Enneagram: A Stairway of Sand


"Once the enneagram gets its hands on you, it never lets go."

Those were the words of the podcast speaker, a recognized enneagram expert, that led me to lean in and listen closely to what was being described as a "sacred" and "ancient map to the soul" that holds the power to help subscribers find their "true selves."

All I could think was that the only thing I want gripping my soul with such force is God the Father and the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ (John 10:29).

A Looming Battle

I first heard of this psycho-spiritual phenonmenon some years ago, and have watched it spread in popularity not only among those outside the church, but most notably, those on the inside--mainline and evangelical alike. Frankly, I've never been surprised by its fame among the Christian left, but its embrace by those who lean to the right has been perplexing.

Perhaps the saying is true, that the next great battle for the Bible won't be for its inerrancy, but for its authority and sufficiency.

If you're not familiar with the enneagram, this blog post won't be a sufficient introductory resource. In fact, I'm disappointed that I feel led to write about it all, for fear that some will be ensnared by its intoxicating extra-biblical promises as they're provoked to investigate. So, please, guard your heart (Gal. 6:1).

Briefly stated, the enneagram, according to leading proponents, is said to find its roots in antiquity, having drawn its philosophical waters from components of "mystical Judaism (to include Kabala), Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy.." Having merged these components into a system of thought, the ennegagram, together with its well-known nine point symbol, is held out as a "powerful tool" for helping users "discover their true selves," or "personality types."

Other words used to describe the enneagram include, "sacred (i.e. to make holy)," "illuminating," and "divine." These are words loaded with theological freight, and ought to cause at least one raised eyebrow. For example, in its English translation, the word "sacred" means "dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity." The obvious question is, who did the setting apart, and who is the deity? Among enneagram proponents, there is no concensus.

Further, in some circles, there is talk of "contemplative prayer," or "centering prayer," in which the prayer seeks to allow "time and space" to connect them to the presence of Christ within (if the practicioner is seeking to present the enneagram and its associated practices in a type of "Christianized" way, that is).

Prayer techniques that include certain seated postures, or walking in circles called "labyrinths" are sometimes taught, harkening back to eastern mystical and new age religious practices that consider posture of particular importance when attempting to communicate with some deity.

While none of these methodologies appear inherent to enneagram proper, it isn't surprising that these relgious acts of piety and practice are enjoined to it, given the systems metaphyscial nature. In other words, it seems inevitable that those who embrace the enneagram would find overlap between its practice and their persoanally held religious beliefs.

Short on Answers

In short, the broader practice of the enneagram is steeped in mysticism, is short on sound, historical Christian doctrine as stated in the historic creeds and confessions of the faith, yet is long on words and phrases that, frankly, are difficult, at best, to define or locate within the Christian Bible.

If Scripture is perspicuous, enneagram is not.

One popular enneagram website has this to say:

"The Enneagram is a sacred map that helps identify your unconscious and subconscious motivations. Circling around nine fundamental types of human nature, your Enneagram type reveals your path of transformation as well as your path of disintegration.

While the Enneagram reveals your personality, it is different from other personality profiles in that it links to your childhood wound, illuminating your path of healing and wholeness.

The Enneagram is a powerful resource for the contemplative path, for as it dismantles your illusions about the self, it simultaneously reveals your True Self or Essence, supporting you to offer the best of yourself to a world in a need."

Despite these esoteric and nebulous descriptions, many mainline and evangelical Christians report that they have found the enneagram useful when it comes to understaning themselves better, or perhaps, as some enneagram practicioners suggest, discovering how their "childhood wounds" and "personality armor" continues to hamper their spiritual growth in adulthood.

Whatever benefit the enneagram is said to have provided among some professing Christians, there are significant questions that remain unanswered, and for which there may not exist satisfactory answers in light of church history and doctrine.

For example, in any cursory reading of enneagram materials, the reader will discover that propositional statements of terrific importance abound, yet answers concerning how these truth statements were derived are sorely lacking.

Stated simply, embracing the enneagram requires a tremendous amount of faith, because the enneagram is not of science, although proponents speak of it in authoritative terms.

So, if we understand faith according to the Protestant tradition, we might want to consider: Where did God in Scripture ever grant the gift of faith to anyone, where he himself was not the direct object of that faith? Is there scriptural support for asserting that God grants faith for hope to a man in anyone other than himself?

Five Solas Plus One

As someone involved daily in the care of souls, I am often asked for my opinion on a variety of topics that appear, in the least, to be associated with what some will commonly call mental health counseling. One of the questions I've been asked concerns the practice of enneagram in the church.

Because of grave concerns for the hazy and mixed religious origins of enneagram, I cannot, do not, and will not commend enneagram to my counselees. What I have seen from the broader enneagram community, and despite any of its apparent benefits, is a movement not well understanding of or committed to the historic Christian tradition, and certainly not to that tradition in its Reformed or evangelical practice.

In my estimation, the extant materials on enneagram do the flock a great disservice in key areas of sound doctrine, to include those doctrines otherwise known as the five solas. Specifically, a Christian might ask:

1) How does enneagram help me interpret "sola gratia" and 2) "sola fide" (Eph. 2:8-9)?

3) While there is talk in some enneagram circles of the presence of Christ in the believer, its conceptions of union with Christ seem "in addition to," rather than Christ Jesus being the central unifying point. So, just where is solus Christus?

4) The confessional documents of the Protestant tradition quite evidently hold a high view of Scripture. This would not be apparent in reading much enneagram material. Thus, where is sola Scriptura among enneagram teachings?

5) Finally, the "self" is a theme of supreme importance in enneagram teaching (as I've read and interpreted it). Where is the glory of God alone in enneagram practice (soli Deo gloria)?

Did God Really Say

In closing, I understand that a fair portion of professing Christians will disagree with my rejection of enneagram as a valid or biblical tool of "self-improvement" or "self-discovery" for use in the church. They will consider that I'm being "closed minded." So be it. I make no apologies for rejecting any philosophy of religion that does not arise out of Scripture, and find its terminating point at the throne of Christ.

Christian psychologist and professor Robert Roberts, in his book, "Taking the Word to Heart," reminded the church that philosophers always have the shaping of our hearts by their words in mind. He wrote, "Their therapies are potent methods for planting their ideas in us so that we may grow in the shapes that they ordain." [emphasis added]

Has God ordained the goals and methods of enneagram for his people? Are Christians merely syncretistic pragmatists who are free to embrace whatever they wish simply because they've determined that a thing works?

While a “Regulative Principle of Counseling” may tempt us to disregard legitimate sources of knowledge that do not violate Scripture or confession, a "Normative Principle of Counseling” may tempt us to “Christianize” any unbiblical philosophy to which our hearts are drawn.

I'm reminded of 2 Kings 1:3, "But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?" [emphasis mine]

Friends, there is much more that could be said. It would be impossible to answer in one humble blog post all that has been written or lectured in favor of the church embracing enneagram. In my estimation, the case by proponents has not been made, and my concerns have not been even remotely allayed.

I have yet to find one thing in enneagram that is of any necessary substance to soul care for which Scriputre is not only sufficient, but eternally superior. 

The world offers you a plethora of ways in which to discover what it calls your “true self.” You can dabble in one of them, or you can dabble in all of them. But, consider that God is ambivalent toward none of them. He never shrugs his shoulders.

As David Powlison has written, "Stairs of sand look so good. They promise to take you someplace good, but they collapse beneath the weight of your life."

Only the Scriptures are sufficient to bear your burdens, and bind up your wounds.

Stand upon the Rock.

Additional Reading

Kevin DeYoung's Blog Post

Joe Carter's Blog Post