Should Christians Chill Out on the Enneagram?
“I am a 7.” That is a phrase 20 years ago most people would have thought to be nonsense or someone referring to their number on their sports team. With the rising popularity of personality tests (in particular the Enneagram), telling someone your Enneagram type has become increasingly common. How should we as Christians think about this new phenomenon? For some, the Enneagram is God’s gift to the Church to help us understand the way He fearfully and wonderfully made us. For others, it is a worldly understanding of people that is harmful for truly understanding others. Is it wrong to be into the Enneagram? Should Christians chill out on it?
The answer to that question is: maybe. Like any other tool we use, the Enneagram can be used in a way that is good and helpful, or harmful and hurtful. Gold can be used to make a false idol to worship … or a wedding ring to symbolize a beautiful God-given covenant. A fire can be used for roasting hot dogs … or to burn down a beautiful forest. Likewise, the Enneagram can be used to help us understand ourselves and others, as well as how we can lovingly relate to each other and grow. It can also be used wrongly to fill a place that only God can fill in our lives.
How do we know if we are properly relating to the Enneagram?
Here are three questions about the Enneagram to ask yourself as you use it:
1) Am I using the Enneagram to define my identity?
We live in a culture where the primary way we are taught to find our identity is to look inside of ourselves. The highest good for our culture is to find the “real us” and let the world around us know who that person is. This is no doubt tied to the rising popularity of personality tests. We look for tools to help us look inside of ourselves and find out who we really are. This is appealing to a world that has seen the deficiency to find our identity in our jobs, or material collections, or reputation. We have found all of those things wanting; therefore, the idea of looking inward for identity is appealing. The problem with this cultural view of identity is that it does not align with the biblical view of identity.
What if we really were made to find our identity in something outside of ourselves? What if the deficiency of finding our identity in something external was because we have not ultimately looked to the right external object of identity? The Bible says that “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). God created us to find our identity in him. The Apostle Paul proclaimed about God that “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The one who defines us and tells us who we are is the one who created us. We cannot find our being apart from Him. Curt Thompson points out that “in fact the more deeply connected to God we are, the more able each of us is to realize our unique individuality.” So we can endlessly search ourselves internally, or look to every other place externally, and find that we cannot truly find ourselves. The Enneagram, or any other personality test, cannot give us identity.
That doesn’t mean a tool like the Enneagram has no value. According to the Bible, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). So, we do live in the reality that God has made us unique, which means that understanding how we are made can be a good thing. If we approach a tool like the Enneagram with a centered identity in God, we can use it to help understand ourselves and how God made us. It can help us appreciate our God-given gifts and strengths we bring to our relationships and our workplace. It can also help us understand the ways we are prone to sin.
2) Am I using the Enneagram to excuse my sin?
The fact is, we are all sinful. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But also, if we are in Christ, we have new identities and are becoming who God meant us to be. That’s why Romans 6:2 emphatically denies the idea that we apathetically continue in sin, even though we know we have received grace. While this has always been a temptation for us, personality tests now give us a new way to excuse sin. Christa Threlfall wrote a timely article that addresses in detail the tendency to use a personality test to excuse sinful behavior. We might say “I tend to offend people, because I am an 8 and that’s just how I communicate.” But the reality is we are called to respond to others with “gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). A Type 7 could say “Yeah, I am really bad about talking about heavy things, because I want to be happy.” But the Bible calls us to weep with those who weep alongside rejoicing with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Martha in the Bible could have possibly been a Type 2 on the Enneagram, but that did not stop Jesus from letting her know that those tendencies to serve actually cost her the benefit of enjoying the best thing of sitting at Jesus’s feet to learn from and be with Him (Luke 10:38-42).
3) Am I using the Enneagram to minimize the identity of others?
Whether it is racism, classism, sexism, or ageism, human beings have repeatedly minimized the identities of others to a particular trait instead of the totality of who they are. In the age of personality test popularity, we can minimize who other people are to their personality type. Call it “Personality-ism.” Phrases like “I don’t get along with sixes” or “I’d rather not work with a four” limit who other people are to a personality profile. The problem with this is that people are much more than personality tests. They have a unique family, history of experiences, memories, dreams, relationships, hurts, victories, gifts, callings, and countless other realities that make us unique as people. It may feel convenient to ask for someone’s personality type and feel that we have a good read on who they are, but people are so much more than that.
We also get the opportunity to be a part of a body — a spiritual family — with those who are different from us. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What this verse says is that anything that divided us from one another no longer does so in Christ Jesus. This includes the totality of personality types.