Published by Brazos Press on September 15, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Author AJ Sherrill still remembers the moment when his life was forever changed by a word he didn't even understand at the time: Enneagram. A personality theory that includes nine different "types," the Enneagram has become a popular tool for self-awareness and improvement.
But in this book, Sherrill goes deeper, exploring with Christians how the Enneagram can be a pathway to profound spiritual transformation. Sherrill reveals the Enneagram as a tool to unlock new ways of viewing identity, personality, discipleship, spiritual practices, evangelism, and the Bible.
Using this fresh approach, Sherrill shows how our true identity is that of a beloved child of God. Recognizing that, we can move confidently into the world expressing this identity through our unique personality.
Through Sherrill's detailed spiritual exploration of each type, readers will emerge viewing the Enneagram as a precious gift to following Jesus more closely.
As the Enneagram has surged in popularity, so have the books that utilize it. In The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation, AJ Sherrill writes with a realistic view of the Enneagram, supporting it as a tool for self-knowledge without idolizing it. He pushes back against the idea that the Enneagram is necessary for life and human flourishing, and even though he makes a strong case for how helpful it can be, he encourages Christians to avoid reducing themselves to their type number, projecting types onto others, or using this personality system as a secret inner language that creates insiders and outsiders. I appreciate his honest assessment and heartfelt warnings, and because he sets guardrails around the topic, he is able to make a convincing case for how the Enneagram can support Christian discipleship without being an end unto itself.
Identity and Discipleship
At the beginning of the book, Sherrill writes about the mystery of personality and identity, emphasizing that we are all made in the image of God and beloved by Him. Our Enneagram types reflect the adaptive strategies that we have adopted to live in a broken world, but regardless of nature or nurture, our fundamental identity lies in how God sees us, not in our life experiences or how we type ourselves. Then, after Sherrill lays this foundation, he further describes the Enneagram system and explores the nine types. He keeps this fairly simple, and relegates more complex information to an appendix in the back. The appendix also provides more information about the disputed origins of the Enneagram. Throughout the book, he explains that most Christian objections to the Enneagram are based in unfounded suspicion and misunderstanding, and the appendix addresses this in greater detail.
Throughout the rest of the book, he focuses on how Christians can deepen their discipleship experiences through an understanding of their Enneagram type. This could raise a red flag for some readers, since discipleship should not happen in isolation, but Sherrill avoids this trap. He encourages people to adopt spiritual practices that challenge them, along with those that come naturally, and emphasizes the importance of walking this out in community. He argues that because each type reflects a different aspect of God’s divine nature, if we do not engage with other believers in the life of the church, we will miss out on the full, embodied display of God’s character.
Other Spiritual Connections
A later chapter addresses how we can identify aspects of our types in biblical characters and narratives, but Sherrill writes about this with the expectation that we will engage with Scripture as a whole, rather than just emphasizing the parts that we relate to. I found this section enlightening, and can see how my Enneagram One tendencies are part of why I have always deeply connected with Paul’s testimony and letters. This section of the book encourages deeper thinking, and even though someone could take it too far, I found it helpful.
Sherrill also encourages Christians to consider the value of the Enneagram in their evangelistic efforts. Even though the Enneagram cannot and will not save anyone, it has become an increasingly widespread conversation topic and area of interest, providing an opportunity for Christians to talk with others about the brokenness that we see in ourselves and in the world. The Enneagram provides a common vocabulary for people from different belief backgrounds, and Sherrill writes from personal experience about how it can open the door to deep spiritual conversations.
The Enneagram for Spiritual Formation: How Knowing Ourselves Can Make Us More Like Jesus is an effective introduction to the Enneagram for some, and can help others see beyond their already identified number to consider ways that they can grow and leverage their self-knowledge towards the ongoing process of Christian discipleship. This book can also help Enneagram skeptics understand this current trend and see how it connects to Christianity. As Sherrill explains, the Enneagram is not a religious construct, but is a human tool that can help us see ourselves in all our beauty and brokenness. This clear, well-written book illustrates its transformative potential.