The Enneagram Part 2

Volume 26, Issue 3, June/July 2020

In the first article on this subject, I began by developing a case for biblical authority and sufficiency, stating that anything that attempts to by-pass Scripture as the source of truth for Christian living is deficient and should be viewed with suspicion at best.  Any system which claims to offer a pathway to either salvation or sanctification, which is not derived directly and completely from the Word of God, is a fallacy.  Not only are such systems to be avoided (2 Tim 2:16; 3:5), they should be exposed (Jude 3-26).  The Enneagram is just such a system. In the first article I also addressed the origins of the Enneagram, its modern face and what it proposes to accomplish, which is self-knowledge and a deeper relationship with both self and God.

In this paper we will revisit the origins, identify some popular promoters, briefly explain the nine types that make up the Enneagram, and remind readers of the objectives of the system.

Origins Revisited

 Since the first paper on the Enneagram I have read and reviewed a well-researched book entitled Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret.[1] Concerning origins, the authors reject  assertions by its leading proponents that the Enneagram has roots going back at least to the desert fathers as well as other ancient literature and religions[2] (in the first paper these claims were explored). They document that the Enneagram, as it is known today, began with George Gurdjieff in the early 1900s and was revised and spread by some others such as occult teacher Oscar Ichazo. As for advocates, until very recently the teachings of the Enneagram were exclusively found in the occult and New Age realms, only bleeding into Catholicism in the late 1980s. Through the efforts of its recognized champion Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, it has gained traction within the Catholic community, although most Catholic leaders disavow it.[3]  Prior to 2016, few evangelicals had ever heard of the Enneagram but all that has changed, thanks to the writings of some claiming to be evangelicals, principally Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile who wrote The Road Back to You and Christopher Heueritz, author of The Sacred Enneagram, both published by Christian publishing houses (Intervarsity and Zondervan).[4] As a result, acceptance of the Enneagram is spreading rapidly throughout evangelicalism today.

 Popular Promoters

 Although Rohr, Cron, Stabile and Heueritz, are leading lights in the Enneagram movement, a number of other evangelical leaders are touting the benefits of the Enneagram rather heavily, which of course adds to its visibility and popularity.  Some examples include Andy Stanley who pastors one of the largest churches in America,[5] Mark Batterson, megachurch pastor and author,[6] and Louie Giglio who sponsors the Passion Conference, which draws up to 60,000 twenty-somethings to its conferences each year.[7] Add to this list Hunter Mobley, formerly a pastor at Christ Church Nashville, who takes speaking tours teaching the Enneagram.[8] Christianity Today, the leading evangelical magazine  published today, has long hyped the Enneagram.[9] Entertainers such as Amy Grant,[10] Christian hip hop artist PROPAGANDA,[11] and Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty and Dancing with the Stars fame.[12] Personalities such as Dave Hollis (husband of popular author and motivational speaker Rachel Hollis),[13] heretical teacher Brian McLaren,[14] and even Russell Moore,[15]currently president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, who views it as a harmless but helpful tool.[16]

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg and more and more are jumping on board, assuming the Enneagram is harmless at worst and profoundly helpful at best. Zondervan is actually producing a movie entitled “Nine: The Enneagram Documentary” which is due to be released to theaters in the Fall of 2020.  As the Enneagram gains more notoriety, endorsed by numerous Christian leaders and celebrities who lack biblical discernment, we can anticipate the Enneagram to become a standard feature among Christians in the near future.  Should we be concerned?  Joe Carter, writing for the Gospel Coalition, sees it as a simplistic diagnostic tool which clearly lacks scientific support yet only becomes dangerous when infused with spiritual significance (which of course it often is).  Otherwise, Carter sees it as “a mostly harmless fad that will fade away in a few years. And evangelicals enthralled with the Enneagram should probably wonder why they’re spending so much energy on a tool that has about as much scientific validity as the four humors theory of Hippocrates (and Tim LaHaye).”[17]

Carter’s stance is that, since the Enneagram is just another fad, in time it will prove to be of little value and will fade into the dustbin of time.  He may be right but even if so, fads, while popular, can often do much harm along the way. Over the centuries, the world, and sometimes Christians with it, has become enamored with various tools which supposedly forecast the future or define us as persons.  We can think of astrological signs and horoscopes, psychological tests such as Meyers Briggs, the MMPI or the TJTA, love languages, and the Four Temperaments.  Two hundred years ago Phrenology was all the rage.  Phrenology was a pseudoscience which involved the measurement of bumps on and the contour of the skull to predict mental and personality traits. It now has been relegated to psychological curiosity.  Is the Enneagram just the latest bead in a long string of novel fads that have supposedly, each in its time, been the key to unlocking our personalities, or is it more complicated than that?  Before we attempt an answer we need to give a brief overview of the Enneagram system as usually presented and understood by most people.

Enneagram Types

 To the average person just being introduced to the Enneagram, or using it as a means to understand personality types, the system is not significantly different from Zodiac signs, the temperaments (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic, which were based on four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile).  In Gary Smalley’s version the four temperaments morph into animals: lions, golden retrievers, beavers, and otters.  The Enneagram types are more numerous and complicated.  No two Enneagram experts seem to agree exactly on the makeup of the nine types, but in general Ian Cron’s definitions are serviceable.[18]

Type 1:  The Perfectionist.  Ethical, dedicated and reliable, the perfectionist is motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.

Type 2: The Helper.  Warm, caring and giving, the helper is motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.

Type 3:  The Performer.  Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, the performer is motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.

Type 4:  The Romantic.  Creative, sensitive and moody, the romantic is motivated by a need to be understood, to experience oversized feelings and to avoid being ordinary.

Type 5:  The Investigator.  Analytical, detached and private, the investigator is motivated by a need to gain knowledge, to conserve energy and to avoid relying on others.

Type 6:  The Loyalist.  Committed, practical and witty, the loyalist is a worst-case-scenario thinker who is motivated by fear and the need for security.

Type 7:  The Enthusiast.  Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, the enthusiast is motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.

Type 8:  The Challenger.  Commanding, intense and confrontational, the challenger is motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.

Type 9:  The Peacemaker.  Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, the peacemaker is motivated by a need to keep the peace, to merge with others and to avoid conflict.

To complicate things further, the individual types are flanked by “wings.” Wings are the two adjacent types on the Enneagram figure which supposedly modifies a person’s predominate type. Type three, for example, is success-oriented but will be modified by their wings which are types two (warm and giving) or four (creative, sensitive and moody). How much a three will be altered by one of their wings will depend on how much they lean in either direction. With this configuration no two threes are identical and, in fact, could be virtually unrecognizable as a three. Add to the mix layers of supplementary theories such as those espoused by Christopher Heuertz concerning “Intelligence Centers.” Intelligence Centers “are the core lenses through which we take in the human experience.”  He identifies three such centers: Body (instinctive or gut), Heart (feeling or emotion), and Head (mind, thinking or rational).  Types Eight, Nine, or One “are located in the Body Center; those dominant in type Two, Three, or Four are clustered in the Heart Center; those dominant in type Five, Six, or Seven are in the Head Center.”[19]

It does not take long to realize that what appears to be a simple personality typing system is actually a complex, multilayered structure which would require intense study and trained experts to unravel.  Yet when all the dust has settled, the Enneagram remains an unproven theory, having no scientific, medical or psychological validation, and is totally absent from the pages of Scripture. Keep in mind that even the strongest supporters and teachers of the Enneagram are not only aware of, but would agree with, these deficiencies. Still, inexplicably, they would proclaim it as very helpful.

Objectives

What has to be understood is that the Enneagram is not just another personality typing system akin to the Zodiac or the Temperaments.  It is not a parlor game similar to Phrenology. It will not enable us to determine if we are a cocker spaniel, an otter or a squirrel.  As misguided as all these attempts are, nevertheless they are relatively harmless when compared to the aggressive claims and objectives of the Enneagram leaders.

For example, Hunter Mosely writes on his website: “The Enneagram is a centuries old tradition that describes nine personality-based approaches to life. Focusing on motivation, rather than behavior, the Enneagram helps us discern both our brokenness and our path toward healing. By understanding our Enneagram type (one of nine numbers, 1-9), we begin a lifelong journey of spiritual work to move beyond episodic meaning and inherited patterns of behavior to wholeness and transformation.”[20]

Ian Cron, on his podcast Typology, asserts: The Enneagram is by far the most effective tool for deepening self-knowledge, sharpening self-awareness, and improving relationships. It helps to identify your unique personality and guides you toward living as your authentic self.[21] More than that, Cron writes “Every number on the Enneagram teaches us something about the nature and character of the God who made us.”[22]

The Enneagram, as expressed by its teachers, purports to be far more than a fun way to get to know yourself a bit better.  As I wrote in the first paper on this subject, it makes claims to be a “road back to you” (the title of Cron and Stabile’s book), to unmask the “false you” and unwrap the “true you.”  When we immerse ourselves in the system, according to Enneagram teachers, we are led to spiritual conversion, a deeper relationship with God, and sanctification.  In other words, the Enneagram proposes to reveal the God within us (the identical message, by the way, espoused by New Age mysticism).

Of course, many who might read these articles critiquing the Enneagram would say that they do not use the Enneagram for the above purposes; they find it simply an interesting way to understand themselves better.  As you read about the types, attend a seminar or two, read some of the popular books, or listen to the endorsements of Christian celebrities, you find yourself identifying with some of the descriptions being given, and believe you are being helped in some way.  But I would advise caution.  Almost any theory concerning the psychological makeup of human beings proclaims some truths.  Insight can sometimes be drawn out of even the most out-of-balance ideologies and philosophies, but there are often dangers lurking below the surface.  The Enneagram is a theory with a murky history, assembled from occult, mystic, and psychological concepts, and filtered through unorthodox Roman Catholic teachers.  It proclaims a gospel that denies our problems stem from a depraved self, while offering conversion through the discovery of the “true self.”  Through the means of a virtually incomprehensible set of teachings, which are not drawn from Scripture, spiritual growth is promised through the adoption of mystical contemplative practices nowhere found in the Bible. It has a false God: self; it has a false means of conversion: finding our true self; it has a false method of sanctification: mystical contemplation; and it has a false, authoritative revelation: the Enneagram, which supersedes God’s Word.

Kevin DeYoung summarizes my thoughts well, “If the Enneagram were another version of What Color Is Your Parachute? That would be fine, but it has been, from its inception (whenever that was) infused with spiritual significance.  And therein lies the danger.”[23]

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

 

[1] Don Veinot, Joy Veinot and Marcia Montenegro, Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret (Wonder Lake, IL: MCOI Publishing LLC: 2020).

[2] Ibid., pp. 23-27.

[3] Ibid., p. 86.

[4] Ibid., p. 26.

[5] https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/enneagram-for-leaders-part-1/id290055666?i=1000440792078

[6] https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2019/24/10/episode03-013/markbatterson

[7] https://podcasts.apple.com/jo/podcast/pastor-louie-giglio-new-insights-for-an-enneagram-3-s03-034/id1254061093?i=1000468886290.

[8] https://www.huntermobley.com/

[9] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/november/evangelicals-guide-to-enneagram.html, also https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2018/january-web-exclusives/enneagram-for-pastors.html, and https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/what-does-enneagram-have-to-offer-christians.html

[10] https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2019/07/02/s02-028/amygrant

[11] https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2020/27/02/episode3-031/propaganda

[12] https://liveoriginal.com/centered-on-god/

[13] https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2020/30/04/episode03-040/davehollis

[14] https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2020/09/04/episode03-037/brianmclaren

[15] https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2020/23/04/episode03-039/russellmoore

[16] See Moore’s YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-C2jOn6guo

[17] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-what-christians-should-know-about-the-enneagram/

[18] Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back to You, an Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, (InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 2016), pp. 24-27.

[19] Christopher Heuertz, The Sacred Enneagram, Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017) pp. 89-90.

[20] https://www.huntermobley.com/

[21] https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2019/07/02/s02-028/amygrant

[22] Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile, p. 228.

[23] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/enneagram-road-back-somewhere-else/