The Enneagram - What It Is and Why You Need to Know About It

The Enneagram – What It Is and Why You Need to Know About It

First, what is the Enneagram? 

Is it a path to God? A personality test? A belief system? A spiritual tool? A nine-sided polygon? A mirror? Supposedly, it’s all of the above and more. I call it a changeling, taking on the added philosophies of whomever is authoring a new book on it, teaching a class on it, or using it in counseling sessions. Please note that all of these are effective ways to make money with it. 

In the politically correct, cleaned up version, it’s a personality test your employer may ask you to take. The purpose there is to not just learn more about yourself but to learn how to work with your co-workers and teams by understanding them better. Put as simplistically as possible, the test results type people according to the nine points on the nine-sided Enneagram symbol. Each point stands for a particular personality type with specific virtues and vices (sins) associated with each type. Results identify people as either a One, Two, etc., up to a Nine. This version has little of the original, spiritual teaching attached to it, but it is an onramp to the spiritual side, because the more you’re intrigued by it, the more you want to delve into it.

For decades it’s been increasingly taught in churches, beginning with a few Jesuit priests on retreats or in Catholic churches and spreading from there. Five or six years ago it took a little digging on Google to find different denominations that were teaching it. Today a Google search quickly lists a surprising variety of denominations teaching it to their congregants. The number of churches using it is growing exponentially. It’s also taught in colleges and universities, including Christian colleges, as well as the workplace. With all this attention, it’s becoming recommended reading and the books are getting passed around between friends, colleagues and families. 

Father Richard Rohr has written two “Christian” books on the Enneagram. After garnering quite a following from this, he has branched out into other topics as well, topics that are quite popular among mainstream churches. His original book, The Enneagram, A Christian Persepctive, was co-written with Andreas Ebert. The title alone gives the impression the Enneagram is a Christian tool. In the book, Rohr argues strongly for a Christian background for the test. Thus, as the book is passed from friend to friend, any argument against it is met with the disclaimer, “It has Christian roots”. This magic phrase (and one other I’ll get to shortly) is supposed to make all the heresy okay. This is a perfect example of needing to not take things at face value.  A simple question, “What Christian roots?”  is met with a shrug and, “Well, that’s what I was told by another Christian.” Or, “That’s what Rohr says and he’s a priest.”

The roots are not Christian. Various authors, including Ebert and Rohr, reference a man named Evagrius, who lived from 345-399 AD. He became known as a Desert Father – another nod to Catholicism – and created a list of 8 virtues and vices that posthumously evolved into the Seven Deadly Sins – more Catholicism. Evagrius also assigned spiritual values or meanings to shapes, and so he could have created the Enneagram test had he combined the Enneagram shape he mentions in one of his writings, with the list of virtues and vices he made, plus one or two later added. Apparently, he didn’t do this, but he could have if he had only thought of it.

Even the Vatican has spoken out against the Enneagram and the mystical Catholics who teach it, saying, “it was originally used for divination” and “its origin is shrouded in mystery.”

Like the Desert Fathers, whose ascetic lives were a pursuit of gaining spirituality outside of biblical teachings, Andreas Ebert, who co-authored of The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective, writes, “Because God loves us unconditionally–along with our dark sides–we don’t need to dodge ourselves. In light of this love the pain of self-knowledge can be at the same time the beginning of our healing. The masters and soul guides of all spiritual traditions of the West and East have known that true self-knowledge is the presupposition of the ‘inner journey’.” According to Ebert and Rohr, going inward leads all people to the same God. 

The Enneagram, and its purpose, is to lead one to their inner self for salvation. If we gain enough self-knowledge (gnosticism), we will indeed ignite the divine within us, transcending and becoming one with God, as God. The teachings also clearly point to pantheism – that God and universal are one and the same. 

So not only are the roots of the Enneagram not Christian, the powers it claims to have as a spiritual tool are not founded in Christ either. Rohr and Ebert write: 

Of course, the Enneagram is a mirror. I look into it in order to recognize the hidden face of my soul. Still, I don’t want to just recognize my type; I want to transform it. I don’t want to narcissistically cultivate my pattern; I want to get redeemed from my compulsions and habits; I want to integrate myself into the nine energy sites…Rather I want to broaden myself and dip–indeed, dissolve–my type in the wide world of faith, hope and love. That would be an awakening of true self-love. It would be a recognition of the goal of all development…divine perfection, which we are to resemble, and which Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount… So we too should let our inner sun shine everywhere…That is godlike perfection which is the exact opposite of a moralizing perfectionism. It is the unconditional love into which we gradually transform ourselves and which ultimately is the all-transforming force in the universe.

As you can see, nothing about this accurately describes any teachings of Jesus or his disciples. Christian roots must be rooted in Scripture! These teachers of false beliefs, devoid of the Holy Spirit but still hungry for it, have created a tool that leads them inward, to the deceitfulness of self and that old sin of wanting to be like God. Rohr goes so far as to state the manmade “truths” of the Enneagram are the Truth Christ spoke of that is the Way, Truth and Life.

With all this blatant heresy, why is it becoming so popular? What follows is the scariest rationale of all, one I have heard over and over: “It works.”  When I heard these words come from a powerful church leader I once respected, I was struck by the influence of his personal experience. “I used to have the same problem you have with it,” he told me. “But everyone around me kept telling me to just try it. So I did. I could not believe how accurate it is and how helpful it is. It really works.” He is now one of the biggest proponents of it, supporting its use and actively passing along its teachings and books that are filled with false teachings. He can no longer see the problems with it. He has embraced other false teachers, as well, in different fields, and in his powerful position he influences many, many other churches. Yes, the Enneagram has indeed transformed him.

How I wish he had instead let God’s Word and the powerful, transforming work of the Holy Spirit (who alone is capable of transforming us into Christ-likeness) show him his personality and its virtues and vices. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. How deceived we are when we look elsewhere, especially inward to our deceitful heart, for godliness.

This is why you need to know what it is. It looks like a simple personality test. It also looks like a powerful spiritual tool. It is. And the fact that so many claim, “It works!” is clear evidence that we need to guard our hearts. I close with this: “If a prophet or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them”, you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4) 

So be it, Lord Jesus. 

by Jill Cristao, Director of Connections Ministries