Summary: Within the church there has been a great influx of human psychology mixed with Scripture. This has resulted in a convoluted understanding of the human mind and heart, as they are examined and studied from man’s perspective, rather than from God’s.
The Enneagram System of personality typing has surged in popularity among American Christians, especially among the young who are culturally steeped in both the practices of church doctrine and dogma as well as of the secular world, and are not content with what the Bible says about the human heart and it’s perceived hard moral lines based upon the literal interpretation of Scripture.
A growing number of Christians want all people to be considered good by God and have trouble accepting the teaching that the heart of every human being is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” because they were born with a sinful nature and became totally depraved as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden (Jer 17:9 NLT, see also Gen 3). This thinking has led to exploring their inward self, apart from what the Bible says, to identify and understand their personality type so they can discover what makes them do the things they do so they can find pathways toward wholeness and inner healing, and experience life more abundantly.
The Enneagram is a geometric figure made up of a circle with nine points along the circumference, from which are drawn a triangle and an irregular hexagon. Each number represents one personality type, and the lines indicate directions of integration and disintegration. Some believe that the Enneagram can enhance a Christian’s participation in normal progressive sanctification as they grow in grace and truth.
The Enneagram is relatively new to the Western world. The earliest mention of the Enneagram is found in the writings of the Russian occultist P. D. Ouspensky. He was a student of the Greek American occultist George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, who brought the Enneagram to Europe in the 1920s. 1. Gurdjieff said it originated about 2500 years ago in a Babylonian wisdom school. He taught that each person is born with a “planetary body type” with specific physical and psychological traits. He believed that a person’s physical and psychological characteristics are related to a dominant endocrine gland and to planetary influences on that gland, which implicates the Enneagram with Babylonian astrology since those characteristics would be signified by a point on the Enneagram.
Gurdjieff’s use of the Enneagram also parallels the esoteric cabala’s “Tree of Life” of Jewish mysticism. Gurdjieff used the esoteric elements of the Enneagram with his students, but he did not formalize the system in written form. Therefore, others took this task upon themselves.
Oscar Ichazo began teaching the Enneagram in Bolivia in the 1960s and brought his version of the nine personality types to the United States in 1971 as part of his Arica training. He claims to have learned the Enneagram directly from Sufi teachers in Pamir before reading anything by Gurdjieff.2 Ichazo’s Arica training combines Eastern mysticism and Western psychology. The nine points on the circle’s circumference are used to analyze ego types for gaining greater awareness and reaching a higher state of consciousness.5
The modern Enneagram System used today was designed by Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean Psychiatrist, who openly admits that he got all of his information about the Nine personality types from doing automatic writing and trance channeling.3 Naranjo learned Ichazo’s system and taught the Enneagram at Esalon, a human potential, New Age center in California. Among his students were several Jesuit priests who began to incorporate the Enneagram into their counseling and into their own personal lives.5 As a result, the Enneagram’s popularity has spread rapidly among Roman Catholics. In fact, two of the most widely read books on the subject are written by a former Jesuit priest, Don Richard Riso.6
Although the geometric figure of the Enneagram remains the same, versions of the Enneagram personality typology differ among various teachers. Riso contends that his “interpretation of the Enneagram . . . diverges from Ichazo’s approach on several important points.”7 Helen Palmer, another Enneagram proponent, conducted seminars and wrote books, which also revealed a different emphasis and direction. Her publisher says, “Ms. Palmer has developed theories about the use of the Enneagram in understanding human personality and its relationship to aspects of higher awareness that are different and distinct from those expounded by Mr. Ichazo.”8
The promise of its Christian’ promoters is that it will help transform the Believer into the image and likeness of Jesus. It is taught, using the language of self-acceptance, that the Enneagram is to lovingly engage with one’s flaws, following them as breadcrumbs to rediscovering the best in them. It is believed that their imperfections (aka sins) are a shadow of their goodness, rather than signs of an intrinsic inherited badness because they are good from birth, created by a good God, so they have the capacity for both goodness and trouble.
In a direct contradiction, God promised to transform the Born-Again Christian by His power through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The Bible commands, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).