As I write this review I am in the process of using The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective as a primary sourcebook for a larger article on the Enneagram; reference to that article will reveal further insights into this particular book. Written in 1989 under the title of Discovering the Enneagram: An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey, and somewhat revised for this printing, Rohr’s and Ebert’s work is foundational for a modern understanding of the Enneagram. Originally, the authors believed the Enneagram system was derived from medieval Islamic (Sufi) sources, but by this printing, they trace its beginning to the Christian desert fathers and mothers, primarily to Evagrius Ponticus (d. 399) and the Franciscan Blessed Ramon Lull (1236-1315) (p. ix). Its roots may even go back to pre-Christian times (p. xi) and finds common ground in mysticism which resides in many major religions (p. xii). This is because “all mystical ways offer methods for unmasking the illusionary self – whether through knowledge, asceticism, good works, or meditation” (p. xii). However, there are no known written sources to prove that the Enneagram is an “ancient wisdom teaching” (p. 6). It was first presented in the West in 1916 by George Gurdjieff who referred to hidden Sufi sources and his own vision of angels (pp. 6-7). Yet links to Evagrius Ponticus, a desert monk born in 345 and later condemned along with Origen as a heretic, can be found. But even Evacrius did not create the contemporary Enneagram, nor can it be traced in toto to the desert fathers, even though certain parts can be (pp. 9-14).
The authors admit that the Enneagram offers much that is similar to other personality typing systems such as the four temperaments, astrology, Jungian psychology, and the Briggs Myers Type Indicator (pp. xiv, 3-4). What distinguishes the Enneagram, and makes it incredibly dangerous in my opinion, is its claim to aid its followers in spiritual development. Ebert writes, “I believe the Enneagram can help us to find a deeper and more authentic relationship with God – even though it was not discovered by Christians” (p. xiv). Rohr adds, “I again offer the Enneagram as another of the endlessly brandished swords of the Holy Spirit. The Enneagram, like the Spirit of truth itself, will always set you free, but first, it will make you miserable!” (p. xxiii) and, “It is concerned with change and making a turnaround, with what the religious traditions call conversion or repentance” (p. 4). These are deceptive and troubling quotes, especially since the authors say next to nothing about what Scripture teaches concerning salvation, sanctification or the sufficiency of Scripture. The Enneagram, under this scenario, becomes a system of spiritual life in competition with God’s instructions. Nothing remotely like the Enneagram is taught in Scripture as a means of self-knowledge, theological understanding, or spiritual conversion or development. As a consequence, it undermines Scripture’s claim to be sufficient to equip the believer for life and godliness. Nevertheless, the authors “offer the Enneagram as a very ancient Christian tool for the discernment of spirits, the struggle with our capital sin, our ‘false self,’ and the encounter with our True Self in God.” Then to ward off any criticism, they continue, “Anything this powerful and this converting is sure to be fought and resisted by the egocentric self, and even by control-needy prelates” (pp. xvi-xvii). Still, the authors admit that there exists no scientific corroboration or clinical verification and, “These examples correspond to the authors’ subjective estimate and make no claim to be authoritative” (p. 39; cf p. 20).
Rohr is a Roman Catholic monk who has low regard for both Christianity and the inspiration of Scripture. He accuses the apostle John, for example, of distorting the words of Jesus, claiming Jesus never said, “Your father is the devil” (John 8:44), but that these are words John placed in Jesus’ mouth, which resemble the “dreadful lines of Hitler” more than the words of Jesus (p. 75). Should a system of sanctification coming from such a source be seriously considered by Christians?
But there is more. The Enneagram defines our root sins as “our primary emotional compulsions and mistaken attitudes” (p. 201). On the contrary, Scripture identifies sin as rebellion and defiance, not compulsions or mistakes. With such a definition of sin, we should not be surprised that repentance is given a novel twist as well. It is “break[ing] out of [our] customary ways of thinking and to dare ‘new thinking’ which takes into account the Good News that God’s reign of love is near” (p. 200). The Enneagram is full of unprovable generalities such as “many threes are . . . physically attractive” (p. 82); “fours are almost always artistically gifted” (p. 98); “fives often wear glasses” (p. 116); and “eights want to be bad boys and girls” (p. 162) and “do not apologize” (p. 163).
The authors see the Enneagram as “an excellent tool to help people on their way to spiritual and mental growth,” which is why “a number of Jesuits and Catholic ‘communities of Christian life’ [have] used it for retreats and the training of spiritual counselors” (p. x). The claim is made that, “The Enneagram is not mathematics. It is the art of reading and transforming the soul into godly truth. . . It subverts our unconscious and truly ‘mythical’ worldview so that God can get in” (p. xx). Yet, at no point do the authors turn their readers to the truth of the Word of God. The Enneagram is a personality typing system with no scientific verification, not accepted by the majority of those in the psychological community and, most importantly, is not found in any form in Scripture, yet it is touted as a means of mental and spiritual transformation. The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective is one of the most respected books in the Enneagram genre, thus its teaching cannot be ignored or dismissed. It is a straight-forward, and unbiblical challenge to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Avoid.
The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989, 2019), 296 pp. & xxxiii, paper $19.95
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher at Southern View Chapel