In the past several years there has been much talk and discussion concerning a personality test known as the Enneagram. This test has been used to analyize one's personality in light of relationships, employment, and even examining politicians. Some who work in the area of behavioral science (such as psychology) are convinced that the test is helpful for self-discovery and personal growth. There are others who believe that the enneagram, especially in the context of the Christian life has no value at best, and may at worst be demonic and divination in what it endorses. How should believers who endorse a Biblical perspective ought to observe the Enneagram?
The enneagram was created by a man named George Gurdjieff who was a Russian of Armenian and Greek descent. He was philosopher, spiritual instructor, and a mystic. He was born in a region in Russia where there were many religious and spiritual influences. In his young adult years he spent time reading many scientific books and his reading, along with personal thoughts from his experiences, led him to be convinced there was a universal truth that was hidden and governed all things, and he sought to discover this truth. In the early 1900s Gurdjieff met with Sergey Merkurov his cousin and a well-known sculptor and begin to discuss his ideas to him. Merkurov was pursuaded by Gurdjieff thoughts and eventually introduced to P. D. Ouspensky, a Russian mathmetician and philosopher, and Thomas de Hartmann a musical composer. These three individuals were the first three students of Gurdjieff's teachings. By 1916, George Gurdijeff had 30 students who were committed to his teaching which he titled "The Fourth Way."
The practice of The Fourth Way is human beings do not percieve things in true reality. Instead humanity's perception is hindered by their own subjective outlook. George Gurdjideff described this as being in a "waking sleep" (similar to that described in the movie The Matrix) and that by proper guidance and instruction a person could be awakened from their "waking sleep" and see reality as it truly is. According to Gardijeff when it comes to personality there are three parts: the emotions, the physical, and the mind. He also explained that in academic and religious institutions they only focus on one part of the personality and in effect makes the person unbalanced in their personality.
In light of George Gurdjideff's theory about the personality and reaching enlightenment was the orginal purpose of the enneagram (which he called "The Work" or "The Work on Oneself." Every point on the enneagram is represented by a number, and each number is represented an musical octive (i.e., "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, and Sol"). George Gurdjideff used the diagram where a person begin at the number 9 (the "Do"), and would move clockwise along the enneagram. Points 3 and 6 were what were known as "shock points" where a person could enter into these points on the enneagram and move toward the points. There were three parts of his philosophy that he believed developed the personality so that one could reach enlightenment: music (which also was broken down into three parts), movement (which were dances he adopted from other cultures in which George Gurdjideff referred to them as sacred dances), and writings (which consisted of his students reading a voluminous work known All is Everything, which included a work known as Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. This made up the very purpose of the enneagram
Over time a person known as Oscar Ichazo, who was Bolivian journeyed to Argentina and Asia and learned about mystic practices, especially this theory. He returned to South America and set up a school known as the Arica school. In the late 70s a group of psychologist we to study under his instuction for several weeks. After this the group of psychologist returned and begin to institute some of Oscar's ideas and practices. In moden times with the promotion of personality tests and self development the Enneagram been made popular.
What should one who adpots the biblical worldview think about the Enneagram? There are several things we should consider below:
When it comes to the Enneagram the origins ought to be considered: This writer can understand the exaspiration against those who argue if you take the Enneagram that you worship satan or some unclean spirit. However, this author can also sympathize that those who make this argument aganst this personality test are very cautious of adopting this test within the body of Christ. This cannot be overlooked. Paul writing to the believers of Colossae wanted them to beware of other philosophies that were contrary to the philosophy of Christ (Colossians 2:8). Whether we like it or not, the origins of this personality test comes from another source.
The Enneagram is different than a counseling intervention: The Enneagram is different from the goals of counseling intervention. Counseling interventions are used to build a particular skill the counselee desires to have (e.g., breathing techniques to assist with handling ones out of control anger) however the Enneagram seeks to inform a person about their personality based on answers the participant gives about themselves, which are possibly subjective in nature. Scripture gives a different explanation regarding the human being. Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit wrote that humanity is created in the image of God (imago Dei)(Genesis 1:26-28). In other words, these words explain the Creator of humanity and the origin of the personality humanity possesses. Again, whether a person likes it or not this information is coming from another source other than Scripture.
The Enneagram was developed by a person, and adjusted by people who have a different perspective concerning the human being: The Enneagram has within it a particular perspective of the human being as it related to George Gurdjideff's regarding The Fourth Way, as Boban Docevski comments,"This complex system took elements from many different religious schools such as Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism, Eastern Christianity, Zoroaster, and from various sects such as Indian yogis." All of these perspective were mystical in nature, and all of them influenced the teaching of the Enneagram. The perspective of personality, spirituality, and the enneagram design comes from a person who believed personality developed in this manner. The Scriptures speak of no such process or personality.
The Enneagram may not measure what people describe as personality: Because the Ennegram has been adopted from its original use the modern way that it is used may not measure personality. The modern use of the Enneagram uses forms of archetypes to describe certain kinds of people. However a question must be asked: Does this test measure personalities, or does it measure dispositions of an individual, behavioral traits that person may adopt, etc? Again the Scriptures speak of no such process to ascertain the personality of a human being.
The Enneagram may give a person a false instruction concerning personal growth: The standard of human growth and insight for the person taking the test becomes the enneagram. For the person who adopts a biblical worldview this ought not to be the case. The standard for growth for the believer is the Scripture. Furthermore, one may be motivated to grow to "become a better person." However, from a Biblical perspective one desires not to become a better version of themselves, but by the grace of God, and His word one seeks to become like Christ (Ephesians. 5:1-2).
The quantities of personalities in the Enneagram: It seems every 10-15 years or so there is another personality test that appears on the scene that captivates the culture, with all new terms, defintions, and practices to measure and observe the personality (I could recall in my undergraduate and graduate level courses the Myers-Briggs (which gives 16 personality types) was the standard to observe one's personality). As an aside this brings up another question: How many personalities are there, 16 or 9? And what determines how many there are? By contrast when it comes to the word of God the more that a person observes Scripture, which is the standard (2 Timothy 3:16) using the consistent, normal, grammatical method one will observe themselves in light of God's perspective.
The Enneagram, much like the other personality tests that are out there, is at best a good conversation piece amongst friends and family. In addition, it may make one aware of thier own dispositions in certain situational contexts. Furthermore, a believer who has taken the Enneagram from the perspective of Scripture is not in danger or at risk of losing their salvation or adopting idol worship (as idolarty in Scripture was described as an active, premeditated activity). However one may be at risk of adopting a philosophy that may be in conflict with the philosophy of Christ in terms of the personality of human being when the Enneagram does not provide personal growth and development in an effective manner for the Christian. Let us be careful in adopting things that may appear truthful, but let us examine all things, even personality tests, through the lens of Scripture.
Until next time...
Soli Deo Gloria!
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