In the first part of this series, we looked at the history of the Enneagram. Many people are unaware of how the Enneagram was developed and how it made its way into Christian circles. We encourage you to check out “A Crash Course in the Enneagram” if you haven’t already. In it, we showed you that the Enneagram was not in any way designed by means of science or psychology. It was created through mysticism and divination. Regardless of its origins, however, many Christians claim that the Enneagram has greatly helped them because it seemed accurate. But does it really work? Is there any objective reason to believe the Enneagram is accurate? Before we dive into scientific studies, let’s first consider whether that answer even matters.
Does it matter if the Enneagram is valid?
When asking if it works, we need to define what we mean by that. Clearly, the writers of The Road Back To You believe the Enneagram works if they decided to write entire books dedicated to how it works and how it will benefit the reader. Yet, take a look at these quotes from their first book:
“If its sketchy origins weren’t enough to spook the mules, there is no scientific evidence that proves the Enneagram is a reliable measurement of personality. Who cares that millions of people claim it’s accurate? Grizzly Man thought he could make friends with bears, and we know how that turned out.”1Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 11.
“At best, it is an imprecise model of personality… but it’s very useful.”2Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 20.
Evidently to Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, it is unimportant whether the Enneagram is an accurate assessment of someone. They believe it is still worth using. The question is why. The book operates on the assumption that the Enneagram is useful. I am finding the same thing from other Christians who promote the Enneagram. No one seems to have an answer for why they trust it.
In fact, Richard Rohr (read more about him in the first part of this series) says, “I know some of you won’t like the determinism of this but – and I don’t know why it’s true but – you’re one number and you’re gonna be that till the day you die. I don’t know why.”3Richard Rohr, “The Enneagram: The Discernment of the Spirits (Introduction),” beginning at 20:00, YouTube, December 18, 2018, https://youtu.be/AmZnedWQGM0?t=1199.
But if a tool is to be accurate, it must be based on truth. If it is not based on truth, how can it guide the user in any meaningful way? Further, it is one thing to admit that this “tool” is not scientifically supported; it is another thing to learn whether the science debunks it entirely. If it can be proven that the Enneagram does not accurately assess a person’s traits, then it cannot be any more helpful than vague horoscopes which sound close enough for the person to read into the situation and “be helped” by them. The Enneagram Institute contends, “…if people misidentify themselves, the Enneagram will do them little good. It will be no more than a fascinating curiosity — or, worse, a way of obtaining insight into others while avoiding insight into themselves.”4The Enneagram Institute, “Misidentifications of the Enneagram,” https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/misidentifications-of-enneagram-personality-types. In other words, a person must properly identify with a number in order to make use of the Enneagram. Therefore, whether the Enneagram is accurate should absolutely matter, because if it’s not, the numbers would have no significant meaning for anyone.
Let’s take a look at what we can learn from actual scientific studies that have been done on the Enneagram.
Is the Enneagram accurate?
The Enneagram makes many claims that can be scientifically tested. With this information, we can determine whether it actually works. The few scales that have been developed to evaluate the reliability of the Enneagram types have yielded poor results, except supposedly for one. According to The Enneagram Institute, they have had the Enneagram “independently scientifically verified.”5The Enneagram Institute, “The Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator,” https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/rheti. In the process of this “verification,” however, scientist Jay Medenwaldt notes: “Not only did several questions fail to group with other questions for that type, some grouped with the wrong type. Rather than stating that The Enneagram Institute incorrectly predicted personality for those types, [Sara Ann Scott] simply used these questions as items for the other type and The Enneagram Institute did not change any of their claims.”6Jay Medenwaldt, “Is the Enneagram Legitimate for Spiritual Growth?,” November 16, 2021, http://www.jaymedenwaldt.com/2021/11/enneagram-spiritual-growth.html. Jay spoke on this topic at the 2021 Evangelical Theological Society meeting.
In short, the 9 Types are not an accurate way to categorize people for one very important reason: the traits within the types overlap, showing that the 9 Types are not distinct from each other like they are presented. That in itself debunks the entire claim of its usefulness.Claiming that a person is one number and not another is the foundational claim of the Enneagram. Click To Tweet
Further, any attempt to demonstrate the consistency of test results (whether people get typed as the same number consistently) has failed. (Our very own Mama Bear-in-Chief, Hillary Ferrer, can attest to this. She’s taken the Enneagram three times and has been typed as a different number each time.) People receiving different results is no surprise because, as stated above, the types are not actually distinct categories that people typically fit into – which again, is the main claim upon which the “usefulness” of the Enneagram is based.
According to Medenwaldt, who is working on his Ph.D. in Social Psychology at Baylor and writing a book on the topic that will be published by Lexham Press next year,
“The Enneagram system, the experts who profit from it, and the scales used to type people have been tested in several ways and every single test contradicts the grand claims of the Enneagram. The types seem to correctly identify how some people are, but in general, they are inaccurate and overly simplified descriptions of people. The secondary aspects of the system, including the directions of growth, which is the alleged mechanism for spiritual growth, seem to be no more accurate than random chance.”7Jay Medenwaldt, “Is the Enneagram Legitimate for Spiritual Growth?,” November 16, 2021, http://www.jaymedenwaldt.com/2021/11/enneagram-spiritual-growth.html.
What if my experience contradicts the science?
For people who have used the Enneagram and found it to be insightful, the scientific results mentioned above may not be incredibly convincing. It can be difficult to override personal experience with data. Some people may genuinely be able to say that certain aspects of their life have improved since beginning to use the Enneagram. That being said, consider whether a good experience necessarily means that God has given you permission to continue. As Hillary Ferrer writes in Enneagram Shaming is Not the Way Forward, “There are almost always short-term ‘benefits’ to dabbling in the occult. It wouldn’t entice anyone otherwise.” The enemy is not opposed to hooking us in with something genuinely good if it means he can entice us onto a destructive path. This is why as Christians, we are called to submit to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). But since the word “truth” is too often a victim of “linguistic theft” in our culture, let’s take a quick look at what the Bible means by “truth”:
The New Testament word aletheia (or truth) and its derivations retain the Hebrew idea of “conformity to fact” expressed in ‘emet (or truth). According to New Testament scholar Roger Nicole, “The primary New Testament emphasis is clearly on truth as conformity to reality and opposition to lies and errors.”8See Douglas Groothuis, “The Incompatibility of Standpoint Epistemology with the Christian Worldview,” The Center for Biblical Unity, https://www.centerforbiblicalunity.com/standpointepistemology?fbclid=IwAR2gBQXS4ZRJk1cDRQL7a7vrUIdl6nGsuDZe0rJuo1EZjX0WpjQeOoxnlLA.
In a word search through the Lexham English Bible, we find the word “truth” translated from aletheia 153 times in the New Testament alone. Suffice it to say, truth should be an important part of being a disciple of Christ. Why does God’s word put such a strong emphasis on truth? I believe it is because the truth is freeing (John 8:31-36), and also because it protects us from manipulation. When we are rooted in objective truth, it is much more difficult to draw our minds toward “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8).When we don’t take the time to slow down and ask critical questions, we might miss our own biases. #enneagram Click To Tweet
We live in a chaotic culture where we are constantly having to process new information and make quick decisions. Sometimes our brains like to take shortcuts to help us out. When we don’t take the time to slow down and ask critical questions, we might miss our own biases. Many psychological phenomena are happening that work together to give some people a strong sense that the Enneagram works. In his article, “The Enneagram, Science, and Christianity – Part 2,” Medenwaldt lists several types of biases that may contribute, including coincidence, confirmation bias, and poor self-evaluation.
But it’s not just our own biases that we have to battle. We must also be watchful for manipulative tactics that some teachers of the Enneagram might be using. (In fact, we should be watchful for manipulative tactics that any teacher might use about anything!) In the “Crash Course in the Enneagram,” we uncovered the true recent history of the Enneagram despite several teachers claiming it has ancient roots. Claiming something has ancient roots is actually known to be a tactic used by so-called “psychics” because it “steer[s] the client to view the reading as a psychic experience, involving some precious source of wisdom.”9Ian Rowland, The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading (London: Rowland Limited, 2005), 27.
Another strategy that “psychics” use during cold readings that the Enneagram also seems to use is something called “The Rainbow Ruse.”
“The Rainbow Ruse is a statement which credits the client with both a personality trait and its opposite…Rainbow Ruse statements are wonderfully safe, since the majority of personality traits are neither static nor quantifiable. Very few people are outgoing all the time, or introverted all the time. Most of us manifest both tendencies from time to time according to circumstances.”10Ian Rowland, The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading (London: Rowland Limited, 2005), 32.
Here is an example of how “The Rainbow Ruse” is applied using the Enneagram in The Road Back to You:
“Remember that Eights are imposing, commanding personalities who need to be ‘the boss’” (53).
And on the next page…
“Eights have a tender side. If you’re fortunate enough to have an Eight in your life, you know that beneath all that intensity and anger energy there is a heart brimming with tenderness and love” (54).
Part of the appeal of the Enneagram is that it supposedly accounts for our fluid personalities. This makes it very relatable! I wonder if any mamas can relate to this: Before I was a mom, I was quite extroverted. Now that I am almost always surrounded by littles, I’ve become more introverted. Anyone else? Different seasons of life or even just different circumstances can bring out opposing personality traits. This is a principle that is generally true. But if you’re not thinking about that general principle, these statements can feel like they are specifically describing you or someone you know. It then becomes much easier to buy into the Enneagram’s explanations for why someone acts the way they do.
In the first installment of this series, we looked at the New Age origins of the Enneagram and its sketchy development. In this second post, we confirmed that there is no objective reason to trust it. Stay tuned for a third post where we will ROAR through the worldview behind the Enneagram. We will evaluate the messages and discern the truths we can affirm from the lies hidden (or not-so-hidden) within.
Mama, in this world we are constantly being tempted to become distracted from truth and from the Lord. We are sheep that tend to stray! We cannot become complacent and be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14) We need to consistently practice tuning up our critical thinking so that we can model that for our kids. Yes, it can be mentally tiring. We are bombarded by messages left and right almost every minute of our day. And it gets worse over time as tech companies figure out how to get more media in our faces (and in our kiddos’ faces). It is critical for our kids to be in the habit of evaluating the messages they hear, and “monkey see, monkey do!”
We have the ability to evaluate the truth as revealed in both nature and in His Word. Praise God for that! Let us be people that care about what is true.
Stay tuned next week for our final installment in this series! We’ll be ROARing through the Enneagram!
By Alexa Cramer
Guest Author is probably awesome at what she does. She is probably a mom, but possibly not. She definitely has good things to say, otherwise, she wouldn’t have been offered the position of guest author. We like Guest Author. She is our friend.