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The Re-Emergence of the Enneagram

Recently, as people continue to shelter-in-place longer and longer, I am seeing more and more people I love turn, once again, to Enneagram models of coping. Articles such as "Turning a Time of Challenge into an Opportunity for Awakening" and "Potential Lessons for the Enneagram Types and Subtypes" have emerged and are held-out as stand-ins for the Gospel. Particularly concerning, is the number of mainstream Christian media outlets that continue to espouse the Enneagram as a sacred tool for churches, pastors and Christians.

If you don't know much about Enneagrams, don't feel bad. I tend to only speak up on things that have direct implications for the church I pastor, Anthem Church. And Marin County sits far outside the reach of mainstream evangelicalism. However, in an effort to get ahead of the re-emerging curve (no COVID pun intended), I thought I would make an exception.

"The Enneagram teaches that there are nine different personality styles in the world, one of which we naturally gravitate toward and adopt in childhood to cope and feel safe. Each type or number has a distinct way of seeing the world and an underlying motivation that powerfully influences how that type thinks, feels and behaves". (1)

The preponderance of the critique below will heavily cite some of the more helpful thoughts and commentary I have turned to as biblical, thorough, thoughtful, Gospel-saturated confirmation.

COMMENDATION

First, let's begin with some of the positive.

"While the ancient roots of the Enneagram are sketchy—maybe it started with a monk, maybe with with Sufism, maybe with occult practices—most everyone agrees that the modern Enneagram entered America by way of the psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, a student of a Chilean named Oscar Ichazo who rediscovered the Enneagram in the early 1970s. From Naranjo, the Enneagram entered the Catholic world through Father Robert Ochs, and then later made another splash when the Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr began writing and speaking on it..." (1)

Ennegream culture takes seriously our need to change, something Christians should appreciate.
It does NOT say '...you are fine just the way you are'. Your personality type may be fine, and your true self may be luminous, but the way we all act is tainted with unhealthy habits. [Enneagram culture] want us to stop hurting people, including ourselves. That’s commendable." (1)

"More to the point, I don’t doubt that many people can learn useful things about themselves and others from the Enneagram. I always find that books like this have a few good commonsense nuggets of truth. I’ve done Myers-Briggs, DISC, spiritual gifts inventories, spiritual temperament books, strength finders, and a smattering of other self-discovery books and tests. It can be helpful to realize that you are driven to succeed, or that your co-worker hates conflict, or that your spouse is an adventurous romantic. When put in their proper place, there’s something to learn from the find-your-personality literature." (1)

VIRTUE vs. SIN

"[In 2017], Christopher L. Heuertz came out with a book entitled: The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth (Zondervan, 2017)." (2)

In it, doctrinal error abounds. Perhaps none more than doctrine of sin.

"We were born virtuous, so we are told in this book, but then developed a tragic flaw, often through disappointments or hurts from our parents or caretakers. Our tragic flaw is the place where we park our destructive addictions. The aim of the Enneagram, though, is to guide us into a rediscovery of our true self. Christian readers, however, should take note that this is not what the Bible teaches about original sin. We are not born virtuous. We inherit the sin of Adam (Romans 5:12-21) and are hopelessly in need of a Savior from the day we are born." (2)

Here are some excerpts from Heuertz’s book regarding "...our original virtuous state and the true self that we are supposed to re-discover through the Enneagram..." (2) :

  • "More than anything I’ve encountered, the Enneagram helps us do just that. It exposes the lies we tell ourselves about our identities….It illuminates what’s good and true and beautiful about each of us." (3)
  • "The Enneagram’s goal is to 'reveal our soul’s essence in its purest form.'" (3)
  • "…it’s important to validate a person’s sense of what may have caused their own disconnect from their original Virtue." (3)
  • "If you believe that in the earliest days of infancy we are as close to perfect as we’ll ever be in our lives—the most unencumbered from our tragic flaw and the most uncontaminated by its consequences—then the Holy Ideas and Virtues of the Enneagram types are the two fundamental aspects of our soul’s essence that reveal in us the raw material of our True Self." (3)

"Mr. Heuertz appears to read the Genesis narrative—where humans are created in the image of God and subsequently fall into sin—as symbolic of each individual’s birth into innocence, that is, the Genesis narrative is representative of “our best and purest sense of self”…'before sin gummed things up.'" (2)

"Honestly, Mr. Heuertz’s view of sin is probably the aspect of this book I had the hardest time understanding. Nowhere in the book does he espouse the idea that we have offended the honor of a holy God and that we need Jesus to bear our sin through his death on the cross. In most instances, it looks like this author views 'sin' merely as addictive tendencies or destructive patterns...I think Mr. Heuertz is telling us that we shouldn’t think of sin as wrongness, but rather as dysfunction." (2)

Another book worthy of examination is The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Reason being, it has garnered enough attention as result of it is mainstream Christian publishing release. Second, a "part 2" to this book is on the horizon, flagging for us just how popular it is.

"To be sure, The Road Back to You has a fall, but it is not mankind’s sinful rebellion against God. It’s that we’ve 'lost connection' with our God-given identity. In a critical section at the beginning of the book, the authors describe their understanding of sin: 'Sin as a theological term has been weaponized and used against so many people that it’s hard to address the subject without knowing you’re possibly hurting someone who has stood on the wrong end of the preacher’s barrel, so to speak.' To be sure, we must face 'our darkness,' but then Cron and Stabile give this definition of sin (from Rohr): 'Sins 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'. To quote their definition is to refute it. There is nothing here about sin as lawlessness, sin as spiritual adultery, sin as cosmic betrayal against a just and holy God." (1)

AUTHORITY

"The Enneagram has an air of scientific precision without any real basis for authority...Throughout the book, we read about 'so-and-so who is an Eight' or 'my friend who is a Two,' as if we were mentioning someone’s height or hair color. One of the author’s daughters is even confidently labeled as a 9w8 (Nine with an Eight wing). But what do these designations really amount to? Cron writes that every Eight he knows oozes confidence. Of course they do, because that’s what we’ve defined Eights to be. If they were timid and unsure of themselves, we’d give them another number. (1)

It wouldn’t be so bad to give ourselves observational labels, except that Cron and Stabile insist that personality type never changes. This is who we are, and we must discover our own number. But what if the whole thing is a crap-shoot? Is it really the case they every Eight picked up the wounding message as a child that the world is a hostile place where only the strong survive? And how do we really know that Barack Obama, Bill Murray, and Renee Zellweger are Nines? Or that Jerry Seinfeld, Nelson Mandela, and Hillary Clinton are Ones? Or that Sixes like Ellen Degeneres and Jon Stewart have a deep-seated need to feel secure? Again, it’s one thing to make general comments about how certain types of people tend to respond in certain ways. It’s quite another to develop an elaborate system that assigns a lifelong number to people and then confidently assigns motivations and unpacks their childhood accordingly." (1)

SCRIPTURE

"Although Cron and Stabile argue that the Enneagram does not smuggle in the therapeutic under the guise of the theological, the book is awash in therapeutic language. Every chapter talks about some combination of forgiving myself, finding my true self, becoming spiritually evolved, being healed from wounded messages, dealing with codependent behaviors, and pursuing personal wholeness. This is not the language of the Bible. We hear nothing about fear of man, the love of the praise of man, covenantal promises, covenantal threats, repentance, atonement, heaven or hell. When faith is mentioned it’s described as believing in something or someone bigger than you." (1)

The spirituality of the Enneagram in The Road Back to You bears little resemblance to biblical spirituality. In the book we meet a man named David who is described as having a 'meet Jesus' crisis that “brought him face-to-face with himself.” You would have thought that a 'meet Jesus' moment would bring you face-to-face with Jesus. But in this case David learned to put effort into becoming his true self, so that he says, 'Today I think far less about working and winning and more about David-ing' (4). Not surprisingly, then, the last page of the book includes this line from Thomas Merton: 'For me to be a saint means to be myself' (1).

"Yes, the great Christian theologians have talked about the importance of knowing oneself. Calvin, for example, is cited as one who argued for the necessity of self-discovery (in Cron/Stabile's book). True, Calvin argues that we must know ourselves to know God, but what we must know is our 'shaming nakedness' which exposes 'a teeming horde of infirmities'. 'Knowledge of self is indispensable because from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity' we can recognize 'that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone' (5)." (1)

"The Road Back To You has no doctrine of conversion, because the human condition described has no need of [salvation]. 'It may be hard to believe,' Cron and Stabile write, 'but God didn’t ship [Fours] here with a vital part absent from their essential makeup. Fours arrived on life’s doorstep with the same equipment everyone else did. The kingdom is inside them too. Everything they need is here.' (4). This is not evangelical spirituality. It’s no wonder the book does not interact with Scripture (except for referencing the story of Mary and Martha) and quotes mainly from Catholic contemplatives like Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and Ronald Rolheiser, while also referencing 'spiritual leaders' like the Dalai Lama, Lao-Tzu, and Thich Nhat Hahn. You don’t have to be a Christian to benefit from the Enneagram journey in this book, because there is nothing about the journey that is discernibly Christian."(1)

CONCLUSION

"The Sacred Enneagram is full of incorrect and misleading religious assertions. [Its] teaching does not match what the Bible communicates regarding sin, salvation, sanctification, and probably also other core doctrines such as the nature of God, the person of Jesus Christ, and the atonement. He portrays the Enneagram as sacred, powerful, searching, alive. He mixes false religious ideas together with Christianity, and seems unconcerned about the Enneagram’s syncretistic origins." (2)

"I’m sure that some Christians will be quick to respond, '...but that’s not how I use the Enneagram.' I’m thankful for that. But then I’d encourage these brothers and sisters to dial back the Enneagram enthusiasm, like way back. If you want to scrap most of the Enneagram history, therapeutic baggage, and Catholic mysticism, I suppose you could still have a personality tool that might open your eyes to a thing or two. But then I’d glean a few insights quietly and distance myself from the seminars, the experts, the books, the articles, and the nomenclature of the Enneagram. If the Enneagram were another version of What Color Is Your Parachute? or Strengths Finder, that would be fine. But it has been, from its inception (whenever that was), infused with spiritual significance. And therein lies the danger." (1)

Citations
  1. "Enneagram: The Road Back To You, Or To Somewhere Else?" by Kevin DeYoung, PhD
  2. "The Not-So-Sacred Enneagram" by Kenneth Berding, PhD
  3. "The Sacred Enneagram" by Christopher L. Heuertz
  4. "The Road Back to You" by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  5. "Institutes" by John Calvin
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2 Comments


Deb - May 21st, 2020 at 4:23pm

Really great article about an increasingly disturbing trend. At one point before I met Jesus and belonged to Him, I was deeply absorbed in this and the occult. This is just another distraction to tickle our ears and lead us away from the truth - we are born sinners and sinners we will stay until the precious blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for us brings us forgiveness and into a right relationship with God. Jesus is the only way. And we only find our true self in relationship with Jesus Christ. Truly, avoid this noise like it was COVID 19!

BethAnn Andes - May 21st, 2020 at 6:36pm

I like this article, Allen. It makes me want to read more.

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