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The Road Back to Sin: Christianity and the Enneagram

Part New Age mysticism and part Catholic counselling, the Enneagram is quickly becoming as much a part of JBU culture as Pour Jon’s, Chaco's, or senior-year engagements. Chances are, you’ve overheard someone involved in a deep conversation about it in the caf or library. If not, just yell out numbers between one and nine until you see someone’s eyes light up with the terrifying joy of a fanatic. You know the type. “It transformed my life,” they’ll tell you. “I understand myself so much better now. Wait—you haven’t taken it yet?” For these true believers, the Enneagram is more than a personality test. It’s a lifestyle. But why are so many evangelical Christians going crazy over a test that was put together by hippies in the seventies? More importantly, what role should it play in how we define ourselves and interact with God?

As any Enneagram junkie will tell you, it is not like other personality tests. While StrengthQuest, DISC, and MBTI are easy to understand and have the added benefit of not resembling a Satanic pentagram, they don’t have the cult following of the Enneagram. For one thing, it is marketed specifically to religious people. While StrengthQuest and MBTI try to diagnose patterns in behavior and mental attitudes, the Enneagram addresses individuals at the most foundational level: personal identity. Fans will tell you the story of their first “aha!” moment, the sentence they read from their type description that unlocked a deeper understanding of their underlying motivations. Christian college students, arguably the most overly introspective and self-analytical group in existence, can easily fall in love with the system’s ability to categorize and communicate who they are.

Evangelicals are also pulled into the Enneagram by its similarities with traditional Christian thought. For example, Enneagram “types” are based on how an individual has learned to respond to childhood wounds. The Enneagram tells us that everyone looks at life through a broken lens, and we need some kind of direction to help us see the world and ourselves clearly. “Duh!” the former-VBS kids respond, “We all have sinned and need Jesus to fix us!” However, the Enneagram’s primary goal is not to bring us to the foot of the cross. It is to bring us face-to-face with ourselves.

Ian Cron, author of the Enneagram book The Road Back to You, voices a popular understanding of identity that has infiltrated many Christian circles. He writes, “Buried in the deepest precincts of being I sense there’s a truer, more luminous expression of myself, and as long as I remain estranged from it, I will never feel alive or whole.” While this sounds very pleasant and spiritual, a quick glance over Cron’s words reveals a strange absence of Christ’s name, or even references to a “higher power.” This is the danger of the Enneagram: it can shift seamlessly from valuable insights into personality to shameless self-worship. Cron’s belief that there is an inner identity that has been untouched by sin and that wholeness can be attained by self-development (presumably using the Enneagram) stands in direct opposition to scriptural truth. The Bible teaches us that there is no part of our identity that is not enslaved to sin. That is why we are in need of Christ, who alone can make us whole by restoring our relationship with God.

The fact is, we are our “truest” selves when we are most wicked, selfish, diabolical, and worthy of rejection. Our identity as chosen, justified, and loved children of God simply can’t be discovered by looking inward and digging into the self. In Mere Christianity,C.S. Lewis writes, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” This is the good news that we must keep in mind as we navigate the Enneagram. As Christians, we don’t seek to come alive to our true selves, but to put our true selves to death more and more each day as we are transformed into the image of our Savior.

I realize that to call the Enneagram into question is to run the risk of martyrdom, but I’m not calling for JBU to make a bonfire of Ian Cron’s books in the quad or hold an inquisition to sniff out the true believers. When used in tandem with Scripture, self-discovery tools like the Enneagram can deepen our appreciation for Christ’s grace as we recognize our need for his redemption. After all, the most significant identity-transformation in Christianity—salvation—begins with an acknowledgement of our weakness and sin. However, when our attention begins to be pulled away from Christ and onto ourselves, it is time to dispense with the extra-biblical aids and return to the most powerful self-discovery tool of all—the simple gospel.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not claim to reflect the opinions or views of the Defendant or its staff members.

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