Knowing that the Enneagram is infused with spiritual significance from a plurality of religious sources the critics have asked: Is the Enneagram redeemable for Christians?
From my own observation, the self-knowledge that the Enneagram brings is eerily accurate. Why is that? I believe that the very best of what we’ve received about the Enneagram that Christians are benefiting from today comes from modern advances in the field of psychology.
We need to recognize that Naranjo was an intelligent, well-trained, and well-studied psychologist who started out as a medical doctor and late moved into psychiatry. After leaving Chile, he came to America to dive into the study of personality, first at Harvard as a visiting scholar and later at Berkeley. He learned under many well-known philosophers across the religious spectrum, such as Paul Tillich and Karen Horney.
Horney stood against many of Freud’s views and is credited as founding feminist psychology. She came up with the 3 coping strategies of “Moving toward,” “Moving against,” and “Moving away” which are the categories now used to describe the Enneagram stances. She also came up with 10 neurotic needs which include approval, power, admiration, achievement, and independence. These needs will sound very familiar to evangelical ears. Influential leaders such as Tim Keller, David Powlison, and Dick Keyes have been talking about needs such as these but in the language of “root idols” or “idols beneath the surface.”
The most problematic thing about Naranjo is that he claimed to receive the Enneagram Types through a practice called automatic writing whereby you relax your mind and allow messages to flow through you from either a subconscious or divine source. Even more problematic is that Naranjo’s teacher Óscar Ichazo claimed to receive knowledge from an archangel.
Let’s just get to get to the heart of the matter and ask the question: If some of the Enneagram’s origins do have occultist roots—should this fact alone be enough for Christians to stop using the Enneagram?
In the pluralistic world in which the New Testament came about, we don’t see the Apostle Paul reacting in such a fashion. In Acts 17, we see Paul studying up on the false gods that surrounded him—idols created from demonic or very questionable sources to say the least. Rather than tearing them down, we see Paul making use of them, directing his audience to an idol dedicated “to an unknown god” as a way of pointing the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers to a known Savior.
Throughout Paul’s ministry, he made use of pagan philosophies like Platonism and Stoicism to put the gospel in a language that others could understand. John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, describes Jesus Christ as the incarnate Logos to connect the dots for ancient esoteric thinkers. St. Thomas Aquinas, seeing the rise in popularity of Aristotelianism during the recovery of Ancient Greek and Roman texts (first in the Muslim world, later in Europe), put the Christian message in that idiom. He held that some of Aristotle’s ideas were true (but not the whole truth) and brought them under the truth of Christian revelation.
Furthermore, one overlooked fact is that Biblical authors such as Solomon made use of knowledge from pagan and occultist cultures. While we must outright reject practices such as necromancy and mediums that existed in those pagan cultures, scholar Derek Kidner observed that Solomon showed us that it is possible to take advantage of much of the wisdom the world has to offer if it is placed within a proper Biblical context:
“The Bible often alludes to the wisdom and wise men of Israel’s neighbours, particularly those of Egypt . . . of Edom and Arabia… of Babylon… and of Phoenicia…. While the Old Testament scorns the magic and superstition which debased much of this thought… and the pride which inflated it… it can speak of the gentile sages with a respect it never shows towards their priests and prophets. Solomon outstripped them, but we are expected to be impressed by the fact….” (Kidner, Proverbs, 16-17)
The Apostle Paul assures us that we can engage a pluralistic society with a variety of worldviews because the indwelling Holy Spirit gives us the confidence to be able to “test everything and hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5: 21).