The Enneagram and Us
About the Enneagram
WHAT IS THE ENNEAGRAM?
The Enneagram is an ancient personality map, a helpful guide on our journey toward self-knowledge. Based on nine archetypal styles, the Enneagram helps reveal a person’s core motivations. Rather than confine us to a “type,” the Enneagram simply helps us understand why we do what we do.
If you don't already know, “Ennea” means nine, and “gram” refers to something that’s written (which refers to a drawing that shows the nine personality styles).
WHO IS IN CHARGE OF IT?
Unlike other personality assessments, no organization owns the copyrights or regulates Enneagram content. Don't think of it like a franchised McDonald’s, offering the exact same product all over the world. It’s more like a food truck rodeo. They're all small businesses and reliant upon a few people to cook and serve customers food. But every one of them is independent of the others. Their menus, food quality, flavors, cleanliness, and service vary significantly. And you can often tell who is has a good product based upon how many people are in line.
The upside of this arrangement with the Enneagram is that there are many different writers, speakers, consultants, and coaches that have complete freedom to borrow, add or subtract, and develop it as they like. And many have completely different purposes for their assessments, reports, courses, events, Instagram accounts, and more. This includes us! We've re-written the content to uniquely reflect Christian beliefs and terminology. The downside of no one owning, accrediting, or controlling the material is there is no central pot of money to control the quality or pay for scientific research on its validity. (That said, there have been several studies on the reliability of several specific assessments or training events and the results are positive - for example click here, here, and here).
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
Like other grassroots movements, it's been influenced by a diverse set of people from different backgrounds, psychological leanings, and spiritual traditions. Our earliest historical record of it comes from P. D. Ouspensky. He said that he was taught it by Georges I. Gurdjieff, and wrote that Gurdjieff himself said that he was taught it from an even earlier source. This earlier history is elusive because it was originally intended to be a secret tool that was passed down orally from person-to-person. Some have argued it came from ancient Christianity, Islamic Sufis, Judaism, Homer, or even the Pythagoreans (yes, as in the theorem). There's simply too much conjecture for us to be certain.
DOES ANYONE CLAIM TO KNOW ITS ORIGIN?
Yes, many people do! Let us give you two speculative claims to illustrate.
A small handful of Christians tried to prove that the Enneagram is rooted in Christianity. Catholic Father, Richard Rohr popularized this view by saying that the Enneagram is rooted in an early version of the historic Christian "seven deadly sins and virtues". While the presence of these vices and virtues in it does help a person come to terms with their sin and long for redemption, Rohr's argument is speculative as historical records don't validate his claim.
On the opposite extreme, a few have declared that the Enneagram is rooted in the occult and warn Christians to steer clear. Indeed, Claudio Naranjo (1932-2019) made some wild statements in a 2010 interview. He claims that he and his mentor, Oschar Ichazo (1931-2020), relied upon "automatic writing" from "a higher power" to originate some of the modern terminology and application of the Enneagram. Upon first hearing, his words are truly alarming for Christians.
Upon closer inspection, most find little reason to believe Naranjo here. Before he makes some of his bizarre claims, he unapologetically admits that he and Ichazo had previously lied about some of their ancient sources in an effort to become famous. Can he really expect us to believe him again? Nevertheless, Naranjo proceeds to spend a lot of time insisting that he and Ichazo deserve credit for other author's writing while he hypocritically gives absolutely no credit to their predecessors, P. D. Ouspensky (1978-1947) and Georges I. Gurdjieff (1879-1949). More importantly, Naranjo provides no evidence whatsoever that refutes Ouspensky's writing that says Gurdjieff receiving it from an even earlier source. So, in the end, we literally have nothing to go on but his word here. It seems more plausible that he is deceiving us (again!) in an effort to steal the limelight (again!).
To be fair, we must also question the logic of those well-intended Christians that are sounding the alarm against Naranjo. For some reason, they overlook these holes and surprisingly do trust his word. It's ironic, that a handful of people use this interview to warn us that he can't be trusted, nor any of these men, nor anyone using Enneagram.
DO WE NEED TO KNOW ITS ORIGIN?
No. While its history is important, it's ok to let it remain ambiguous. That's because neither positive nor negative origins can sufficiently establish the merits of a tool (see the logical fallacy of origins). For example, someone would be committing this fallacy if they said:
“A Christian wrote this song, so you know that her lyrics about God are true.”
“Albert Einstein was a secular humanist who said the Bible was childish, so we should disregard his theory of relativity."
Now, let's move on to consider why people are drawn to the Enneagram and how we use it to introduce people to Christ.
WHY ARE PEOPLE ARE DRAWN TO IT?
In Tyler Zach's helpful article "Should Christians Use The Enneagram?", he discusses how our culture's quest for self-awareness is much like St. Augustine's spiritual journey to Rome. Reflecting on James K.A. Smith's insights in "On the Road with Saint Augustine," Zach writes:
On this road, Augustine shifted his focus from the outward world to his inward self. The road he took was one of self-examination. But for him, this journey of self-reflection, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, doesn't lead us to pride but rather greater knowledge of our inherent limitations. On this road of searching for the true self, if you get to the very end, you will find God.
It's a true yet sad reality, that our friends are more open to hearing that they're sinners from a personality assessment than from many of us. But what if we journeyed with people through their story, walking with them down their road of self-examination? What if we used it to show how Jesus meets their deepest longings?
We have found a wide-open door for the gospel through the Enneagram. After years of "being there" for people in pastoral ministry, we have developed a tool that fosters rich conversations with people who take our assessment, consider their motivations, and are open to rich truths that answer their deepest needs and gives them hope.
HOW DO YOU USE IT?
Dr. Todd Wilson makes the case in "Enneagram Goes to the Church," that like a skilled composer, we should "transpose it into a Christian key" and show people the way to Jesus. After all, God speaks through general revelation and calls his people to redeem worldly devices. An example of this is Paul's use of the pagan "idol to an unknown god" in Acts 17 to point the Greek philosophers to Jesus.
This is exactly our purpose in this material. We have changed some more typical Enneagram content to be centered around the gospel and change the terminology to reflect biblical language. Examples of this are using "old or new self" instead of "false or true self," "false belief" instead of "core fear," and referring to people's personality "styles" rather than their "types."
Christians who truly love their neighbors and take seriously Christ's great commission should welcome any open door to spiritual conversations that foster Christ-centered transformation. That's why our goal has been to use this tool to show people how Jesus meets their deepest motivations and grounds them in the "good news" of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel Enneagram is an outreach project of People Launching to help pastors and church planters reach the lost, provide pastoral care and equip their leaders.
Occasionally we've found a few people who love the Enneagram too much, treating this tool as if it's the gospel. Let's be clear: The "good news" of Jesus is the ONLY source of life because only in His finished work are we free from sin and adopted into a beautiful relationship with God!
We adhere to historic Christian beliefs as described by the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. You can read our full doctrinal statement here. Note that we believe that the sixty-six books of the Bible are inspired by God and are authoritative for living. Although God uses general revelation to teach us about life (from trusted friends, the Enneagram, etc.), again, it's solely the "good news" of Jesus as described in the Bible that saves and grows us to become like Him. Jesus’ finished work is all we need to be freed from sin and adopted into a life-giving relationship with God!
Here's an introduction by John Fooshee, from our online courses.