Christian Counselor William B. Bowes Gives His Thoughts on the Enneagram

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).

Several weeks ago I was in a coffee shop near Boston, and unlike many of the patrons, I actually had come simply to buy coffee. If you have noticed, the coffee shop in our time has become an especially popular place for young people to congregate and talk about ideas in a way not unlike how I would imagine the marketplace Athenians in Acts 17:21.

If you have either been around younger people of this sort or perused some of the more popular youth-oriented magazines and newspapers, I do not doubt that you will have heard of the Enneagram. While I was getting my coffee that day, I overheard a certain conversation where a young man attributed some of his behaviors and circumstances to the fact that he is “a two” on the Enneagram. Because the Enneagram is related to psychology and I work in mental health, I hear this sort of language often. Even so, it has found its way out of the personality psychology world and into just about every other area of life, including the life of the church. At the time of this writing I simply searched “Enneagram” on the website of a popular Christian publication and over 30 articles were written about it directly or indirectly about it in the last two years. We are all very interested in the Enneagram. But before we decide whether that is good or bad, or whether we should even care, we have to answer a more important question: What is it?

First, do not be concerned that the Enneagram symbol bears a slight resemblance to the satanic pentagram; there is nothing to say than it is no more than a coincidence. As a disclaimer, I do not believe the Enneagram is satanic and if you do, you may want to lighten up a little. The Enneagram is a way of understanding human personality. It classifies people into nine categories, represented by numbers (hence the name, as “ennea” is Greek for nine). These are the Reformer (1), the Helper (2), the Achiever (3), the Individualist (4), the Investigator (5), the Loyalist (6), the Enthusiast (7), the Challenger (8), and the Peacemaker (9). It relies upon the premise that every person has a dominant type, and that to a large extent this type is ingrained and unchanging from the beginning of one’s life and involves behaviors, attitudes, motives, and the like. These nine categories are further divided into three “centers” (instinctive, thinking, or feeling) which have a dominant emotional theme (anger, fear, or shame, respectively). The idea behind this is that each type develops forms of responding to these dominant emotions which mark their unique type. Each type manifests particular virtues, vices and ambitions. Even though each person is said to have one type, Enneagram psychology argues that each person has an adjacent type (or two, depending on who you ask) which is referred to as a “wing”, or a sort of sub-type. There is a whole psychological system to this which spans volumes, and to spare you the complexity, that may suffice as an overview.

It may be important to note that the origin of the Enneagram is unclear and indeed a matter of debate. Some have made valiant efforts to baptize the more mystical elements of Enneagram philosophy into more Christian language, but the jury is out on whether or not that has been a successful or even a necessary effort. There are elements of the Enneagram that sound more at home with eastern religion and others that seem quite compatible with the Christian worldview. In my view, it may be an overstatement to say that it is overtly occultic, but hesitancy in engaging with the philosophy that comes with the psychological system is surely warranted. Therein lies the need for wisdom and discernment which begins with simply understanding what it is.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, William B. Bowes