Christianity, Jesus, the Gospel, and the Enneagram

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What people think about God is the most important thought they think[1]; beliefs about God affect behavior, self-awareness, and relationships with the Divine, self, and others. Humanity’s image of God is formed and shaped by parents, friends, experiences, culture, and church representatives. A dysfunctional image and distorted understanding of God expresses itself in a dysfunctional and distorted way of living. These distortions alter human identity, relational connectedness, and cultural expression. Individuals, communities, and cultures become like the God/god they adore and worship. Values and behaviors become signposts and endorsements, pointing to the gods that are revered. Our image of God can be restored if it is seen in the light of God’s relational loving nature.

John Calvin’s Institute of the Christian Religion, the seminal work of systematic Protestant theology, was published in 1536. In the opening of Chapter 1, Calvin articulated a foundational tenet of Christian faith and spirituality: “It is not possible to know God without knowing yourself. It is not possible to know yourself without knowing God.”[2] According to Calvin, they are reciprocal in nature and dependent upon each other. Psychologist, professor, and spiritual guide, David Benner developed and reframed Calvin’s theological premise. He calls this ‘double knowledge’ and identifies it as the descriptor of Christian faith and spirituality.[3]

Christian spirituality involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known. Both, therefore, have an important place in Christian spirituality. There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self with a deep knowing of God. Leaving the self out of Christian spirituality results in a spirituality that is not grounded in experience or reality, and thus is not firmly connected with the joys and sorrows of life.

Knowing God is one side of the double knowledge coin. During the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, a powerful cultural shift toward rationalism, intellectualism, and reason occurred alongside an increased skepticism about religious authority and orthodoxy. Being influenced by the cultural mood more than realized, the Church has slowly shifted from experiential knowledge to doctrinal correctness and external manifestation. As a result of this shift, self-knowledge and self-awareness have largely been lost by contemporary Evangelicalism.[4] True knowing is always relational, moving beyond the rational, the doctrinal wrangling, beyond simply knowing about, to the experiential.[5]

Christianity claims that God became “flesh and dwelt among us,” stepping into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.[6] God became visibly present in the material world to help humanity overcome the experience of disconnection and relational brokenness. The paradoxical mystery of the Triune God who took on a human body uniquely separates Christianity from all other religions. Jesus is the face and character of God, revealing how human-to-human and human-to-divine relationships are to look. Jesus, being fully divine and fully human, is the primary and essential guide and teacher in the pursuit of double knowledge. He provides a path for relational reconciliation, as well as the re-imaging of a dysfunctional and distorted picture of God and self.

Christianity also claims that “God created human beings in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[7] Humanity’s image-bearing is referred to as imago dei. Within each person is the created, unique potential to express God’s infinite, creative, and loving nature. Human nature cannot be understood or realized without accepting the truth of the imago dei. Jesus’ humanity reveals what a human created in the image of God looks like and provides a model for restoring and reconciling our true identity.

In contemporary culture, most people assume they know themselves. People often do not question how or why they see the world as they do, whether their lens is distorted, or even if it is true.[8] The impact and effect of their worldview on their lives are blindly accepted. Benner reasons, “Lack of awareness is the ground of our dis-ease and brokenness … Choosing awareness opens up to finding God amid our present realities … Awareness is the key to so much. That is why it is, in my opinion, the single most important spiritual practice.”[9] The absence of self-awareness perpetuates a state of disconnection, manifested in denial, hiding, rationalization, ignorance, and coma-like existence. Experientially knowing God and knowing oneself is a spiritual journey of waking up. A process of encountering the depth of God’s love and our brokenness and belovedness in the light of God’s love.

The gospel is a vision and a promise of transformation. The transformation of habits. The restoration of relationships. The gospel is a healing of heart, mind, and body and freedom from a life of shame, fear, anger. A recalibration of behavioral practices, emotional patterns, and thought templates recognizable as God’s image within usThere is hope for humanity’s experience of brokenness and distorted loves. The gospel invites all to an abundant life of purpose, meaning, and restored relationships with God, self, and others.

The Enneagram

Many of us are intuitively and eerily aware of the patterns and behaviors we have learned that allow us to avoid relinquishing ourselves to God. This awareness might have been aided by working with a variety of tools designed to help: a twelve-step program, the Myers-Briggs, a 360-performance review at work, a Spiritual Director, or psychological insights gained through counseling and therapy. The Enneagram is one such tool yet differs in substantial and transformative ways. It attempts to describe not traits but motivations. It can therefore help to free us from a self-imposed box of perceptions about ourselves, others, and God.

The Enneagram is an ancient spiritual typology exploring the intersection between spirituality and personality. An understanding of the Enneagram can reveal motivations, uncover blind spots, and shed a light on why humanity acts and feels as it does. The wisdom and language of the Enneagram has the capacity to influence identity, relational connectedness, and manner of living, thereby transforming and healing shame, fear, and anger.

The Enneagram is a peculiar looking circle with crisscrossing and intersecting arrows. It has a mysterious and unknown origin. It’s beginnings have been lost to history; therefore, no faith tradition can claim ownership.[10] Throughout much of history, the wisdom of the Enneagram was passed down through an oral tradition adding to the complexity, mystery, and confusion in the variety of perspectives surrounding the Enneagram.[11]

The Enneagram is a symbol consisting of a circle, a triangle, and a hexad. The nine points on the outer edge of the circle are fixed, non-gendered, and correlate to nine Enneagram types. Diane Tolomero, an academic and retreat speaker focusing on biblical literature, archetypes, and Christian meditation notes, “it is not on the points but in the spaces between them, and the variety of possible movements between the numbers where we ultimately  locate our transformational growth.”[12] Spiritual guides, theologians, Christian psychologists, and spiritual directors have described the Enneagram as a mirror: the nine ways humanity gets lost and the nine ways to come home to the True Self. It assists in developing self-awareness, learning to recognize and dis-identify with the parts of ourselves that are limiting, and offers “an invitation to look deeply into the mystery of our true identity.”[13]

The Enneagram identifies nine personality types that are expressed individually and in relationship to others. Each Enneagram type has a different pattern of thinking, feeling and acting that arises from a deeper inner motivation or worldview. It cites concrete attitudes, ways of behaving, and ways of looking at the world. No Enneagram type is better or worse than the other. Each type has strengths, weaknesses, a basic fear, passion, holy idea, desire, and invitation for spiritual growth and transformation. There are nine different ways of looking at the world. Each of the nine strategies has embodied obstacles and opportunities for growth and transformation.

The Enneagram is like a mirror, looking behind the various ways of behaving revealing the attitudes, perspectives, instincts, and motivations for each type. Type-specific attitudes and motivations will uncover and expose spiritual blind spots. Alice Fryling is a spiritual director, author, and seasoned Enneagram teacher. She notes, “spiritual blind spots are not just a matter of stumbling and bruising our soul. Our blind spots keep us from knowing the love of God.”[14] A restorative and reconciling path on which to develop and grow is created as blind spots are uncovered, motivations are exposed, and fears, defenses, and ingrained habits are revealed. Hence, self-awareness and experiential knowing of oneself and God can flourish.

Author and priest, Robert Nogosek, has found that Jesus can be discovered within each of the Enneagram numbers. He argues,

“I submit the study of the enneagram elucidates in a new way what Jesus assumed in his human nature, and thus saved in us. The enneagram system demonstrates that there are nine different ways of expressing what it is to be human. Since Jesus came to save all of us by becoming as we are, each of us should be able to discover in him our own way of becoming human. All nine types together are the perfect expression of humanness. And we conclude that his personality spontaneously expressed all nine types.”[15]

Scripture reveals that “Jesus is the image of the invisible God. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:15,19). Theologian John Vernon Taylor, Bishop of Windsor, contends, “God is Christ-like and in Him is no un-Christlikeness.”[16] Jesus reveals who God is and what he is like. Therefore, not only can Jesus be discovered within the Enneagram, God can also be found.

A dysfunctional or distorted image of God degrades the human experience. The experiential knowledge of both God and self can be encountered in the fully divine, fully human, person of Jesus. The beauty and wisdom of the Enneagram invites an experience with the loving God and reveals a path for deeper self-awareness. A dysfunctional image of God can be healed, opening pathways to transformation. When the Enneagram is used as a lens of discovery, Jesus becomes an entrance into transformative healing. Dr. Joseph Howell explains,

“Without spiritual transformation, the Enneagram in all its wisdom would merely be an intellectual exercise. Prayer is the supreme action taken by human beings to invite the Divine involvement in our lives. Awareness of ourselves and others gained from the Enneagram opens us more fully to the space where the prayers of the soul flourish and grow. The wisdom of the Enneagram brings us into the holy space where there can be intimacy with God.”[17]

The enneagram attempts to describe not traits but motivation. It can, therefore, help to free us from mistaken and incomplete perceptions about ourselves, others and God. There are prayer practices and postures for the spiritual struggles of each Type opening the space for deeper self-awareness and Divine intimacy to grow and flourish. We need forms of prayer that free us from fixating on our own egos and from identifying with our own thoughts and feelings. We have to learn to become spiritually empty. If we are filled with ourselves, there is no room for another, and certainly not God. We need prayer, in which we simply let go of our passing ego needs, which change from moment to moment, so Something Eternal can take over. You are invited to try a prayer practice described in Prayer, the Enneagram, and the Triads.

[1] https://www.epm.org/blog/2013/May/6/tozer.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/books/institutes/index.html.

[3] David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 23.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2009), 34,54.

[6] John 1:14-15, NLT.

[7] Genesis 1:27 NLT.

[8] Ian Morgan Cron, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 14.

[9] David Benner, “Brokenness and Wholeness,” drdavidgbrenner.ca, June 3, 2016, http://www.drdavidgbenner.ca/brokenness-and-wholeness/.

[10] Alice Fryling, Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 8.

[11] Joseph Benton Howell, Becoming Conscious: The Enneagram’s Forgotten Passageway (Bloomington, IN, Balboa Press, 2012), xviii

[12] Diane Tolomeo, Remi J. De Roo, and Pearl Gervais, Biblical Characters and the Enneagram: Images of Transformation (Victoria, CA: Newport Bay Pub., 2002), 24

[13] Riso, Don Richard, and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types (New York: Bantam Books, 1999), 27-48.

[14] Fryling, 9.

[15] Robert J. Nogosek, Nine Portraits of Jesus: Discovering Jesus through the Enneagram (Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, 1987), 4.

[16] John Vernon Taylor, The Christlike God, 2nd ed. (London, UK: SCM, 2004), 100.

[17] Howell,

Becky is a Spiritual Director as well as the founder and curator of Cascade Ministries. Becky and her husband David, a radiation oncologist and entrepreneur living in beautiful Greenville, SC. They are parents to three emerging adults, scattered around the country and Bibi (grandma) to one. She received a Master of Divinity with a concentration in spiritual formation. and Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation. She is passionate about people and their relationship with God and others. You can find Becky on Facebook under Becky Grisell and Cascade Ministries, IG at @becky_grisell, and blogging on Medium and The Misfit Theology Club.

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