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Original Photo of church by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

We are counting down the weeks and days leading up to the celebration of our Savior’s birth. The event, so central to Scripture and, indeed, salvation itself, seems as though it is being reduced to a “sideshow” in what is the increasing paganization of culture and even the church. Dr. Peter Jones warned about this 22 years ago in his excellent 2001 book Pagans in the Pews. For way too many, the focus is now on them and not on the One who came to redeem us all. In Soft Occultism, Patricia Patnode describes:

Young women looking for meaning are enchanted by a new paganism elevating ego and material desire.

Young men are also being “enchanted by a new paganism” for pretty much the same reasons. It elevates “ego and material desire.” It affirms and directs worship to the being they most love – themselves. The paganism that is all the rage is not really new, of course, and has been part of the human condition since shortly after the fall. However, paganism in the Western world faded far away as Christianity ascended in the early centuries. It only seems to us starker and more pronounced today because it follows the Christian era and is strongly resurgent now that Christianity is being pushed aside. God and His Son have been pushed to the background of society and even the church, it seems. Patnode writes:

The new, default spiritual identity for young people in the West is soft occultism, or casual witchery. This identity can easily accompany an existing religious affiliation, and often does since it is so obviously integrated in most aspects of modern Western culture.

Generation Z has the same spiritual appetite as our ancestors, but we lack the infrastructure to exercise it. According to the American Enterprise Institute, American religious identity has experienced nearly three decades of consistent decline.

Some may want to argue that this is only true in the culture outside the church, but the same transformation is happening in many of the “Seeker Sensitive,” “Purpose Driven,” narrative-focused churches, along with many other churches where we may not have expected it to have taken root. Like so many other infections, it seems small and merely bothersome until it is suddenly malignant and, everywhere, a threat to the body. It is interesting that Patnode points out that popular lifestyle gurus and life coaches borrow their material from the church!

Lifestyle gurus and inner-peace peddlers from Gwyneth Paltrow to Andrew Tate are happy to make money off lost, irreligious young people hungry for emotional balance and purpose. Their approach borrows from the language of self-fulfillment and the actualization of material desire common to Oprah and prosperity gospel preachers such as Joel Osteen. The result is a culture of self-worship and a belief in the power of the will to manifest good things for ourselves.

You may wonder what the attraction is. Patnode explains:

Within soft occultism, we become the main characters. We feel that we can uncover hidden knowledge of ourselves. We can better understand our true nature, if we only surrender our souls to personality quizzes and horoscope apps. These tools offer us assistance in navigating daily life, replacing or largely supplementing surrender and devotion to a particular God.

The root of all kinds of evil is indeed the love of money, but the reason we love money so much is because we love ourselves, and money can, we think, make us happy. Self-love is the root of the root. The search to “uncover hidden knowledge of ourselves” entices us away from the clearly revealed knowledge about ourselves in the word of God. Sound biblical teaching and discipleship in the local church by the pastors, elders, and more mature believers is being gradually replaced with “Christian Life Coaching” and profiling systems. The soft occultism that is pervading much of the church entices and draws the unwary into its grip through “spiritual tools” from occultism like the Enneagram. It too often is embraced and grows through the aid of the pastors in those churches, as well as through Bible Colleges, seminaries, “Christian” publishing houses, and magazines. Brittany Peterson was kind enough to give us permission to share some of her experiences and initiation into Soft Occultism at her church:

A letter to biblical Christians and a warning, if you allow it. – Britnpete

A few years ago, I heard of an intriguing new personality test straight from the pulpit where Jeff McCord was preaching. In his sermon, he discussed nine types of personality. I can’t remember the sermon word for word, of course, but I was impressed by the new “type system” that McCord was introducing.

I went home that day and took the test, thinking it was all fun and games and absolutely safe, of course, because I had heard it at church. Upon discovering my number, I was completely won over. At the time, I thought that beyond the pleasant emotional pull of simple “self-awareness,” it was a great tool of transformation, which pointed out my strengths and weaknesses and the blind spots that I had never noticed before but which were keeping me from being the best I could be. I thought it would help with the relationships in my life and could be a great way to authentically connect with others on a deeper level. What ended up happening, though, was the complete opposite. I became hyper-focused on my alleged “type,” and with crazy eyes, I shared it with my friends, family, acquaintances, and even absolute strangers in the grocery store. I began placing everyone in a box according to what I viewed their “type” to be. In doing this, I felt that I was protected in a way from people I could never hope to comfortably mesh with. I took control into my own hands and steered clear of “certain types” and, for two years, dove headfirst into progressive Christianity without realizing it. I read books by a guy named Richard Rohr (whose occultic teachings, by the way, not a lot of pastors seem familiar with), listened to his followers, and read books by Ian Morgan Cron, Suzzane Stabile, and David G. Benner. I listened to podcasts about the types and read a slew of books based on false doctrine and a specific false view of God known as panentheism. Panentheism teaches that God is in everything.1Panentheism is the view that God is bigger than the cosmos, but the cosmos is God’s body. God is in and through everything. There is no distinction between God and the cosmos. The Bible teaches monotheism. God created the cosmos and interacts with His creation but is separate from creation I read about the false self versus true self2According to the Enneagram Masters, our “true self” has never been separated from God, but we have created a false self that falsely believes we have. The Enneagram numbers are the paths back to our True Self, what Suzzanne Stabile calls The Road Back to You in her book of the same title and how to properly relate to others with this spiritual tool. I began psychoanalyzing my family, friends, and close acquaintances, and for two years walked in this way.

Then, two very close friends warned me about this system and ideology that had obviously taken control of my life. The second they warned me about this tool, I realized I already knew the truth in my heart. For a while, though, I continued to double back to it because of the sway it held in my church at the time and many other churches in the Nashville area. (I think you have Jeff and Beth McCord to thank for this.) So, I began doing opposing research and read several books about the origins of the enneagram and its connection with the occult. What I found was absolutely astonishing! I’m not quite ready to speak fully on this yet, as I’m still trying to understand it all. What I can mention, though, is that the types originate from a form of automatic writing, which is an allegedly “spiritual way” of making contact with the “spirit world.” It is strange that no one seems to question who these “spirits” might be or whether making contact with these “spirits” is even a safe idea, let alone Christian! Indeed, the practice has origins in the occult and the demonic. I can say without a doubt that this “Tool” isn’t helpful at all, but a blind walk onto a pagan spiritual path – into which many Christians are walking blindly towards and/or have fallen into step with today. It’s getting in touch with an exciting “self” outside of the gospel – a self where you don’t need Jesus at all. I believe that this harmless seeming “Personality test” is an unholy Spirit in the church today, leading Christians out of truth, which is horrifying.

So many pastors and church members walk right into this false religious practice with a big smile on their face and joke with their friends about their types, all the while not realizing exactly what they have attached themselves to. Without thinking, Enneagram adherents start to place others in “personality boxes,” too, which is not kind. I have to wonder what’s truly being “made” of it all by sinister forces beneath the surface. Using it in our churches and messing around with this ideology is dark – horribly dark – and I’m saddened that very few seem to be paying attention. All of my Christian life, I’ve listened to pastors preach about staying away from evil, and now I plead with you to do your own deep research and throw this evil out of the church. The flock needs protecting and shepherding like never before.3Some recommended resources are our Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret book page. Additional video – Is the Enneagram a Trojan Horse in the Church? With Marcia Montenegro, The Origin of the Enneagram – Claudio Naranjo speaks – June 2010, Alisa Childer’s excellent book on Progressive Christianity, Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity

Christianity is not a self-improvement scheme, but a recognition of our complete brokenness and our utter inability to “fix” ourselves, leading us to God Who will Himself conform us into the image of His son – and Who has given us eternal life with Him as a gift to those who will receive it. Our part is to recognize our need and to believe on the One He has sent into this world some two thousand years ago to save us. As we approach the celebration of our Saviors’ birth, Brittany’s words hearken us back to a charge in a letter written by the apostle Paul to a young pastor by the name of Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)Ω

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End Notes

End Notes
1 Panentheism is the view that God is bigger than the cosmos, but the cosmos is God’s body. God is in and through everything. There is no distinction between God and the cosmos. The Bible teaches monotheism. God created the cosmos and interacts with His creation but is separate from creation
2 According to the Enneagram Masters, our “true self” has never been separated from God, but we have created a false self that falsely believes we have. The Enneagram numbers are the paths back to our True Self, what Suzzanne Stabile calls The Road Back to You in her book of the same title
3 Some recommended resources are our Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret book page. Additional video – Is the Enneagram a Trojan Horse in the Church? With Marcia Montenegro, The Origin of the Enneagram – Claudio Naranjo speaks – June 2010, Alisa Childer’s excellent book on Progressive Christianity, Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity
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