Answer: What is known as the “Enneagram of Personality” or the “Traditional Enneagram” is a complex system of understanding individuals that touts itself as the most dynamic and open of the various typologies and also offers itself as a path to liberation or self-actualization.
The Enneagram is a geometric symbol containing nine points and nine (or more) intersecting lines (the Greek word for “nine” was ennea). The symbol dates back to Pythagoras and was introduced to the West by George Gurdjieff in the 1900s. In the 1960s, Oscar Ichazo linked the symbol with nine different personality types. Ichazo taught a system of 108 Enneagrams, but the ones that caught on in the United States were those of the Passions, the Virtues, the Fixations, and the Holy Ideas. Ichazo’s aim was to explain the difference between Essence and personality (or ego). He believed every person is, in his Essence, perfect and in unity within himself as well as with the cosmos. However, the Essence is distorted into the ego. Ichazo saw the Ennegram as a way to examine how that distortion occurs.
There are a variety of modern theories regarding the Enneagram. The current Enneagram of Personality comes from Claudio Naranjo’s expansion of Ichazo’s work with later expansions made by Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The idea of nine personality types is based on the concept of the nine divine forms (Plato and, later, Plotinus), the seven deadly sins, and Kabbalah traditions. Ichazo was influenced by many religious and philosophical traditions including mystical Judaism (Kabbalah), Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, and Greek philosophy. Thus, the Enneagram of Personality is a synthesis of many different ideas.
According to the Enneagram Institute, the Enneagram can help people restore balance to their “personality structure” and develop more desirable spiritual and psychological qualities. Believers in the Enneagram seek to unravel the mystery of their “true identity.” They see themselves as spiritual beings who have lost contact with their true nature. Once they discover their “true self”—by means of the Enneagram—they experience a spiritual awakening full of freedom and joy.
There is an obvious spiritual danger associated with the Enneagram of Personality. When viewed as a religion unto itself or a means by which to achieve some sort of spiritual liberation, the Enneagram obviously contradicts the Bible. It “has a form of godliness but den[ies] its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). The Enneagram Institute is correct that we are spiritual beings and we are not living as we were meant to. But the solution is not to get in touch with our “true nature”; it is to cry out to God for salvation. We are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23; 6:23), which is made available by His grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8–9). Those who are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) cannot achieve a spiritual awakening on their own; they must receive the life of Christ—regardless of their personality type. In Christ we are born again and made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is through His power at work in us that we become righteous (Philippians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Our lives are meant to be lived for His glory.
That being said, there may be some value in the Enneagram of Personality—not in the mystical philosophies behind it, but in the understanding of different personalities. The Bible teaches that we are uniquely formed by God. The New Testament speaks of spiritual gifts given for the mutual building up of the Body of Christ. Understanding who we are can help us better serve God. And personality profiles, in general, can be a useful tool.
As previously stated, the Enneagram of Personality includes nine types of personality. These include (1) The Reformer, (2) The Helper, (3) The Achiever, (4) The Individualist, (5) The Investigator, (6) The Loyalist, (7) The Enthusiast, (8) The Challenger, and (9) The Peacemaker. Each personality type also has at least one “wing.” The wings are the numbers on either side of the basic type; for example, a type 2 (Helper) would have either a type 1 or type 3 wing, which modifies the way in which the dominant personality is expressed. Each type also has a range of functionality, with three levels considered healthy, three considered average, and three considered unhealthy.
Adding to the complexity, each personality type on the Enneagram is also compared to two other types in terms of integration (security or growth) or disintegration (stress). When under stress, a particular type will often behave as someone in an unhealthy range of a different type would act out. For example, according to the Enneagram, a type 2 under stress will act as an unhealthy type 8. But a type 2 moving in the direction of growth will act more like a healthy type 4.
Personality types on the Enneagram are also grouped into “Centers.” Each Center is formed of three types that share common strengths and weaknesses. The nine types are divided into the Instinctive Center, the Emotional Center, and the Thinking Center. Each center is further characterized by a dominant emotion: anger, shame, and fear. The mapped-out distinctions are meant to demonstrate a dominant way of being, not the only way of being.
As can be seen, the Enneagram of Personality allows for much variation in expression of personality. The system discusses both positives and negatives of each personality type. When the Enneagram becomes a method of spiritual or psychic awakening and distracts people from the truth of Scripture, it is wrong. But, seen as a glimpse of God-given personalities, the Enneagram can be helpful in understanding humanity and perhaps gaining insight into the complex and unique way in which God has created us.