Will Jordan Peterson Lead People to God? Or Seduce Them With a Substitute?

Dante Witt lays out the best and the worst case scenarios.

By Dante Witt Published on April 5, 2018

Jordan B. Peterson’s the Canadian psychology professor who found 15 minutes of fame while having his life destroyed when he refused to obey a law mandating transgender pronouns. Okay, he didn’t have his life destroyed. To the delight of millions, he survived the attacks of the P.C. mob and skillfully turned his 15 minutes of fame into long-term fame, huge influence over young men, and a second career.

It’s delightful to see someone speak truth to power and end up defeating a singularly irritating Goliath. But still, Christians need to ask: Is Peterson a force for good?

What He Preaches

I’ve listened to a good bit of Peterson. Nowhere near all of his many lectures, but enough to get an idea of what he preaches. I think of him as a character-building coach for guys who don’t play sports, and whose dads didn’t teach them these things.

The gist of his teaching is, “You influence those around you, so get your act together and be responsible.” He’s earned the title “the dad of the internet” by giving good advice on how to discharge your duties to society and family, and how to become the sort of person who can shoulder such responsibilities.

But why should we bother? Peterson has answers, answers that are … unusual.

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He isn’t sure if God exists. He greatly admires Jesus, but sees him as a symbolic figure we can imitate successfully without his help. Peterson doesn’t know whether the resurrection happened. He believes in self-sacrifice, the inexpressible value of each person, the infinite importance of truth, pretty much all of Judeo-Christian morality, the fallenness of human nature, and the ultimate worthlessness of seeking happiness instead of truth and love. All of this he believes based on a mash-up of psychological research, evolutionary theory, and Jung’s writings on mythology.

Given that some people who believe that the Bible is divinely inspired by a real live God don’t get this much right, it’s fairly impressive that Peterson does. Yet he has no consistent philosophical ground for his beliefs. He isn’t even sure we have souls. I have seen him talk about how the Bible works as myth, and then admit that it also works as history, biography, etc. Then he sasy something like, “It’s almost as if … Oh, I don’t know.” 

But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. As the apostle Paul explains: “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15, RSV).

Reverse Engineering Christianity

Peterson seems to be reverse-engineering as many Christian beliefs as he can while remaining agnostic. This doesn’t mean he’s insincere. It may be that his conscience and instincts are telling him things his mind doesn’t know, so his mind finds (sometimes false) explanations for them.

Yes, we’d be more comfortable if instead he were a Southern Baptist. However, if Peterson were a Southern Baptist, he probably would never have become a cult figure. It would have been too easy to label him as a religious nut. No one would have wondered why he was risking everything to call a man “him” and a woman “her.” He would never have convinced many to try to live for the truth and for others.

Those many might never have discovered. The agnostic young C. S. Lewis explained how this works in Mere Christianity. “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good,” nor had a chance to turn to the Cross in humility after learning that about themselves.

Peterson said recently that he will spend the next three years examining the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. If he were a lifelong Christian, he would not have thousands hanging on his words when he begins to examine the evidence for the resurrection.

Best and Worst Case

Best case scenario: The young men listening to Peterson listen more to his you have a duty to those around you message than to his Jungian theologizing. A large portion of society chooses to grow up and help repair American and Canadian society. He converts, thereby converting many of his fans. He converts far more people than if he had been a Christian to begin with.

Worst case scenario: Peterson’s audience mainly absorbs his incoherent theology. They feel morally superior for listening to his get your act together message, without actually getting their acts together. Then Peterson announces he’s disproven the resurrection to himself — and his fans. His fans are inoculated against evangelism because they think they already know what the Bible’s all about: mythology and symbolism.

It could go either way. If that’s not something to pray about, I don’t know what is.

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  • Mela

    Like all of us, Peterson is a work in progress. He wrestling with Truth vs. error of his trade. This reinforces my own opinion that behavioral psychologists, etc. have no business being counselors in Christianity, which is the case in many fellowships today. At some point in the ‘counseling/therapy’ there is a blurring of the lines of God’s Word and psychoanalytical paradigms. It’s very confusing.

    • Howard Rosenbaum

      Right – psychology has relative value where referencing the human condition is concerned.
      It must NEVER Be used as a substitute for THE “higher authority “. After all much if not all of mans ‘problems “ are matters of the heart. Only the word of God rightly divided can reach into those depths where the real issues reside.
      That often misunderstood intermingling of mind., will & emotions with the spirit of a man ….

  • m-nj

    I’ve seen a number of clips from Peterson, and I must say he is a breath of fresh air in the current PC-focused craziness. However, God does the saving, and anything that makes people come face to face with the fact that they are by nature inherently “bad” (sinners) can only be a good thing in making the Gospel shine.

  • If he honestly examines the evidence for the resurrection, then he will be a Christian in due course. Holy Spirit obliging, of course.

  • James

    Peterson’s appeal isn’t his “theology”, which is incoherent, but his practical advice and that he has the courage to stand up for it.

    While it is trendy to be hypersensitive to the smallest and most excluded minority, Peterson dares to give advice to the majority without reservation or hesitation. He tells young men to get their lives together and points out, controversially but correctly, that this benefits young women as well.

  • Babaloo Jones

    Jordan Peterson seems to be the big white elephant in the Christians room.
    Because of his bold, solid, rich disposition in emphasizing the necessity of responsibility ownership , he became an inconvenient embarrassment for the watered down, sissified, pliable and seeker sensitive church that has been, most of the time, passive to the devastating tsunami of this post-modern culture.
    To invalidate his impact and merit because he may pose as a threat to Christianity is, to say the least, an act of desperation.
    Peterson , if anything, should inspire us to support and promote our very own champions of faith, the ones that are tirelessly preaching the message of Jesus with no compromise nor political agenda.
    I, for one, will take his lectures over any emergent preacher discussing the same theme.
    He is brilliant and nothing less than a good use of my time.
    Salvation belongs to the Lord.
    I pray that Dr. Peterson will be found one of these days in his way to Damascus.
    As far as I can remember, I was not begging Jesus to save me when He did out of His Sovereignty.
    He can do the same for Jordan.

    • Esther O’Reilly

      I agree and disagree. Agreed, JP embarrassingly shows up weak-kneed, watered-down preaching. Disagree that it’s mere “desperation” leading Christians to sound a cautionary note or express any hesitation whatsoever. I have read and written thoughtful critique that hails his great strengths, recognizes him as a cultural ally, yet points out the fact that his followers will need to move beyond him if they are to be completely whole, spiritually.

      • Babaloo Jones

        I can appreciate and respect your point of view and I was not certainly referring to mature Christians that are able to distinguish what is profitable in his message and what should be taken in consideration with further analysis or even be rejected. I see him as a secular voice that is not conflicting with my personal spiritual journey. I sincerely desire to see more preachers talking freely and courageously at the same time bringing glory to the name of the Lord. Ultimately, the message of the cross is the only TRUTH capable to transform hearts and save mankind. Blessings, Esther.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Not to say there are no good points made here but with all due respect, I think we are already seeing a scenario play out that is neither best nor worst. The data is already coming in. Numerous young men actually are getting their real acts together, being pulled from the brink of suicide, healing familial rifts and more. So I admit to finding your worst case scenario a bit puzzling and hasty here. I share your concerns but this think-piece needed a few more minutes in the oven, methinks. Check out my own think-piece here at The Stream for a slightly different tack on this: The Church, the Christ, and Jordan Peterson.

  • Andy6M

    I think that what the church needs to do is take the points that Peterson has made, engage the people that they resonate with and say, “those are good points aren’t they… let me show you how the Bible really takes them the next step, fills them out, and brings them home.”

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    Thoughtful commentary. Though I would add this caveat. Mr Peterson is not seeking to present his views as “gospel “. He is rather it seems borrowing not the preachers pulpit but the philosophers platform.
    It is this “platform “ upon which he stands.
    Were he to quote scripture & verse, well that would be quite a different matter. As it is , he is a refreshing voice in the secular circles of typically convoluted thinking. That in my opinion is critical. Perhaps as his “journey “ reaches more solidly biblical critical thinking, we may find ourselves looking at something of a 21st century C.S.Lewis type of conversation – if that is not already the case …?

  • davidrev17

    “I solemnly charge you before God and
    Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.

    “For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things. And they will turn away from hearing the truth, but on the other hand they will turn aside to myths.”

    (2 Timothy 4:1-4; whose wise and prophetic exhortation to his “student/son in the faith,” Timothy, the Apostle Paul gives his final words; just prior to willingly sacrificing his own head to the maniacal Roman Emperor Nero [circa mid-60’s CE], after about 30-years of some of the most selfless “doulos-ship” for the gospel of Yeshua/Jesus this world may have ever seen.)

    ☆ ☆ ☆

    Yet here in our intellectual heady-days of over-secularized, PC atheistic scientism (or simply naturalism – or how about even syncretistic scientific materialism – it’ so very strange, and profoundly disturbing to often witness this avalanche of Christophobic-premised “moral relativism,” being stuffed-down-the-collective-throats of untold millions of citizens, but we seem either far-too desensitized, or spiritually immune from discerning this insidious reality, of which has been playing-out right-under our corporate noses.

    At least we now have some hard-evidence supporting the obvious success of this cultural brainwashing in the West, wonderfully magnified by what’s described about the behavior of Mr. Peterson himself in the article (rapidly elevated to cultural icon, or hero of sorts over this?); hence my charge that this incoherent philosophical madness, has demonstrably become our de facto established “absolute truth,” with all of its associated dizzying convoluted consequences on mind-boggling display, in what’s now clearly A post-Christian America – courtesy of ITS wholly immoral author, the NON-existent “spirit of antichrist”??

    Whew! Come again?? Tragically, the “death of Truth” continues to reflect strong “signs-of-life” here in God Bless America. But who’s noticing, or even cares for that matter?

    No wonder so many are concerned about not only the moral “state” of this once-great nation – but also how this critically relevant issue seems to be closely correlative with its rapidly-dwindling numbers of actual/legitimate disciples, within the professing body of “Christian” believers too.

  • Joan Arnold

    I’ve also been listening to Jordan Peterson on YouTube. He’s an amazing man. More than just standing up to insane pc laws, he cares about what’s happening to college students, particularly male college students. And so he’s offering the best he has to help them. And it’s is a signficant help, because he tells of the hundreds of letters he gets from people who say he’s helped them turn from despair.

    What does not surprise me is that Christians (I’m the chief one) who don’t offer help to the kids caught in the relativistic world are more worried that he’s not a believer.

    Don’t the Christians recognize how hungry people are for the truth? Peterson’s videos of class lectures are getting half- and three-quarter million views. Why aren’t Christians trying to learn from him so they can be as helpful as he has been?

    Why aren’t Christians standing up against insane pc practices? We have more than a firm conviction that the truth matters, as it does to Prof. Peterson. And yet we do nothing but say, “Oh, too bad he’s not a believer.”

    Why isn’t any Christian professor (or from whatever career) offering to go help him? Where are all the Christians?

    • Esther O’Reilly

      Easy. We’re working on it.

  • Matt

    I like Jordan Peterson, and I think we have real reason to hope that we are seeing a genuine conversion in process. I really hope so, and I pray for him. I am listening to his “Idea of God” series, and one thing I find odd is his seeming lack of awareness or perhaps curiosity about any prior commentators from Judaism and Christianity on the texts that he is lecturing on. For all his references to Jung and Nietzsche, doesn’t he think he might have something to learn from people who have been seriously studying these texts for thousands of years?

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I am concerned by a comment he made once that he likes being “outside the boxes” and worries that if he commits to one, this will confer tunnel vision on his view of the world. Someone needs to explain to him that becoming a Christian is, like, the opposite of that.

    He really does seem to be preparing to give the Resurrection a fair shake though. Which is exciting.

  • Sharon

    Adding this man to my prayer list, along with Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro, two others who are so close and yet so far.

  • Mark Cain

    “Now here is a genuine son of Israel–a man of complete integrity.” John 1:47. I believe we are seeing through the wonder of modern technology a “man in the process” of coming to Christ. At least that is my prayer.

    Refreshing, because there is no deceit, manipulation, guile in him.

    My biggest concern is that he might become a founder, unintentionally, of what will be the NEW SADDUCEE’S. No unseen things (2 Cor. 4:18), no resurrection, etc., just a little faith mixed with a lot of philosophy.

  • bbb

    In Canada there is no freedom of speech, or for that matter there is no Bill of Rights – you know, the inalienable ones given by God, not man – so anyone who is trying to preach good morals, good habits, good attitude and grace is as close as it gets to religion in that nation without one being tossed in jail.
    The “up” side of JP is his sensible and healthy set of standards that really should have been taught by parents or schools.
    The “down” side of JP is that unless he accepts Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as his personal savior and believes on Him for everlasting life, then JP will be teaching his brand of ‘good’ in Hell for all eternity.
    When we die our souls either go “up” or “down.” Only two choices. Heaven or Hell.
    Satan is out telling people there is no heaven or hell, but he’s rounding up customers don’t you see?
    It is a cultural handicap to come from a nation that outlaws Christianity.
    I do hope that JP will pause, take time to find out about the mysterious and mystical Bible and its teachings, and become very good friends with Jesus.

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