Personality Tests!

New Warhorn Media post by Nathan Alberson:


Great episode, guys. I’ve been excited for this one to drop since you first teased it a few months ago.

My old church was using the Enneagram fairly extensively as a discipleship tool. Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. There is an “Enneagram-Industrial Complex” at major Christian publishing houses. As more churches use the Enneagram as a template for discipleship, more books are written, which increases the perceived validity of the tool. Then, as more books are written (and advertised), more churches pick up the tool for discipleship, which leads to greater demand for new Enneagram books. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. This is how you get a book that purports to argue from Scripture that Jesus was the perfect man by perfectly exemplifying each Enneagram type. No joke.

  2. Your observation that the Eneagram is geared toward being more of a master than a tool is spot on. At my church, the official line was: “It’s just a tool–take it or leave it. It’s not Scripture, so only use it insofar as you find it helpful.” Sounds good, but the problem is that it’s almost impossible to use it that way. For it to work, you have to believe that it’s true. You have to believe that there are nine types and they are connected in these specific ways. It makes implicit claims of what human nature is like and you can only use the tool if you believe those claims–or at least function as though you believe them.

  3. When the Enneagram is used, it’s language tends to become ubiquitous–more so than even the language of Scripture. Even as one who had some reservations about the Enneagram, I was using the vocabulary just to be understood. Not using the language was too difficult. That is what I think is the benefit of all these tools. They can make us better at communicating with one another by giving us a shared vocabulary. But, in my experience, that can come at the cost of crowding-out a Scriptural vocabulary, specifically in regard to the nature of sin and sanctification.

  4. When the Enneagram is used for discipleship, it has a tendency to become viewed as a means of grace. Often, it becomes The Sole Means of Grace. All of sanctification becomes synonymous with the Enneagram’s “Direction for Transformation.”

  5. The Enneagram is a great example of Evangelicalism’s complete credulity. If we just take the narrative about the tool’s origins at face value, why are the Desert Fathers given so much trust, that whatever it is they taught must be accepted without discernment? Also, according to the history as I’ve heard it, any influence from the Desert Fathers has been mediated to us through a long oral tradition of Sufi Islam. And even all of THAT is ignoring that whatever did make it’s way in from the Desert Fathers through the Sufis has been intentionally mixed together with all kinds of pagan spirituality. And EVEN THAT ignores the fact that one of the tool’s developers (a psychiatrist named Claudio Naranjo) claims that all the “ancient wisdom” stuff was just marketing wank and that the tool was mostly developed via “automatic writing.” But I guess we’re talking about the same subculture of Evangelicalism that looks to the Jesuits as the Gold Standard for spiritual formation, so…

  6. As a caveat, I do think the Enneagram is far enough removed from it’s occult origins that Christians can use it without necessarily being in sin. But we do need to acknowledge that when the New Agers use it, it’s basically a form of divination, not unlike Astrology. I’ve literally read an article from a New Age Astrologer that argued that the Enneagram works so well because each of the 9 types is basically parallel to one of the 9 planets in Astrology (with some minor modification). I really do think that any argument in favor of using the Enneagram can also work to argue in favor of using Astrology. The only difference is that there hasn’t been a movement to recast Astrology as a tool for Christian discipleship.

  7. My main issue with any personality test is when it’s used as part of Christian discipleship. I think it runs the risk of undermining scriptural sufficiency. If the Bible is not sufficient to teach us what we need to grow in holiness, then what on earth is it sufficient for? I do agree that bringing in extra-biblical language is needful–unavoidable, even. But we should have higher standards for where we get this language. I think we should strive to have all our extra-biblical language and categories either be derived from Scripture (“good and necessary implication”) or the Book of Nature, not from divination or the mere imaginings of men’s minds. In the case of the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs, these come from neither–they are neither derived from Scripture OR verifiable empirical study of human personality. If we’re going to “plunder Egypt,” we should’t start with the outhouses.