Is Jordan Peterson the champion we’ve been looking for?

Christians, it’s time to think a bit more deeply about the Jordan Peterson moment.1

Unless you’ve been asleep and on a different planet for the past several weeks, you’ve probably seen a video clip of the increasingly popular social commentator Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Most recently, Peterson was rocketed to the precarious and perhaps not-what-one-bargained-for, but nevertheless real, spotlight of internet stardom by brilliantly handling an aggressive feminist interviewer with raw logic, facts, and truth. She was literally speechless. Scores of memes followed. Dr. North wrote up the exchange under the heading, “Bambi vs. Godzilla,” which it surely was.

Peterson is popular for a real reason, too. He’s speaking the hard truth about personal responsibility, and right into the teeth of the beast of leftist safe spaces, spin machines, blizzards of snowflakes, and the like. That stand on that issue alone, when executed well (and it is), is enough to win you a nice fan base. But Peterson adds yet another dimension. He’s leveling liberal academics from within their own fortress—the sacred groves of academia. Even better, he’s doing it from within one of the more rabidly liberal of disciplines. He’s a psychologist.

Conservatives everywhere are lining up to hear him. He puts his class lectures online and also posts several more casual and intimate Q&A style videos. His audience is overwhelmingly made up of young men, most of whom are hearing a positive, challenging, and inspiring message for young men for the first time. The war on boys ends here, and millions of viewers and students are lining up for something that sounds manlier than what they get anywhere else—certainly any of their other liberal arts classes. Each video he posts gets tens or hundreds of thousands of views, and he, smartly, is receiving donations to a reported tune of something like $60k per month.

If his liberal colleagues didn’t hate him enough for repeat-blasting feminism and the LGBT political agenda like an intellectual jackhammer, they could hate him for just being such a greedy capitalist alone.

Meanwhile, conservatives have found a new hero. He’s brilliant, fairly well-read, and even better, he spends a ton of time explaining Bible stories from Genesis and the like in profound, engaging ways. Conservatives are cheering a new champion, young men are in love with the father they never had, and Christians are mesmerized by what seems like a new prophet of international proportions. At least one conservative Reformed conference ushered Dr. Peterson past any number of theologians to the front of the keynote speaker line.

The more I listen to Dr. Peterson, the more I like him and think maybe some genuine progress could be made with him from a biblical Christian perspective. He often exegetes material that most pastors don’t get, and applies it in helpful ways that I sense most pastors would be afraid, even if they recognized the application.

And that kind of gets us to the “but” in this article, and it’s a “but” that every Christians needs to consider next to everything Jordan Peterson says and does, because it’s a very big “but.” In a nutshell, it is this:

For all of his toppling of great idols of humanism in our day, Dr. Peterson’s thought, from their presuppositions right through many of his conclusions, is as thoroughly humanist, autonomous, and thus ultimately dangerous, as anything any leftist every said. Christians need to be aware of the depths of this problem in Peterson’s thought, and the implications it has for their discernment of his teachings.

Our happy blindness

Conservatives and Christians in general, however, don’t see it, due, I think, to a very regular historical occurrence. They have never really developed and taught their own thoroughly biblical psychology and social theory. They have a few snippets of beliefs from the Bible, and a few beliefs from Bible stories, and enough of an idea of Christ to have a lot of well-developed theories about individual salvation — at least, in the sense of answering “how do I get to heaven”? But social theory? Social dynamics? Personality, vocation, self-improvement, discipline, meaning, power versus authority, law, justice? We’re not only virtually empty here, but when even a few of us have tried, they are usually pilloried by the rest for daring to say the Bible speaks to such issues that are outside of individual ticket sales to heaven.

No wonder there’s a market for strong words about personal responsibility to young men today.

As I said, this has often been true in history. Christians have consistently failed to develop a distinctly biblical social theory. So, they wander like sheep with no shepherd; and when the next major social, moral, or intellectual crisis hits, they have usually found themselves sidling up to the strong, unifying voice of some secular moralist who is saying some of what the church should have been saying all along.

More often than not, too, the Christian intellectuals cannot line up fast enough to parrot the new hero and present mildly-baptized versions of his thought. Only, in the process, they end up carrying water for paganism, and bringing it right into the baptismal fonts of their sanctuaries. Christianity, and especially Christian social theory, suffers for a generation until the next crisis hits.

To prevent this problem, it would of course behoove us just to go ahead a develop a biblical social theory from the bottom up (there’s a good start on it already, by the way). It would also help to quit fawning over every bright and engaging pagan that momentarily captures our hearts in the meantime.

Even if we were to take a “chew the meat and spit the bones” approach (not out of the picture), it would certainly be incumbent upon us to learn, to know, and to know what the bones are—to understand the paganism of the particular unbelievers we invite to dinner, and to make sure the other guests are aware just how deep that rabbit hole goes.

Now, Jordan B. Peterson is the latest of such pagan heroes. Even if we were to decide he has a good benefit to offer to those with a biblical Christian worldview, when analyzed from that perspective, we need at least to talk about the presuppositions from which he is working, and what that means for us, and some of the things they, so to speak, don’t tell you in the brochure.

The depths of depth psychology

Jordan B. Peterson is sometimes called a Christian, and some have said he calls himself a Christian. But from any orthodox or historical definition of that term, nothing could be further from the truth — his interesting grasps of Bible stories notwithstanding. Peterson is a clinical psychologist by trade and by academic profession, but in terms of worldview, he is a full-blown, unapologetic, enthusiastic Jungian humanist, with a twist of Nietzsche in there, too. This means, first, you need to know a little bit about Carl G. Jung.

Jung early on was a parallel figure to Sigmund Freud, but eventually developed certain ideas into something more complex and fantastical than Freud, by wedding forms of ancient pagan, mystic, occult, and other esoteric philosophies into his theories of the primitive drives and instincts, sexual and otherwise, of the human libido which make up the core of our unconscious being. Jung was a strong disciple also of Friedrich Nietzsche, and many Nietzschean themes such as the Übermensch (“super-man”), death of God, and the transvaluation of all values find new expression in Jung’s theories. To this Jung further added völkish religion, Aryanism, UFOs, alchemy, and virtually all forms of occultism (emphasis on all).

There was a tremendous push and enthusiasm in Germany at the time for all such things, and one popular understanding of it all was that Germans, in order to become truly all they were destined to be (whether naturally, through evolution, or mystically through some kind of cosmic evolution), needed to push beyond all the impediments Christianity had forced upon German civilization and engage the true roots of ancient German folk religion, which predated Christianity and had within it all the secrets, mysteries, and savage power in a sort of mystical, cultural DNA that would make Germans be all Germans were ever intended to be—fulfilled, transcendent, powerful.

And if you sniff a bit of Hitler and Nazism in that, that’s because it’s all the stuff they were made of. But there is even more to it.

This also came on the heels of two generations of developed higher criticism of the Bible (much of it led by German scholars) — the kind that far surpassed merely denying inspiration, and said the Bible must be treated like any other book, then proceeded to deconstruct it into fine slices with razors of all kinds of criticism, historical, literary, philological, textual, linguistic, etc. The result was a near-total denuding of the faith of the German people, and many more besides. In this milieu grew up the likes of Nietzsche (not to mention Marx), but also a whole new denigration of traditional Christianity, and on top of that, a whole new appreciation for all things pre-Christian and not-Christian. Into the void flooded, among other things, a great interest in the ancient mystery religions — especially those which were supposed to have the deepest, purest of Persian/Aryan roots, for these were the ancient roots of the Germans.

By the time Jung arrives, there is a developed body of scholarly literature on all of this. One of the mystery religions which most captivated Jung, for various reasons, was the Roman cult, allegedly of Persian origin, of Mithraism. This was a blood-sacrifice cult centered on a Sun god named Mithras and featuring also a lion-headed god.

These things were not fringe or side interests to Jung. They were the core of his very being and of the psychology, philosophy, and methods he developed. It was around 1913 that Jung, through dabbling in spiritualism and psychic trances (which he called “active imagination”), achieved his own personal version of Nietzsche’s Übermensch. He had a vision in which he met Elijah and “Salome” in a “Druidic sacred place.” Salome approached Jung and began to worship him. When he asked her why, she said, “You are Christ.” A snake approached him and coiled around him. Soon, he could feel that his face had transformed into that of a lion.

Jung explained to an audience in 1925 that through this experience, he had been mystically initiated into the Mithraic mysteries, and had undergone “deification”—personally transformed into the very lion headed God, named “Aion” by Jung, featured in the ancient cult. Jung believed he had been deified, identified with Aion the Persian/Aryan sun God, and immortal.

The one thing on which all of this was built, and with which all the major players were consistent, was the need to find something to replace the razed religious foundations and superstructure of traditional Christianity.

Jung himself embodied this critique. He agreed with that vast critics of Christianity at the time and saw Christianity as a great historical distraction to the true development of the human race. If history had only gone differently, we would have not had this sad affair, but been more thoroughly enlightened by Mithraism and the mysteries instead of impeded by Christianity. Instead, he said, “In the past two thousand years Christianity has done its work and has erected barriers of repression, which protect us from the sight of our own ‘sinfulness.’ The elementary emotions of the libido have come to be unknown to us, for they are carried on in the unconscious; therefore, the belief which combats them [i.e., Christianity] has become hollow and empty.”

A couple paragraphs from one popular Jung scholar will tie this all together, explaining Jung’s worldview and teachings:

Within each native European there was a living pre-Christian layer of the unconscious psyche that produced religious images from the Hellenistic pagan mystery cults or even the more archaic nature religions of the ancient Aryans. The phylogenetic unconscious does not produce purely Christian symbols but instead offers pagan images, such as that of the sun as god. If the sediment of two thousand years of Judeo-Christian culture could be disturbed (as in psychotic mental diseases with a psychological component, such as dementia praecox), then this Semitic “mask” might be removed, and the biologically true images of the original “god within” could be revealed: a natural god, perhaps of the sun or stars like Mithras, or matriarchal goddesses of the moon or blood, or phallic or chthonic gods from within Mother Earth. . . .

To Jung, the mystery cults of antiquity kept alive the ancient natural religion of human prehistory and were a corrective antidote to the poison of religions—like Judaism and Christianity—that had been forged by civilization. . . .

Jung regarded Christianity as a Jewish religion that was cruelly imposed on the pagan peoples of Europe. . . . Semitic cultures, cut off from the primordial source of life, did not have mysteries in which a direct experience of the gods could be attained through initiation rituals. They were, therefore, cut off from the renewal and rebirth that such mysteries offered the Aryans. . . .

Jung often referred to the ancient mysteries as the “secret” or “hidden” or “underground” religions and their social organizations as the secret or hidden churches that kept alive the divine spark from the dawn of creation. This leads us to an obvious conclusion. When Jung became one with Aion in his visionary initiation experience, in his imagination he was not only becoming a full participant in the mysteries of Mithras; he was experiencing a direct initiation into the most ancient of the mysteries of his Aryan ancestors. . . .

Here’s the part that is the most crucial summary for our purposes:

His new science of psychoanalysis became the twentieth century vehicle of those mysteries. Most important, as his initiation experience also entailed assuming the stance of the crucified Jesus as he metamorphosed into Aion, Jung thereby became the figure that fueled the fantasies of thousands of Volkish Germans and European and American anti-Semites at the turn of the century: the Aryan Christ.

Much more could be added to this, and in fact is in the books from which these paragraphs came, The Jung Cult and The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung (see esp. pp. 121–147), both by award-winning author and clinical psychologist Richard Noll.2

I want to be clear here: while there are obviously strains of antisemitism in all of this, and Jung did briefly give a favorable glimpse to Nazism, the point here is not to play the anti-Semite card and try to discredit Jung in that way. The point here is to show the radical break with all things Christian, the reinterpretation of even Jesus himself in terms of mystical, occult mysteries, and the projection of such occult practices into a thoroughly scientific-sounding method of “psychoanalysis” as a way of, among other things, transforming the collective imagination of the West from Christianity to a new paganism (same as the old).

All of this was Jung’s answer to Nietzsche’s “death of God” proclamation. Nietzsche was not just dancing on the grave, he was alerting the world to a need for something to fill the void left behind, because “God” had been performing some pretty important services in regard to meaning and morality and all, so those who killed him had to pick up the slack. Nietzsche’s answer to this, in a nutshell, was that we had to become powerful autonomous actors who from now own determined our own values for ourselves. Or as Peterson has put it in his lectures, men must become creatures who can autonomously create their own values. But this looked like trouble. So what Jung added to that answer was to examine people’s fantasies to determine their drives and motives, and supply some kind of collective unity that could tie these many autonomous actors to something common. He added the dimension of mythology across history as a guide to interpretation and meaning. These last few explanations are notes directly from Peterson’s own lectures.

In short, Jung mainstreamed the most famous doctrines of the atheist Friedrich Nietzsche, and also mainstreamed virtually every kind of ancient paganism and occultism right into the heart of twentieth century secular humanism, and it makes a huge core of what makes modern humanism what it is.

This is what Christians should consider when they listen to Jordan Peterson, because this is precisely, and quite squarely I would add, where he is coming from when he says what he says, even when it seems to comport with Christianity.

Peterson’s Jungian worldview

Some will be quick to object that I am merely poisoning the well. All of this, I admit, could indeed be seen as one big genetic fallacy, or series thereof. We could understand Peterson’s association with Jungian psychology as little more than incidental, like a kind of professional vestige, long since watered down and papered over with many layers of more modern, scientific clinical theories.

Except, Peterson says things like this: “Jung, I would say, was the most serious thing for the twentieth century.” And he says such things with passionate verve. And he lectures with enthusiasm on how great Jung was and he weaves Jung’s theories and ideas into his own. He speaks openly of Jung (and Nietzsche, too), his admiration for him, and quite often will drop phrases and ideas from Jung’s methodology that show Peterson follows the same path: for example, the interpretation of people’s “archetypal dreams” and “the mythological underpinning of them” in his psychological practice.

Consider teachings like this:

For Jung, not only are the substructures of your thought biological, and so therefore based in your body, but your body was also cultural and historical…. You’re an evolved creature, so [there’s] 3.5 billion years worth of weirdness that you can draw on, or that can move you where it wants to move you…. But also, you’re being shaped by cultural dynamics all the time…. Part of what every single person is constantly broadcasting to every other person is how to behave….

Then he discusses the archetypal “savior figure” as the distillation of a thousand people’s ideals, and says if someone comes along who is close to one of these figures, you have a religion. So, the story of Horus and Isis kept Egypt civilized for millennia. Then that story “sort of transmuted into Judaism and then turned into Christianity, so it’s not like the ideas disappeared.” Peterson says

You’re just as possessed by those ideas as any ancient Egyptian, you’re just more fragmented, because what your conscious mind assumes and what your unconscious mind assumes are different things, and you’re always at war with yourself; that’s why you’re attracted to ideologies.

These ideologies he calls “idols” and destructive to your soul (I wondered if he would include the ideologies of Jung and Nietzsche in that. Don’t know.). He concluded the section by mentioning what is so terrifying about Jung: “there’s no escaping the realization of the nature of the forces that are behind the puppets that we are.” Scoffing at people who said Jung started a cult, Peterson says he is “so much more terrifying than a cult!” No, Jung was “trying to bring the primordial imagination back into the world and to make people conscious of it.”

And there’s more. If there’s any single thing Peterson’s become known for, it’s his emphasis on taking personal responsibility. Here, it would seem, there’s at least some overlap with the discipline, responsibility, and sanctification found in Christian teaching. But not really, this is Jungian too. Peterson himself teaches, “The thing that is instantiated in Jungian psychotherapy, the Jungian model, is, it requires personal responsibility above all else.”

It’s not Christian. It’s Jung’s answer to Nietzsche’s superman. It’s humanism, human autonomy, self-help, or in Peterson’s personal brand, “self-authoring.”

Peterson comes across as conservative, mainly because he takes such an uncompromising stance against “cultural Marxism” and “postmodernism” (which he says is just Marxism under a new name), but his own roots in Nietzsche and Jung not only conflict with that stance in theory (who, after all, is a greater granddaddy of postmodernism than Nietzsche?), but some of his own ethical wranglings show those roots in practice as well.

One lesser known, but certainly not surprising, aspect of Jung is his sexual immorality. He counseled some of his clients to have affairs, and himself had women in addition to his wife. Peterson is certainly more prudish personally (his assessment), yet himself from his worldview has a hard time addressing homosexual marriage. Yes, he would oppose such a law if it were only cultural Marxists using it to destroy western civilization, but he’s also supportive of it because “it’s a means whereby gay people can be more thoroughly integrated into standard society, and that’s probably a good thing.”

Likewise, on abortion. He has no problems calling it morally wrong, though on pragmatic and anecdotal grounds. But the question of its legality is a whole different thing. Some morally wrong things should still be legal. This discussion, he said, is nested inside a larger discussion, and in discussing it, Peterson reveals how he once counseled a 27-year old female virgin to address her personal timidity by going out and having some sexual “adventures.” After all, “You can’t just say to people in the modern world, ‘No sex until you’re married.’”

Even in his “self-authoring” theme, Peterson is Jungian-Nietzschean to the point of being postmodern himself. In speaking of self-improvement in metaphorical terms, he says this:

then if you create an ultimate judge, which is what the archetypal imagination of humankind has done, say, with the figure of Christ—because if Christ is nothing else he is at least the archetypal perfect man and therefore the judge—you have a judge that says get rid of everything about yourself that isn’t perfect.

The thing that’s interesting about this, I think, is you can do it more or less on your own terms. You have to have some collaboration from external people; but you don’t have to pick an external ideal. You can pick an ideal that fulfills the role of ideal for you; you can say, OK, if things could be set up for me the way I need them to be, and if I could be who I needed to be, what would that look like? You can figure that out for yourself, and then instantly you have a judge.

Maybe he would explain these points, or the context, a little more satisfactorily given the chance, but as it is, this is nothing less than the very moral relativism one would expect from his inspirations (yet which he himself decries).

Jung with a stiff upper lip

Somehow, however, this Jungian depth psychologist has adopted a conservative-ish streak along the way. But even these are humanistic. The following excerpts of Peterson quoted in David Brooks’s recent article are very interesting:

All of life is perched, Peterson continues, on the point between order and chaos. Chaos is the realm without norms and rules. Chaos, he writes, is “the impenetrable darkness of a cave and the accident by the side of the road. It’s the mother grizzly, all compassion to her cubs, who marks you as a potential predator and tears you to pieces. Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters. … Most men do not meet female human standards.”

Life is suffering, Peterson reiterates. Don’t be fooled by the naïve optimism of progressive ideology. Life is about remorseless struggle and pain. Your instinct is to whine, to play victim, to seek vengeance.

Peterson tells young men never to do that. Rise above the culture of victimization you see all around you. Stop whining. Don’t blame others or seek revenge. “The individual must conduct his or her life in a manner that requires the rejection of immediate gratification, or natural and perverse desires alike.”

When I hear “struggle” and “suffering,” I hear the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. When I hear the advice to rise above these and face them like a man, I hear classic stoicism (which churchmen of the era loved). The two are far more similar, by the way, than most histories of philosophies catch. These ideas connect historically also in Nietzsche, but also in classic British conservatism. In the face of calamity and chaos, keep a stiff upper lip. Don’t bend, don’t’ change. Edmund Burke could have written those paragraphs.

Above all, a Burkean Conservative would say, don’t touch the ancient institutions. Don’t mess with the fundamental foundations of society that have served us well for so many years. Don’t changeanything. If you do, you don’t know what the consequences will be. This is exactly Peterson’s message, too. Don’t be fooled by naïve optimism. Accept traditions, etc., even if you have to embrace the pain.

Sure enough, what we are getting in the conservative and Christian flocking to Peterson is the same thing we saw with the classic conservativism centering on Edmund Burke. Never mind that he was every bit as much a humanist and natural law proponent on social theory as Robespierre himself. It was the Right Wing of the Enlightenment, and Christians loved it, mainly because it said some things Christians weren’t getting in a fully biblical form from their pulpits—weren’t getting at all, really.

Christians don’t realize that the Enlightenment had two wings, one right and one left. When we think humanism, we only think left wing humanism, but the right wing was every bit as humanist. One could go on to say, in fact, that the right wing of the enlightenment is even more dangerous than the left, because it teaches humanistic principles on humanistic foundations, but often with common conclusions Christians like to hear, and often in language that sounds amenable to Christianity. Here are the Isaac Newtons, Adam Smiths, Edmund Burkes — all guys Christians tend to love. It is often through these relationships and their influence that humanism enters the church to the detriment of all.

Analysis from a Biblical Worldview

The point with Peterson should not be to have to do something so obvious as to go through Peterson’s lectures on biblical narratives critiquing every point from the perspective of orthodox theology. Rather, it is to look deeper at the presuppositions that underlie his interpretations and methods, and what, while it may sound profound (and in a way, is), is little more than the same type of humanistic repurposing of the texts to which we would strenuously reject and decry if we heard a liberal doing it. But since this guys seems to be on our side, we give him a more passive treatment.

Cornelius Van Til provided a very helpful multi-point review of the psychology of religion which not only nicely critiques humanistic attempts (which would subsume Jung), but also establishes biblical presuppositions from which to do so.3

A biblical worldview of souls (“psychology” is the study of the soul) must begin with the Creator-creation distinction. Man is not God, and man cannot become a god. Second, the fall of man is the source of all our brokennesses. All of them. We will not be saved by creating a distillation of archetypes from the collective imagination of fallen man, or any projection from that which is already broken. Nothing derived from us either horizontally with other men, or vertically up from ourselves, can save us. The cure of souls must come from without, not within fallen humanity.

Psychology, therefore, that proceeds on any other ground, certainly including Jung’s program, is a rival plan of salvation to that of the Bible and Christian tradition.

These basic ideas have severe implications.

First, as we have seen with Jung and Peterson above, the rival views are hardly neutral. This is because there is no neutrality. Our views of psychology and “Self-help” are either in covenant with God, or covenant breaking with Him.

Second, humanistic psychologies assume that man is his own autonomous being — autonomous from God, that is, because they will call him everything but subject to the God of the Bible, even going so far as to call him subject to the impersonal forces of the universe, or a collective consciousness of humanity. He is autonomous from God, nonetheless. But man is totally dependent upon his creator. For the Bible, man is created in the image of God. For the Jungians, God is created in the images of glorified men.

Third, since man is dependent upon the Creator for his being, and totally subject to Him, this means man is also dependent upon Him morally. The whole concept of establishing our own values, then, whether per Nietzsche, Jung, or Peterson, is unbiblical and humanistic. For the humanist, man must be saved on his own terms, setting his own values. For the Bible, man must return to the ethics God created for him.

When we follow the humanistic models, like Jung’s, but any of them, really, we can trace several steps of the destruction of the foundations of civilization. First, the intellect is dethroned in favor of irrational, forces — thus the emphasis on paganism, spiritualism, and all things occult.

Second, man is eventually reduced to little more than a holistic corpus and product of such forces.

Third, comes a focus on the psyche developed in childhood. The child becomes the most meaningful part of the psyche, and thus of the person. The adult is soon interpreted in terms of the child.

Fourth, emphasis is placed upon the unconscious and subconscious forces.

Fifth, emphasis is placed upon abnormal psychology. Since there is no fall in humanism, the abnormal and normal are both natural, and thus both normal in a way. Thus, for example, homosexuality is just as valid as hetero. In ethics, this means homosexual marriage must be given some space as valid in the mix.

Sixth, the emphasis next becomes primitive and primordial man. Jung obviously exemplifies this in reaching back to our earliest pagan roots for archetypal patterns and foundations.

Seventh, we go from primordial man to animals. The key to the human psyche will then lie somewhere deep in our evolutionary history. Not the men, not the abnormal man, not the child, not the subconscious, but the chimpanzee and the rat, will explain our woes and its cures.

And if you can recall Jung standing there, snake-wrapped, with his own face replaced by that of a lion, perhaps you can see that this is no joke.

In virtually every one of these areas, we can easily refute Freud and the humanistic traditions, whether Jungian, behaviorist, or whatever. But such refutations also just as earnestly critique the humanistic foundations from which Peterson works, as well as many of the points he would emphasize from them. We don’t need another lion-headed Aryan would-be Christ, or any other humanist stretch of the imagination. What we do need is to return to the God-man that our Creator sent to rescue us in our fallen condition. Here we can find true representation, manhood and womanhood, ethics, meaning, and a future outlook.

And in that outlook, we’ll be much better equipped to discern the problems that appear in even the good-speaking humanists.


When you boil it all down, the weightiest contributions coming from Peterson are actually quite limited and easily procurable from sources with less intellectual baggage and less-deceptive packages to truth-and-practice-hungry Christians. His weightiest contribution on social theory is a repeated historical lesson that communism lay behind the slaughter of millions of people, and we don’t want to return to that.

Ok, fine. But we’ve got plenty of help on that message already. We just need pressure on the teachers to teach it more. We need simply an effort to get the word out better on that.

His weightiest contribution on personal life is the emphasis on personal responsibility and self-discipline. Don’t buy into the lure of victimhood and entitlement.

Ok, fine, too. But that’s the message of the mind of Christ in the New Testament (Phil. 2), in which version it is far more meaningful and profound. It’s the most fundamental lesson of sanctification in the Bible. It’s where Christians should begin and never depart. So why don’t we begin with the Bible and not depart from it? It contains, Peter says, “all things pertaining to life and godliness.” No detour through Mithraism or the Übermensch is needed here.

So, why do we allow ourselves to become enamored with the pseudo-profundities of Jung and depth psychology, and with their fundamental deceit that the answer lies inside of ourselves, in humanity, in a collective unconscious, in humanity’s evolutionary being? What improvement is this over any other humanism?

Why, I ask you Christian, would we want to trade one humanism for another? I am speaking of intellectual presuppositions and foundations. Why does it matter if we try to build Christian-sounding ideas on top of Right Wing Humanism or Left Wing Humanism? Ultimately, beneath both, are the same ideas: we are evolved beings, the universe is impersonal, we are products of our environment, our instincts, drive, and urges rule us, etc., etc. The only good that exists in Peterson’s talks is when he departs from these basic presuppositions and happens to echo biblical ones, and that should tell us all we need to do next: go to the source of the good ideas Peterson has. That source is Scripture. Peterson denies the inspiration of it, the historicity of it, the God who is behind all of it, and the Christ who is the Son of that God and Savior of us in our condition.

Yet Peterson is commanding huge audiences of largely young men. While we obviously need a clear warning in the church that his foundations and teachings lack quite a bit, the nature of his appeal speaks volumes about what is missing in our own house. But for all of this problem, the main lesson Christian leaders need to take from this is to see where all the young men are flocking to gain wisdom and insight into practical living and every area of life while Christian leaders are missing the boat in virtually every way a boat can be missed: intellectually, spiritually, apologetically, culturally, as well as in terms of business, opportunity, community, dominion, etc.

End notes

1 The phrase “Jordan Peterson moment” was coined as the headline of a recent New York Times article by David Brooks.

2 Peterson, like much of the pro-Jung academic guild, has not been appreciative of Noll, and in a lecture called him a “crooked guy,” although when confronted later apologized.

3 The following points are taken from Rushdoony’s summary of Van Til in “Psychology,” in Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2001), 41-51.

This article was first published on the under the title “Is Jordan Peterson our new Aryan Christ?” and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Joel McDurmon is the author of “God vs. Socialism” and “The Problem of Slavery in Christian America” and many other books. Top photo is cropped version of TEDxUofT Team picture (photo credit: Strategic Communications/University of Toronto) and used under a Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

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  1. David Anderson

    February 24, 2018 at 6:41 am

    Evangelical anti-intellectualism and navel-gazing has really hurt us. We have a dearth of Christian public intellectuals. Too many with these gifts have gone ‘in-house’, doing the tour of the Christian conference circuit, where they are lauded and beloved, but not challenged. Or disappeared into the world of academic theology where they debate other academics, but have little impact beyond that sphere – hoping that eventually their ideas will tricked down into the outer world through a long chain of academics and students and eventually people taught by those students. And/or they churn out endless books repeating the same thing, with only very minor modifications, as 20 other people published in the last 5 years. Who is the last major Christian intellectual in the public square who had a platform that wasn’t large preaching to the choir? C S Lewis?

    There are non-Christians, of various sorts, like Petersen, Ben Shapiro, and then Christians with weak theology like Peter Hitchens, who have platforms out in the public square, and who are willing to bring serious intellectual analysis to things. But we evangelicals seem to have built so much comfortable infrastructure, our own private world, our safe haven, that we’re very content to live in it, and talk to ourselves, instead of interacting with the one that Jesus told us to “Go” out into.

    The article points out, correctly, that we can find all the best bits of Peterson, in books. But the realities of physical human existence and community require more than that. Truth must be embodied. Peterson is very attractive, because he’s not just writing books and throwing them over the fence. I’d say that he’s actually exposing some of our rot. We can see what’s possible – and what we’ve failed to do.

  2. Ken

    February 24, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    While the warning to Christians to not be overly enamored with Peterson in thinking that he is teaching the Gospel is acceptable, for many of us, we appreciate the Ben Shapiros and Petersons because they articulate right values which a free democracy must have to exist. Many of our founding Fathers were far from Christian, yet they believed in values of hard work, self-discipline and righteous living as a necessary moral code. Certainly this fits in with Christian values, but few true Believers are confusing the Gospel and God’s Word with the need to return to good moral values in this country. When Petersen clearly articulates these values we cheer him on, and that cheering is for articulating many of the missing values in our culture.; even as it is devoid of the Gospel. This is far better than anything the left is articulating and no where near as dangerous.

  3. TerryinBC

    February 25, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Excellent analytical insights, important background information and a timely caution, for any who might feel themselves being drawn into some mystical, Peterson orbit. Where he attains intellectual stature among Christians, though, is through discerning his alignments with biblical truth, not through giving credence to his archetypal fantasies. We can admire and hope to emulate his courage while critiquing his biblical and philosophic short-comings – and praying for his continued enlightenment. I would like him on ‘our side’.

  4. Martin

    March 6, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    What makes Peterson so beneficial for society is that he is espousing views that are being heard. No Christian could have the access he has. Certainly there are formidable Christian minds, but they have been sidelined by a society that refuses to give Christians a chair in public debates. Shapiro and Peterson have access because they are smart, articulate and not Christian. The fact that both see Christians as allies in right thinking is a great benefit for us. Peterson considers the physical resurrection of Christ to be highly plausible. Maybe we should be considering ways to harness what these men are doing, because non of us seem to be carrying the socially conservative ball forward. Maybe they are preparing the ground for a new wave of converts. Here’s hoping.

  5. Neal Ganzel

    March 8, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    This man is fascinating as an example of how the scientific analysis of post-modern, non-religious cosmologies end up being forced by reality to sound like the Christianity they want to replace, particularly in the North American versions of those cosmologies.

    Peterson’s analysis of the pathetic “maleness” of Canada and the USA comes alongside of the casually profane use he sometimes makes of the name of Jesus, and his really amazing ability to not use the words “God,” or “truth,” or any other religious sounding vocabulary as he speaks.

    I like the guy and hope we are able as Christian ministers and laymen to join him in the public dialog on “modern maleness” he has been really courageous to start in our time.

  6. Zgob

    March 11, 2018 at 5:27 am

    It can be quite disturbing for a very traditional and conservative Christian listening to Peterson talking about ancient pagan myths eg Horus, Isis, the yin yang etc. It is true that Peterson’s training and passion has led him through these diverse paths (reminds me of the paths CS Lewis took on the way to Christ). However, it is also explicitly clear that Peterson has deeply drank from the wells of Judeo- Christian sources (Bible, Dostoevsky, et al). Recently he insightfully asserted the supreme stature of Christ above all others in his 2nd dialogue with that anti-theist Sam Harris. Christians indeed need to practice discernment when listening to Peterson. But with Paul (“as some of your poets have said”) we can quote him when we present the wisdom of Christ to a secular audience. The Gospel is Christ cruciied and resurrected, nothing will ever change that. But God’s work in the world is bigger than our boxes. He works thru Nebuchadnezzars and donkeys.

  7. Jonathan

    March 12, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    “Conservatives and Christians in general, however, don’t see it, due, I think, to a very regular historical occurrence. They have never really developed and taught their own thoroughly biblical psychology and social theory. They have a few snippets of beliefs from the Bible, and a few beliefs from Bible stories, and enough of an idea of Christ to have a lot of well-developed theories about individual salvation — at least, in the sense of answering “how do I get to heaven”? But social theory? Social dynamics? Personality, vocation, self-improvement, discipline, meaning, power versus authority, law, justice? We’re not only virtually empty here, but when even a few of us have tried, they are usually pilloried by the rest for daring to say the Bible speaks to such issues that are outside of individual ticket sales to heaven.”

    Great paragraph. Here’s is what a growing number of Christian layman, professionals in a non-ministry fields, concerned about the cultural progression over the past 50-70 years from pro-Christian to Christian tolerant to post-Christian to hostility to Christian will say after reading a column like this one: the Conservative Evangelical Leadership Culture (think ERLC, TGC, T4G, the celebrity pastors of megas, frequent conference speakers, wannabe best selling authors, etc…) seem more concerned that Peterson has stepped into the gap that they’ve ignored and less about the fact that they left that gap unfilled for so long.

    Contrary to the hype, we read and we understand what we read (we’re engineers, software developers, scientists, businessmen in STEM fields, doctors…we’re at the cutting edge of developments that are changing the world in real and rapid ways). We know that Peterson is not one of us in the community of faith. But we also know that no one who is “of us” has dared to walk into the public square, often alone, and sought to engage the bullying identify movement…without prepared notes.

    To give you a flavor for what we’re seeing: Do a YouTube search for Jordan Peterson and you’ll quickly see him trying to explain his position surrounded by an almost rapid group college kids on the topic of personal pronouns. And you won’t find just one.. Next, do the same search for Russell Moore. You won’t find a single video of him doing anything a remotely risky.

    Why is this? I could speculate here but what we do know is that Peterson has found a way to connect his intellect with his testosterone in a way that none of our own leaders are. Yeah, there is an entire shelf dedicated to works on Biblical Manhood by the previous generation of our leaders and several books on individual manhood topics by the current batch of leaders. But there is nothing from “inside the camp” like the videos of men like Peterson and Shapiro going into the belly of the beast and giving a ready defense when there is a real risk of professional (and physical) harm. More than just providing encouragement to us, these men are actually helping us dig deeper and developing our own ability to argue. This is important because most of us actually live and work within that same beast.

    Our entire leadership culture should see this and do some mirror time and do a meaningful manhood check. We love to hear you preach when you’re standing behind a pulpit in speaking to hundreds or thousands of admiring faces. Yes, we hear you talk about how that this act of preaching is a warrior’s battle against the forces of darkness. But, to us, it feels a whole like the Thursday afternoon helmets and shoulderpads practice the day before the big game.

    We’re looking for leadership and we’re either going to find it or be it. What you need to do is decide that you want in on this.

    Do it quick. We’re not waiting around for much longer.

    • Cristi Parker

      April 7, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      Agreed! I think we will see Peterson come to Christ, very soon!!! Listened to a very recent talk he gave and he actually started crying, he was so overwhelmed and encouraged about what is happening to people he has influenced. He also has a profound understanding of our brokenness, wickedness!! Better then some believers I know!! I’m encouraged by him and think God is working through him!!! I was quite discouraged by the Gospel Coalitions recent post in opposition to him. He is doing an excellent job with speaking out against the transgender movement as well! Has rightly pointed out that it’s not about that but about power instead!! His talk a a recent university reveals this IN STEREO!! Prayers for his conversion as God would be so glorified when He finally SEES the person of Christ on a personal level!!

  8. Robert Widdowson

    March 21, 2018 at 9:05 am

    *Peterson is a type of Nebuchadnezzar*
    Peterson reminds me of Nebuchadnezzar, and other pagan men, who God appointed to act as a scourge against other nations, and against Israel, too, when it was faithless. He’s an intellectual/philosophical conqueror, destroying the arrogant Left, Cultural Marxists, Feminists, Sexual Identity exponents, Race baiters, etc. But, as Christians know (or should know), Nebuchadnezzar and his ilk were no genuine friend of God’s people. He was a tool that God used to demonstrate his sovereignty over all things, including massively arrogant men like the Babylonian king. God used Nebuchadnezzar, not because God approved of the king’s worldview, beliefs, and practices; God used the king to show that he was King of kings, even over Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, the Lord severely humbled Nebuchadnezzar precisely because the king had uttered blasphemy–he attributed his greatness to himself rather than to God. Consequently, God reduced Nebuchadnezzar to acting like a dumb beast of the field. (Yeah, Nebu, not so smart now, are you? How’s eating grass and being covered in dew?!).

    Unfortunately, Christians have felt so beaten down right now, that many are eagerly accepting Peterson with open arms, because at least he’s the enemy of our enemy. Plus, he’s very charming, erudite, and somewhat self-effacing. But as this article points out so well, his ideas are theological poison to Christians. He’s a theological Gnostic, people.

    *Peterson, the Nihilist*
    Peterson’s two mentors, Jung and Nietzsche, were nihilists. They both believed, basically, that burning everything to the ground wasn’t so bad, since, as Jung believed, the Phoenix will rise from the ashes. Peterson is drawn, I wonder, to the pagan mythic Christ because the pagan mythic Christ rises from the dead; he’s the supreme mythic hero who symbolizes life, death, and rebirth.

    *The Appeal of Christ*
    Christ isn’t an elite mythic hero; he’s accessible. He resonates with a wide range of people. Christ also has the added benefit of being more than Phoenix or Osiris (or any other mythic figure who conquers death and rises again); Christ is extremely articulate, very wise, and has the power to perform extraordinary miracles. I wonder if, for these reasons, Peterson believes that Christ is the uber-hero?

    *The Bible, Christian Tradition, and Western Civilization*
    Peterson is following in a long line of non-Christians who use Christian ideas and themes for their own, non-Christian ends. Non-Christians who still see Western Civilization as their heritage, and who wish to mine intellectual capital from the West, are able to draw vasts amounts of spiritual and philosophical ‘gold’ from the Bible and Christian tradition. Jung was famous for doing just that; he borrowed this proclivity from Bullfinch’s Mythology, and other kindred books. Madame Blavatsky and the movement she founded, Theosophy, harvested all kinds of things from the Bible. It was ALL wrong, blasphemous, and wickedly distorted views of the Scriptures. But their harvesting of biblical themes had a very powerful effect on many people.

    *Jung and the Devil*
    One more thought, which is often overlooked when speaking of Jung (who was, remember, a major influence on Peterson): Jung made a pact with the devil. When you read his biography, Memory, Dreams, and Reflections, you discover that Jung had a secret relationship with the spirit world. He had spirit guides with whom he regularly communicated. Jung participated in seances as a young man, and continued to practice necromancy for the remainder of his life. This should be a huge red flag for Christians. When was the last time someone spoke to dead people and received God’s blessing? Yet Carl Gustav Jung spoke to dead people all the time, secretly, and based large parts of his psychological theories, from the 1910s on, on the conversations he had with these dead people. Crazy much, Carl?

    But his easy communication with the dead and his profound indebtedness to the dead has its roots in Jung’s favourite poet. Jung was a massive fan of the German poet Goethe, who wrote Doctor Faustus–and Doctor Faustus was the character who sold his soul to the Devil in order to gain access to the treasure house of knowledge and wisdom that the demon, Mephistopheles, curates. Faustus gains exceptional smarts, but in the end is damned to hell. As a young man (teens I think), Jung was enthralled with Goethe’s Faust, and made it his own personal myth. He never renounced its primary tenet: it’s okay to sell your eternal soul to the Devil, as long as you get as wise as Solomon in the exchange.

    The theme of exchanging a piece of your self in order to gain something of immense vale runs throughout Jung’s writings. He believed in self-sacrifice, but not in the way that the Bible teaches it. It’s an extremely selfish self-sacrifice. And the same themes can be detected in Peterson, too.

  9. DBR

    July 18, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    I have followed Peterson for a year and my inerrant Bible sourced faith has been strengthened. Many Christians witness to his spirit toward Jesus as the Logos, or truth. Yes, he truly is a vessel of God, like a Nebuchadnezzar as said before. He is plowing ground where the church has been unable to reach. It could all go bad, and it could bolster humanism. Who knows? But what he says only lacks saving faith to turn it into a powerful message to God’s glory.

    • DBR

      July 18, 2018 at 2:58 pm

      And to your point of warning…. yes, Peterson is autonomous and supports the individual. He worst-case ending would be to actively reject the supernatural creator and elevate man to diety, the divine, “within”. That is ultimate self confidence people seek. However, so far, I see intellectual honesty in him.

      I recommend reformed pastor Paul VanderKlay who has been evaluating Peterson, via utube.

  10. Neal Ganzel

    July 19, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Thank you for this analysis. It mirrors my own. Good Work.

  11. Victoria

    July 27, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    I disagree that the weightiest contribution of Peterson is limited to the recognition of the dangers of communism. The thing that stood out to me as I first encountered him while watching the interview with Cathy Newman is that this is someone who is careful about the accurate use of words, and someone who really cares about what he is talking about, cares about truth, cares about his audience and the direction society is heading. Those are rare, very precious qualities in my estimation.
    I then listened to more and found he is a husband intentional and uncompromising about faithfulness, a father who was unflinching in his commitment to the careful, encouraging discipline of his children, a deep thinker, and a genuine listener with a huge capacity for empathy matched by fearless, robust advice. That is in my view why he is listened to by young men as a ‘father.’
    I am not dismissing anything you say about Jung etc. Peterson is not a Christian, but he is a seeker of truth, and has the integrity to stand by his convictions in the face of considerable opposition, and in that sense he has grasped something few Western Christians understand. Of course his ideas like anyone’s are up for debate which is what you have done in this article. But just as he has the generosity of spirit to listen to people and see them as whole human beings and not just an amalgamations of ideas, I say see Peterson as a person who has walked a lonely road humbling himself to pay as close attention as he could to the realities of life. God sees things of this kind, like he saw Cornelius’ alms, Peterson is leaving room for mystery, doesn’t claim to know everything and is still seeking. That in itself is humbling to see, as is the fact that he is addressing such a deep need among young people, and the way he is able to communicate hard truths people usually roll their eyes at because he has actually applied himself to careful, non-judgmental, scientific study and years of listening to people with all of his faculties. We should pray that he encounters Jesus on his travels. And take the beam out of our own eye. And clean our rooms 🙂

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