Meg and I graduated from SBU, a conservative Christian college. She was an English Education major (and Theater/Communications Major — amazing lady!) and one of her professors was lamenting the effects of modern children’s literature. She specifically mentioned a few books kids should avoid, including Harry Potter. The Sorcerer’s Stone had just been printed in paperback, and it was growing very popular, so Meg raised her hand and asked, “Have you read Harry Potter?” Of course, the professor had not, and that night Meg was out buying the book.
Looking back, the whole warning — “Harry Potter teaches children witchcraft” — was ridiculous. People who had not read the book warning other people not to read the book. But when anyone actually read the books… it was not to be feared. It was an engaging and fun story of good and evil.
Chandler is about to have our second class on the Enneagram. If you are not familiar with the Enneagram, you have probably heard people talking about their numbers. It has become fairly popular, and as its popularity has risen so have the naysayers. With our upcoming course I have received emails from folks (not in the church) who saw me post online. The concerns all warn against the Enneagram, claiming it has New Age roots. More significantly, one of the early proponents of the Enneagram claims it was all made up by he and his teacher (the teacher is not alive to answer questions). Worse, he claims the whole system was created via “automatic writing” (where people are not conscious of what they are writing — paranormal act).
With this evidence how could I teach our church the Enneagram? Let’s start with the truth we all know — what you read and see online is not always accurate. Even when information is forwarded to you by someone you trust, you – like Megan – should ask, “have you read it?” Or in this case, “have you studied the Enneagram?” And the answer by those emailing me was no.
Then a second point. The world is afraid of the “other”. Anything out of the ordinary (for whatever box you live in) is questioned. Rejected. But this fear is not of Jesus. The church should not be driven by fear (it is God’s most repeated command!). It smacks of legalism. And it lacks belief in the power of the resurrection. Jesus can redeem. Everything. For example. We do not know the birthday of Jesus. Many suggest Christmas started as the pagan winter solstice. And this theory makes a lot of logical sense. Still, some Christians fearfully reject this idea, as though pagan roots could take away from our worship?! But pagan roots would not be a problem. In Jesus the church can redeem a pagan holiday. Taking the good elements, family and celebration, and turning everything towards Jesus. Then the church, meeting the world where it is, invites all pagans into God’s celebration!
Now, let’s jump into the Enneagram and why I think it is a valuable tool for the church. First, a brief summary, then a bit of history.
What is the Enneagram? While occasionally compared to personality tests, like Myers-Briggs, it is not a personality test. Instead it labels the motivations behind our personality. It breaks these motivations into nine types (hence the shape and the name: ennea – “nine”, gram – “figure”). The belief of the Enneagram is that we are all inclined toward a center root motivation. But this motivation is twisted. So these nine types are what the church would call sins (the seven deadly sins, plus fear and deceit). There is certainly more to the Enneagram (wings, centers, subtypes, disintegration/integration, stances), but this is the basic system.
The history of the Enneagram is unclear1. One book simply stated it was “unknown”2. Often it is called ancient and Enneagram teachers point to numerous traditions (from Pythagorus – Greek, to the Sufis – Muslim, to the Kabbala – Jewish, to the Desert Fathers – Christian, some even point to the Magi – Persian astrologers, famous for visiting Jesus). And, pondering the nine types, there are ancient lists and writings that coordinate. Even shapes. But the Enneagram system we know seems to have developed recently. First the symbol was taught by George Gurdjiff, in 1916, claiming to have received this knowledge from Sufism. The system similar to what we know was developed in the 60s by Oscar Ichazo in Chile. Ichazo traveled the world and drew on a number of cultures, faiths, and traditions. He lead the Arica school where he transmitted the wide knowledge he learned (his lessons ranged from psychology, spirituality, metaphysics, cosmology…). Psychologist Claudio Naranjo went to the school in 1971, bringing knowledge of the Enneagram back to the States, where it spread. The church became aware of the Enneagram in the early 70s when a group of Jesuit Priests began studying and testing it to use in their ministry. As these priests shared their knowledge, one’s writing, Richard Rohr, became a catalyst spreading the Enneagram to the wider church and towards its popularity today.
There is much to give pause in this history. And certainly Ichazo’s school, Arica, might be called “New Age”. Even more, I mentioned Claudio Naranjo, because he now claims the Enneagram was invented by himself and Ichazo through “automatic writing”. Since both men have passed away, that statement can not be denied or confirmed. So for the naysayers this history answers our question, with this evidence how can I teach our church the Enneagram?, with a strong, “you can not teach this!”
But what if history is the wrong evidence? How it started matters less than what it becomes. More to the point, can God redeem the Enneagram? Could the Enneagram be used for God’s good in our lives?
Which brings us back to Megan’s question on Harry Potter, have you read it? In this moment, have you studied the Enneagram?
I have studied the Enneagram. It started as a small group with other trusted Pastors — testing this new concept (it was new to us, being Pastors, we were behind the trends!). It was a powerful experience, both in community and personally, as God revealed sin and healing in my life. This lead me to reading books and attending a conference. At my church I led a summer small group. With each step I saw God at work as we confessed our brokenness. (Confession in our church is not natural, and the Enneagram provided the avenue we needed.) As we leaned into God, we found healing. And the growth was not a flash in the pan – but real transformation. We sought the Enneagram with Christ as our center. And the Spirit used it as a tool in our lives.
My studies also revealed, no matter the history, the Enneagram’s content has roots in truth of scripture (whether that was intended by it creators or not!). Some are put off by the Enneagram’s focus on sin, but as Christians we believe we were made in the image of God. Sin has marred this image (original sin). While traditionally the church has highlighted seven deadly sins, the Enneagram adds fear and deceit (two sins highlighted by the Bible). The Enneagram spotlights how our core is predisposed to a certain sin — and how we cover this up (even to ourselves). But there is also redemption, for we see how our weakest part may be used by God when the Enneagram reveals paths to healing (deceit becomes honesty, fear – bravery, pride – humility, etc). Centered in Christ, these paths become transformative!
So, the answer to the question, with this evidence how can I teach our church the Enneagram? — when I look at the evidence of God at work in our lives, my answer becomes a resounding, “I must teach this!” It isn’t a replacement for the Bible or prayer. It certainly can never be our center, which is God. But the Spirit has and will continue to use the Enneagram to impact lives.
So shout “expelliarmus” to the Enneagram’s naysayers. Like Harry Potter we will wonder what the fuss was about in twenty years. In the meantime allow God to use all things to bring us closer. And if you are interested we have a class starting on March 14th. I hope you will join us.
- The Enneagram a Christian Perspective (Rohr and Ebert) provides most of my information. Though history provided by The Enneagram Institute is
- Road Back to You (Stabile and Cron)