Enneagram: What Would So-and-So Think?

Enneagram: What Would So-and-So Think? November 27, 2019

The Enneagram is big. Is it Christian? Is it not Christian? Is it neutral? 

What would the apostle Paul think? (Got any texts?) What would Augustine think (asking for a friend)? C’mon theologians, think for us.

Though derived from an ancient wisdom tradition, and not explicitly Christian, the Enneagram has recently found a passionate following in the Evangelical world, drawing young believers culturally steeped as much in the self-centric spiritual practices of the secular world — astrology, self-care, the wellness industry — as they are in biblical teachings.

The Enneagram’s surge in popularity among American Christians has spawned an increased demand for resources from spiritual seekers hoping to identify and explore their personality types. In response, a thriving industry has emerged to accommodate that demand.

Since 2016, Evangelical publishers have released a slew of books on the topic, and the most widely-read Christian publications have seen a whirlwind of coverage. Megachurch pastors preach the system from live-streamed pulpits, and ministers of smaller churches work it into their sermons. Christians are shelling out hundreds of dollars for sessions with professional “Enneagram coaches” to find their type and pursue self-development. Others spend even more to become coaches themselves. (Your Enneagram Coach, perhaps the premier Enneagram coaching service targeting Evangelicals, offers individual coaching sessions at $125 and a packaged series at $674. You can enroll in a course to become a coach yourself for $1,500.) …

But perhaps most importantly, the function of the Enneagram is not to prescribe a set of traits that can be used to fashion or describe an identity — as with Myers-Briggs and many other personality-typing systems. With the Enneagram, the personality is just a set of coping mechanisms built around a person’s true self. To find one’s type is not the end point, but the beginning of a journey of self-discovery.

This approach to thinking about oneself is a striking departure from the rigid moralism that draws stark lines between “good” and “bad” that Christians such as Case have been steeped in. It allows — even encourages — worshippers to embrace their whole selves.

To practice the Enneagram is to lovingly engage with one’s flaws, following them as breadcrumbs to rediscovering the best in you. Practitioners told me about their “shadow” selves — their imperfections as the shadow of their goodness, rather than signs of an intrinsic badness: “Your shadow is the shadow of a gift that you hold that is good, that was inherently good from the beginning,” says Stephanie Spencer, a Christian and Enneagram coach who has been practicing the system since 2015. “And you’re trying to get back to that goodness.”

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