos have attempted to marshal to demonstrate the biblical nature of their theory is, unsurprisingly, Proverbs 30:11-14. As noted above, this passage says nothing about temperaments but instead characterizes those who break the commandments of God within the context of the writer’s life. So too, the Arnos have engaged in proof-texting in order to demonstrate that the human temperament is comprised of inclusion, control, and affection. They have cited a handful of texts (e.g., Ezekiel 18:31; Luke 1:46-47; 1 Corinthians 2:10) all of which say nothing about temperament nor inclusion, control, or affection—psychological categories that are completely foreign to the biblical text.
To put it plainly, there is absolutely no biblical justification for any part of temperament theory or the Arnos’ system. Whereas the Arnos make much of the fact that they reject modern psychotherapies,27Arno, Creation Therapy, v. their system is rooted in the backward thinking of an unbelieving worldview (i.e., that of Galen and those who would build on his theory), and it is thoroughly influenced by secular psychology. For example, the Arnos appropriated the introvert/extrovert paradigm popularized by the occultist and psychologist C. G. Jung.28While it is claimed by certain Jungian psychologists that Jung was not a “believer” in the occult [e.g., Calvin S. Hall, Vernon J. Nordby, A Primer on Jungian Psychology (New York: Meridian, 1999), 25.], Jung’s own writings easily betray such a claim. Jung believed in the full gamut of occultism: clairvoyance, prophecy, animal magnetism, visions, divination, ghosts, human levitation, etc. See C. G. Jung, Psychology and the Occult (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977). Much the same can be said regarding the Arnos appropriation of the language of “self-esteem.” By implication, the Arnos’ counseling methodology implies that the Bible is insufficient to equip the church for the good work of counseling (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Specifically, Creation Therapy presupposes that the Bible insufficiently teaches the doctrine of anthropology and counseling methodology.29C.f., the comments made by Sewell: “The Pastor who wants to facilitate healing in the Body of Christ will seek to have a better understanding of temperament…the Word of God has to be applied in different ways according to the temperament…” Selvyn Sewell, Pastoring the Temperament: A Guide for Pastoral Counseling (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2008), 11. Instead of the genuinely godly counsel given by Christ and the apostle Paul, the Arnos and the NCCA, give counsel from a baptized version of an ancient and long-discredited personality theory.
The Bible does not teach that each human being has an unchanging and innate temperament. Rather, the expectation of Scripture is that Christians would change comprehensively according to the Spirit’s ministry of sanctification. Instead of seeking to identify our inborn temperament to understand ourselves and our needs, the Bible directs us to live a God-focused life wherein Jesus is our greatest treasure. The Triune God calls forth, “listen to me” (Isaiah 51:1), “turn to me” (Isaiah 45:22). Scripture never directs those who are afflicted to look to themselves to understand or solve their problems.
The ad-hock attributes associated with the various temperaments are completely baseless and recast human identity in a two-dimensional framework that is neither realistic nor pragmatic. Whereas the Arnos believe that their theory is the key to giving godly counsel, they depart from the biblical text to derive its content. Like psychology and psychiatry, temperament theory originates from the unbelieving world and is fundamentally man-centered.
The Arnos’ have asserted that sin is essentially brought about as a result of unmet temperament needs.30Arno, Creation Therapy, 241. Cf. Adams’ critique of the self-esteem movement which promotes a similar needs-based anthropology. Jay E. Adams, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, & Self-Image (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Pub., 1986), esp. 41-61. Subsequently, recognizing these needs, fulfilling them, and maintaining a balance will result in individuals refraining from falling “into an area of temperament weakness.” This paradigm, however, is also completely unbiblical. The command of the New Testament is not to get our “temperament needs” met, but to deny ourselves and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24). Man’s sin is brought about most fundamentally by the idolatry of self and is only corrected by trust in the one true God and a denial of self. Christianity then is an exercise in delayed gratification: Putting to death our selfish desires (Galatians 5:24), setting our minds “on things above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1), and patiently awaiting our glorious reward, namely, Christ Himself.
The way of the cross is for the present; glory and reward will come only in the future when Jesus comes to reign. Discipleship means certain death.31David L. Turner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 412.
Unlike Creation Therapy, the Christian faith calls us to conformity to the image of Christ, and that conformity requires comprehensive change. Our desires, needs, character, personality, minds—indeed everything that we are must change and be conformed to Christ. Thus, whereas Creation Therapy aims to teach counselees to ‘know thyself,’ the Christian faith teaches counselees to set aside themselves and to know God.
Creation Therapy is predicated upon a trichotomist anthropology which asserts that mankind is a “triune being…made up of body, soul, and spirit.”32Arno, Creation Therapy, 10. According to the Arnos, the soul includes the human’s intellect, will, and emotions (cf. Schutz), and it is “in the soul” that the Arnos have located temperament.33Ibid., 12. Plainly put, the Arnos’ trichotomist anthropology is wrong. When God created man, He created him from two components: breath and dust (Genesis 2:7).
When we examine the manner in which the terms “soul and “spirit” are used in Scripture, it is clear that these are synonymous and refer to the same immaterial component. For instance, Mary’s famous song, the Magnificat, states, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). Mary’s statement is a classic example of synonymous parallelism indicating that the terms “soul” and “spirit” are interchangeable. John 12:27 records Jesus as saying, “Now my soul is troubled.” In an entirely similar context, John 13:21 states, “Jesus was troubled in his spirit.” Jesus uses soul and spirit synonymously when he says that we are body and soul (Matthew 10:28) and body and spirit (Matthew 26:41). Both the soul and spirit are characterized within Scripture as the immaterial component of man (Luke 24:29; 1 Corinthians 2:11). While there are many more examples we could appeal to, suffice it to say that these terms are used synonymously. So too, lexicons uphold the interchangeability of “soul” and “spirit.” Taking these terms as they are found in the New Testament, the term psuchē (i.e., “soul”) is defined as “life on earth in its animating aspect making bodily functions possible—life, life-principle, soul.”34Walter Bauer et al, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Ed. (Chicago, IL: Univ. Chicago Press, 2000), 1098. The term pneuma (i.e., “spirit”) is defined as “that which animates or gives life to the body.”35Ibid., 832.
Given the above, when we analyze the two principal texts marshaled in defense of trichotomy (i.e., 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12), there exists little reason to interpret these two verses as teaching an anthropology otherwise unknown in the New Testament. When Paul wrote, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), we ought to recognize that he “accumulates terms to express completeness, a common idiom.”36Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 340.
Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” While virtually all trichotomists point to this text as evidence for their view, the term translated “division” (Greek
. “merismos”) and its New Testament cognates always refer to the dividing up or distribution of the same thing.37John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1982), 30. For instance, Hebrews 2:14 speaks of “gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed (merismos) according to His will.” Matthew 27:35 states, “And when they had crucified Him, they divided (dimerizo) His garments among them by casting lots.” Here, as in every occurrence of this verb, it is a single object that is being divided or better, distributed (cf. Luke 11:17-18; John 19:24).
In researching the Arnos, I attempted to examine their claims to considerable doctoral-level education credentials. Richard Arno claims to possess a “D.Psy.” from Faith Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from Andrew Jackson University, and a D.D. from Jacksonville Theological Seminary.38National Christian Counselors Association: Licensing Program for Christian Counselors, 52. Phyllis Arno also claims to possess a Ph.D. from Andrew Jackson University.
My curiosity was piqued since “D.Psy” is not a recognized abbreviation for the degree of Doctor of Psychology. To no avail, I attempted to locate the institution which issued this degree. I then attempted to verify the Arnos’ Ph.D.s from Andrew Jackson University (AJU). This institution underwent a name change and is now New Charter University (NCU). NCU/AJU is a nationally accredited business college, offering only degrees in business and communications via distance education. Noticing that the school does not currently offer doctoral degrees, I inquired of NCU and asked the registrar if the school ever had a doctoral program. I was told that neither NCU nor AJU has ever had a doctoral degree program. Given that “Doctor of Divinity” is generally considered to be an honorary degree within the U.S., I’ve concluded that there is little reason to countenance the Arnos claims to doctoral-level education.
After developing creation therapy, the Arnos established the NCCA. This group provides training, credentials, and degrees for those who desire to practice Creation Therapy. One can earn a “Bachelor of Arts in Christian Counseling” from the NCCA by completing a mere fourteen courses!39National Christian Counselors Association: Licensing Program for Christian Counselors, 22-5 In the U.S., baccalaureate degrees require the equivalent of four years of full-time study. I contacted a school that is authorized to administer NCCA programs to inquire how long it would take for someone to earn a Bachelor of Arts from NCCA. I was told that one could earn this degree in as little as one year of full-time study. Needless to say, NCCA academic requirements are exceptionally substandard and meet the definition of a “diploma mill.”40According to 20 USC § 1003(5), a “diploma mill” “offers, for a fee, degrees…[that require an] individual to complete little or no education or coursework.” Cf. Higher Education Opportunity Act, §109.
Like LaHaye, the Arnos have done the church a great disservice in purveying a completely unbiblical approach to helping hurting people. While the Arnos have sought to uphold the value of their modality by touting Creation Therapy’s effectiveness, their counseling method is antithetical to Scripture. Creation Therapy is not founded upon a thoroughgoing exegesis of the Bible, but the pagan presuppositions of Galen and those who would build upon his misguided theory. While the Arnos claim that Creation Therapy is “A Biblically Based Model for Christian Counseling,” its tenets (e.g., the category of “temperament”) are entirely foreign to the biblical text.
Functionally, the Arnos’ system is detrimental to those that receive its counsel since it does not accord with the Bible’s teaching. As shown above, NCCA counselors do not counsel people, but temperaments. The Arnos’ system commodifies people and their problems, recasting them in a two-dimensional temperament framework.