Reading Christianity Today is like entering a carnival house of mirrors, as Christianity Today (CT) reflects much of the church today and as the church reflects much of the world. Once again CT has stooped to the world, the flesh, and the devil in an attempt to enhance the lives of Christians. This time, an occult-based “self-assessment tool” is given first-rate billing in an article titled “An Evangelical’s Guide to the Enneagram” by John Starke.
The Enneagram is a geometric figure made up of a circle with nine points along the circumference, from which are drawn a triangle and an irregular hexagon. Each number represents one personality type and the lines indicate directions of integration and disintegration.
Starke begins his article by saying that a spiritual tool like “the Enneagram has the capacity to heal or to harm, depending on how it’s used.”1 In spite of recognizing the psycho-spiritual roots of the Enneagram and in spite of saying that he wants the people he counsels to “trust in the sufficiency of Scripture, the power of the gospel, the regular graces of gathered worship, the preaching of God’s Word, and the Lord’s Supper for spiritual growth,” Starke declares, “I believe the Enneagram can enhance, not replace, our participation in the normal means of Christian grace and growth.” Even though the Enneagram clearly originated from the occult and is an untested instrument, Starke contends that the Enneagram is helpful in gaining self-knowledge for the purpose of spiritual growth. He says:
Part of maturing as a follower of Christ is maturing in our knowledge of self. This has been true since God warned Cain of the sin crouching at the doors of his heart (Gen. 4:7), since David asked God to search his heart and exposes [sic] any grievous ways…. Wisdom consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”2
God does not need anything like the Enneagram to reveal a person’s heart. The Word of God by way of the Holy Spirit reveals the heart of anyone open to the truth. The Enneagram is at best a faulty instrument. At worst it is akin to the false idols that seduced the people of Israel with their promises to enhance what God was doing for them. Adding an imperfect tool to understand self is like being just slightly off course at the beginning of a journey at sea and thereby foolishly ending up at the wrong destination.
But, is the Enneagram just an imperfect tool whereby one may misunderstand himself? Can a tool from the occult be an instrument that “has the capacity to heal or to harm, depending on how it’s used,” as Starke states? Could pagan idols do harm or good? Obviously, numerous Israelites believed the pagan idols could do good or they would not have used them. Perhaps a better question is this: Can a Christian use the Enneagram to glorify God and grow into the likeness of Christ? How dangerous are practices derived from occult origins and is the Enneagram truly occult and thereby an abomination to the Lord?
Background of the Enneagram
Although the Enneagram is purported to be an ancient spiritual tradition, it is relatively new to the Western world. George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, who brought the Enneagram to Europe in the 1920s, claimed it originated about 2500 years ago in a Babylonian wisdom school.3 He taught that each person is born with a “planetary body type” with certain physical and psychological traits. He believed that a person’s physical and psychological characteristics are related to a dominant endocrine gland and to planetary influences on that gland.4 This implicates the Enneagram with Babylonian astrology, since those characteristics would be signified by a point on the Enneagram.
Gurdjieff’s use of the Enneagram also parallels the esoteric cabala’s “Tree of Life” of Jewish mysticism.5 Gurdjieff used the esoteric elements of the Enneagram with his students, but he did not formalize the system in written form. Therefore, others took this task upon themselves.
Oscar Ichazo began teaching the Enneagram in Bolivia in the 1960s and brought his version of the nine personality types to the United States in 1971 as part of his Arica training. He claims to have learned the Enneagram directly from Sufi teachers in Pamir before reading anything by Gurdjieff.6 Ichazo’s Arica training combines Eastern mysticism and Western psychology. The nine points on the circle’s circumference are used to analyze ego types for gaining greater awareness and reaching a higher state of consciousness.7
Psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo learned Ichazo’s system and taught the Enneagram at Esalon, a human potential, New Age center in California. Among his students were several Jesuit priests who began to incorporate the Enneagram into their counseling and into their own personal lives.8 As a result, the Enneagram’s popularity has spread rapidly among Roman Catholics. In fact, two of the most widely read books on the subject are written by a former Jesuit priest, Don Richard Riso.9
Although the geometric figure of the Enneagram remains the same, versions of the Enneagram personality typology differ among various teachers. Riso contends that his “interpretation of the Enneagram . . . diverges from Ichazo’s approach on a number of important points.”10 Helen Palmer, another Enneagram proponent, conducted seminars and wrote books, which also revealed a different emphasis and direction. In fact, her publisher says, “Ms. Palmer has developed theories about the use of the Enneagram in understanding human personality and its relationship to aspects of higher awareness that are different and distinct from those expounded by Mr. Ichazo.”11
Starke has his own variation of descriptions for each section on the Enneagram. One can compare the types according to Ichaso, Riso, Palmer, and Starke. Of course each of these individuals provides extensive descriptions of each type so that everyone can relate to some aspects that seem to fit or squeeze into a type. However, like other typologies, these are arbitrary categories.
The Enneagram is an equally bad system as the astrological types and the four temperaments for the same reasons. It has the same problems with subjectivity, generality, trivialization of people, false assumptions and so on. It also incorporates the same dangers. Even more worrisome is its direct relationship to the occult in its origins, its goals, and its present use, including attempts to reach higher states of consciousness.
One Enneagram critic says:
Its occultic roots have not been thoroughly purged (if they can be), and it has opened itself to theological error and social and psychological misuse. The lack of scientific investigation means there are not controls to determine who actually is an expert, nor which advice is helpful or detrimental, nor whether the goals of the Enneagram system are sound.12
The Enneagram is another gospel. It is a path of counterfeit sanctification. Why would any Christian even think of needing to add the Enneagram to “the sufficiency of Scripture, the power of the gospel, the regular graces of gathered worship, the preaching of God’s Word, and the Lord’s Supper for spiritual growth,” as Starke and Christianity Today suggest? Instead of warning believers about the dangers of occult practices and other diversions away from “the sufficiency of Scripture, the power of the gospel, the regular graces of gathered worship, the preaching of God’s Word, and the Lord’s Supper for spiritual growth,” Starke and CT contend that such personality type gimmicks are useful. And why are Christians running after the Enneagram and the circus of other personality types when they already have all they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)?
Clearly, they are enticed by the promises and deceived by their carnal nature. Research reveals that individuals are very prone to accept the most general character descriptions as being specifically applicable to themselves. The term given to this phenomenon is the Barnum Effect, named after P. T. Barnum, who believed that a good circus has “a little something for everybody.” Even though the descriptions or descriptive terms in the Enneagram and other typologies apply equally well to other people, individuals are gullible enough to believe they are unique to themselves.
Once again Christianity Today, in its ongoing support of psychoheresy, not only provides it readers with a carnival house of mirrors and a circus that has “a little something for everybody,” but dangerously draws believers away from the Lord and into temptation.
1 John Starke, “An Evangelical’s Guide to the Enneagram,” Christianity Today, Nov, 2016, p. 55.
2 Ibid., p. 58.
3 Don Richard Riso. Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987, pp. 12-13.
4 Walter Sheer. “The Cosmology of the Fourth Way,” Gnosis, Summer 1991, p. 27.
5 Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi. “Gurdjieff & Kabbalah: How Gurdjieff’s System relates to the Tree of Life,” Gnosis, Summer 1991, pp. 42-45.
6 Riso, op. cit., p. 16.
7 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. The Psychological Way/ The Spiritual Way. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1979, pp. 104-108.
8 Riso, op. cit., pp. 16-17.
9 Ibid. and Don Richard Riso. Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990.
10 Riso, Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, op. cit., p. 16.
11 Helen Palmer. The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991, p. xvii.
12 Mitchell Pacwa. “Tell Me Who I Am, O Enneagram,” Christian Research Journal, Fall 1991, p. 19.
13 Arthur Hastings. With the Tongues of Men and Angels. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1991, p. 95.
14 Riso, Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, op. cit., p. 30.
15 Palmer, op. cit., p. 38.
16 Starke, op. cit., pp. 56-57.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, May-June 2017, Vol. 25, No.3)