Gnostic dualism

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus responds that it is to love the Lord your God with your whole being. It was a holistic view of humanity that Jesus had. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and body.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about sanctification, he expresses a holistic view of humanity. The process of sanctification, where the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ-likeness, is supposed to happen in our spirit, soul, and body. We are whole people that need transformation in every part of us. We are spirit, soul (mind, will, emotions) and body.

In the early years of Christianity a heresy started to creep into the church called gnosticism. Gnosticism didn’t have a holistic view of humanity and instead was a kind of dualism. The idea was that our spirit is what mattered but that our body was disposable. So whether you used your body to sin or treated your body poorly didn’t really matter as long as your spirit was connected to God. As long as you began to discover the secret knowledge of spiritual enlightenment, that is what made you spiritual. Your body was just a shell to carry your spirit and the knowledge of the secret mysteries. This philosophy was denounced as a heresy in the church because it did not express the biblical understanding of humanity or God.

This kind of gnostic dualism is still creeping into the church today.

In more conservative evangelical wings of the church, it looks like an emphasis on “getting souls saved” or “winning people to Christ” while forgetting to care for people’s physical needs. There can be a tendency to downplay the importance of caring for the poor and helping people with material needs in favor of getting someone to confess Jesus as Lord. In some evangelical churches, working for a more just society and care for the marginalized is totally rejected. This is residue of gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both salvation and meeting people’s physical needs.

In more progressive and mainline Protestant wings of the church, this dualism looks like an emphasis on caring for people’s emotional needs while forgetting that Jesus wants to heal people’s physical body. There can be a tendency to downplay the reality that God still wants to heal people’s physical illnesses in favor of only caring about people’s emotional healing. In many progressive churches, the idea that God still supernaturally heals bodies from illness and injury is completely rejected. Healing in the church is exclusively an emotional category while physical care is left up to the medical community. This rejection of healing ministry for the body is rife with gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both physical and emotional healing.

And in typical fashion, progressives often point out the dualism of conservatives and can’t see their own. Likewise, conservatives often point out the dualism of progressives and can’t see their own. This lack of self-awareness mixed with a myopic view of others is how the enemy defeats the church.

Gnostic dualism in any form is not the true gospel. It is not how Jesus viewed humanity nor how the apostle Paul viewed humanity. The gospel addresses the whole person. The gospel sets us free from sin, heals our heart, and offers healing for the body. The Kingdom of God is interested in bringing new life, redemption, and restoration to the whole person, not just part of a person.

Enneagram Problems

The Enneagram is the popular personality test these days. And like most other personality tests promising to giving you insight into yourself, it taps into people’s favorite topic–themselves. I believe personality tests are a valuable tool for self-discovery. I’ve read a few books on the Enneagram and have personally used the Enneagram as a self-diagnostic tool and a tool to help others. I did this for a while until I started to notice some problems that kept emerging with its use. Then, when I discovered its roots, I stopped engaging with the Enneagram altogether.

Problem #1: The Enneagram is rooted in occult theory, occult practice, and Gnostic theology. If you aren’t convinced of this, I recommend this well researched article written by a Catholic priest from Loyola University of Chicago. Self-discovery tools rooted in the occult, like the Enneagram, can be very dangerous. They can end up being a dressed up version of a horoscope. Once someone is convinced they are a particular number on the Enneagram, their whole world gets viewed through that lens (like one’s horoscope). Then self-fulfilling prophecies and confirmation bias abound.

Problem #2: While some personality tests can give insight into human nature, the Enneagram has no science behind it. So at best, the insight we gain about human nature is observational. The Myers-Briggs gives us 16 types; the Enneagram gives us 9 types. Why nine? What study revealed nine? When the complexity of human nature emerges and people don’t really fully fit their number, wings are introduced. Then when a number and a wing feels to constraining, more subsets are introduced. This goes on and on and on with an endless list of subsets, basically nullifying the distinction of the original number. (Anyone who has tried the Enneagram has experienced this phenomenon.)

Problem #3: Even if a personality test can give some limited insight into human nature, it can’t tell you who you were created to be in Christ. You are not your old self. As a follower of Jesus, you are a new creation. You’ve been give a new nature. You’ve been reborn with the Spirit of the Living God dwelling within you. Before Christ, you may have tended toward sin, but in Christ your new nature tends toward holiness. The Holy Spirit is the only One who has been assigned the task of guiding you into truth.

Problem #4: Self-discovery does not set you free! This is the Gnostic idea that if we just gain more mystical insight and knowledge then we can transcend into a higher level of being. This Gnostic idea was rejected by the early church and is found deeply embedded in all things New Age, self-help and occult. It is at the very root of the Enneagram. Again, I can’t stress this enough, our identity is not a number; it’s not a type. It’s not found in a personality test. Our identity is who Jesus says we are. We are in Christ and He is in us. Our freedom is found in Him alone. He speaks to us about who we really are in Christ, and the Holy Spirit then empowers us to live that new identity.

Problem #5: Misdiagnosis of others and wrong self-diagnosis abounds with the Enneagram. Have you ever had someone tell you, “Oh, you are definitely this number!” and they were completely off? Or have you ever had someone tell you what Enneagram number they are and you knew they were way off? This is rampant with the Enneagram, probably because there is no science backing it. It is 100% observational, and people see what they want to see. What happens when the doctor gets the diagnosis wrong? The treatment will be wrong. If the diagnostic process of the Enneagram is so often incorrect, the subsequent matching response will also be wrong. This just leads to more confusion and less freedom.

I could keep listing problems with the Enneagram, but I’m sure I’ve already offended those who value its insight. I’ll conclude then with this. If you have valued the Enneagram, then I just encourage you not to put too much of yourself into it. Treat it like one personality test among many. Or better still, treat it the way you would a fortune cookie or a horoscope. But please, do not invest your life in this thing. Learn about its roots in the occult before you continue with it. And after learning about its roots, if you still want to use it as a tool, go for it. But please do so with a measure of caution.