Thursday, January 31, 2019

Persuasive Apologetics

What would it take to convince you to convert to a different religion and how long do you think it would take? Whatever your answer is, keep in mind that people of other belief systems are likely just as resistant, if not more resistant, to convert to Christianity. As hard as this task is on it's own, the backfire effect makes apologetics even more difficult. Now comes the time to learn some methods that can make apologetics and evangelism more effective, and hopefully, even more enjoyable!

There are a good number of books out there on how to do apologetics effectively. Perhaps the most popular one is Tactics by Greg Koukl. Personally, I love that book and recommend it to people constantly, but what is there for people who want to step up to the next level. Relational Apologetics is an equally great book on the subject that approaches apologetics from a different angle, but if there were scientific data on persuasion, don't you think that would be immensely helpful? Thankfully, there is scientific research on persuasion.

If we look outside the Christian literature, one book stands out among the rest on the science of persuasion. The book is Influence: Science and Practice (the previous edition is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion) by Robert Cialdini. This is a completely secular book, but the principles in the book can easily be used for apologetics and evangelism. I'll give a quick overview of the principles in this post and then do a separate post for each specific principle applied to evangelism and apologetics.

Before getting into the principles, I want to point out that there is no single best or most effective principle. They are all important and have various effects on different people and in different situations. However, I did organize them according to what I think is the most important for apologists to focus on. Applying these principles will take a bit of extra work, but it will be worth it.
  1. Liking - People are more open to listening to people they like. If you're wondering where personal factors come in to play, it's mostly in this category because not everyone likes the same things. Earn the right to give an apologetic instead of thrusting it on them.
  2. Reciprocity -  Most people don't want to seem rude. If you give people something, anything really, they will be much more likely to give you time, make some sort of commitment (like studying a book together), or listen to you.
  3. Social proof - Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. People are much more likely to agree with people of their in-group than to disagree so build close bonds with unbelievers, and not just for the same of conversion, but for genuine friendship, and point out how many other people like them are Christians.
  4. Commitment and Consistency - Nobody likes to go back on their word, especially publicly. Focus on areas of agreement and build a case from what they already profess to believe, but them hold them to what they've already said they believe. Point out when they contradict one of their previous statements.
  5. Scarcity - People want things they can't have, are hard to get, or make them feel special. Focus on the unique aspects of Christianity that sets it apart from and above other religions or worldviews.
  6. Authority - Everyone is an expert on everything these days. Find subtle ways to point out your expertise if you have it, gently draw attention to the limitations of their knowledge (it's extremely important to do this delicately, and if you can't don't do it), and cite the names and works of genuine experts, preferably those who are non-Christians, to support your point whenever possible. 
  7. Bonus Tips - This is my own category that includes miscellaneous items that don't fit well into other categories like building trust and respect, making your case by telling interesting stories, and more.

What makes these principles so effective is that by using them, you appeal to the whole of a person and not just one aspect of them. Moreover, the principles are broad enough and flexible enough to be applied differently for different people. However, I must give a final warning. These principles must be used genuinely and honestly. For instance, don't claim people are Christians if they are not to try to bolster social proof. People will see through your BS, so don't do it.

In the next several posts, I will discuss each principle individually and give practical suggestions on how to use it to your advantage. However, because some practices can fit into multiple categories and sometimes it can be unclear when to use them, I will eventually look at ways to use these principles in different situations. This way, you can know how these principles might work when you first meet a person, talk to someone in the checkout line at the store, or with a family member you've known for 25 years.

P.S. I added a "follow by e-mail" and subscribe buttons on the right so now you can get notified directly when I post a new article.

Other Apologetic Method Resources
How to Win Friends and Influence People is not an apologetics and evangelism book, but it's still an excellent resource for it.

A New Kind of Apologist is an updated and slightly different version of Apologetics for a New Generation. It might be good to have both in your collection.

How to Give Away your Faith is a classic book on the subject that is still relevant.

In addition to these resources, there are several apologists who are excellent models of these principles in their writing and speaking. Here are the apologists who I think are the best at presenting their case persuasively. 

Ravi Zacharias and pretty much his whole team of speakers
Mark Mittelberg & Lee Strobel
Alan Shlemon
Sean McDowell
J. Warner Wallace
Craig Hazen
Tim Keller

There are probably others deserving to be on this list, but I am not familiar enough with their style to add them, so I apologize to anyone deserving whom I left out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Personality Tests for Apologetics?

I was not intending to write another article on personality after my Enneagram articles, but I had a few people ask me questions about personality in general, so I thought it would be good to answer those questions since my mind is already on the topic and the research is fresh in my mind. Considering the number of personality tests available, it's clearly a topic that interests people. I think there is a lot of good that can come from knowing more about your personality, but there's also a huge risk of oversimplifying the results and using them incorrectly. Hopefully I can shed some light on personality and help you transcend the myths of pop-psychology.

Personality and its Limits
Personality simply describes a person's normal tendencies. Think of it like handedness. Most people have a dominant hand, which has better dexterity and they are more comfortable using, but they can and do use their other hand. In some cases, people are forced to use their non-dominant hand and they eventually become just as good with it as their dominant hand (in even more rare cases, people can learn to use their feet as hands!). Personality is similar because it describes the patterns of thinking or behaving that we are comfortable with and do reflexively.

This may sound odd, but you are not your personality. I mean two things by this: first, whatever your personality is, you are not destined to be stuck with it or conform to it. Personality can and does change and even if it doesn't, you can act in ways that are not in line with your personality (in fact, you should go against it sometimes). Second, personality does not include several other important factors that make up who a person is such as intelligence, religious beliefs, age, gender, socioeconomic status, hobbies, family dynamics, cultural norms, and more.

There are several different personality tests. The two that are typically considered the best are the MMPI and tests using the five factor model (aka the big five). Other tests are rarely, if ever used for scientific research because they lack the reliability and validity of these two tests (this includes the MBTI and Enneagram). The MMPI is used more in clinical settings, but since it is expensive and requires certification, big five tests are much more common for scientific research.

Big five models divide personality into five separate factors (and sometimes as many of six sub-factors), Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (the acronym OCEAN can help you remember it). Rather than stuffing people into a single personality type, a score is given for each factor, which gives a more accurate and comprehensive description of personality.

Here's the thing that people often struggle with about personality though: it's not that great of a predictor of behavior for most situations, especially in situations that are not routine. Our intuition tells us that if we just know our own personality, or someone else's, we will know exactly what they will think, do, or believe, but that just isn't true. I struggled with this for a long time as an undergrad and wasn't convinced otherwise until I read study after study after study in social psychology that showed people tend to act pretty similar in most situations.

Personality tests are often used by businesses to try to predict employee success or place them in the correct positions, but they actually aren't very good at this. The MBTI website explicitly states that the test should not be used to "counsel a person to, or away from, a particular career, personal relationship or activity based solely upon type information."

Let's be clear, personality does make a difference in just about every situation, but it's not the most important factor. According to Lee Ross and Richard Nisbett in their book The Person and the Situation, personality factors only explain up to 30% of behavior in any situation, and that's the maximum. It's usually much lower than that.

Personality is useful for helping people understand their general tendencies, which can be beneficial for overcoming weakness or issues and taking advantage of our strengths. For instance, someone who is high in conscientiousness is probably very productive and organized, but they're also likely to get stressed out (especially if also high in neuroticism) by imperfection and micro-manage people. Someone low in conscientiousness is probably perpetually late or viewed as a slacker, but they are also likely creative and are comfortable in unstructured situations.

Extreme scores on any category are likely to cause issues in a person's life and may be a reason to seek counseling from a licensed therapist or psychologist.

Personality for Apologetics & Evangelism?
Since personality is not the major contributor to how people make decisions or respond in unfamiliar situations, there is almost no value in it for apologetics and evangelism. You don't need to categorize someone in order to speak to them. In fact, trying to figure out their personality type is likely to distract you from what is more important. People will typically tell you what is important to them, so just listen carefully to what they say without psychoanalyzing them or constantly trying to refute every word they say.

There are perhaps two valid uses of personality for apologetics and evangelism. First is to simply be aware that people are vastly different, so whoever you are talking to, they are likely very different from you in significant ways. Keeping this in mind, we should recognize that not everyone will share our conversion experience. Regardless of what led to your conversion, or whatever your interests are, other people are likely to be different so don't try to push knowledge or experiences on people just because it worked for you. The other potential use is as an ice-breaker or conversation starter because personality is an interesting topic to many people and everyone is the expert on their own personality.

Outside of evangelism and apologetics, personality can offer significant benefits to individuals for self-awareness and personal growth. However, it will still take hard work to reap the benefits, and in many cases, it will require the assistance of a licensed therapist or psychologist (not a biblical counselor or a pastor).

Even though personality may not be very fruitful for evangelism and apologetics, psychological sciences can inform our methods so they are more effective. In my next article, I will explain the real reason why apologetics is not as effective as it should be, then I will follow-up with articles on methods for overcoming this gargantuan barrier.

Works Cited
Ross, L., & Nisbett, R. E. (2011). The person and the situation: Perspectives of social psychology. Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Review: Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness, Respect, and Truth

Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness, Respect, and Truth Relational Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith with Holiness, Respect, and Truth by Michael C. Sherrard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The purpose of this book is to help apologists improve their methods so they can be more effective when doing evangelism. It's a wonderful book and a must read for all apologists. I think I may even start recommending this one ahead of Tactics by Greg Koukl because reading this book and heeding the advice will help apologists apply the methods in Tactics in a more effective way.

Apologists sometime have a bad reputation, both inside and outside the church. We often like to think it is because people just don't like truth and therefore, they resist apologetics. The examples in the book show that this does not have to be the case. We can be loved and respected while still doing apologetics. The book does this by recommending methods that correspond to scientific principles pf persuasion. This book can help apologists, even experienced ones, find the right balance between speaking truth and love.

Anyone who's into apologetics should read this book right away. It's a quick and easy read so there's no reason to wait.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Enneagram, Science, and Christianity - Part 2

I reviewed the scientific evidence related to the enneagram in part 1 of this article and concluded it is not a very good tool. If you haven't already done so, I would suggest reading it. In this post, I will address the reasons why the enneagram seems to work for so many people. This is necessary because most people value their own personal experiences above scientific evidence so an understanding of why an unreliable test seems reliable will be more convincing. I will also discuss why it matters whether we use it and offer recommendations for better resources. There's also a part 3, which is a paper I presented at an academic conference about the enneagram and spiritual growth.

Why the Enneagram "works"

I personally know several people who swear by the enneagram. They claim it has made them better people, helped them grow spiritually, improved their marriage, and helped them with evangelism. You may have similarly benefited from it. So why is it that such a questionable tool could be so helpful for so many people?

The short answer is that our thinking is governed by quick-thinking mechanisms that make life easy for us, but unfortunately, they also lead us astray sometimes. A good book on the subject is Thinking, Fast and Slow. When I teach on this subject, my favorite example to use is sugar and hyperactivity. Nearly 100% of people are certain that sugar causes kids to be hyperactive; however, the scientific evidence doesn't support this. Instead, people who think a kid has had sugar will rate that kid's behavior as more hyperactive than someone who does not think the kid had sugar. There are several of these types of heuristics and biases that can explain why the Enneagram works.

Image result for astrologyBefore getting to the explanations, I want to make a quick note. While I am hesitant to compare the enneagram to astrology because the enneagram seems to have a little more validity, I still think it is helpful and necessary to do so because they are both promoted by advocates for the same reason, because it just "works" (On a side note, I did find this site by an astrologer, this one by a skeptic, and others that claim they are indeed the same thing). So if you are a proponent of the enneagram and you get upset with me for these explanations, keep in mind that a proponent of horoscopes would be equally upset with these explanations for why astrology seems to work.

Reason 1: Coincidence

The main reason I think the enneagram works so well (for some) is that by random chance, any description of human tendencies will describe some people very well. By the same coincidence, it will be completely off for some people and will have varying degrees of accuracy for others. Your enneagram number may perfectly describe you, but for others, it may only partially describe them, and yet for others, it may seem like it doesn't describe them at all. I received a lot of responses from part 1 of this article confirming that it is way off for some people (just as it is spot on for others).

I will use myself as an example, I am mostly a 5 on the enneagram, but I consistently have a lot of characteristics of a 1. From time to time, I also score fairly high on various other types, but that is pretty inconsistent. In fact, I've also been typed as a 1, 7, and 9 by different tests. Probably the best way to describe me on the enneagram is a 5 with a 1 wing (which isn't even theoretically possible on the enneagram), with regular 9, 6, and 3 tendencies, occasional 2 and 8 tendencies, and only rare 4 and 7 tendencies, but the enneagram doesn't get into that kind of depth.

Moreover, according to the enneagram, my sin as a 5 is avarice (hoarding); however, of all the sins listed for the enneagram types, this is probably the one I struggle with the least! Ironically, the sin I probably struggle with most is associated with 7s (although the sins of 1s and 2s are about equal), which is the direction I am supposed to move when I am "healthy."

Reasons 2-3: False Consensus Effect & Availability Heuristic

The false-consensus effect describes the tendency to think there is consensus when there isn't and the availability heuristic describes the tendency to assign greater weight to things that are more available to our minds. In this case, our own thoughts about the enneagram are more available than the thoughts of others. A combination of these effects makes the enneagram seem so much more reliable to the people who just happen to closely match a specific type. If you are one of those people, you are much more likely to think it works for others just as well, but this is not necessarily the case.

Reason 4: Forer Effect

The next reason it works is because of what scientists call the Forer Effect (here's a helpful video about this effect), named after the scientist who discovered it on people using horoscopes. This effect is also sometimes referred to as the Barnum Effect. This effect describes the tendency for people to think that broad descriptions that apply to nearly everyone are specific personal descriptions. I'd be willing to bet that for most people, one or two other enneagram types seem to describe them pretty well, and the detailed descriptions of several other types will have occasional statements that are eerily descriptive of them. Test it out and see for yourself, but remember, you may be one of the rare people who are described extremely well by just one type.

Reason 5: Confirmation Bias 1

Another explanation is confirmation bias, which works in several ways. First, when we read a description that we think is about us, we are likely to think it is more accurate than it is. For instance, if the description says we are analytical thinkers, we will think of specific times when we are analytical thinkers and agree with the statement, even if we are not typically analytical thinkers.

Reason 6: Confirmation Bias 2

The second way confirmation bias works is when the description gets something wrong. In these cases, we may not even consciously notice, and if we do, we are likely to ignore it or forget it. For instance, if our enneagram number is only 75% accurate, it will seem like it describes us perfectly.

Reason 7: Confirmation Bias 3

The third way it works is that it will decrease the likelihood that we see ourselves in other types because we don't read the other types and if we do, we've already closed ourselves off to that possibility that it is about us. If I just accepted that I am a 5 without thinking about it, I would never have noticed that I have many 1 tendencies and was probably a 1 until I was about 22 years old (which is another thing that's not supposed to even be possible with the enneagram).

Reason 8: Poor Self-Evaluation

Yet another reason the enneagram works is because people are typically bad at evaluating themselves. The enneagram can certainly help in many cases. For instance, if I am getting an F in a class, a study method that could get me up to a D would be helpful, especially if it was easy to do (which is one of the big draws of the enneagram), but it wouldn't be nearly as good as a study method that could be me an A. If I cling to the first one because it worked, I'll miss out on a method that works even better.

Reason 9-10: Non-Unique Effects & Correlation/Causation Error

Related to this is the likelihood that other factors may be contributing more than the enneagram. If I try a new study method, study more often, sleep more, and eat healthier, which factor explains why my grade went from an F to a D? Many people who use the enneagram are looking into themselves for the first time or talking to others about it their personal struggle in an open and authentic way for the first time. If they see growth, is it really due to the enneagram? It seems more likely it is because they started to look into themselves, were interested in growing, talked to others about their personal lives, and/or received feedback from others. Correlation does not equal causation. So I will admit that it truly is helpful in some cases, but this benefit is probably not unique to the enneagram (and I would argue the enneagram is not the best method either).

Reason 11-12: In-Group Bias & Groupthink

All these effects are likely compounded by in-group bias (if you heard about the test from a trusted source) and groupthink (if the test is done or discussed in a group), both of which will make it more likely for a person to think the enneagram is accurate and is valid for all people. We trust people who are part of our group so we often fail to notice when they are wrong about something. Once we start talking openly, especially with people we already trust, groupthink can allow bad ideas to grow unhindered.

All of these explanations are widely accepted by psychological scientists for why people sometimes make errors in their reasoning. This is just the normal way people think so the growing popularity of the enneagram is not surprising. After all, it does seem like a pretty good test on the surface (this is known as face validity, which is the lowest level of scientific validity and not technically a form of validity since it depends on the person making the critique).

What's the Big Deal Anyway? 

You may be asking what's the big deal with using the enneagram? That's a good question. If it were harmless, I would say go ahead and use it. If it helps you, great; if not, then don't use it. In most situations, it's probably not going to be harmful, but in some cases it can be extremely harmful. This is because it's supposed to reveal things about yourself that you are not aware of, but there is no way to tell if it is wrong. Therefore, you have to accept it uncritically, which would be harmful if it is wrong, or disagree with it, which would be harmful if it is right...but there's no way to actually know! With this in mind, here are four reasons why I think this is an important matter for Christians.

Reason 1: Harm

The first is because the use of an invalid tool can be deeply harmful for people, especially when it comes from a person of authority. If a pastor, counselor, or spiritual leader uses the Enneagram to help someone, what happens when it is wrong? The person will likely feel embarrassed and think they are even worse off than they thought. If they assume the test is valid even though it doesn't really describe them, then they will spin their wheels trying to solve problems they don't have. If they assume the test is invalid, they will lose respect and trust for the person who gave it to them and the counseling will be less effective.

If you're using the enneagram in a less formal setting, among friends or a small group, the same outcomes as above are likely, but to a lesser degree. Worst-case scenario, I could foresee that when it doesn't work for people, yet it is continued to be pushed, it could become one of several significant factors for suicide, depression, or substance abuse. Yes, this is unlikely and probably rare, but when a tool is used by millions of people, rare actions occur repeatedly.

Even considering the least harmful scenario, a person uses the enneagram for their own personal growth without talking about it from others, I still don't recommend it for the reasons above. Also, when you use it privately or talk about it positively with others, you support the organizations pushing it and give it greater credibility than it deserves so others are more likely to use it.

Reason 2: Reputation

The second reason I think Christians should stay away from the enneagram is because this is the type of stuff that gives Christians and Christianity a bad name and makes it seem like Christians are anti-intellectual and anti-science. You cannot explain what the Enneagram is to a thinking person and expect them to think it's anything other than a modern version of astrology (which some astrologers actually say it is and use it as such. Also see the skeptics dictionary on the enneagram). This is especially true for people who have any formal training in psychology. I don't quite think it warrants the same label as astrology because it was produced through some rational thought and has some level of validity, but at the same time, it is wrought with validity issues and grossly over-exaggerated and unsupported claims.

To be clear, just because something "seems" to give Christianity a bad name is not a reason against it. There are a small handful of things which typically gives Christianity a bad name, but Christians should still take a stand on these issues. The Enneagram, however, is not one of those issues because it cannot be supported by scientific evidence. For this reason, telling someone "the Enneagram worked for me" sounds much like telling someone "astrology worked for me" and just confirms negative stereotypes about Christians.

Reason 3: Barrier to understanding

Third, it is a barrier to understanding others, which may sound odd since it's supposed to help people understand others. In simple terms, the Enneagram is a PC way to stereotype people. Once you have it in your head that a person is a certain number, you will filter everything they say and do through your expectations based on the Enneagram. This will cause you to misunderstand others, what they are trying to say, and what their intent is...and that is assuming you correctly categorize them in the first place (which is unlikely based on the scientific evidence in part 1).

You could say that if I get it wrong, I'll just adjust. In theory, yes, but in reality, once we have something in our minds, it's extremely hard to adjust, even for trained professionals (as an example, here's a landmark study where trained psychiatrists interpreted normal behavior as schizophrenia symptoms because they thought the person had schizophrenia). It would likely be a very long time before you recognized you were wrong about someone else after you have categorized them.

Reason 4: Barrier to better tools

The final reason is because using the enneagram creates a barrier to better tools. If people are familiar with the Enneagram, use it, and benefit from it, they will resistant to other tools that can do the same thing even better. This is typical human nature. We like what we know and are extremely resistant to change or admitting that we might be wrong or have chosen something that is not the best. The sooner you cut ties with the Enneagram, the better. I have provided several tools below that I think will be more effective for whatever you need it for. On a side note, doesn't it seem odd that the Enneagram claims to be able to do so many different things? Just saying...

Because the Enneagram does not have strong psychometric properties or external validity, and because the potential harm outweighs the benefits, I recommend not using it. If you still disagree with me, let me try to convince you one more time before offering suggestions that can serve as a replacement.

Still not convinced?

My hope is that I've convinced some Christians (and non-Christians) to stop using the enneagram. If I haven't convinced you, this is my last attempt, which blends a bit of logic and humor! You're gonna love it!

My enneagram type is a 5, which means that I am an informed and unbiased thinker/investigator. However, every other type is dominated in their thinking by non-rational goals or biases. Therefore, anyone who is not a 5 and thinks the enneagram is valid should admit that their thinking is biased (and limited) on this topic and therefore, accept my conclusion that the enneagram is not very good. If you still disagree, then the enneagram was wrong about you and/or me, and therefore, you have proven it is not very good.

For the other 5s out there, if the enneagram is valid, then you would already be convinced by the evidence and agree with my conclusion that the enneagram is not very good. If you disagree, then the Enneagram was wrong about you and/or me, and therefore, you have proven it is not very good!

I like the idea of what the enneagram is supposed to do and I love that people are willing to grow from it. Ultimately though, I don't think it can do what people claim it can (and neither can any other psychological tool). For the things the Enneagram can do, there are better tools for people to use that are more valid and reliable. For the things that are beyond any psychological tool, it takes hard work, prayer, study, relationships, time, God, and maybe even therapy. I think one of the draws of the enneagram is that it's self-help made easy, but unfortunately, there are no shortcuts for most changes (unless God supernaturally intervenes).

Still, I can understand why people may still want to use the enneagram. It's simple, trendy, and seems to make sense for many people. As long as you are consciously aware of the potential downsides, you can probably overcome most of them. Check out my recommendations below if you still want to use it or if you would like to use better tools.

In my next article, I will discuss the proper use of personality tests and the limitations of them, particularly for apologetics and those in ministry. I know they can be especially tempting to use for a plethora of situations, but unfortunately, they are often used inappropriately.


For those who still want to use the enneagram, please remember to take everything with a grain of salt. The enneagram simply cannot do what many people claim it can, and it is likely wrong in a major way that it describes you, so don’t feel as though you cannot disagree with it. Second, if you insist on using it, use the version because it rightly recognizes there is overlap between types and gives you a separate score for all nine types, which will be more helpful than locking yourself into a single category.

Even with a cautious use of the enneagram, I still think the following materials will be more effective for the majority of people.

If you want to know more about your own personality and use it for self-improvement, connection, or spiritual growth, here are two good versions of it. The first one,, is from Dr. Jordan Peterson and several other psychologists. It costs $10 so it's fairly cheap. The test will give you your personality based on the Big 5, with each category divided into two major sub-components. Even though it costs money, it is probably the best choice for knowing yourself and improving because it guides you to what your results mean. Here's a video from Jordan Peterson about the test.

Another option is a free Big 5 assessment by scientists at Penn State, which will give you your Big 5 results, with each category divided into six sub-components! Unfortunately, this one will not really explain your results so you'll have to interpret them on your own by understanding the category and thinking about how it might positively or negatively impact your life. To access this test, click here.

An emotional intelligence test or book such as Emotional Intelligence (Goleman) or Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Bradberry) may also be helpful.

If you want something to improve your marriage or other relationships, I would start with The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work or anything else by John Gottman. Other good books are Love & RespectFighting for your MarriageThe Five Love Languages, and His Needs, Her Needs. Even though these books are all a little different in their focus and application, they're all compatible with each other and scientific research.

For parenting help, I recommend books by Dr. Kevin Leman (who is a Christian and also does good marriage books), Daniel Siegel (such as The Yes Brain), or ScreamFree Parenting (which also has a companion marriage book). On a side note, I strongly discourage any Ezzo books (e.g. Baby Wise) for parenting.

If you are interested in improving your evangelism skills or apologetic method, check back here as I am working towards the science of persuasion. For now though, the best book I can recommend is Influence: Science and Practice. It's not a Christian book so you'll have to apply it to evangelism and apologetics, but it's still great. Other excellent books for this are Tactics (Christian book) and How to Win Friends and Influence People (semi-Christian book).

For spiritual growth, I recommend reading and listening to books or sermons by David Platt, John Piper, and A.W. Tozer. You may disagree with their theology on some things, but even so, they can still help you grow spiritually.

If you want to become a better leader, consider Servant Leadership, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Up the Organization, or Leaders Eat Last.

For communication skills, which also relates to leadership and relationships, consider Fierce Conversations or Crucial Conversations.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Enneagram, Science, and Christianity - Part 1

Part 2 discusses the reasons why the enneagram seems to work. Part 3 talks about the enneagram in the context of spiritual growth.

I first heard about the enneagram in mid-2017. If you're not familiar with it, it's a psychological and spiritual personality assessment that supposedly reveals our inner motivations. It has quickly become very popular, particularly among Christians, as a tool for spiritual growth. When I first heard about it, everyone else already knew what it was and spoke as if it was the universally accepted gold-standard for personality tests. This caused me quite a bit of embarrassment because I felt like I'd missed a major development within the field of personality psychology. At that time, I already had an MA and BS in psychology, had served as a behavioral scientist in the Air Force for nine years, three of which were spent teaching psychology as an adjunct, and I was currently going to seminary and volunteering in a psychology research lab at a university.

Image result for enneagram testDespite my embarrassment, I swallowed my pride and sought to learn more about it. I asked them to tell me more about it and when I got home, I researched it even further. I quickly discovered why I had never heard of it: the enneagram is not a scientifically validated tool nor is it used by therapists (although there are some rare exceptions). It wasn't in any textbooks on personality, counseling, or the psychology of religion and there were only a handful of scientific studies that used it in any way.

Additionally, I looked up 20 or so different enneagram experts and many have theology degrees, a few have degrees that are in the ballpark of personality science (Jerome Wagner & Beatrice Chestnut, Ph.D. clinical psychology; Don Richard Riso, M.A. in social psychology ), but none appear to have degrees that would offer through training in psychometrics, test construction, and personality, which are all necessary to evaluate the accuracy of such a tool. For example, Russ Hudson, president of the Enneagram Institute, describes himself as "one of the principal scholars and innovative thinkers in the enneagram world today," yet his LinkedIn page only lists a BA in East Asian Studies. This does not automatically mean the enneagram is invalid. I mention it because it helps explain why I hadn't heard of it. 

Theological Considerations
There are some valid theological concerns about the enneagram, but most of the critiques boil down to its questionable origins. As a scientist, I'm not concerned about its origins because this has nothing to do with whether or not it's accurate (this is what philosophers call the genetic fallacy), so I'm not going to address those concerns. The only point I want to make theologically is that the Bible charges us to be wise (Matt 10:16), discerning (Phil 1:9-10), and to test everything (1 Thess 5:21 & 1 John 4:1), especially things concerned with spiritual matters like the enneagram.

On the one hand, many people personally testify to the usefulness of the enneagram. Even for me, when I read the description of my type, there are aspects of it that seem eerily accurate. On the other hand, there are aspects of other enneagram types that seem eerily accurate about me, the claims about the enneagram seem to be too good to be true, and the enneagram experts don't have the proper training to substantiate these claims.

So how are we to follow the biblical command to test it, especially when there are seemingly conflicting data about the enneagram? Enter science.

Science of Personality
I'm often told that the enneagram is not a personality test and that it cannot be tested scientifically. As a scientist who studies personality, I can tell you that both of these objections are plainly false. The enneagram makes the same kind of claims as every other personality test. There's nothing magical about it that makes it beyond the realm of science. Therefore, we can and should test it accordingly, which means we need to understand the science of personality.

Personality is hard to assess because it's easy to include non-personality factors into the test such as intelligence, education (correlated, but still different than intelligence), religious beliefs, identity, etc. Personality often correlates to these factors, but a good personality test will discriminate between personality and these other factors. Studying personality scientifically is important because it helps us remove our personal biases so we can accurately assess different measures. This allows us to consider multiple variables and see if it applies to large populations of people rather than being limited to a single person's experiences or best guesses.

The two personality tests that are usually considered the gold standard are the NEO, which assesses personality according to the big five traits, often called the big five, and the MMPI. Scientists debate which is better, but the big five is used more in research because it is more accessible. The MMPI is expensive and requires certification to administer or interpret the data. The Meyers-Briggs (MBTI) is the most popular among laypeople because it is simple and flashy, but most scientists don't typically use it because it's validity is questionable (in fact, it's not uncommon for psychologists to openly mock it).

Unfortunately, there is very little scientific data on the enneagram so it's hard to draw definitive conclusions about it. I could only find a handful of scientific studies that examined it. None of them were in top-tier journals and their methodology was questionable. This does not invalidate them but does raise more red flags. Either way, I will take these studies at face value and assume they are valid.

Scientific Evidence
Perhaps the most important factor for a personality test is test-retest reliability, which checks to see if the test can reliably reproduce consistent results when someone takes it more than once. Only one of the studies actually looked at this measure and they found 79-100% of participants, depending on the type, were in the same type at the pre- and post-tests. This really good, but it was also based on a biased sample of people who are trained in the enneagram and self-selected their own type both times.

As a comparison, the NEO PI-R which measures personality by the big five factors ranges from .86 to .91 after 3 months and .63 to .83 over 6 years. While personality is fairly stable over time, particularly in adulthood, it does gradually change so some changes should be expected for any personality test. Interestingly, one of the claims many people make about the enneagram is that your type does not change, even from childhood, which is opposed to other personality research.

Related to this is inter-rater reliability which looks to see if two people rate a person the same way. For the enneagram, the highest score for this came from people with at least 2.5 years experience with the enneagram and they only agreed 55% of the time. The scores only went down from there in other studies or when less experienced people were tested. In fact, one researcher who advocates for the enneagram states that trained enneagram practitioners are pretty good (although the data doesn't support this), but they are "not as good as they think they are!".

Another important factor, which is the most common, is the internal consistency (reported as Cronbach's alpha), which checks to see if the questions for each enneagram type are testing the same thing. An acceptable score is considered .70 or higher. The enneagram types ranged from .37 to .82 with at least three of the types falling below the .70 threshold. This means that 18-63% of the variation in scores is due to measurement error! For comparison, the NEO PI-R ranges from .86 to .92 (8-14% measurement error). Since the enneagram is ipsative, meaning the questions force you to choose between two answers instead of choosing the degree to which you agree, the low internal consistency means that most people typically have characteristics of multiple types.

The next factor is predictive validity which checks to see how well the test predicts behavior. One of the studies specifically compared the enneagram to the big five (Sutton, Allinson, Williams 2013), which is great in theory, but they compared apples to oranges so it's hard to draw conclusions. Unfortunately, they compared the enneagram to only single factors of the big five rather than combining scores across all five factors which would have enhanced the predictive utility of the big five. Even so, the big five still fared better even though they used it in a less than optimal way. The enneagram did as well as a single factor of the big five, and in one case, it did better. The authors should have used a multiple regression with the big five to incorporate all five factors before comparing it to the enneagram.

The final study looked at the organization of the types and the notion of having a "wing." One study had participants organize the types based on similarities and the results showed vastly different organizations from how the types are actually organized according to the enneagram. More research needs to be done here, but it does seem to suggest that even if the types are valid, the organization of them on the circle may simply be arbitrary.

Conclusion of Scientific Evidence
Overall, the psychometric properties of the enneagram are mixed. Some properties are below standard thresholds, a few are very good, and a lot of them are right around minimally acceptable standards. It's not a terrible test, but it's not good either. This won't change unless someone develops a revised version of it, in which case, it will be different from what anyone is currently using.

The Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales (WEPSS) appears to be a little more accurate than other versions but still has mixed or uncertain results. Additionally, where it improves in some areas, it creates other issues. I am still waiting to hear back from the company regarding the reliability and validity statistics so I can go see more than just the basic information that was reported in The Fifteenth Mental Measurements Yearbook.

Additionally, the current research only looks at the basic explanations and delineations of each type. The issue is that the enneagram is also supposed to tell a person what their sins and weaknesses are, how they can get healthy, and how they can best relate to other people. These are all additional claims that stem from assumptions about the types, meaning they will have the same degree of error as the type, plus more!

Think of it this way. If you are playing pool and you are off by a millimeter, you may still make the shot. But if you are off by a millimeter when you try to shoot a combo by banking one ball off of another, you will almost certainly miss because the first margin of error will affect the next ball, and multiply the error. Even more so if you try a banking two balls, and so on. This is how the enneagram is supposed to work. As a 5, I supposedly become more like a 7 when stressed and an 8 when I am relaxed. This is like a quadruple combo because it assumes each number is correct, plus the relationships between each number are correct.

My guess is that the sins associated with each type are probably only a little more accurate than a roll of a dice. Some are probably above chance while others are probably below chance. I suspect the same is true for how people are supposed to get healthy, what they do when stressed, the triads, or what their "wing" is (assuming it could theoretically be any number and not just a neighboring number).

Finally, there is no cross-cultural data on the enneagram, so even if it were valid in the U.S., it may not be in other cultures. The big five, however, has been tested in several cultures and has shown to reliably describe personality for people of all cultures. I'm not aware of any culture it does not apply to. The only caveat is that testing it in collectivist cultures has revealed there might be another factor pertaining to interpersonal relatedness.

General Conclusion
Unless you've done graduate work in psychometrics, the scientific data probably doesn't mean a whole lot to you (which is why there are two parts to this article). For those who have studied psychometrics, it's a no-brainer that the enneagram simply cannot do all its proponents claim it can. Any scientist who studies personality would simply look at the reliability scores and conclude the test is not accurate enough to be helpful, and therefore, they wouldn't use it because the potential for harm will be too high.

I hope this information is helpful and informative, for those who've been silently skeptical of the enneagram and for those who are fans of it. My goal was and is to be as objective as possible, which is why I included statistics that may have been hard to understand. In this article, I mostly wanted to get the data out. In part 2, I explain why the enneagram still seems to work (for some), why it matters if we use it or not, and offer recommendations for better tools that can be used as a replacement.

For thoughts on it from a theological perspective, consider this article from the Christian Research Journal.

Works Cited
Here's a list of scientific(ish) sources I consulted (it does not include the books and websites I used to personally understand the enneagram). Many of these sources are not actually peer-reviewed or they are in low level and inappropriate journals (meaning the reviewers may not be qualified to properly critique the methods, statistical analyses, or interpretation of results). This is due to the limited number of articles available that test the enneagram. Most of these are favorable to the enneagram and therefore, I am accepting these as more valid than I would otherwise to try to be fair and present the best possible case for the enneagram. There were also a few other peer-reviewed articles on the enneagram, but they were not looking at the validity of it so they are not included here.
  1. Bland, A. M. (2010). The Enneagram: A review of the empirical and transformational literature. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 49(1), 16-31
  2. Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (2010). The NEO Personality Inventory: 3. Odessa, FL: Psychological assessment resources.
  3. Edwards, A. C. (1991). Clipping the wings off the enneagram; a study in people's perceptions of a ninefold personality typology. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 19(1), 11-20.
  4. Matise, M. (2007). The enneagram: An innovative approach. Journal of Professional Counseling: Practice, Theory & Research, 35(1).
  5. McCrae, R. R.; Costa, P. T. (1983). "Joint factors in self-reports and ratings: Neuroticism, extraversion and openness to experience". Personality and Individual Differences. 4 (3): 245–255.
  6. McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1987). Validation of the five-factor model of personality across instruments and observers. Journal of personality and social psychology, 52(1), 81.
  7. McCrae, R. R., & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the five‐factor model and its applications. Journal of personality, 60(2), 175-215.
  8. McCrae, R. R., & Costa Jr, P. T. (1997). Personality trait structure as a human universal. American psychologist, 52(5), 509.
  9. McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (2003). Personality in adulthood: A five-factor theory perspective. Guilford Press.
  10. McCrae, R. R., Kurtz, J. E., Yamagata, S., & Terracciano, A. (2011). Internal consistency, retest reliability, and their implications for personality scale validity. Personality and social psychology review, 15(1), 28-50.
  11. Newgent, R. A., Parr, P. E., & Newman, I. (2002). The Enneagram: Trends in Validation.
  12. Newgent, R. A., Parr, P. H., Newman, I., & Wiggins, K. K. (2004). The Riso-Hudson Enneagram type indicator: Estimates of reliability and validity. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 36(4), 226-237.
  13. Scott, S. A. (2011). An analysis of the validity of the enneagram. The College of William and Mary.
  14. Sutton, A. M. (2012). But Is It Real? A Review of Research on Enneagram. Enneagram Journal, 5.
  15. Sutton, A., Allinson, C., & Williams, H. (2013). Personality type and work-related outcomes: An exploratory application of the Enneagram model. European Management Journal, 31(3), 234-249.
  16. Wagner, J. P., & Walker, R. E. (1983). Reliability and validity study of a Sufi personality typology: The enneagram. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 39(5), 712-717.
  17. Yilmaz, E. D., Gençer, A. G., Ünal, Ö., & Aydemir, Ö. (2014). From enneagram to nine types temperament model: A proposal. Egitim ve Bilim, 39(173).
  18. Yilmaz, E. D., Gençer, A. G., Aydemir, Ö., Yilmaz, A., Kesebir, S., Ünal, Ö., ... & Bilici, M. (2014). Validity and Reliability and of Nine Types Temperament Scale. Egitim ve Bilim, 39(171).
Here's a link to my Google Drive folder with the Enneagram articles saved in case you want to read them,

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know I said my next entry would be on the Enneagram, but that was before I knew I could post my GoodReads reviews directly on here. It's a great feature that I'm excited about. It will encourage me to review more books and help me get more post on here. Anyway, here's my review of the book.

I've had this book on my shelf for years, just waiting to read it. I finally had to read part of it for a class so I just went ahead and read the whole thing because it was so great.

The book essentially challenges Western interpretations of scripture and the way we put those into practice. The authors do this very well, giving real-life examples and without harsh criticism. In fact, the only thing I think would improve the book is if it were just a little more critical of Western and non-Western Christianity.

I don't agree with everything in the book, but I still think this is probably one of the most important books for American Christians to read because challenges some of our unconscious and often incorrect assumptions that we use to twist or ignore scripture. If you are a professing Christian, you should read this book and apply it to the way you read scripture. If it's not already on the top of your reading list, you should put it there.

View all my reviews

A New Perspective for Apologetics

Think of all your favorite apologists. What are their degrees in? Most have philosophy or theology degrees. Then there are a good number with degrees in the hard sciences or mathematics. However, there aren't really any apologists with a graduate degree in psychology. I know of a handful of lower-level apologists, including myself, who have a master's in psychology or a related field, but none that I know of are explicitly integrating psychology into apologetics.

While there are differences in the left and right brain,
they are largely exaggerated in pop-culture
My goal with this blog is to help fill the psychology gap in apologetics, which I think could be a tremendous benefit to the field of apologetics. Psychology is a very broad field that touches everything people do. It's so much more than just therapy. Psychologists scientifically study just about everything you can imagine about people, including things most people don't think about as science like music, art, beauty, leadership, teaching, and morality.

Broadly speaking, I think there are four ways psychology can benefit apologetics.
  1. Psychological science can help apologists write and speak in ways that are more persuasive.
  2. It can support and strengthen some philosophical and historical arguments or responses to objections with empirical data.
  3. It can clear up confusion about misconceptions people have about the mind or human tendencies.
  4. It can add a couple additional arguments to the apologist's toolbox.
Those are the broad ways psychology can be useful for apologetics. Most of what I write here will relate to both psychology and apologetics; however, I will write on science in general and other theological topics as well.