Why the Enneagram - Part 3 - Addressing Objections

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

This last fall I received an email from a friend who heads up a spiritual direction training course.  This article - https://www.equip.org/article/tell-me-who-i-am-o-enneagram/ - had been passed on to him by a student in his course, and he wondered if I had "any kind of solid biblical/theological response to this."  

Here is my response.


I don’t like this article because it picks ideas, history, and events that are sure to alarm many Christians, but are not necessarily part of what a person will receive in teaching about the Enneagram.  Given the whole of Christendom to choose from, it would not take long to assemble a similar group of objectionable facts and ideas about Christian leaders and teachings.  As in Christianity, with the Enneagram not everyone believes and teaches the same, you cannot paint every Enneagram teacher and teaching with the same brush, nor can you make the teaching itself responsible for people’s abuses and misuse of it.  However, this article identifies three areas where the author takes exception to the Enneagram-- its origins, its theology, and scientific support – which are also identified in other articles.  I’ve been doing some thinking and writing on these lately, so here are some thoughts for these three areas.

Origins.  It is no longer difficult to find articles about the recent origins of the Enneagram.  Many Enneagram books and websites identify Gurdjeff, Ochazo, and Naranjo as the three thinkers who brought the basics of the Enneagram as we know it together. They, and many other Enneagram teachers, did not grow up in the same North American Evangelical Christian culture that many of us did.  If they have a Christian faith at all, it is significantly different from what we are used to.  Nor is the Enneagram presented as a primarily Christian system, and it has been joined with many non-Christian ideas and practices.  It has also, however, been a help to many Christians in their journeys with God and others.  Richard Rohr’s history in his book on the Enneagram discusses in depth where we find some of the ideas behind the Enneagram in early Christianity.  Helen Palmer and Russ Hudson have also detailed this early Christian interaction with Enneagram ideas in their recent teachings. 

Part of the reason so many Christians like the Enneagram is that it fits so well with what they are already experiencing as they follow Christ, plus it stretches them to move beyond where they are.  If the non-Christian background and teachings of Gurdjeff, Ochazo, Naranjo, and other Enneagram teachers are enough to stop a person from learning more about the Enneagram, then there is not much one can do to change their decision.  Many Christians, however, have been able find a tremendous amount in the Enneagram that does align with their own faith, and they have applied the Enneagram teachings as a help in their faith.  They, in a sense, take what is useful and helpful for them, as people tend to do with most tools like this.  The Enneagram is not the be-all and end-all for spiritual growth and teaching.  My suggestion would be to judge it by its fruit in one’s own life and others' lives.  It has not been helpful for everyone that has tried it, and if that is the case for a person, I would not encourage them to pursue it.

Paul’s words in 1 Cor 8 might be applicable here as well.  If the non-Christian recent origins of the Enneagram are going to cause a person to stumble in their faith, we should not recommend it for them, but otherwise we can partake of what is good.

Scientific Support. I was initially surprised that “religious” people are the ones requiring scientific evidence.  If we required scientific evidence of everything that is preached on Sunday mornings, we might have much shorter sermons.  I say this not to mock our preaching, but to point out the limits of the scientific method.  In some ways the Enneagram can never be scientifically “proven.”  Human behavior is too complex and too subjective to be broken down to highly predictable patterns, like the law of gravity or chemical equations.  To a large extent, the only way the Enneagram is ever “proven” is by our own subjective awareness of the patterns it describes in our lives.   Without that awareness, the Enneagram is useless.  Gravity works whether I am conscious or not, the same isn’t true of my actions or motivations.  The Enneagram deals with what is going on in our inner-lives, and it is difficult to measure with objective external measurements.  It is not a predictive constant but a model that we each have to apply individually to our own lives, much like the stages of grief, stages of growth, or falling in love.  And if the model does not apply, you don’t force it.  The Enneagram is not designed to be a predictor of human behavior, but a tool to help us understand ourselves and grow.

However, many people have recognized the weakness of the Enneagram on this point and applied the scientific method to Enneagram ideas as they can.  Here are some of the papers easily available on the internet - https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10804-018-9289-x?utm_source=Research+article%2C+February+13%2C+2018&utm_campaign=Research+article+February+13+2018&utm_medium=email, https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-222405901/the-enneagram-a-review-of-the-empirical-and-transformational, https://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.ca/&httpsredir=1&article=3108&context=luc_diss, https://psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/1555/do-the-motivations-and-fears-behind-enneagram-have-any-scientific-reasoning.

One other factor to consider regarding scientific evidence is how little we really know about the human brain.  We are making great strides in this area, but we are still near the beginning.  We can't expect scientific proof of human behavioral patterns and reactions to move faster than science itself.

Theology.  The primary theological area where some Christians take exception to the Enneagram is regarding sin.  You won't find Enneagram teaching proclaiming the central Evangelical Christian teaching on sin -- that all human beings deserve eternal damnation because of our sins, and we can only be saved by Jesus' work on the cross.  The reason for this is that the Enneagram is concerned with living a better life on earth, it isn't about our eternal destiny.  It is not a religion or doctrine, and it doesn’t take a theological stance on sin.  One could also say it is not concerned with dying with sin but with living with sin.  There are various Biblical texts regarding our condemnation and separation from God due to sin -- Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:18, Hebrews 4, Deuteronomy 28, etc., but these scriptures, Jesus, other New Testament teaching, and some Old Testament teaching always point the way living in grace and forgiveness, not condemnation. 

The Enneagram is a tool that helps us live in God’s grace.  It, like Jesus, doesn’t condemn us for our sin, It helps us identify our resistance to God’s grace and work in our lives.  That was the original direction of these ideas among the Desert Fathers.  They went into the desert to escape the corruption of the city and find God, and they found that they had brought their own corruption and distraction with them.  There were still emotional and mental habits in their own lives that stood between them and God.  Eventually they came upon eight of the nine passions or emotional habits that we find in the Enneagram.

Christians who have received Jesus as Lord and Saviour in their lives still have to deal with unhealthy and sinful patterns in our lives, they are not purged from us.  The Enneagram is tool that can help us see and understand those patterns and eventually leave them behind.  Scriptures like Romans 7, James 1:2-4, Matthew 5-7, and many other speak of the struggle and journey of following Christ that includes a reforming of our emotional and mental habits.

Read 446 times Last modified on 08.08.2019

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.