The Enneagram – Part 1

Volume 26, Issue 2, April/May 2020

If you have not heard of the Enneagram yet, you will soon.  According to Wikipedia it “is a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. As a typology the Enneagram defines nine personality types (sometimes called “enneatypes”), which are represented by the points of a geometric figure called an enneagram, which indicate connections between the types. The Enneagram of Personality has been widely promoted in both business management and spirituality contexts through seminars, conferences, books, magazines, and DVDs. In business contexts it is generally used as a typology to gain insights into workplace interpersonal-dynamics; in spirituality it is more commonly presented as a path to higher states of being, essence, and enlightenment. Both contexts say it can aid in self-awareness, self-understanding and self-development.”

The Enneagram figure or diagram looks like the following.

Before I jump into the midst of the fire swirling around the popularity and acceptability of the Enneagram in conservative Christian circles, it is important to clearly define my theological position regarding the Scriptures.  Doing so is critical because my understanding of God’s revelation is rapidly becoming extinct even among those claiming to hold the same theological views.  Stay with me as I lay down the guard rails that I see as necessary for truly biblical Christianity, as well as evaluation of the Enneagram.

With the Reformers, I believe our faith ultimately stands or falls on the doctrine of sola Scriptura.  Church historians have long maintained that while sola fide (faith alone) kick-started the Protestant Reformation, the battle lines, and on-going debates, centered on authority.  Was the Bible alone vested with ultimate authority, or did that authority reside in the church and its traditions? The Reformers dug in on sola Scriptura, leading ultimately to a necessary break from Roman Catholicism and any other system attempting to wrestle authority from Scripture.

But “Scripture alone” is only the entry point; a further definition is needed.  We must begin with the observation that the Bible itself claims to be inspired by God.  Second Timothy 3:16 declares that all Scripture is theopneustos, technically meaning “breathed out by God.”  For God’s Word to be “inspired” it must first be “expired” by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:19-21).  While the Spirit used men as His instruments in the writing of Scripture, the Spirit superintended these men in such a way that they penned the exact words He intended in the original autographs. Further, if biblical inspiration is true, then Scripture must also be both infallible and inerrant.  Infallibility declares that if the Bible is God’s Word, it cannot err, for God cannot err.  Consequently, to believe in a fallible Bible is to believe in a fallible god, who either intentionally transmitted false information, or allowed human instruments to falsify His message.  Inerrancy goes a step further, meaning that an infallible word from God does not err.  Infallible informs us that God’s Word cannot err and inerrancy declares that it does not err.

Sadly, there is a great deal of recent debate among evangelical scholars concerning this latter issue.  Bowing to cultural pressures and progressive scholarship, even some who embrace sola Scriptura wobble on their understanding of inerrancy.  Be that as it may, I press deeper to the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture.  If Scripture is, in fact, the expired/inspired, infallible/inerrant Word of God, then it follows that it must also be sufficient for every aspect of life and godliness.  Second Timothy three, verse seventeen, promptly following the proclamation that all Scripture is inspired by God, states its purpose, “That the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (see also 2 Peter 1:3, which reads, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him [Christ]”).  Based on this assertion, Timothy is immediately charged to “preach the Word” (4:2), even when most are rejecting it (4:3-4).

There is never any indication in the Bible that the Word of God is inadequate to equip the saint for life and godliness.  There is no hint that Scripture is unable to accomplish our progressive sanctification without supplements from other sources.  Human wisdom, philosophies, and methods are consistently exposed in both Testaments as unnecessary and often detrimental in the spiritual growth process of God’s people.  We are clearly commanded to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2a), for only the Word of God is equal to the task of changing our thinking so that we can “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2b).  While our Lord may choose to use other means, such as trials, nature, experiences, education and the like, to catch our attention, and even provide limited insight, only the Word from our Divine author can renew our minds, resulting in the transformation of our hearts and lives.  So important is this truth that Paul depreciates all competing views on the renovation of our minds as nothing more than “words of men” (2 Tim 2:17), worldly and empty chatter, ignorant and even foolish speculation (2 Tim 2:16, 23).  Paul instructs Timothy to flee from this type of “wisdom” (2:22), for it not only produces quarrels and divisions (2:23) but also leads to ungodliness which easily spreads like gangrene within the body of Christ (2:16-17).  Instead, the inspired apostle turns Timothy back once again to the Word, instructing him to work diligently at the task of accurately interpreting it (2:15).  There is no mention of attempting to incorporate some of the popular speculations infiltrating the church Timothy pastored.  Rather, he must guard the flock, using as his primary weapon “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17).

With this foundation laid I would offer two take-a-ways.  First, Scripture is our ultimate and final authority on all matters pertaining to our lives, our choices, and our spiritual development.  To be clear, most Christians will affirm that God’s Word is necessary for understanding the gospel, which leads us to salvation, and it is beneficial to facilitate spiritual growth.  But when it comes to issues such as understanding ourselves, our psychological and emotional health, marriage, raising children, anger management, conflict resolution, and a host of similar items, we often compromise.  Scripture is just one source of truth among many contenders; after all, “all truth is God’s truth,” right?  But under the banner of “all truth is God’s truth” runs innumerable lies, deceptions, and distortions.  My contention is not that everything outside of Scripture that provides input and insight about life is wrong, but extra-biblical assertions must be analyzed and inspected through the grid of Scripture. We should receive as authoritative only that which meets the criteria of truth, as determined by God’s Word.  Other ideas, teachings, and concepts might be interesting, of limited value and perhaps useful, but they cannot supersede Scripture, and they cannot transform lives leading to conformity to Christlikeness.  Anything else that claims to be spiritually transformative is in direct conflict with the claims of Scripture.

Just for clarity’s sake, an illustration might be helpful.  If I wanted to learn web design, it would be wise to take courses from qualified web designers.  I would never find, nor expect to find in the Bible, details that would aid me in becoming a webmaster.  Scripture is not given to train me in the use of technology, except as it provides a moral compass.  After all, Second Windows 8:4 is not in the Word. If I told my professor that the Bible is full of information on how to develop a cool website, he/she would rightly call my bluff.  Conversely, while Scripture does not claim to be a technological guide, it does claim to be the ultimate guide for life and practice.

I was first exposed to the view that Scripture was inadequate at Bible college.  Having spent three years studying the Bible and theology, assuming these were the tools needed in my future pastoral ministry, I took a course the last semester that undermined that idea.  It was a class designed to teach budding young pastors how to help their congregation through their struggles.  The instructor ignored Scripture entirely and told us that if we wanted to help people with real problems, we needed to use Transactional Analysis (TA) theory, a form of pop-Freudianism popular at the time. TA focused on the Freudian concept of the ego in an attempt to increase the awareness of the unconscious mind.  Revising Freud’s tirade of id, ego, and superego, and changing their names to parent, adult, and child, TA, like most psychological systems, lay blame on childhood experiences for the bulk of our life issues.  While TA has long faded from the psychological mainstream, shadows remain and can often be seen in the discussion of our inner child, or our child-wound. Interestingly, this is common terminology among Enneagram teachers.  The point is that I was being taught in Bible college that Scripture was inadquate to deal with real issues of real people in the real world.  I needed to add a psychological system to the Bible to provide true pastoral care.  Three years later, I began a graduate program at a secular university in psychology to close this supposed gap.  While delving deeper into psychological theory I soon realized that none of what I was being taught was in line with God’s Word.  At that point, I abandoned my pursuit of extra-biblical sources and returned to my roots grounded in biblical sufficiency.

The second take away, which in reality emerges from the first, is this conviction: anything that undermines the authority of God’s Word is our enemy.  Further, anything that poses as a substitute for the authority of Scripture is our enemy.  Further still, anything that attempts to supplement the authority of God’s Word in the area of life and practice, is our enemy.  To summarize: 1) Scripture is fully authoritative and sufficient, and 2) any challenges to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is our enemy and must be exposed and rejected. With this backdrop we are ready to analyze the Enneagram.

In the remainder of this article, I will examine only the origin and claims of the Enneagram of Personality.  Subsequent articles will detail the theory more carefully.

The Origin of the Enneagram

Ancient Beginnings

The origins of the Enneagram, quite frankly, are very difficult, if not impossible to nail down, even by those who are highly invested in the system.  Some ground its beginnings in the occult,[1] but most trace it to various mystical sources.  Father Richard Rohr, perhaps the most widely respected living leader promoting the Enneagram, wrote in his groundbreaking book in 1989, first published in German and later in English under the title of Discovering the Enneagram: An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey, that its beginnings could be traced to Medieval Islamic (Sufi) sources.[2]  By the time Rohr’s volume was revised thirty years later, and given the title of The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective, he and his co-author, Andreas Ebert, had modified their position and claimed it derives, “at least in part [from] the Christian desert monk Evagrius Ponticus (d. 399) and the Franciscan Blessed Ramón Lull (1236-1315).”[3]  Much of the confusion lies in the fact that the mystical teachings of almost all religions are very similar and hard to distinguish.  Ebert admits that while he and Rohr see roots of the Enneagram in the early monasticism of the Desert Fathers, those roots likely predate Christianity and the teaching “was presumably passed on orally through the Islamic wisdom tradition of Sufism.  Thus, although it seems to be genuinely Christian, it draws from pre-Christian sources and has had an influence on non-Christian mystical traditions.”[4]  The origin remains elusive for, “these mystical currents of the major religions come astonishingly close to one another because of both the religious experiences that they transmit and the worldview that they formulate.  This is one of the reasons why there are Enneagram adherents from the most varied philosophical and religious backgrounds.”[5]

According to Christopher Heuertz, an International Enneagram Association Accredited Professional, “Versions of the Enneagram have been around for thousands of years, hidden away in wisdom schools and passed along orally within mystic traditions of the world’s religions.  Its origin is highly disputed and hotly contested, the stuff of myths and legends.”[6]  Heuertz claims there is evidence suggesting that the Enneagram can be found in ancient Babylon and Egypt, prehistoric Korea and folk Buddhism.[7]  But he gives most validity to the suggestion that “early Egyptian Christian monastic ascetics, the desert mothers and fathers were the chief architects of the Enneagram, led by the fourth-century mystic Evagrius Ponticus.”[8]  The conclusion, regarding origins, is that, while unanimity remains elusive, most experts recognize its mystical roots and none attributes its teachings to the Bible.

When trying to unearth the very beginnings of the Enneagram, a specific agreement among experts is difficult to find.  There is general consensus is that the Enneagram is rooted in mysticism, whether that mysticism is Christian (read Roman Catholic Desert Fathers and monastics),[9] Buddhism, Islamic, etc.  As Rohr writes, “all mystical ways offer methods for unmasking this illusionary self—whether through knowledge, asceticism, good works, or meditation.”[10]  Any Christian considering using the Enneagram for personal insight or spiritual growth should contemplate seriously the mystical foundation of the system.  Mysticism, by its very nature, is not derived from objective criteria or the study of Scripture, but purports to offer insights of a purely subjective, unverifiable nature.  Experience becomes the mystic’s authority, rather than measurable standards or verification from God’s Word.  This basis for truth is a serious crack in the foundation of the Enneagram.  Enneagram teachers do not attempt to root their program in Scripture, because the system is admittedly not based on Scripture, nor is it exclusively Christian.  Nevertheless, they make a case for the transformational power of the Enneagram, which rivals the claims of the Bible and the Holy Spirit, as will be document later.

Modern Versions

The exact origins and ancient development of the Enneagram are debatable.  Leading Enneagram teachers admit that the theory it is based in mysticism spanning numerous religions and philosophical ideologies, has no scientific, medical, or psychological verification, and lacks biblical support.  The Enneagram is a purely subjective, mystical, unprovable personality typing program, which has only recently been systematized and popularized.

Historically, there have been as many as 108 different Enneagrams, including the Sufi Enneagram, the Enneagram of Process, the Harmony Enneagram, and the Gurdjieffian Enneagram.[11]  But it is the Enneagram of Personality which draws most of the attention.  The first person to offer the Enneagram in its modern form was Oscar Ichazo in the early 1970s.[12]  Ichazo was building on the work of an Eastern Orthodox man, George Gurdjieff, who first presented the concept in the West in 1916.  Gurdjieff claimed he had learned the Enneagram from Islamic Sufis in Asia.[13]  “Gurdjieff had joined Seekers of the Truth, a group ‘committed to the quest for hidden knowledge,’ and spent decades seeking esoteric truths.”[14]  Ichazo added his own Sufi sources accompanied by a personal account of a seven-day vision in which angels supposedly taught him the Enneagram.[15]  In 1969, he passed on his knowledge to Chilean Gestalt psychologist Claudio Naranjo.  After working together for a time, the two men had a parting of the ways in 1970 and Naranjo taught his group of truth-seekers the secrets of the Enneagram for the next four years. Being a psychologist, Naranjo added a therapeutic wrinkle by integrating psychology into the mix,[16] resulting in the interlacing of Freudian’s id, ego, and superego, along with much discussion of our wounded child and attempts to find our “True Self.”

Naranjo tried to keep his Enneagram knowledge among his disciples, but some of his Jesuit students couldn’t resist sharing their newly discovered secrets and “soon the Enneagram was let loose into the wild.”[17]   The first Enneagram book was published in the West in 1984.[18]  In late summer 1989, “three books on the Enneagram appeared in German-speaking bookstores in the space of a few weeks.”[19]  Today interest in the Enneagram is exploding, especially, it seems, within the Christian community.

Despite the recent popularity of the Enneagram, there remain numerous concerns for the discerning Christian.  For example:

  • Absolutely none of the Enneagram’s teachings are derived from Scripture.
  • The sources upon which the Enneagram rest are mysticism, visions, psychological theory, and experience.
  • There is no scientific verification of the Enneagram, and even the vast majority of psychologists reject it.
  • The foundational developers of the modern Enneagram took a Gnostic approach in which they sought esoteric and secret knowledge. The great flaw in Gnosticism was abandoning the objective truth of Scripture to seek hidden knowledge.  When Gnostics supposedly found secret knowledge, they developed a religious system that proved to be early Christianity’s greatest challenge in the second and third centuries.  The teachers of the Enneagram have imitated this very approach, seeking esoteric knowledge from unreliable sources, developing a system of supposed mystical truths, and promoting it among the unsuspecting.
  • Besides, even if someone were to ignore all the above issues and embrace the Enneagram, there is the problem of which theory to follow. Even Christopher Heuertz, one of its primary cheerleaders, admits, “It’s no overstatement to suggest that we hardly understand what we are working with, so we would do well to take a learning stance of humility,” and “the Enneagram of Personality is clearly a modern invention in its infancy.”[20]  Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, two other highly regarded Enneagram instructors, admit something similar.  They write, “I am not a foamy-mouthed Enneagram zealot…but even if I’m not a fanatic, I am a grateful student…It is not infallible or inerrant.  It is not the be-all and end-all of Christian spirituality.  At best, it is an imprecise model of personality…But it’s very useful.”[21]  This is much like a dedicated pastor saying, “I am not fully sold-out on Jesus or the Bible.  Neither is without error; neither is the be-all or the end-all, but both are useful, so I will share with you some of the things I have found.”  Such a pastor would be quickly, and rightly, dismissed from any Bible-believing church, but the same criteria are not used for Enneagram teachers.

With all these gaping holes in the Enneagram system, how can its promoters, in good conscience, proclaim its supposed “great benefits?”  They fall back on two maxims:  “All truth is God’s truth,” and experience.[22]  The first maxim is an end-run around the claims of biblical sufficiency and authority of Scripture.  The second is flawed on its face.  Nothing can be proven by experience, due to its subjective nature.  The Lord would turn us back to His Word for truth, not to experience.

The Purpose of the Enneagram

The primary problem the Enneagram seeks to elucidate is self-knowledge, for, so the theory goes, if we understood ourselves better, we would be happier and healthier.  This goal is the concept behind Cron and Stabile’s book entitled The Road Back to You.  The Enneagram is a tool they believe enables you to find the “True You.”

It is vitally important, especially for Christians, to begin one’s evaluation of the Enneagram by examining its purpose as expressed by its strongest proponents.  Before dissecting the details of various types and methods, it would be best to determine first the objective of the system.  While there are secularized versions of the Enneagram, all the books and references I have studied come from professing Christians who see the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual enhancement.  Pastors are leaving their pulpits to travel broadly spreading the good news of the Enneagram.  Conferences, retreats, and cruises are dedicated to it, and large crowds are attending.  Given this backdrop, what are the specific claims being made for the system?  What is the attraction?  There are several:

Self-knowledge

Cron and Stable quote Thomas Merton, a twentieth-century Roman Catholic monk and mystic, who also incorporated Buddhism into his belief system, “Before we can become who we really are, we must become conscious of the fact that the person who we think we are, here and now, is at best an impostor and a stranger.”[23]  Banking off Merton, Cron and Stable believe a tool is needed to remove our mask so that we see ourselves for who we are, and the Enneagram is that tool.  The authors continue, “The true purpose of the Enneagram is to reveal to you your shadow side and offer spiritual counsel on how to open it to the transformative light of grace.”[24]  In Christian-speak, it is a means of progressive sanctification, a rival to Scripture’s message and method concerning spiritual maturity.  Richard Rohr summarizes, “The Enneagram is first of all a key to self-knowledge…and how I can find my ‘true self,’ which God put inside me.”[25]

A Deeper Relationship with God

 Andreas Ebert writes, “I believe that the Enneagram can help us to find a deeper and more authentic relationship with God.”[26]  Christopher Heuertz gets more specific, “Put another way, it exposes nine ways we lie to ourselves about who we think we are, nine ways we can come clean about those illusions, and nine ways we can find our way back to God.”[27]

A Means of Conversion

 Rohr states that the Enneagram “is concerned with change and making a turnaround, with what the religious traditions call conversion or repentance.”[28]  Yet the gospel of the Enneagram is the message of how we can find our True Self, not how we, as sinners, can find and be reconciled with a holy God.  “The paramount question plaguing humanity has to do with identity”[29] writes Heuertz.  We desperately need to discover our True Self, defined as our “integrated authentic self.”[30]  The Enneagram is designed to help us come home to our True Self, “to our essential nature,”[31] the “type we were born as.”[32]  Our great antagonist in the effort to travel “the road back to you”[33] is our childhood wound, which has “thrust us across the path of disintegration and so our lives are spent yearning for that inner child to be safe again.”[34]  This is, of course, the language behind many psychological theories, not the language of biblical Christianity.  The Christian gospel is the message of how our true self (sinners in rebellion against God) can be made righteous before a holy God through the vicarious, substitutionary cross-work of Jesus Christ.  Scripture is neither lacking in descriptions of self nor in explaining the road to God.  Jesus makes it clear that He is “the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6).  Our great problem, according to Scripture, is not self-identification; it is self.  Our great need is not overcoming our child-wound, finding our True Self, or discerning our type; our great need is reconciliation with God.  Only Christ can accomplish such deliverance, not the Enneagram.  Strangely, in books claiming to be from Christian authors and published by Christian publishing houses, there is a deafening silence concerning Christ and the biblical gospel.  The Enneagram is, in fact, a different gospel altogether.  It identifies a different fundamental problem, offers a different savior, and calls for a different response.

Sanctification

 We are being told that the Enneagram, understood and utilized correctly, is designed to “illuminate our unique path to spiritual growth.”[35]  Heuertz informs us that “when we view the Harmony Triads and Dominant Affect Groups together, we begin to grasp the dynamic prism of our spiritual development.”[36]  This growth is largely facilitated through the use of contemplative prayer practices.[37]  These contemplative practices are used to “dismantle the illusions of personality of the False Self, thereby exposing how we see and engage God…a disciplined cultivation of spiritual depth accessible only through faithful contemplative practice that brings us into the transforming presence of a loving God.”[38]  Thomas Merton is used in a supportive role when he writes, “For me to be a saint means to be myself.  Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is, in fact, the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my True Self.”[39]  Rohr and Ebert agree with the opinion of some that the Enneagram is “an excellent tool to help people on their way to spiritual and mental growth.”[40]

Conclusion

What we are finding early on is that the Enneagram is being touted as a means to conversion, spiritual growth, and encounter with God, which are the exact claims that Scripture makes for itself.  With this in mind, some observations are in order:

  • Some Enneagram teachers would cry foul at this point saying that they are not trying to supplant the Bible, but only to supplement it. But when the rubber meets the road, virtually all attention is given to the Enneagram by these promoters, while God’s Word is given lip-service, if referenced at all.
  • Along the same line of reasoning is a denial of biblical sufficiency, a doctrine discussed earlier in this article.
  • The teachings of the Enneagram are nowhere found or hinted at in the Bible.
  • Many of the Enneagram theological/philosophical pronouncements are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Scripture.

The Enneagram is a complicated and esoteric system that would require years of training to understand and implement properly; and even then, there exist vast differences among Enneagram experts.  This is in direct contrast to the relative simplicity, clarity, and perspicuity of Scripture.  Additionally, when all the smoke has cleared and the theories exposed, the Enneagram is nothing more than human ideas, conjectures and general observations, cobbled into such a muddled system that even the experts can’t agree.

Most importantly, the Enneagram is claiming territory over which God’s Word has staked its claim:  salvation, sanctification, knowledge of self, and knowledge of God.  The particulars of the Enneagram system will be the subject of part two of this series of articles.

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel

[1] Joe Carter, “The FAQs:  What Christians Should Know About the Enneagram (www.the gospel coalition.org/article/the-faqs-what-Christians-should-know-about-the-enneagram, p. 2).

[2] Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2019), pp. 6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. xii.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Christopher Heuertz, The Sacred Enneagram, Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017) pp. 42-43.

[7] Ibid., pp. 43-44.

[8] Ibid., p. 44.

[9] Ibid, pp. 42-44.

[10] Rohr and Ebert, p. xii.

[11] Ibid., p. 25.

[12] Ibid., p. 36, Rohr and Ebert, p. 7

[13] Rohr and Ebert, pp. 6-7.

[14] Heuertz, p. 45.

[15] Rohr and Ebert, p. 7.

[16] Heuertz, p. 47.

[17] Ibid., p. 49.

[18] Ibid., p. 48

[19] Rohr and Ebert, p. ix.

[20] Heuertz, p. 49.

[21] Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back to You, An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Downers Grove: IVP Books 2016), p. 20.

[22] Heuertz, p. 50.

[23] Cron and Stabile, p. 24.

[24] Ibid., p. 31.

[25] Rohr and Ebert, p. 228.

[26] Ibid, p. xiv.

[27] Heuertz, p. 25.

[28] Rohr and Ebert, p. 4.

[29] Heuertz, p. 16.

[30] Ibid., p. 248.

[31] Ibid., p. 49.

[32] Ibid., p. 66.

[33] Cron and Stable, the title of the book.

[34] Heuertz, p. 66.

[35] Ibid., p. 142.

[36] Ibid., p. 149.  Harmony Triads and Intelligence Centers will be explained in part 2 of this series.

[37] Ibid, p. 147.  The specifics of contemplative practices will be detailed in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

[38] Ibid., pp. 156-157.

[39] Cron and Stabile, p. 230.

[40] Rohr and Ebert, p. x.