I felt a wave of relief when I pulled my copy of Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s new book, The Road Back to You from the box. The dust jacket design was restrained and inoffensive. Why relief? The cover of Richard Rohr’s 1990 book, Discovering the Enneagram, the first  popular book on the subject, looked like a prop from the CW’s Supernatural TV series. Let’s be honest, the moment you have to explain, “No, that’s not a pentagram,” you’ve lost. For evangelicals just starting to peak out from underneath the covers after the 1980’s Satanic Panic, the red circle with one too many intersecting lines was a bridge too far. I’m from the Midwest, so Disney’s Fantasia is pushing it, and don’t get me started on Harry Potter.


Rohr’s book has long been the standard reference for those interested in the ancient personality type system, and rightfully so, it is an excellent tool. Used by spiritual directors and those on the journey of self-discovery, the Enneagram has helped many get out of ruts and self-destructive behavior patterns through insightful exploration of what makes us tick. In short, it helps categorize the special ways each of us needs Jesus.

The biggest strength of the book (besides its inoffensive cover) is the formatting, with one chapter devoted to each of the nine types. The chapter on eights, for instance, starts with a list of twenty ways you experience life as your particular number and ends with a list of ten paths for transformation. In between are sections on childhood, relationships, work, stress, the influence of your wings, and what spiritual growth and maturity can look like.

In The Road Back to You, Cron and Stabile have created an approachable primer, readable and streamlined, something you could safely hand out to your evangelical and non-Christian friends alike without having any awkward conversations. This book is a good introduction to the world of the enneagram, as well as a worthy companion to Rohr’s groundbreaking work on the the subject.

gil-pender-1I’m a type 4 on the Enneagram, you know, the neurotic, romantic, moody, eccentric feeling junkie. Let me give you a peek into what the last week has looked like for me. When someone suggested I write a review of The Road Back to You, I immediately turned them down, saying that I simply wasn’t a good enough writer. Then I thought, hey, maybe they saw some special spark in me, why not give it a try! After spending three days trying to figure out how to write the opening paragraph, I started typing. How do I approach the subject with just a touch of humor; not enough to scare away the fundies, or offend my pagan friends, but to show the hip readers that I “get it.” Immediately after I finished the first paragraph, I froze. What if my high wire act of an attempt at humor was misunderstood, what if I offended Richard Rohr, what if he thought I was being overly critical or dismissive of his work? What about his poor, hardworking, obviously misunderstood, ahead-of-his-time, nay, prophetic book jacket designer–would he feel slighted? Why did I think I could write this? “Where is your special spark now?” my inner pharaoh/Edward G. Robinson mocked loudly. Let me tell you, that degree of self-absorption and neurosis makes it hard to write a review of someone else’s book. Deciding to once again crack open The Road Back to You, in attempt to get out of my metaphorical ditch, I read this line from the already dog-eared and heavily highlighted chapter devoted to fours.

“You are not your feelings.”

Because of the way my particular spot on the Enneagram works, I’m always listening to the law that says I’m missing a vital piece of my makeup, and, what’s worse,  I’m the one who lost it. Most days I’m already feeling like a failure by breakfast, and the rest of the day is spent split between trying to find the aforementioned lost piece and berating myself for misplacing it in the first place. I help the law by doing its job more efficiently, serving both as judge and executioner. I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty good at it. Let me go out on a limb here. I’m willing to bet there is some quirk or neuroses you could take some ironic pride in, too. Ironic because that something is about as effective at making you happy as an anvil is as a floatation device.

Then Cron and Stabile write, “Behind each of these distortions is a misguided strategy to grab for happiness and love the way Adam and Eve overreached and grabbed for fruit. We are trying to steal that which only can be received as a gift from God.”

The Law writ large on my heart tells me I need saving from myself. I still want to try anyway, to find that missing piece on my own, despite the fact that I haven’t been the least bit successful at it. I want to be special, I don’t want to need the gift only Christ can provide, the one that we all need. Fortunately for us, He did just that, He gave us what we needed, rather than indulging our misguided wants.

I’m reminded of a moment in Paul Zahl’s A Short Systematic Theology, in which he quotes the English psychiatrist, Frank Lake. When asked, “Have you ever met someone who was not neurotic?” “No,” Dr. Lake replied, “but I have heard that there was one once.”