Personality assessments are often used for career advice, relationship advice, to help work environments, and for self-improvement. In recent years, the Enneagram has sky-rocketed in popularity, especially, it seems, in the evangelical church.
Prominent Christian influencers like Beth Moore and Andy Stanley have shown their support for it. The reason? The Enneagram aims to fulfill not only the typical uses for personality assessments but also to serve as a guide in spiritual development. It has been embraced by many Christian individuals and even entire churches. We’ve seen a boom of Christian-labeled Enneagram books, including Bible devotionals based on it. We also see a growing number of podcasts devoted to the Enneagram. And to top it all off, those seeking a career in it can now become certified Christian Enneagram coaches.
Christians run the gamut when it comes to their opinions on the Enneagram. Some passionately use it, study it, and preach it like it’s Scripture. Others believe it is straight-up demonic. And a whole lotta people are somewhere in between who don’t know about it or just don’t care one way or the other. Unfortunately, misinformation about the Enneagram abounds. More importantly, this entire Enneagram movement is revealing some underlying ideas that many Christians seem to have adopted uncritically. In this culture of information overload, it’s very easy to buy into false ideas without realizing it. So, while we’re talking through the Enneagram, this series is really about worldview training.
We’ll start out with this crash course so you know what the Enneagram is and where it came from. Then, stay tuned for a post on whether the Enneagram is scientifically accurate, and a final post where we will ROAR through its messages.
What Is The Enneagram?
Today the Enneagram is typically viewed as a personality typing system like the popular Myers-Briggs or Big 5. According to Enneagram proponents Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, “The point of it is self-understanding and growing beyond the self-defeating dimensions of our personality, as well as improving relationships and growing in compassion for others.”5 What makes it unique, supporters say, is that it does not focus merely on personality traits. Rather, the goal of the Enneagram is to help you discover your main motivation – the part of you that drives your traits and your decisions. This part of you is said to be false. You need to learn to see your true self so that you can better connect with God.
How Does This Assessment Work?
The Enneagram is a diagram composed of nine points that look sort of like a star. Each point is assigned a number one through nine. Each number represents a “type,” which is associated with a supposed “sin” that is said to be the main driver of our personality. (Some Enneagram teachers prefer to use the words “vice,” “passion,” or “weakness” instead of sin.) Each person has one main “sin” that drives all of their personality and behavior for life – apparently regardless of sanctification.
Along with that “sin” comes a list of typical personality traits. So, every human can supposedly identify with one main number. Each number, however, has “wings.” You may only have one wing that accompanies your main number, and that just means you might share some of that number’s characteristics. Your wing will be either the number before or after your main number. For example, if you are a “7,” then you could either be a “6 wing” or an “8 wing.” A 7 cannot be a “9 wing.”
Further, depending on whether you are “under stress” or feeling “secure,” you may exhibit traits from other numbers as indicated by the arrows. The arrows are meant to guide you to become the healthy version of your number by showing your Direction of Integration and your “Direction of Disintegration.”
So, how does this practically play out? Once you know your number, if you are exhibiting the negative characteristics that are typically associated with the number as indicated by your Direction of Disintegration, you know you are in trouble! You can follow your Direction of Integration arrow to see the traits you are supposed to develop.
According to the Enneagram Institute: “Ultimately, the goal is for each of us to “move around” the Enneagram, integrating what each type symbolizes and acquiring the healthy potentials of all the types. The idea is to become a balanced, fully functioning person who can draw on the power (or from the Latin, “virtue”) of each as needed.”6
Where Did The Enneagram Come From?
Just kidding. But I’ll be honest with you, the origin of the Enneagram is quite – uuh – sketchy! Contrary to popular belief that the Enneagram is ancient, the furthest back we can trace it is to George Gurdjieff, an Armenian mystic who died in 1949. (The exact year of his birth is unknown but it is was probably the 1860s or 70s.) Gurdjieff believed that one must experience an “awakening” in order to behold true reality. (That doesn’t sound like literally every New Age teaching ever, does it?) While he never actually wrote specifically about the Enneagram, his mentee P. D. Ouspensky took Gurdjieff’s ideas about the Enneagram and expounded upon them in two of his books.7
So, what the heck was the Enneagram at its inception? Gurdjieff saw the Enneagram as a super-duper mystical tool for understanding all of reality. He believed all the laws of the universe are contained in this diagram. Gurdjieff used the diagram to create mathematical formulas, a musical scale, and even a series of dances.8 At its origin, The Enneagram had nothing to do with personality types. I know, I just blew your mind.
Enter Oscar Ichazo (1931-2020). Oscar Ichazo was a “philosopher” who employed the use of psychedelic drugs in order to have spiritual trips. He spoke of receiving instructions from an entity named “Metatron.”9 Alarm bells should be ringing, mama bears! It is unclear exactly how Ichazo encountered the Enneagram, but he had a profound influence in how it is used today. Ichazo believed that each of us has a divine essence, our true self. He believed that from childhood as we experience life, we develop aspects of our personality, or “ego fixations” as Ichazo named them, in order to protect our true essence. These “ego fixations” give us a false sense of self, and our goal should be to find the path back to our true self, which is pure and good. Ichazo assigned an “ego fixation” to each point on the Enneagram.
Now here’s where the gossip gets juicy. Claudio Naranjo (1932-2019), Oscar Ichazo’s student, took the Enneagram and added personality types to the nine “ego fixations” on the Enneagram. So, just to be ultra clear: the personality typing system of the Enneagram was not added until the 1960s. What’s more shocking is the method Naranjo claimed to come up with the types. Brace yourself! In a video interview, Naranjo says he used automatic writing, a self-induced trance for the purpose of spirit contact. This is where he claims most of the typing information came from and, of course, he used observation to confirm it. Sounds legit, right? Yeah. I don’t think so, either.10
How Did It Turn Into A “Christian” Thing?
Two words: The Rohrster.
“The Rohrster,” as I like to call him, refers to Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr. But let me back up a minute first. For many years, the Enneagram had gained popularity in the New Age Movement.11 Books had been written about it, but mostly by New Age authors. It wasn’t until 2016 that Christian publisher InterVarsity Press released Cron and Stabile’s book, The Road Back to You, which introduced the Enneagram to the broader evangelical church. The real explosion in popularity happened the next year when a second Christian publisher (Zondervan), put out The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher L. Heuertz. Fun fact: all three authors of the first two Christian-labeled Enneagram books are disciples of Richard Rohr.
Richard Rohr learned about the Enneagram from Bob Ochs, a Jesuit priest who was a student of Naranjo. Rohr is Roman Catholic, but his teachings are problematic – and that’s putting it lightly. Here are just a few examples:
- He is a perennialist: He believes all religions lead to God.
- He is a universalist: He denies the need for salvation, insisting all are already saved.
- He is a panentheist: He believes God both transcends creation and is also in creation itself. Essentially, everything in nature is god.
- Finally, related to his panentheism, he sees “the Christ” as something separate from Jesus. He writes: “Christ has existed ‘from the beginning,’ so the Christ cannot be the same as Jesus.”14
These are foundationally unChristian beliefs. They actually fall right into the New Age Movement, which Mama Bear Lindsey Medenwaldt wrote about on our blog. These beliefs are contradictory to what the Bible teaches about God, His nature, and our need for salvation. Many people are understandably unaware of Rohr’s heretical beliefs. Rohr comes across as gentle, kind, and positive (and we should all be like that, see 1 Peter 3:15). He seems open-minded and radically inclusive. Unfortunately, Rohr and his mentees are experts at using Christian words but with their own redefined meanings. This is what we at Mama Bear like to call “linguistic theft.” (We’ll break down an example in a future post). But the point here is that The Rohrster’s teachings are not leading people to the God of the Bible.
Further, Rohr doesn’t seem to care about objective, verifiable truth. He and other Enneagram proponents continue to claim that the Enneagram has ancient roots in Christianity and other “traditions,” a word Rohr prefers over “religions.” They claim this even though there is no evidence to back it up. What’s worse, Naranjo admitted in a video from 2010 that he and Ichazo purposely misled their followers (to put it nicely) about the Enneagram’s ancient origins because their followers would “trust it more.” Facepalm.
All that being said, Rohr is at the root of the Enneagram being “Christianized.” That in and of itself is a problem. And to exacerbate the issue, many Christians are not aware of the need for discernment when it comes to books labeled “Christian.” But just because a publisher says something is Christian doesn’t mean it is.
Caution About Taking Personality Assessments Too Far
Some people might check out the Enneagram, get assigned a number, and then never think about it again! But there is a growing number of people who use the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual formation. Some read books, listen to podcasts, and even use Bible devotionals devoted to the Enneagram (as if the Bible reads “differently” for a 1 than a 6 or something…?).
It can be helpful to have ways to describe ourselves to others so that we can promote empathy and understanding when another person is wired differently than us. But we need to always first be calibrated to God’s truth. Our identity is first and foremost not in any of our personality features but in Christ.
And, of course, the next question we should be asking is, “Is the Enneagram accurate?” If it’s not even accurate, then why engage with it in the first place? We’ll be answering that, along with other questions in our next blog, so stay tuned!
You can find Part 2 here. And Part 3 here.
By Alexa Cramer. Original post on Mama Bear Apologetics.
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