(Welcome to Part 3 of our Enneagram series! If you haven’t done so, check out Part 1 where we give a “Crash Course in the Enneagram” and Part 2 where we ask “Is The Enneagram Even Accurate?”)
Let’s face it. Personality tests are fun. Even the cheesy Buzzfeed quizzes that tell you things like “Which fast food restaurant matches your personality?” are amusing. (Mine is KFC.) So it’s not really surprising that the Enneagram has gained so much popularity. It is entertainment mixed with the promise of enlightenment and life change. Even more, it makes thinking (or in some cases obsessing) about the self a virtuous spiritual practice. But since learning about ourselves and why we are the way we are is not in and of itself a bad thing, the messages of the Enneagram can be confusing! As usual, there are truths mixed with lies. So, join me as we ROAR through the Enneagram.
RECOGNIZE The Message – What statements are the authors trying to make?
1. Want to know God? Know yourself.
The Enneagram is based on the foundational assumption that at the soul level, every human is pure and good. The idea is that by better understanding that pure, untouched part of you, you will be able to see how God sees you. Since God is perfect, you (at your core) are His perfect creation, and when you understand yourself in that way, you will be able to see that perfection in God.
When we discover our true selves, we are told we will have deeper insight into what it means to love others. We will supposedly better understand grace and compassion. Since these things originate with God, we will in turn know God better.
2. Want to know your “true self?” Identify your “false self.”
If the big idea of the Enneagram is that people are inherently good, how does it explain your tendency to struggle with sin? Easy! Your negative personality and character traits are not a part of who you truly are. That is just your “false self” peaking through. (Phew! What a relief!)
This (mythical) “true self” is steadily tainted beginning in childhood as life knocks us around. If you think about it in terms of nature verus nurture, this philosophy assumes our nature is all good and how we were nurtured determines which bad habits and traits we adopt.
A foundational claim of the Enneagram (whether it is being taught by a professed Christian or not) is that every person has ONE main sin/fear/weakness since childhood, and it can be pinpointed by their Enneagram number. The information that number reveals is meant to help you understand how this weakness motivates everything you think and do.
For example, let’s say you get angry and yell at your kids. Your number will supposedly reveal to you why that emotion was triggered. Perhaps you were trying to accomplish something good, but your children kept interrupting you. Maybe you caught them doing something a bit dangerous, and you overreacted in fear. Underneath the negative reaction, you should be able to look past your “false self” and see who you really are, which is the good intention behind the action. The idea is that the “false self” gets triggered by your fear or weakness when trying to protect your “true self’s” good intentions.
When the Enneagram is being couched in Christian language, teachers often relate the discovery of your “false self” to humble yourself before God. They might explain that understanding our own shortcomings increases our appreciation for God’s grace. But beneath these notions is the underlying idea that our sin is not part of who we truly are. (Ahem… Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Just sayin.)
3. Want to be your best self? Manage your sin.
The point of using the Enneagram and identifying your number is so that you can recognize the root of your sin patterns and struggles. Once you understand why you do the things you do, you are supposedly empowered to break free of those cycles. Then you may follow your path to the healthy version of your number by working to develop those healthy traits. According to Ian Morgan Cron and Susanne Stabile, “Learning to manage your deadly sin rather than allowing it to manage you is one of the goals of the Enneagram.”1 Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 31.
OFFER Discernment – What the authors got right… and what lies snuck in
As is true of most of the messages we encounter in this world, these messages contain a mix of truths and lies. Let’s first affirm the truths that are taught in the Enneagram:
Truth #1: Knowing God involves knowing and confessing your sin
The Christian worldview does not holistically affirm the idea that “knowing yourself” is the way to know God. But there is a partial truth there because being able to recognize our personal sinfulness can help us to better understand who God is.
Think about it this way. If the Fall never happened, and humanity was able to live blissfully in the Garden of Eden forever, there is much about God we would never understand. We would never be able to grasp the concept of His grace. We would not have learned of His justice. We would not understand sacrifice or the depth of His love for us by what He would be willing to do in order to redeem us. So, even after the Fall, those who never recognize their sin will likewise never understand those aspects of who God is.
The more we become aware of the darkest parts of our soul, the more appreciation we have for the character and attributes of God. Click To Tweet When I recognize how far I’ve fallen, I am all the more in awe of God’s grace for me. As I acknowledge my sin before the Lord, I gain an increasingly intimate relationship with Him. In other words, I know Him better.
Truth #2: Some sin patterns do originate from childhood experiences
The enemy preys on the vulnerable and exploits our weaknesses. We do not need to buy into the entire philosophy of the Enneagram to recognize that sometimes our sin is a response to being sinned against. Even personality traits may be developed as a result of experiences earlier in life. For example, when I was a child, I was extremely gullible. I had a huge imagination so when someone tried to trick me, I often fell for it. I also became embarrassed REALLY easily. At some point, I had enough of being embarrassed and I decided never to fall for someone’s tricks again!! I allowed myself to become suspicious of others, always assuming that someone was trying to pull one over on me. In some ways that “suspicious” attitude carried over into adulthood. The point is, part of what makes us who we are today is definitely developed through life’s circumstances. Being able to acknowledge those experiences that influenced certain character traits or sin patterns in our life can help us break free of them.
Some Christian proponents of the Enneagram justify its use because they believe a Christian uses the Enneagram differently than, say, a New-ager. They believe that if you are purposely using it to seek Christ, then it is safe to use. The problem is that any use of the Enneagram promotes false ideas. These lies are inherent in the “tool” itself.
Lie #1: You have a “false self”
Remember at the end of Moana when (spoiler alert) the monster version of Te Fiti is about to attack Moana until she sings “This is not who you are”? The idea was that Te Fiti wasn’t really a monster. She was just acting like one! She was living in her “false self.”
But do we have a false self? As believers, we know that our identity is found in Christ. We gain an entire spiritual family. We are called to love our spiritual brothers and sisters, and to live in unity with them. We are to live a lifestyle of obedience to God. It’s not just a hat you wear, like “mom” or “wife” or “insert job title.” It is a WHOLE thing. But we also know that we go through moments and seasons of life when we do not act like our identity is in the Lord. We still sin and often need a reminder of who we are. Christians using the Enneagram are told that sinning is what it means to live in your “false self.” But the “true/false self” dichotomy poses some problems with a Biblical worldview:
Problem 1: The Enneagram does not distinguish between believers and non-believers. It assumes that everyone has a “true self” that is inherently good, whether or not they love the Lord. But why would God have any wrath or punishment at all for humans if at our core we were good? We were all made in His image with the capacity to love and do good works, but our sinful nature is just as much our “true self” as any good character traits we exhibit! Let’s look at what Scripture says:
- “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned.” Romans 5:12
- “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20
- “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8 (Yikes!)
Our sinful nature is a part of us, for better or worse, until those of us who put our trust in the Lord receive our redeemed bodies (1 John 3:2). Click To TweetNo, we are not inherently pure and perfectly good. Thankfully, though, Christ offers to cover us in His own righteousness.
Problem 2: The Enneagram uses “true/false self” language, but the Bible uses “old/new self” language. Rather than passively discovering the “good” within us, we are told to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24). It is a daily and active pursuit of rejecting our old ways of sin and walking in our identity as saints.
Problem 3: The Bible reveals that sin comes from a hardened heart (Ephesians 4:18), not a false identity. If the root of our sin is misdiagnosed, we will not receive the correct solution.
Lie #2: “Managing your sin” is the same thing as ridding yourself of sin
The Enneagram is said to be a “map” that guides you into awareness of when you are operating in your “false” versus your “true” self. You are always somewhere on the map, and you are never free of your “false self.” Rather, you need to keep it in check, or “manage” it. While the quote from The Road Back To You unapologetically uses the phrase “managing your sin,” other “Christian” Enneagram influencers sometimes use language that is biblical-sounding but they mean the same thing. So imagine Jesus healing the man by the Pool of Bethesda (John 5) and then saying, “See you are well again. Go and manage your sin better!” No! He told the man to “sin no more” (v. 14).
In a biblical worldview, sin is humanity’s problem. So it is more than slightly important how believers view the definition of sin. (It’s like… really important actually). In The Road Back To You, we get to witness the blatant “linguistic theft” of the word sin. Cron and Stabile quote Richard Rohr’s new definition of sin as, “…fixations that prevent the energy of life, God’s love, from flowing freely. [They are] self-erected blockades that cut us off from God and hence from our own authentic potential.”2Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 30.
Underneath this new definition is the assumption that sin doesn’t really have anything to do with God other than blocking his love energy from getting to us. And the result is that we fail to meet our potential. It’s all about “me.” This doesn’t sound like New Age self-help talk at all… 😉
The Bible, on the other hand, defines sin as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). It is breaking God’s Law and rebelling against Him, bringing forth death (Romans 6:23). We are told to leave our life of sin, to put off the old self and put on the new self. Jesus gave us this graphic illustration in Matthew, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). When you manage something, you are attempting to keep it under your control. It’s kind of like if you decided not to have sex until marriage but you’re okay with fooling around because it’s not as bad. But that’s not how it works. Jesus calls us to do whatever it takes to rid ourselves of sin, not to merely manage it.
Finally, notice that with the Rohrster’s definition of sin, there is no need for a Savior to atone for our sins. There’s nothing about Rohr’s view to account for God’s justice and our standing before God. Without a proper understanding of what sin is, you actually lose the Gospel.
Lie #3: If you find it helpful, then it’s useful
This lie doesn’t necessarily come from the Enneagram itself, but it is an assumption made by those who teach it. This particularly comes from professed Christians who try to justify the use of the Enneagram. Many people seem to not care where the Enneagram came from. Nor do they care whether it is accurate or Biblical as long as they feel that they benefit from using it.
Relevant Magazine (a Christian magazine) has published several pro-Enneagram articles on its website. One article reads, “The question is not where did it come from, but to what end is it put? Is this wisdom in the service of Christ or not? Is this insight helping you love God and your neighbor more or not? For the Christian, this is the decisive question.”3See Todd Wilson, “When the Enneagram Goes to Church,” Relevant Magazine, March 18, 2021, https://relevantmagazine.com/faith/christianity-and-the-enneagram/. In other words, you must try it first, and if it helps you love God and your neighbor better, then keep using it!
People don’t normally go straight from church to seances. #enneagram #church Click To Tweet Typically, a person will begin with mere curiosity but become hooked when their experience seems to affirm the “truth” of whatever it is that they are dabbling in. Someone might visit a psychic just for fun, but they might find the “insight” they received to be surprisingly helpful. It just takes one good experience for the enemy to get a foothold and without realizing it you can begin walking on a path deeper into the occult.
Likewise, for many people, the Enneagram starts out as a fun personality test. But from curiosity to fascination, in consuming books, podcasts, and sermons centered on it, the Enneagram can take the form of an entire worldview. A worldview that is not shaped by the truth of God’s Word and contradicts it (as we have demonstrated in lies 1 and 2) is not useful for the Christian.
But what is the risk, in practical terms? Professed-Christian Enneagram authors and coaches use your supposed number to explain to you why you struggle with sin, and how to stop. Some of them, like Beth McCord, will use the Christian language of putting that sin to death and allowing Christ to bring you to life. It comes across as theologically sound! But these “coaches” are using a tool to diagnose sin that is not at all based on truth. (See “Is the Enneagram Even Accurate?”) So even if you feel that your “coach” (or author or podcast host) is hitting the nail on the head, you risk forming a false perception of yourself and your sin. The enemy would love for us, for example, to identify as an Enneagram 6 whose core “sin” is fear and completely ignore our actual sin of gluttony.
ARGUE for a Healthier Approach – What does God’s Word say about the truths we identified?
For the mama bears who have young kids, you might not worry about them trying to use the Enneagram anytime soon. In fact, by the time they grow up, the Enneagram might be totally uncool and outdated. Be assured, though, something else will come along to distract Christians by then! There is nothing new under the sun. The point is, we need to prepare ourselves and our kiddos to think critically about whatever we are allowing to take space in our minds. We are not magically protected from being deceived just because we are Christians. There are plenty of warnings in the Bible for us to be discerning and to test everything against Scripture.
That being said, God gave us a sense of self, so it is natural to be curious about ourselves! Seeking to recognize how He wired us with different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses is a worthy goal. Being able to self-assess and acknowledge patterns of sin in our lives is necessary for growth. And it is not inherently wrong to use tools to assist us in these efforts. The Strengthfinders assessment is a wonderful (paid) option. It can help you identify both your strengths and the potential pitfalls of those strengths. Each strength exists on a spectrum, so you are not boxed into a particular “personality type.” Bonus point for Strengthfinders: It is NOT in fact a product of automatic writing. We also recommend the Spiritual Gifts test, which is free. (Yay!) This test will help you identify which areas the Lord may have naturally gifted you for joyfully serving in the body of Christ.
Let us not, however, forget the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. At times, the Spirit will gift us with the ability to complete a specific task or project that we are not naturally suited for. And as far as dealing with our sin, He offers us something so much better than the Enneagram. Since the Enneagram claims you are “one number” for your entire life, it is actually claiming you will have to deal with your particular “sin” forever. But ask yourself, where is the work of the Holy Spirit in this belief system? Where is freedom from our sin? Believers, we have a Helper! #enneagram Click To Tweet
An Advocate who works in us to renew our hearts and our minds and transforms us from the inside out! The Enneagram fails to account for the Holy Spirit, and I would argue it seeks to replace Him. How? Users claim that the Enneagram can convict you, guide you, increase your knowledge of God, and grow your compassion for others. Remind you of someone you know? It should. All of those things are roles for the Holy Spirit. Can the Holy Spirit use things like personality tests? Sure He can. But let’s get real: He’s probably not going to use one that has occult ties and came to someone by automatic writing while they were in a trance. That’s just straight-up demonic.
So let’s remember that we are not on our own here. We are not left to follow some arbitrary number chart to work ourselves into becoming better people. We have God Himself working in our hearts and guiding us. That is awesome!!
REINFORCE through discussion, discipleship, and prayer– Make it stick, yo!
1. Some people engage in practices that feel helpful but ultimately cause harm. Ask your kids how many examples they can come up with. (Emotional binge-eating, drugs, alcohol, hiding a lie, joining a cult!!)
2. Talk with your kids about similarities between yours and their personalities. Discuss ways that their differences have been a blessing to your family.
3. As humans, we are made in the image of God but we don’t always reflect that image perfectly. Ask your kiddos, does a toddler need to be taught how to throw a fit? (No!) What are things we do sometimes that don’t reflect God’s image but that come naturally to us? (Lie? Hit our sibling? Steal a cookie?) Is it easier to do that or to do the right thing? Recognize that in our fallen self, we will always have to deal with that nature, but the Holy Spirit helps us. (Quick note: Always having to deal with our “sin nature” is not the same thing as being told you will always have to deal with a *particular* sin or struggle.)
4. Do a fun scavenger hunt in the Bible searching for mentions of the Holy Spirit, and make a list of the different roles He plays in our lives. Here are some verses to get you started: John 16:13, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Romans 15:13, Ephesians 1:17-20, and John 16:7. (P.S. There are a LOT more!)
By Alexa Cramer
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