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Thinking Biblically About the Enneagram

Truth in love 307

What we understand to be true about God by necessity impacts the way we view humanity.

Apr 19, 2021

Dale Johnson: For the third week in a row, I am so glad to have one of my dear friends, Dr. Rhenn Cherry, here with us again. I want to remind you he’s the Director of Finances and Donor Relations here at ACBC. He serves on staff and does a great job leading and helping me in so many ways. He’s also an Adjunct Professor, teaching here at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary some of our courses in biblical counseling. He’s married to Terry, he has been married for many years. Maybe I shouldn’t say how long, but many years. They have one son, Jack, and a daughter, Carly, she is married to Daniel. I love Rhenn for many reasons. The Lord saved him late in life. The Lord is using so many skills that he had even as a young man, and he’s putting them to great use today in ways that he serves ACBC and by serving ACBC the way that he serves the Lord. He has missionary experience, he spent some time overseas, and is very wise and knowledgeable there. He has also been a pastor for a number of years. 

But we’re going to dive back in today to this subject of the Enneagram. We were giving you background information on the previous two podcasts about the Enneagram, that’s worthy and important information. It makes what we’re going to do today in thinking biblically about this personality type that’s very popular—it’s going to make it make sense. It’s going to help you to understand how we think biblically and appropriately because we want to be fair to those who promote the Enneagram and use their own words, and then we want to compare that to Scripture because the Scripture makes very clear that the world will never cease in trying to build ideologies and patterns of thinking that intend to sweep us away. These are the schemes of the evil one. He doesn’t improve upon that. He recalibrates in different ways in human history ideologies that attack, in so many ways, the Christian foundation and the biblical worldview and narrative—sometimes in small ways, sometimes in larger ways, but we need to stay vigilant. This is exactly what Paul talks about in Colossians 2:8, “be vigilant about empty philosophies and vain deceptions.” We need to be able to be kind and generous in our critiques, but we need to be willing to make critiques at some point where things cross the line and think biblically about these things. 

Let’s start there. We left off last time talking about Rohr and some of his theological positions—the way he views God specifically, which matters in the way that he views man as well. I want to start there, Rhenn. Does Rohr even attempt to support his positions about God and about man from a perspective of Scripture?

Rhenn Cherry: Yes, but Rohr supports his points by way of parenthetical reference to biblical passages. Quite often he makes a point and follows his statement with scriptural references in parentheses. Let me pause here and encourage our listeners to not gloss over scriptural references when you’re reading a book. Get out your Bible and see if the Scripture supports the point that the author or the speaker is making. In Rohr’s case, his attempts to support his points with scriptural references start to break down.

For example, Richard Rohr repeatedly misapplies the biblical term “in Christ” to include all of creation. He endorses a universal salvation. He maintains that all of creation is already Divine and therefore already “in Christ.” (Remember his first incarnation that supports his pan-en-theism, his theology that God is in all things but still transcends all things?) And he actually has a term for this, he calls it “Christification.” So now, we must ask the question. What does the Bible say about this term “in Christ?”

Dale Johnson: Rhenn, this is no small thing that you’re describing here. We cannot gloss over this. We have to dive down a little bit because when we’re talking about the term “in Christ,” that matters to us in Evangelical Christian conservative orthodoxy. It’s a critical term that explains how we are redeemed and how we change. It explains the clothing of Christ, it explains the work of Christ on our behalf. And this is the place that we’re hidden, in Christ. We cannot misappropriate this with some sort of incarnation as Rohr describes here, and I want you guys to follow these terms. It’s so important that we do this. What Rhenn is trying to help us to understand here is what we understand to be true about God by necessity impacts the way we view humanity. If he begins in a place that says, “all things are divine” he must now explain man as having some divinity as a part of it and that God is in us already. He begins to borrow from scriptural language, but misuse it, which is what Rhenn is saying. Rohr claims that this explains how we’re in Christ, “Christification.” Let’s explain that a little bit further and bring clarity to it to show the contrast of what Rohr is saying here versus what the Bible says because that’s what’s most important. 

Rhenn Cherry: When we go to the Bible to answer these questions, specific to this term “in Christ” we find that context is going to rule. Throughout the New Testament, the Bible is clear that the promise of being in Christ is an exclusive, not universal, designation made possible by Christ for His Bride. That promise of becoming a new creation and being in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) is reserved for those whose heart of stone has been replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27) and those who respond rightly to the gospel through repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus the God-Man. 

But you may say, “So what? What is the actual big deal about all this?” Well, according to Rohr and the Enneagram authors he has influenced, man’s problem is one of self-discovery. Man doesn’t understand, according to Enneagram theology, that he is already divine in nature. He’s already “in Christ.” Remember the first incarnation that supported Rohr’s panentheism? Don’t overlook this significant point. You see, Rohr and other Enneagram authors teach that man simply needs to discover one’s True Self, that is, the divine self that has existed from creation, that is currently masked by what they will call the False Self.  

What do we see that the Bible has to say about these things? Well, Bible speaks clearly and consistently about this issue of man’s problem and God’s solution. Man is a sinner who has chosen to reject God, and the solution that God has provided is external to man. God Himself, in the Person of Christ, is the solution. Man is not his own solution, and this disqualifies any creation of man (including the Enneagram) as being his own solution to his sin problem. 

It is also quite notable that Richard Rohr rejects the notion of original sin, claiming that original sin is simply a burdensome mental construct fabricated by Augustine in the 5th century. Rohr maintains that man’s separation from God exists in man’s mind only. As a result, Rohr teaches that man’s most pressing need is to discover his good True Self.

Dale Johnson: And the implication here is that sin is not what keeps us from discovering this, there’s the False Self that keeps us from discovering this True Self, and it’s a self-empowered means to accomplish this, and we cannot miss this. This is a replacement of biblical theology in massive proportions. And this is functionally what he’s proposing happens as we think through these personality typologies is they become some sort of replacement of the work of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures to help us to see the type of man that we really are. That’s a critical piece. 

Rhenn Cherry: Yeah. Rohr’s Enneagram theology and the theology of Cron, Stabile, and Heuertz, their characterization of man it’s unbiblical. It stands in contrast to the orthodox evangelical doctrine of a very real depraved nature of man. Original sin is a necessary component of a biblical anthropology. There is simply no biblical support for a doctrine that man has a good divine nature is simply not there. 

Dale Johnson: This is important and that’s a big deal. This is a massive critique as we work through this from a biblical perspective—and our view of anthropology is not negotiable. Even if we like the function of some tool that’s out there, and we think it helps in some way, it’s not arbitrary, and it’s not neutral necessarily. We see here that this is what is necessary to understand the Enneagram appropriately. This is the theology that builds it and in the Christian worldview, this is not a discussion that’s open for conversation. This is settled in the way that we see who man is and how we understand man, and we can’t compromise that. That’s a non-negotiable part of our orthodox theology in Romans 3, how we understand 10 and following, how we understand man. Man doesn’t understand. There’s no one who seeks good. Man is not good in and of himself. That’s what Augustine was trying to help us to see and that we believe very clearly today.

The implications of all this is massive, and we have to pay attention to these. Rhenn, walk us through what some of these implications are for his belief about this anthropology of the true self or that we have some sort of good divine nature in us and, do these contradictions of the Enneagram theology with evangelicalism even matter to us?

Rhenn Cherry: All right. Let me put this in context for the listener. What would you think of Dale Johnson if he stood in the pulpit at your church or institution and stated (quoting Richard Rohr) “humanity has never been separate from God?” Or, what if I made the claim that (again, quoting Rohr) “the only thing that separates you from God is the thought that you are separate from God.” Would you be alarmed? Would you have cause for concern, theologically speaking? What if your own pastor on any given Sunday made the claim that all of creation is divine, or he stated that there have been multiple incarnations? Would you trust anything else that came out of our mouths? These are not trick questions. I hope that you would not only reject those claims as unbiblical but also dismiss any spiritual tools or systems based on those same unbiblical statements about God and man. You cannot separate or divorce the theology from a system or a tool. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s a great illustration Rhenn. I mean, we should be Bereans when hearing what our pastors say or what somebody says who takes the pulpit to preach us the Word. You were giving direct quotes from Rohr, and it takes an interesting spin when you say, “Okay, what if I were to stand up in the pulpit and say that? What if you were to stand up in somebody’s pulpit and say that? Or what if your pastor was to stand up and say that?” It does add a different context to help us to understand why these things should hit us funny. We should be cautious about that because that’s not teaching that’s consistent with the counsel of God.

As we take some of these things, what are some of the dangers of embracing this heretically based system? I use that term “heretically” because it is a faulty understanding about God that’s non-orthodox, and it’s a faulty understanding about man. What are some of the dangers if we do embrace—like so many have—this system?

Rhenn Cherry: At its most basic level, the Enneagram magnifies self over God. It promotes a dangerous shift in focus away from discovering the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. That’s the basic message of the Bible. And with this shift in focus comes a shift in hope awayfrom the hope found in the truth of Scripture. Instead, the Enneagram leads people to embrace a subjective man-made solution of self-discovery instead of God-discovery. Adopters of Enneagram theology can become quite comfortable learning the system and vocabulary as they apply a self-assigned label to themselves. This provides a means for inclusion into a group. But it always amazes me to see how God has provided so many of the things that the world seeks in the wrong places. For example, God has provided the means for discovering God and self: The Bible. And more specifically, the gospel. And He has provided the means of legitimate, God-honoring community in the form of the Church, composed of local churches. We don’t need an esoteric system or vocabulary in order to be included in God’s community. 

Secondly, Enneagram theology mischaracterizes man’s problem as something other than rebellion against a holy God. Because it maintains that a divine True Self has existed since God indwelt all of creation at the first incarnation, Enneagram theology presents man’s problem as one of mistaken identity. Enneagram theology teaches that man doesn’t realize that he is already divine in nature. And according to Rohr and the Enneagram authors that he has influenced, the Enneagram is the best tool available for facilitating man’s journey of self-discovery of the good True Self. But the existence of man’s good True Self is a myth. It does not exist. And the Enneagram, with its own peculiar language and sense of inclusion, is a proverbial road to nowhere. It is a journey to a destination that does not exist. 

Thirdly, Enneagram theology promotes a false gospel. It focuses on man’s own ability to gain self-knowledge and discover his good True Self using a man-made system. If you read Richard Rohr’s theological works, you’ll see quite clearly that he dismisses original sin and does not have a solution for that. As a result, the work of the Holy Spirit, and His power to point man to Jesus, is no longer required under Rohr’s Enneagram system of self-discovery. Any means of salvation apart from the repentance of sin and saving faith in the work of the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is by definition a false gospel. We see in Enneagram theology a system that propagates a false gospel and a false gospel is exactly what we find that is taught in Enneagram theology. 

Dale Johnson: I think this is critical because we’re not just talking about justification, even if we were to describe that there’s some sort of divine self or whatever as he’s describing here. We’re also talking about salvation in terms of sanctification. Our sanctification happens, if Colossians 2:6 is true, in the same way as our justification, right? Our justification is by faith alone. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:6 that in the same way in which you received the Lord Jesus, so walk in Him. It is a call to walk by faith, consistently focusing and fixing our eyes on the God-man, Jesus. We see who we are as we compare ourselves to the Scripture; the Holy Spirit illuminates, convicts, reveals, and all the rest of the work that He does in John 14 through 17. You can see very clearly that this is a different system, and we have to be cautious and careful because anything that they employ from this point on to change man takes a different journey, as you said, to know. It becomes, as Solomon would say, “empty, vapor, like the blowing of the wind, the snatching at nothingness.” It’s very different than a Christian worldview about how people change, and we have to pay attention to that fact, and we can’t gloss over that we have to be able to understand and think biblically about this in an appropriate way. 

Now we know all of that but, how would you respond to some people who claim that this system has helped them? Because clearly, it’s very popular. People find some sort of satisfaction in having labels that describe them or give them an understanding about themselves. What would you say to those people who are asking these questions? “Well, it’s helped me, so it’s helped me to improve in some way.” “It’s helped me to improve personally.” “It’s helped me to improve in the way I work relationally with others.” “It gives me more context and understanding about how other people act and how I might act to them and what compatibility would look like” and so on. And so people say, “Man, it’s helped me.” What do you say to those people that say this system has helped them? 

Rhenn Cherry: First I would respond by questioning. What drove that person to look for an identity outside of Christ? Is that person a born-again Christian?  If so, we can remind them that Christ Himself has provided a new self, a new identity—in Him—Christ alone. Jesus Himself took on human flesh in the only incarnation recorded in human history. He did that so that the members of His Bride, the church, can be found to be “in Christ.” That term “in Christ” is used throughout the New Testament and provides a picture of the glorious exchange of repentant man’s sinful identity for the Son of God’s righteous identity. God’s solution to man’s identity problem is a miracle, but it’s not complicated. God has both defined and provided the only identity for man that is acceptable to God. That identity is exclusively in the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth.

Also, in response, I would challenge listeners to consider what the Bible says about the idea of self. A couple of Bible passages would come to mind. In Luke 9:23, for example, our Lord Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus is speaking here of to putting one’s self to death. He is referring to the act of denying the very existence of one’s old self. This can only mean acting as if that old self does not exist. “Focus on Me,” says Jesus. “I am your new identity.”

In arguably his lowest moment, the apostle Peter denied Jesus the night before Jesus’s crucifixion. Peter acted as if that relationship between him and Jesus did not exist.

Another passage on the subject of self that counselors are familiar with is Ephesians 4. In that great chapter of Scripture, the apostle Paul reminds Christ-followers to put off the old self, be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness, speaking of the Lord Jesus.

I would also direct our listeners attention to what the greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37-40, does not say about self. We should understand this passage well because it is an often-cited proof text for Christians who are looking for biblical endorsement of personality testing. What does Jesus, the Savior, say in this passage? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” We see that Jesus cited two commandments here, not three. “Yourself” modifies how we ought to love our neighbord, but we are not instructed to love ourselves, which interestingly is where Christopher Heuertz latest work goes. It’s about loving yourself and using the Enneagram to help you accept and love yourself.

Dale Johnson: Hold on. This is an important point, and we get sort of deceived by this notion in a lot of different ways, certainly here with the Enneagram where we say, “Okay, we’ve got to learn to love ourselves before we can love other people.” Describe just for a second how that is against scriptural teaching. The Bible does not call us to learn to love ourselves first. The Bible assumes that we, in our sinful nature, love ourselves most. The way that we learn to love others is by dying to self, learning to be loved by God, learning to love God in response by faith. Then from that, as we pour out ourselves and die to ourselves in our sinful nature, our old man, that now empowers us—2 Corinthians 5:14, we are motivated or compelled by the love of Christ now toward others. That’s the flow, biblically speaking. We can’t co-op this passage and now employ secular wisdom and say that it’s scripture. I think that’s the danger that you’re trying to highlight here.

Rhenn Cherry: In closing, our research showed that Enneagram’s theological differences with evangelicalism are more than simple inconsistencies; they are foundational theological contradictions. The Enneagram is anti-biblical. Its theology and anthropology are in conflict with Scripture, and therefore it is an anti-Christian tool for understanding man. It leads to a non-Christian way of viewing man and understanding man’s problems. This “tool” is a proverbial road to nowhere. Although the system provides its own peculiar language and sense of inclusion, it leads to a mythical destination, that divine True Self does not exist. 

I leave you with this, I will challenge pastors to look into the theology of these Enneagram authors for themselves. I would also challenge listeners to evaluate the Enneagram’s teaching using the lens of Scripture. I hope and pray that the information we presented in these last few episodes has proved a good start for you!

Dale Johnson: Thank you, Rhenn. I think that was very helpful.