The Road Back To You, an Enneagram Journey to Self Discovery, by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

The Road Back to You is a primer concerning the latest fad in personality type-casting known as the Enneagram.  According to the authors, the Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that “helps people understand who they are and what makes them tick” (p. 10). The purpose of the Enneagram is “to develop self-knowledge and learn how to recognize and dis-identify with the parts of our personalities that limit us so we can be reunited with our truest and best selves, that ‘pure diamond, blazing with invisible light of heaven,’ as Thomas Merton said” (p. 24).  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” (p. 31).  In Christian-speak, it is a means of progressive sanctification, a rival to Scripture’s message and method concerning spiritual maturity.

The Enneagram is of unknown origin, but seems to have roots in ancient Christian mysticism stemming from the fourth century Desert Fathers.  Its spread in modern times, beginning in 1970, is owed to some psychiatrists but primarily to Roman Catholic leaders who have embraced the spiritual disciplines of the mystics as popularized by the Spiritual Formation Movement (pp. 10-11).  The authors believe that, despite its unknown origin, its total lack of scientific validity, and its utter subjectivism, it is a means of self-discovery (pp. 10-11).  Even Cron admits the system is fallible and errant and “not the be-all and end-all of Christian spirituality. It is an imprecise model of personality” (p. 20).  Yet with this less than glowing endorsement from two of its most prominent promoters and teachers, they still see it as “very useful” (p. 20).

The primary problem, which the Enneagram seeks to solve, is self-knowledge (pp. 14-15), for, the authors believe, if we understood ourselves better, we would be happier and healthier.  There is no attempt to support this view from Scripture, which is hardly addressed, but quotes from a whole stable of Roman Catholic authors and mystics are prolific:  Flannery O’Connor (pp. 17, 35, 169), Thomas Merton (pp. 17, 24, 224, 226, 230), Thomas À Kempis (p. 23), Pope Gregory (pp. 31-33), Ronald Rolheiser (p. 59), Henri Nouwen (p. 117), and Julian of Norwich (p. 204).  In addition, mystical practices such as silence, solitude and centering prayer are recommended (pp. 146, 203, 225, 230), and Roman Catholic spiritual directors are encouraged (pp. 146, 224), New Age and Scientology teachings are mixed in (pp. 18, 30), and even a Buddhist teacher (p. 227) becomes a source.

When the authors attempt to discuss biblical themes, they turn to unbiblical sources and come up with unbiblical understandings.  For example, note several assertions followed by my comments:

  • God wants to restore us to our authentic self (p. 23). The Bible says, God desires us to be reconciled to Him, and our authentic self is totally depraved.
  • Sins, according to Enneagram guru Richard Rohr, are “…fixations that prevent the energy of life, God’s love, from flowing freely. [They are] self-erected blockades that cut us off from God and hence from our own authentic potential.” The Bible, on the other hand, says sin is rebellion against God and lawlessness.
  • We need to learn to befriend our inner child (pp. 61, 108). The Bible calls for us to battle the flesh and walk in the Spirit, and says nothing about an inner child.
  • Drawing from Catholic mysticism, the claim is made that the goal of spiritual life is union with God (pp. 87, 185). The Bible says it is to glorify God.
  • We understand the loving heart of God because of Richard Rohr (p. 94), but Scripture clearly presents to us the loving heart of God long before Rohr existed.
  • Angels sing when we understand we are loved for who we are (p. 146). The Bible says they rejoice when a sinner repents.
  • We need to develop self-confidence in our inner guidance system (p. 204), but there is no mention of Scripture or the Holy Spirit as our guide.
  • A saint, according to Merton, is someone who “… means to be [himself]. Therefore the problem of sanctification and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who [he is] and of discovering [his] true self” (p. 230).  The Bible says a saint is one who has been redeemed by God.

Obviously, when it comes to growth in Christian maturity, the Enneagram is leading people astray.

The authors describe the nine types of the Enneagram as follow:  “Ones show us God’s perfection; Twos witness to God’s unstoppable, selfless giving; Threes God’s glory; Fours creativity and pathos of God; Fives show God’s Omniscience; Sixes God’s steadfast love and loyalty; Sevens God’s childlike joy; Eights God’s power and intensity; and Nines God’s love of peace and desire for union with his children” (p. 228).  A chapter is devoted to each type, highlighting supposed strengths and weaknesses, as well as each number’s deadly sin.  The generalities presented are obvious and dangerous and, while the authors downplay pigeonholing others (p. 39), the book is replete in doing exactly that (e.g. pp. 44, 67-68, 75, 84, 87, 93, 104, 114, 171).

The Enneagram is a popular fad that will fade into history in due time, as other typing systems have.  But in the meanwhile it presents a serious detour from biblical sanctification.  Avoid this distraction masquerading as a way to spiritual development and recall Paul’s words to Timothy warning him to stay away from fruitless speculating and to dedicate himself to the study and application of Scripture (2 Tim 2:14-16).

The Road Back to You, an Enneagram Journey to Self Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 238 pp., Hard $24.00

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