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The Enneagram

A fascinating topic on Marked by Grace this week. We’re talking about the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a really popular personality test right now. And if it is news to you, you need to know that it is a personality test. It is a personality test that tells you which of nine different personality types you are. That’s where the language of Enneagram comes from. “Ennea” means nine. “Gram” means a written form or a diagram. There are nine different personality tests on this diagram that consist of a circle with a design in the middle of it that creates nine points around the circle. And when you take the various different personality tests, it’ll tell you which of the nine types you are. Whether a reformer, or helper, an enthusiast, or a peacemaker. There are all different kinds of personality types. And when you take the Enneagram, you get to know what personality type you are and what number you are. That’s one of the things that make the Enneagram so popular right now is that it is so accessible. You know, it doesn’t come with long descriptions. You can get long descriptions, you can get detailed descriptions of the personality types, but all of that detail can be compressed down into one number. And you can know well I’m a two or my friends a seven or my spouse is a three. And so it’s a really popular personality test right now. A lot of Christians are using it; we’re seeing Christians use it in the workforce; we’re seeing churches give their folks these evaluations so they can know what Enneagram number they are and where they’re going to serve on a team or what kind of job they’re going to have. We’re seeing pastors throw off the Bible and preach through the Enneagram. They’re preaching through the different personality types. That would be a concern no matter what when we are to be committed to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. And we’re to be people who are committed to preaching the word in season and out of season. We shouldn’t stop preaching the word for anything. But we’re seeing a lot of Christian pastors these days throw off the Bible and go through their Enneagram series.

How Should Christians Think about the Enneagram?

I want to talk to you today about what Christians ought to think about the Enneagram. I realize there are a lot of you out there who take a free test online just on a lark. I realized that some of you out there do this for fun, and you love to trade assessments of people. Hey, do you think that person you work with do you think they’re a four? Do you think they’re a six or whatever? I realized there’s a bit of good fun in this that many Christians mean to have. But that notwithstanding, I think there are reasons for Christians to have a lot of concern about bringing the Enneagram into our lives, into our ministries, into our relationships. And what I’m going to do for the next few minutes is just tell you about five. There’s a lot more I could say about this. There’s a lot more information out there about the Enneagram than I can do in our relatively brief podcast. But I’m just going to tell you about five reasons that I think Christians should be concerned about the use of the Enneagram.

Reason #1: It’s Just One Personality Test

The first is honestly probably the least significant, but it winds up being really important. And the first is that, honestly, it’s just one personality test. Personality tests are a great big thing. They started in the early 1900s. They started out by trying to organize labor force workforces. What job would you be best at? We’re a company that’s going to hire 200  people or 20,000 people, and we’re going to give people a test to help them know where they can best be located and best serve. Those kinds of tests have been part and parcel of American life for a long time part and parcel of Western life for a long time. There are personality tests that help describe what we should do. And there are personality tests that help describe the kind of people we are. The Enneagram is one of those personality tests that help describe who we are. And it’s just one attempt at a personality test. All of these tests are different. All of them emphasize different things. Every single one of them has a different number or a different description, depending on which one you take. You’re one of nine, you’re one of four, you’re one of six, you’re one of a spectrum of colors. I mean, there really are as many different personality tests as there are people to design them, and there is an economic engine behind these things. The reason these things take off is because somebody is making money behind them. And so I just think we need to be careful that we put all of our stock in one among many. The reality is the Enneagram was a big deal right now. It’s been around for a while. It hasn’t been around for as long as some people think it’s been around. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But it’s been around for a while. It’s having its heyday right now. It’s going to taper off by 2030. We’re not going to be talking about the Enneagram, all of this enthusiasm, all of this excitement is going to go away, and is going to fixate on the next new shiny personality theory, next new personality test, whatever that is. So I think we just need to be careful that the Enneagram is just one. It doesn’t have any special insight into people that many of the other tests don’t have. Quite frankly, it doesn’t have any special insight into people that a great-grandmother doesn’t have or a really good mom doesn’t have. So we just need to be careful. This is just one. There’s nothing special about it.

Reason #2: Real Historical Problems

A second reason for concern is that it is a personality test with real historical problems. And when I talk about historical problems, I mean that we as Christians need to be very concerned about how we got this thing. It was created by a man named George Gurdjieff, who lived between 1866 and 1949. And he created this thing, and he created it with no numbers. He created just the diagram. And it wasn’t a personality test; he thought it was a map of cosmic reality. He actually was deeply steeped in New Age thinking, and he thought it was a crucial part of understanding New Age thinking. It got passed down to other New Age thinkers, and the personalities were finally added in the middle of the last century. The personalities were added through what’s called automatic writing. This is actually really important. Automatic writing is sort of a cousin of free association, and free association, you get a pad and paper and some pens, and you just write out whatever comes to your mind. And the idea is supposed to be that it helps us expose what is what is in your psyche. It’s a Freudian exercise. But automatic writing is a distant cousin of that. And when you do that same thing instead of finding out what’s in your psyche, automatic writing teaches that you’re being guided by the spirit world. And so through automatic writing, these numbers and these personality styles were written really a concerning practice for Christians. We don’t believe that we ought to give ourselves over to Spiritism. And I don’t think we want to follow a guide that is grounded in anything like that. It was passed on from there to some Roman Catholic priests. Some of those priests thought this was a really terrible thing. Some of those priests thought it was a really great thing and ultimately came to us through a man named Richard Rohr. He is the one who’s influencing all the truly modern conceptions of the Enneagram. He is not a faithful Christian; he received this new age spiritic document and incorporated it into his already kind of messed up theological positions. He’s not; you would not hire him to be a pastor in your church, but he might be a really great guy. He just doesn’t meet the qualifications for a biblical teacher; he doesn’t hold to the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and he is a very concerning teacher. First of all, not as a personality test, the personality tests were added through Spiritism and New Age thinking. And that has all been mediated through a pretty unorthodox wing of the Roman Catholic Church. So, the historical roots of the Enneagram as we have it today ought to be a concern for Christians.

Reason #3: A Personality Test with Category Problems

A third concern is that it is a personality test with category problems. So, one of the great sources of strength of the Enneagram is the explanatory power of these descriptions. If you take the test, and you’re identified as a two and a helper, and you read all the explanations for that, and you see yourself in that, there’s explanatory power in that. On the other hand, if you take the test, if you’re familiar with the test, and you know that your spouse is a seven and she’s an enthusiast, there’s explanatory power in that it makes you excited, it makes you feel like you understand her maybe even finally understand her. The problem is the very thing that gives the Enneagram its oomph that gives it its mojo is also one of its most significant weaknesses. We hear about it, and we trumpet the people who feel like they really identify with their inner enneagram number. What we don’t hear about are the people who take the tests and go, well, I don’t think I’m that kind of person at all. And their friends and their family members say, well, I don’t think he’s that kind of person at all. Or you’ll be having conversations, and you took the test. And the test says you’re a three, but your friends say you’re a one, and your co-workers say you’re a six. And so what we find is that human personality typically defies these kinds of easy categorization. Just as many people do not find that they don’t fit into the category they were assigned, and the people they know and love don’t fit into the category they were assigned. And so, as excited as we get when it makes sense for us, we also get frustrated when we go that’s not us. And that’s not my friend. And that’s not my spouse.

Reason #4: A Personality Test with Scientific Problems

It’s also a personality test with scientific problems; we can be pretty quick here. There is no scientific basis for the Enneagram there. In fact, when you read scientific literature about the Enneagram, you find out that there is no repeatable scientific test that confirms that there is any scientific validity to any of these personality types or to any of these personality types as they are applied to any particular person. There is no scientific validity to it. Now, I want to be clear about this. We might not care about that. There are plenty of things we do that are important that don’t require scientific validity. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because the Bible says it. I’m not sitting around waiting for people to prove it scientifically. I believe it because God said it. When I sin against my wife, I believe I need to ask her forgiveness. Because God told me to do that, I’m not waiting for a scientific study to say that this will be a good thing if you do it. There’s nothing particularly special about scientific validity and all sorts of things. But here’s the deal. If the Enneagram kind of fell out of New Age Spiritism, we’re really concerned about the historical roots. If there’s nothing in the Bible about this, then what is the foundation for it? Why would we believe that you’ve got to have some justification for this? And if it’s not biblical, if it doesn’t work, if it works for as many people as it doesn’t work for, then we need some sort of basis. And as scientists are going, you can’t find it here; then it just casts our excitement and enthusiasm about the Enneagram and further doubt.

Reason #5: Moral Problems

The fifth and final problem I’ll talk about this week on the podcast again, many, many more things that we could say on this is that there are moral problems with the Enneagram. Now, I want to be clear on what I’m saying. I’m not saying that, you know, the personality types, just as generally construed that there’s anything wrong with being a loyalist, or with being an individualist per se. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. The problem is that there are no moral categories attached to that. The Bible, actually, is a comprehensive document that explains who we are, what we do, and how we work as human beings. It’s actually the only such document in the whole world that is that way it truly explains, with authority, who we are, and when the Bible explains who we are, it attaches moral categories to that of right and wrong. The Enneagram we could call it is an amoral document, not immoral. It’s an amoral document that is there is not the presence of a morally guiding principle in there. Whatever kind of reformer you are, that’s fine. Whatever kind of investigator you are, that’s fine. Now, you might be more or less healthy. You’re the kind of achiever you are; you might be more maladaptive or more adaptive, but there’s nothing moral. And that is not the way the Bible talks about who we are. The Bible attaches righteousness and unrighteous categories to our behavior and says we are right or we are wrong, and what we need, since that’s the case, is not a test to figure out who we are. We need God to figure out who we are. We need to listen to the words of God in Hebrews 4:12. It says, “The Word of God is living inactive, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart and no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” The author of Hebrews says that what we really need to discern who we are is the word of God. He says the Word of God is what we use to pierce our hearts and to determine the thoughts and intentions of the heart. When we find out who we are from the Bible, we will find out who we are with all of the authority of the holy God. And when we pour over the Scriptures, when we look at the Scriptures; Hebrews 4:13 says, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” This says that when we look into the Bible, and it pierces our hearts, and it tells us who we are, this tells us that God himself is looking back at us. I would just encourage you; you don’t need a personality test that comes to us from New Age Spiritism to tell you who you are. You need God to tell you who you are. And thanks be to God that he does tell us who we are, and he tells us in the pages of his work.