Self-help is a steadfastly popular topic for Christian publishers, and personality tests are all the rage as a spiritual tool these days. The Enneagram, a test that may have originated in ancient Greece, is particularly popular. Nearly a dozen titles focused on the test’s power for spiritual self-realization have been released in the past year or are coming out this fall.
The Enneagram posits that there are nine personality types. One’s number is determined by a series of questions about motivations, decision making, problem-solving, and interpersonal relationships. Each number is defined by a core strength that doubles as a core weakness. For example, an Enneagram 2 is known as the helper — they’re great caretakers, but often neglect self-care.
While some believe the Enneagram’s nine-pointed symbol is connected to Pythagoras’s sacred geometry, the modern test is credited to Bolivian philosopher Óscar Ichazo who taught it in Chile in the 1960s and ‘70s. In recent years, religious leaders have used the test to help their congregations better understand themselves, their neighbors, and their relationship with God. Now, several Christian authors are bringing that knowledge to the page.
“If you’re not aware of who you are, then there’s always a blind spot in your understanding of who God is and your relationship to God,” says Suzanne Stabile. Stabile is a Christian speaker, podcaster, teacher, author, editor, and a veritable giant in the Enneagram field. IVP has published her bestselling Enneagram titles: The Road Back to You, co-written with Ian Morgan Cron (2016) and The Path Between Us (2018) draw on her 30 years of study and have sold 700,000 and 125,000 copies, respectively.
These books lead up to Stabile's The Journey Toward Wholeness, coming in November. “The first is essentially a know your number book, the second is a relationships book, and the third shows you how to use that knowledge for spiritual growth,” she says. IVP also brought her on board in 2020 to edit a nine-volume series, Enneagram Reflections, each themed to 40 days as a particular number, each by a different author. The books for One through Five, Seven and Nine are out now with and Six and Eight releasing this fall.
“What’s unique about the Enneagram is that it shows you how you operate when you are in a downward spiral,” says Cindy Bunch, associate publisher and editorial director at IVP, “Grappling with our dark sides and bringing them to the light is at the heart of spiritual practice; that’s why I see the Enneagram as a spiritual tool.”
The Enneagram, unlike other personality tests, doesn’t shy away from negativity. “The Enneagram gives me permission to do what I think the Bible teaches us: to admit that we’re sinners,” says Matt Brown, founder and lead pastor for Sandals Church in Riverside, Ca.. Brown is the author of A Book Called You (Thomas Nelson, Oct.). In it, he gives biblical characters Enneagram numbers, illuminating their flaws in a way that readers can relate to. “The Enneagram is a tool I think people are open to now more than ever because there’s more recognition of the fact that even as Christians, we have trouble.”
Brown attributes the Enneagram’s current popularity to a more accepting culture. “When I was a kid growing up in a conservative Christian home, oftentimes there was a lot of pressure to pretend things were okay,” he says. Now, he believes the faith is learning to embrace pain and difficulties and doing so with tools like the Enneagram that help explain them.
Similarly, Christian journalist and author Jonathan Merritt credits the rise of the Enneagram in Evangelical circles to changing viewpoints, particularly a shift in how the younger generation practices spirituality. “Young Evangelicals have disconnected from the religious gatekeepers and institutions, which have in many cases deeply disappointed them,” he says. They’re seeking an “unmediated path to self-knowledge and self-transformation,” which is offered by personality tests like the Enneagram, Merritt says.
Stabile also believes young Evangelicals want to break with past experiences they’ve had in their church. “The Enneagram gives them a new language that explains their need to explore things in a different way,” she says. “It gives them a way to explain why faith can’t be inherited; it has to be experienced.”
The Enneagram isn’t the only personality test attracting congregations. Many turn to the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) developed by teacher and writer Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers in 1917. Inspired by philosopher Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, the test proposes four dichotomies: introversion (I) vs extroversion (E), sensing (S) vs intuition (N), thinking (T) vs feeling (F), and judging (J) vs perceiving (P). The questions and answers reveal how people perceive themselves and the world, placing people into one of 16 personality types. An ENFJ, for example, would be outgoing and friendly, but cautious in their decision-making.
Reverend Jenny Replogle , co-rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Peoria, Ill., is a certified MBTI practitioner who conducts programs with congregations. She is a fan of the test because it’s based on differences, rather than positives and negatives. “It’s like handedness — it’s not that one is better or the other, it’s just different,” she says. “Different spiritual practices speak to different people, and I think that often has a lot to do with your personality.” Though Replogle sees both the Enneagram and MBTI used in her congregation, she believes the well-researched MBTI holds appeal to the denomination’s highly educated followers.
Replogle, like others who spoke to PW, agreed that regardless of which personality test people choose, they each have merit in their ability to teach self-knowledge. “I think just knowing yourself better is always good for one’s spirituality — being able to appreciate how God made you,” she says.