The Enneagram: A Christian Tool?

The Enneagram: A Christian Tool? June 8, 2024

The Enneagram: A Christian Tool?

I begin this blog post with a degree of fear and trepidation because I very close Christian friends and loved ones who a “fans” of the Enneagram. I also know many Christians who believe it is a tool of Satan. I know very few people who are very familiar with the Enneagram who are neutral about it.

For those of you who do not know, the Enneagram is a personality inventory often used by spiritual people, including many Christians, to detect their spiritual (or other) weaknesses that need to be addressed. It may also detect spiritual strength.

There are two or three main uses of the Enneagram. It can be used and is used by secular people as a secular personality inventory/test. It can and is used by non-secular, non-Christian people who are what might be called “New Age” or esoteric inclined. But my only concern here is with the many, mostly “progressive Christians,” who use the Enneagram, teach the Enneagram, and find it powerfully helpful in spiritual formation.

I am not their judge. All I am is a historical theologian and student of the occult. My purpose here is not to judge the benefits or dangers of the Enneagram. Here I only want to raise discussion about it by those who have an informed opinion.

First, what I have read and heard about the Enneagram’s benefits. Many Christians who I strongly admire, some I even love, swear by its spiritual benefit of becoming self-aware of personality or other weaknesses that can and should be addressed in the process of spiritual formation. I have been a member of churches and Christian institutions where the Enneagram was used without controversy. I have heard from friends, loved ones, students, pastors how beneficial it is. I have read books promoting its benefits and explaining its uses.

Second, what I have read and heard about the Enneagram’s dangers. When I first heard about the Enneagram I did some research and quickly discovered that it was first created (so far as anyone knows) by an esoteric spiritual teacher, often mislabeled a “philosopher,” named G. I. Gurdjeff. Gurdjieff (d. 1949) was an Armenian man who was probably influenced by Theosophy founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. However, he founded his own “school” of esoteric studies in Russia. It spread to Paris and elsewhere and was considered somewhat secretive. His protege Peter Ouspensky (d. 1947) was a Russian esotericist who founded the Fourth Way Schools, an esoteric network. (Some scholars believe it was actually founded by Gurdjieff.) It is probably that Gurdjieff developed the first version of the Enneagram as an esoteric spiritual technology. Perhaps, however, Ouspensky actually developed it. The “line” between what Gurdjeff and Ouspensky thought and did is still not entirely clear.

But the undeniable fact is that the Enneagram was picked up and promoted heavily by Oscar Ichazo (d. 2020) who was a Bolivian esotericist who founded The Arica School, a center for esoteric studies and spiritual practices, in Chile. Then, Richard Rohr (b. 1943), an American Catholic spiritual director, author, teacher, picked it up and promotes it. My study has of the Enneagram leads me to believe if it were not for Rohr the Enneagram would not have become especially popular among Christians in North America. Rohr is extremely popular through his writing and speaking. His books have sold many thousands of copies. I have actually led a church-based study of one of his books over several weeks.

Rohr is the founder and director of the Center for Action and Contemplation. He is controversial among conservative Christians who believe he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing because of his seeming integration of New Age ideas and practices with Christianity.

I think a question to consider is what importance the roots of the Enneagram have in its use. Ought Christians avoid a spiritual technology that is rooted in the occult? (Here I use the word “occult” not as synonymous with Satanism or witchcraft or anything of that nature. It is a word religion scholars use for a wide variety of esoteric, somewhat hidden, spiritual technologies.)

Or can Christians legitimately overlook a spiritual technology’s roots IF it is found to have real spiritual benefits for spiritual formation and discipleship?

So let’s look at two case studies. Even many conservative Christians value and find benefit in Yoga as an exercise. Yet, it is undeniably “borrowed” from the Hindu religion and culture. If that case study doesn’t “ring,” let’s talk about Christmas. The holiday itself has pagan origins.

Case study two. Many, probably most, progressive Christians are strongly opposed to the “Word of Faith” movement’s spiritual technology of “speaking” health and prosperity into reality partly, at least, because it is rooted in the New Thought movement that focused on ideas such as sickness and poverty as results of negative thinking and speaking.

Well, I’m sure some conservative Christians will say they have never borrowed a spiritual technology from any non-Christian source. And I’m sure some progressive Christians will criticize my comparing the Enneagram with the Word of Faith, “health and wealth” “gospel.” I’m not actually comparing the two; I’m only comparing their similar “Christianizing” of spiritual technologies from non-Christian sources.

So what I want to do here is simply open up a civil conversation among Christians about the Enneagram. Does its beginning in esotericism matter? If not, where ought Christians to draw the line when it comes to borrowing spiritual technologies from non-Christian sources. Or is there no line?

*Note: If you choose to comment, make sure your comment is relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative), and devoid of pictures or links.*

"You have a lot to learn about fascism which was a mixture of right and ..."

What Does “Far Right” Mean?
"Having lived in Europe and paid attention to European politics and economics, I can only ..."

What Does “Far Right” Mean?
"I agree with you, of course."

I Ask Again: What Would It ..."
"Probably so. And I wish his editor had told him all German nouns are always ..."

Us for Them: Chapter Two: Cats ..."

Browse Our Archives