Should Christians heed Jordan Peterson?
Is the Canadian psychologist another Billy Graham or a false teacher?
After hearing Jordan Peterson speak at a sold-out event in Sydney, I’ve concluded that the Canadian psychologist and professor cannot be dismissed as a self-help guru. He is not a theologian or a historian, but he sees the great value of Christianity even if he doesn’t quite get all the aspects of it yet.
He explained how hierarchy and inequality are far older, worse, and more universal than we realise and that we need to move beyond simplistically blaming, say, our government or the global economy. He spoke compassionately, “who the hell likes to walk down the street and see poverty-stricken homeless people – you’d have to be psychopathic for that to not rip at your heart!” It reminded me of the biblical theme to care for the “quartet of the vulnerable” (Zec 7:10a) and that “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27a).
I’d love to see him more fully and regularly articulate God’s role and his grace, which is essential to Christianity.
However, before we dare to try to “fix the world”, he suggested we need to humbly first face the evil within our own heart. In his YouTube video Message to Millennials, he went further and quoted Jesus’ metaphor of removing the beam from one’s own eye before attempting to remove a speck from another’s eye (Mt 7:5). Elsewhere, he has drawn from Jesus’ parable warning against the blind trying to lead the blind (Luke 6:39).
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As Stephen McAlpine, lead pastor of Providence Church in Perth, explained in his blog Four Things Preachers Can Learn from Jordan Peterson, Peterson takes the Bible, sin, evil, suffering, and the Big Picture seriously. This is great, especially for someone who doesn’t yet identify as an orthodox Christian. But McAlpine raised the concern (as has Sydney Anglican minister Michael Jensen in Eternity) about whether Peterson sees Jesus, or simply the individual, as the way forward.
In Sydney, Peterson encouraged everyone to voluntarily acknowledge our flaws, transgressions, vulnerabilities, and suffering in life – what he described as “practical and metaphysical advice”. He stated that Christ was the ultimate example of that practice because he was innocent, yet voluntarily suffered extreme torture and death – “a bedrock idea”.
As we long to celebrate our brother’s homecoming, let’s prayerfully listen and learn from what he offers.
In his biblical lectures on YouTube, he has linked Genesis 1 and John 1, presenting Christ as the Logos (the second person of the Trinity) who brought good order out of chaos by speaking truth.
In his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, he says Christ also overcame the temptations we face (p178-185). He believes Christ should be imitated by everyone, as Christ is the divine individual and the ideal person/story – the archetypal hero.
Acknowledging our sin, turning towards God, having concern for the vulnerable, and imitating Christ are all core elements of being a Christian. However, what role does Peterson think God plays in all this? That’s not so clear. He does believe that as we take up our crosses, embody the Logos, the Truth, the Good, and Love, that physical and metaphysical transformation happens.
He has used Pinocchio being transformed from a puppet into a real boy as a mythological expression of this. I’d love to see him more fully and regularly articulate God’s role and his grace, which is essential to Christianity.
“Do I think that will be a Christian revival, so to speak, a renaissance? Yeah I do.” – Jordan Peterson
What about the role of the body of Christ? In a Q&A session after his talk, I asked Peterson about the role of teams, groups, churches – noting that they could achieve more than any single individual. He responded:
“Absolutely! There’s obviously nothing wrong with cooperative or competitive endeavour – the two things united. The reason that I’ve stressed people’s individual responsibility is because I think you’re a lot more effective actor in the social world when your own foundation is solid – you’re much more credible. It’s also salutary in some sense, to start by sorting out and fixing up the things that are in your immediate grasp. The idea that you should clean up your room [first] … is actually a lot more difficult than people think.”
Peterson is an enigma. However, he isn’t hedonistic; like the Prodigal Son, he has come to his senses and started walking home. Christians should trust that the Holy Spirit will guide him to the Father’s forgiving embrace as he continues to study God’s word and imitate Jesus. As we long to celebrate our brother’s homecoming, let’s prayerfully listen and learn from what he offers.
In a Q& A session after one of his talks in Melbourne last week, Peterson gave a mind-blowing answer to the question: Do we need a Christian revolution?
“I think the idea that the most godly thing you can do is to accept the reality of your crucifixion [taking up your cross] is true! I think that’s true! It’s never been presented better than that. I think that Western civilisation’s emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual [in the image of God] … is right. So to the degree that our culture – and what is right and useful about it – maintains itself and moves forward, it’s going to have to reunite itself to its symbolic foundation, with its underlying story. I don’t see another alternative. Do I think that will be a Christian revival, so to speak, a renaissance? Yeah I do.”
Alex Smith is a freelance writer at ReformingHell.com, a blog about the way Christians can think about hell, both in the here and now and in the hereafter.