There is something deeply alluring about personality tests. On the mild end of the scale, they can be used to heighten self-awareness, which all of us could use a little more of (Rom. 12:3), and on the troubling end of the scale is the marked tendency to adopt the findings of whatever test it is as a source of identity. “I am a fill-in-the-blank, and it explains so much.” Instead of finding our identity in Christ, the Rock of Ages, our identity is located in the tattered cardboard box of lame and carnal categories.
Now we have always known forever that there are different kinds of people in the world, some gloomy and some cheerful. This is the result of people having eyes in their head, and I am not complaining about that. But there is a clear tendency to take this way too far.
The ancients broke it down into four basic types — choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic — this being the result of a different kind of bodily “humor” dominating in each person, making them correspondingly bossy, or introspective, or cheerful, or laid back. A classic Christian adaptation of this can be found in O Hallesby’s Temperament and the Christian Faith. And then a generation or so ago, Tim LaHaye made a lot more lahaye out of this particular scheme, pushing it into all the corners.
Then there is corporate America’s take on personality categories, the Myers-Briggs test (inspired by Jung’s categories), which uses a four-fold grid: introversion/extraversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/ feeling, and judging/perceiving.
And of course, I cannot let this moment pass without referring to my preferred schema, which is Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, and Tigger.
Bringing up the rear, there is the Enneagram, which has recently taken certain parts of the evangelical world by storm. Books touting the Ennegram have been published by former worthies like IVP (The Road Back to You) and Zondervan (The Sacred Ennegram). Back in a previous time, when things were not as they are now, IVP published Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Zondervan published, I don’t know, probably some good things. So if I might, I would like to set my rifle-mounted laser dot quivering on this one, first because of a set of problems it shares with every form of personality typing, and second because of some unique problems that come with the Enneagram.
In order . . .
Who Am I?
In the medieval world, the Christian church had a cautious approach to astrology, and the issues were much the same as what we see with modern personality tests. The church condemned as heresy any sort of astrological determinism or fatalism, meaning that someone could not simply blame their amorousness on the fact that they were born under Venus. The church allowed that such a thing might determine your temptations or proclivities, but taught (rather firmly) that nothing could be considered as settled by the stars. Men and women were still responsible for their decisions and behavior.
And so, in the same way, the fact that you land at such and such a place on the “chart” of this or that personality test should predetermine no behavior, excuse no sin, and settle no issues. That place on the chart is not what you are. At best, it is a description of general and somewhat obvious tendencies. The fact that you are a sanguine does not give you the right to bowl other people over. The fact that you are an INFP does not give you the right to go to parties in order to stand in the corner facing the wall. The fact that you are a #7 Enthusiast does not give you the right to do cartwheels at your aunt’s funeral.
But the illustration of astrology brings in another factor, and that is the science of the thing. It is a reasonable question to ask whether being born under Venus has anything to do with anything. Put another way, personality tests tend to oscillate between pseudoscience and the glaringly obvious. They confirm their scientific bona fides by telling you things about yourself that everyone who knows you has already known for some twenty-odd years. When they tell you genuinely new information about yourself, there are reasonable grounds for doubting the accuracy of it, and when the insight is undoubtedly accurate, it is something that everybody knew already, especially your grandmother.
In short, personality tests are popular because people like talking about themselves, and when it is organized as a group effort, and required in order to work at this or that company, it somehow seems less narcissistic. It is just something we do. We are grateful for an excuse to take them because it grants us license to talk about ourselves. And we read them the same way we read fortune cookies. Why does anybody read fortune cookies?
“If its sketchy origins weren’t enough to spook the mules, there is no scientific evidence that proves the Enneagram is a reliable measurement of personality.”
Richard Rohr and the Ennegram Secret, Loc. 770
In other words, this is an approach that offers you an identity outside of Christ, and then, to add insult to injury, gets that answer wrong. Real self-knowledge is a valuable thing, but it is only possible in Christ, as we look in the mirror of the Word. It is not really possible via this route.
The Deeper Problem
The history of the Enneagram is soaked in modern New Age categories the same way the bread for French toast is soaked in egg batter. This is a problem.
Despite wild claims that its origins can be found in Homer, or in Pythagoras, or in the desert fathers, in reality the Enneagram began in the 20th century with a gent named G.I. Gurdjieff. The Ennegram symbol cannot be traced back any earlier than 1916. And Gurdjieff’s take on it was not even as a personality test, but rather a way of understanding and approaching the face of all truth — a false and idolatrous religion, in other words. The Enneagram functioned as a pathway to the face of God — but for orthodox Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the only pathway to God.
The personality aspect of the Enneagram was added by a fellow named Naranjo, around 1970, who gained this insight through automatic writing — a common enough occurrence in the world of the occult. You may call me narrow if you like, but I don’t really think that Christians should want demon-writing to serve as their pathway to self-knowledge.
One of the great popularizers of the Ennegram in Christian circles has been a Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr. He is as orthodox as Marcion’s old yellow dog, which is to say, not very.
“Rohr denies the biblical doctrines on man, sin, creation, salvation, and God. Richard Rohr also teaches a false Jesus/Christ. Rohr makes a distinction between Jesus and Christ by saying Jesus was not the “Universal Christ,” who is “bigger” than Jesus. To Richard Rohr, the creation is Christ.”
Richard Rohr and the Ennegram Secret, Loc. 319
In short, Rohr is a panentheist, which is not quite the same as a pantheist. A pantheist teaches that everything is God, and God is everything. The cosmos is identified with God. A panentheist is a variation on this theme. Panentheism holds that the cosmos is a subset of God. God’s “soul” extends beyond the material cosmos, but all that exists is part of God.
So Run, Don’t Walk
Like ancient Gnosticism, the Enneagram religion (and that is what it is, a religion) offers to get you in touch with your own “true self.” The paths to this true self are hidden, occult. The ways are esoteric. And the vocabulary is entirely alien to the grace and peace of the New Testament.
So if you have anything to do with the Enneagram, run, don’t walk. If you have any evangelical popularizations of the Enneagram on your shelf, throw them out. Join the other good citizens of Ephesus down at the bonfire (Acts 19:19), and toss them in.
And walk away free.
Below is a clip of Naranjo (left) explaining that the account of the ancient origins of Enneagram were, shall we say, embellished, and his account of the automatic writing.