WHAT IS THE ENNEAGRAM?
The Enneagram of Personality, or just the Enneagram, is a categorization tool that classifies human personality into a typology of nine interconnected forms of personality.
The Enneagram symbol is a figure composed of three parts: a circle, an inner triangle (connecting 3-6-9), and an irregular hexagonal “periodic figure” (connection 1-4-2-8-5-7).
Although the classification system varies, the most widely used typology is as follows:
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 1: THE REFORMER
People in type 1 have a very distinct sense of morality and justice. They always want to find ways to improve situations or circumstances, hence the title “The reformer.”
They have strengths such as reliability, dependability, and innovative thinking. However, they have weaknesses such as impatience and perfectionism.
They can potentially grow by understanding that not everything goes as planned and can learn to trust God when everything is in chaos (Psalm 46:2).
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 2: THE HELPER
Individuals in type two have a heart for others. They want good relationships, and they will do whatever they can to give to others.
Their strength lies in their unselfish, loving hearts and kindness. However, they have weaknesses, such as the need to please people to win people’s affections and possessiveness.
Twos can potentially grow by realizing that everyone can’t be pleased through their acts of hospitality. Jesus performed miracles and healed many, and he was still hated by many.
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 3: THE ACHIEVER
This type places a strong emphasis on achievements. Driven and adaptable, they fit easily into leadership positions.
The strength of individuals who fall in type three lie in their diplomacy and hardworking attitude. However, they can spend too much time focusing on their image and become overly competitive.
Threes can grow through recognizing that failure often occurs, and that does not make you any less of a child of God if you don’t do something you wish you had (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 4: THE INDIVIDUALIST
Highly creative and sensitive, the fours love to show their individuality. They seem to want to be special and to stand out. They can be innovative, creative, and inspiring to others at their best. But, at their worst, they may become self-absorbed or self-pitying.
Growth for fours will come from accepting that yes, Jesus created us as unique individuals, but what connects us all as human beings does not make us less special. God created everyone in His image (Genesis 1).
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 5: THE INVESTIGATOR
Deep thinkers, the fives always observe the world around them in ways others don’t. They have an insatiable curiosity, and they want to expand their knowledge as much as possible.
At their best, fives can solve problems and see the universe in clever ways that others do not, purely through their insights. However, they may fall into issues such as loneliness or detaching too much.
They can grow best by engaging more with others. What comes to mind, with the fives are the Jewish groups of Essenes during the time of Jesus. Intelligent thinkers, most of their thoughts, did not see the light of day because they hide in caves.
Instead of being an Essene, allow others to hear your thoughts.
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 6: THE LOYALIST
Excellent problem solvers, sixes can “troubleshoot” issues and find solutions. They could, at times, be suspicious of anything that could pose a potential threat to security.
Sixes are, at best, highly hardworking, trustworthy, and nice helpers. But they can also run into issues of paranoia, stress, and often do not respond well to criticism.
Sixes can grow by exploring their insecurities and knowing that they have security in Christ.
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 7: THE ENTHUSIAST
Spontaneous and energetic, the sevens are eager to experience new adventures. They are always seeking ways to fulfill their needs.
Sevens can roll with the punches and accept spontaneity, whereas other types might get caught in the imbalance. They excel at having joyful spirits, too. However, they can encounter problems such as disorganization, impatience, and can be impulsive most times.
This type can find growth by understanding the adventurous aspects of even the mundane areas of life. Everything cannot operate on spontaneity, but the plan of Christ far excels any side-quest we can create.
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 8: THE CHALLENGER
Dominant and assertive, the type eights don’t beat around the bush. They tell you exactly what they think.
People who have personality type eight excel in helping others reach their potential and inspiring others. At times, though, they can ignore the feelings of others and also fall to be vulnerable.
Eight can grow by learning to speak the truth in love. We both need to express the truths effectively.
ENNEAGRAM TYPE 9: THE PEACEMAKER
Peacemakers, as the title implies, keep the peace. Supportive, they avoid conflict wherever possible.
Nine can help reconcile differences among other parties and support those who feel unloved. However, they can still be too complacent at times and ignore problems that need to be addressed.
They can also grow by learning to speak the truth in love. Eights have the truth part, and nines have the love part.
In addition to the primary type, a person may have a strong characteristic of one of the adjacent type. This is referred to as “wing.” For example, an individual may be described as type 2 with a wing of 3, abbreviated as “2w3.”
WHERE DID THE ENNEAGRAM COME FROM?
Some of the Enneagram’s proponents attribute it to the Desert Fathers, Kabbalists, Sufi mystics, Pythagoreans, Chaldeans, or other ancient groups. However, claims for an ancient origin have never been substantiated.
The earliest mention of the Enneagram can be found in the writings of the Russian occultist P. D. Ouspensky, who attributes it to his teacher, the Greek American occultist George I. Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff considered the Enneagram a symbol of the cosmos but made no connection with it to personality types.
It was left to Óscar Ichazo, another occultist, to connect the Enneagram to personality. Ichazo claimed to have found the personality type meaning of the Enneagram when the Archangel Metraton taught him while he was high on mescaline.
One of the students of Ichazo, a Chilean-born psychiatrist named Claudio Naranjo (another occult), was the first to link the nine points of the Enneagram to nine primary personality types. (Naranjo appears to be the one to link the mention of the Enneagram by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky to old sources.)
In the 1970s, Naranjo students spread the Enneagram to various Catholic communities, especially in mystical and contemplative circles. Some of the Enneagram advocates include the former Jesuit Don Riso, the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr, and the late Benedictine nun Suzanne Zuercher.
In 1997, Riso co-founded the Enneagram Institute, an organization that helped bring the Enneagram to a broader audience.
WHY ARE SOME EVANGELICALS ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THE ENNEAGRAM?
Although Catholics have been debating the Enneagram for decades (a statement released by the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference on Doctrine in 2000), it has only become common among evangelicals in recent years.
While it is impossible to tell why it has become such a hot fad, few factors may have contributed to its use:
A NEED FOR A SIMPLE CLASSIFICATION TOOL — in the 1970s, some people would say, “I am a Libra,” referring to their astrological sign. In the 1990s, the same people were likely to say, “I’m INFJ,” referring to their Myers Briggs personality type. In each situation, individuals needed a clear way to communicate knowledge about their personalities to others and to recognize others’ personality characteristics.
Like astrological signs and Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram allows people to convey a significant amount of information about their personalities in a compact way to people who speak the same cultural code.
A NEED TO REPLACE MYERS-BRIGGS — the popularity of the Enneagram among evangelicals seems to coincide with the downfall of Myers-Briggs (M-B). Although it is still commonly used in corporate settings, the general public has become more aware that M-B is generally considered to be pseudoscience due to a lack of evidence that the test or its classification has any scientific validity.
Critics of M-B also point out that it is too simple to measure personality and fails to meet the standard of reliability (e.g., when retested at a later date, up to 50% of test-takers will be categorized into a different personality type). As one critic says, the M-B “has as much insight and validity as the Buzzfeed quiz.”
The Enneagram appears to have stepped up to fill the role once reserved for M-B.
A NEED FOR “PERSONALITY AWARENESS”—As a result of changes in society, there is a growing need and ability to recognize, understand, and interact with a wide range of personality types. As conflict resolution specialist Bill Eddy points out,
We have no personal history with each other: Today, people have an unimaginable amount of freedom, so much so that they have become a group of individuals. Still, we need to be around others, so we’re constantly inviting new people into our lives: dating, at school, at work, hiring people to repair, joining churches, volunteer groups, investing, sports, you name it. But most of the people you encounter don’t have a history you know about. You don’t know their reputation, past relationships, or anything beyond what they tell you about themselves. Without history, it isn’t obvious on the surface who you can truly trust and who you can’t. You can check a person out online, but you cannot always find out what information is true or what isn’t.
Many evangelicals consider the Enneagram to be a valuable method to acquire “personality awareness” and learn about individuals for whom they have no personal background, such as members of a new church group.
WHY SOME EVANGELICALS OPPOSED TO THE ENNEAGRAM
Evangelicals who follow the Enneagram appear to be younger, and therefore do not know or downplay history. They find this to be just another personality typology, like Meyers-Briggs. On the other hand, the evangelicals who reject the Enneagram appear to be older and associate the Enneagram with the occult or the Catholic spirituality movement.
Many who reject it are likely to have first seen books on Enneagram in the New Age section of the bookstore (now more likely to be in the Self-Help / Psychology section). The symbol is also reminiscent of the pentagram, which is affiliated with numerous occult groups, from Wiccans to Satanists.
IS THE ENNEAGRAM AN ACCURATE OR USEFUL TEST OF PERSONALITY?
Determining the Enneagram plausibility is challenging because there is no specific test or procedure for determining personality types.
The oldest form of Enneagram typing is based on self-assessment, where a person selects the number that best suits his or her type of personality. Although a brief questionnaire often accompanies this, the classification relies largely on self-knowledge. As Don Riso says in his influential book, Understanding the Enneagram, there are various “dog rules” that can help decide whether we have “correctly chosen our correct type.”
“If the type you’ve chosen not only stirs up deep feelings but also helps you understand aspects of yourself that you’ve never seen before, then it’s probably your type,” Riso says. “If you choose to make new connections and see new patterns in yourself and your relationships, then you’ve probably typed yourself correctly.”
In other words, most Enneagram tests rely on the Barnum effect, a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals assume that personal descriptions apply exclusively to them (more so than to others), even though the description is filled with information that applies to almost everyone.
More recently, several more advanced Enneagram measures have been established to provide a veneer of scientific legitimacy. However, their usefulness is questionable because, as with the Myers-Briggs test, the personality number is given to each specific test often varies from other measures or changes during retesting.
Also, the most effective Enneagram tests are likely accurate by chance. Since the most complex Enneagram assessments use adjective-based lexical questionnaires, they are likely to classify an Enneagram number with the Big Five personality traits.
An influential, though still largely untested, the idea within the theory of personality is the lexical hypothesis. It is the theory that the individual differences that are most significant and socially meaningful in people’s lives will inevitably be translated into their language, and the more important the difference, the more likely it is to be expressed as a single word. In other words, personality styles are likely to use appropriate adjectives (such as “quiet” or “friendly”). When you know who is most likely to use these adjectives, you can work out their sort of personality.
Based on this theory, psychologists create personality assessments that contain adjectives such as “quiet” or “friendly” and ask individuals to rate themselves on a scale from one to five. Based on statistical analysis, research has shown that people who identify more than others with certain adjectives can then be ranked on the five-factor model or “Big Five” personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, complacency, and neuroticism.
SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE USING THE ENNEAGRAM?
While the Enneagram itself is not ancient, typological personality classifications have been around since Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
Around that time, the Greek physician Hippocrates developed his proto-psychological theory of the “four temperaments.” The “father of western medicine” identified four basic types of personality — sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic — that he claimed had been affected by four humors — blood, phlegm, and yellow and black bile.
Although physicians no longer attribute our personality to our bodily fluids, our personalities can be mapped to simple categories. (At the end of the 1960s, Tim LaHaye, the best-selling co-author of the Left Behind novels, sold a million copies of a book that claims that our temperaments were still best classified as sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.) Throughout the ages, Christians have been drawn to such typologies, so it is not surprising that evangelicals would be attracted to the latest variation.
The question also arises as to whether we should be concerned about the occultist origins of the Enneagram.
As a form of Gnostic-based numerology, we should definitely be concerned about the use of the Enneagram, as many Catholics have. We should be concerned about seeking divination from a tool that was created by someone who claims it was handed over to him in a dream of what sounds suspiciously like a demon.
When the Enneagram is used primarily as a diagnostic tool or assessment of personality, the question becomes less clear. Despite its origin story, there might be enough Enneagram that remains useful (or at least not harmful). If this is the case, we will leave the matter to the conscience of the individual Christian.
However, we should proceed with caution and treat the matter as Paul treated meat sacrificed to idols (Rom. 14:14-23) if the use of the Enneagram causes our “weaker brothers” to stumble. If they begin to believe that the New Age-oriented tools of “self-discovery” are also legitimate, we should be willing to give up the Enneagram altogether.
“If the Enneagram were a different version of what color is your parachute? Or Strengths Finder, that would be all right,” says Kevin DeYoung. “But from its inception (whenever it was), it has been infused with spiritual significance. Therein lies the danger.”
Evangelicals worried about the Enneagram should probably worry less, since it is likely a mostly harmless fad that will go away in a couple of years. So evangelicals enthralled by the Enneagram should probably wonder why they are spending so much time on a tool with as much scientific validity as the four humors theories of Hippocrates (and Tim LaHaye).
CAUTIONS FOR DEPENDING TOO MUCH ON YOUR ENNEAGRAM IDENTITY
We should exercise caution concerning the enneagram personality test.
First, we should take any statement outside of Scripture with a grain of salt (Psalm 119:105). Because of its secular nature, the Enneagram does not have absolutely infallible truths.
Second, we can become too obsessed with this test and trigger more divisions depending on the type we fall under (Romans 16:17).
Third, we can elevate this test to the point where we consider it as an idol. This test may expose our strengths and weaknesses and may inspire our actions. But we have to remember that just because we were born in a way doesn’t mean that God can’t orchestrate change (Acts 9). God can change your hearts (Jeremiah 24:7).
YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR ENNEAGRAM TYPE
Every type is equally significant. You’re more than just your Enneagram type. Your identity is a citizen of heaven and a child of the Most High God. Any other label placed on you does not compare to anything like this.
However, self-evaluation can help us develop spiritually. When we realize that we are operating in a certain way, we can better decide the best ways to improve our quiet time, prayer life, service, and evangelistic efforts with others.