This is the first part in a three part series on The Enneagram. In this first section we will look at what this personality test is and why we at the Monday After Sunday Team utilize it in our therapeutic practices at Aspen Christian Counseling. In the coming weeks this series will also look at whether or not biblical theology meshes with the theory of personality that the Enneagram espouses, if Christians should trust the Enneagram and also if there are practical, therapeutic and ministerial applications to this personality test.
As a culture, we love to take personality tests. It makes sense why we enjoy analyzing ourselves in this way: we all live in the age of the individual and there are fewer inherent communal and societal signposts that - in history past - helped people understand who they were as people and what their life-purpose was. There are lots of other reasons people like to take personality tests: we usually like talking about ourselves, we want to know if we are normal or not, we like to know where we fit in with those around us and we also like to “make official” the hunches we have about ourselves.
Most modern personality tests serve a limited but helpful purpose of pulling out and clarifying truths that may be challenging for individuals to identify in themselves. This service can be constructive but there is an obvious limiting floor to the helpfulness of navel-gazing. Are there any personality tests that can possibly help us transcend the individual or aide us on our spiritual journey? The Enneagram makes a strong case for being just that.
The Enneagram is a dynamic personality inventory that utilizes nine archetypal models of human temperament. Unlike modern, western personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder), and The Big Five, the Enneagram does not primarily have origins that are contemporarily western. Also, unlike modern personality tests the Enneagram is not solely based around the positive, outward attributes of our personality. Many people find the Enneagram challenging to grapple with as fitting somewhere within its nine personality means there are inherently negative, harmful and futile aspects to who they are and how they interact with the world around them. But, if an individual can stomach the challenge of seeing themselves with clear eyes, the Enneagram can assist in the discovery of insights on personality, addictions, vocation, relationship dynamics and spiritual direction.
The ancient origins of the Enneagram are debated, but most agree that the nine personalities are centered around the idea of the “seven deadly sins”. Most also agree that the Bolivian scholar Oscar Ichazo helped make the Enneagram a modern phenomenon when he introduced it to Franciscan monks and also modern American and European psychologists in the 1960 and 70s.
The nine personality types of Enneagram are based on nine core roles, virtues and vices. Understanding which role that best fits a person comes with the painful discovery that they are deeply imperfect and in need of help to escape our natural “traps” that keep us from living life abundantly.
Below are the 9 types as described by the Center for Action and Contemplation and their corresponding “role names,” vices, virtues, basic desires and corresponding truth that the type needs to lean into to grow:
The Enneagram is a helpful tool in the journey to understand ourselves and how we interact with the world around us but it is by no means meant to be utilized as the sole source of truth in an individual's - especially a Christian’s - life. The Enneagram is not inspired truth from God, but a human creation. And human creations can always be weaponized in the great spiritual battle that is occurring invisibly all around us. But, human-made tools, if utilized under the authority of Scripture and the power of the gospel can indeed aid in the sanctification of the individual and the edification of the Church.
In the next part of this series focusing on the Enneagram we will look how this personality test can intertwine with the gospel narrative of the Bible and greatly assist the Christian in the work of loving God and people better and better throughout their life.