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Magazine, Past Issue

Nov/Dec 2019 issue

WHAT’S INSIDE: Why dystopian fiction is worth reading / That morning I listened to Kanye West / 8 free films for your study group / Santa Claus at Nicea / A multi-level warning about multi-level marketing / Tearing down tyranny one joke at a time / Why haven't we heard from ET? / The pros and cons of online dating / What is conversion therapy and why does it matter? / Whose am I? / The boy that drove the plow / and much more...

Click the cover to view or right-click to download the PDF

Adult non-fiction, Theology

Calvinist vs. Arminian: a tale of two books

Why revisit the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism? Isn't it a waste of precious time to discuss these differences even as the world is aflame with political unrest? No, this is a debate that should always generate interest and discussion. Dr. J. I. Packer once observed that the very terms Calvinism and Arminianism represent opposition:

“The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other."

Arminianism had considerable influence in Anglo-American theological developments and, on the surface, Calvinism might seem to have lost the battle in the theatre of American evangelicalism. Many evangelicals even believe that Calvinism is “irrelevant.” They say, “Christianity cannot possibly teach that.” With a commitment to egalitarianism and the rejection of the traditional doctrine of original sin, American culture is receptive to Arminianism. The Arminian emphasis on individualism and self-determination dominated much of 20th century American evangelicalism. Billy Graham, for instance, uses the language of Arminianism in his crusades when he asks attendees to "make a decision for Christ" – language that Calvinists find utterly foreign to their understanding of salvation. Revival of Calvinism So it seems clear that Calvinism does not fit the American ideal. Why would anyone be a Calvinist then? The reason is quite simple. The gospel of Jesus Christ is countercultural. Perhaps this is why Calvinism seems to appeal to young people, especially college students. There is also a renewed interest in Calvinism among the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. What is at stake? But why should we know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism? Because they represent stark opposing theological visions, at the heart of which are profoundly different views of God. Two books, published as a set of sorts, highlight just how profound the differences are: What I am not a Calvinist, by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, and Why I am not an Arminian by Robert Peterson and Michael Williams. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist believe:

“...the heart of the matter is how we understand the character of God. The issue is not how powerful God is but what it means to say he is perfectly loving and good.....The breathtaking vision of God's Trinitarian love is obscured by the Calvinist claim that God passes over persons he could just as easily save and thereby consigns them to eternal misery."

The following questions then, are at issue: How are we saved from our sins and granted eternal life? Are human beings so fallen that they must be saved exclusively through the unilateral and unconditional actions of God? Is it possible for human beings to successfully resist the saving approaches of God's grace? Can any who were once truly redeemed through faith in Christ fail to receive final salvation? The tone of the debate Considering the seriousness of the differences, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the history of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism has been one of intense and often "mean-spirited" confrontation. However, Why I am not an Arminian's authors aims to treat their Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ as they would want to be treated. They also note that the Synod of Dordt was right to condemn the Arminian misrepresentation of the saving ways of God. "Yet we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate." They observe that Calvinists and Arminians are brothers in Christ. In other words:

“The issue of the debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contribution of both God and man in human history."

And Why I am not a Calvinist authors rightly say,

"We should all speak with a measure of care and reserve when delivering our interpretative conclusions."

Why I am not a Calvinist So what type of argument do the authors Why I am not a Calvinist make? They first provide some background. Arminianism has its roots in the work of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). It teaches that salvation is available to anybody who exercises faith; it contrasts with the Calvinist understanding that God alone determines who is and who is not among the elect. Arminian popular belief tends toward the overestimation of human ability and the human redemptive contribution. Traditional Arminianism believes that the death of Christ provides grace for all persons and that, as result of his atonement, God extends sufficient grace to all persons through the Holy Spirit to counteract the influence of sin and to enable a response to God. But, they argue, it is possible for sinners to resist God's initiative and to persist in sin and rebellion. Arminianism believes that God's grace enables and encourages a positive and saving response for everyone, but it does not determine a saving response for anyone. Furthermore, an initial positive response of faith doesn't guarantee one's final salvation:

“It is possible to begin a genuine relationship with God but then later turn from him and persist in evil so that one is finally lost.”

In 1610, the disciples of Jacobus Arminius produced a manifesto called the Remonstrance, which they regarded as a corrective to the Calvinist doctrine of election. The authors view the divine election of Israel and Christ as “that tree of redemption into which all persons can be incorporated by faith.” They state:

“God doesn't unconditionally predestine particular persons to salvation. Rather, election is in Christ, and all are saved who do not knowingly and persistently refuse God's gracious offer of life.”

Interestingly, Why I am not Calvinist's authors go beyond traditional Arminianism, and seem favorably inclined to Openness Theology, also called Open Theism. Advocates of Open Theism have argued that while God knows everything that can be known, He cannot have exhaustively definite knowledge of the future. Since the future will involve decisions made by genuinely free creatures, knowledge of the future is said to be impossible, by definition. Since God doesn't know future free choices, the future is not completely settled. Clark Pinnock, a noted Open Theism advocate says, “Some prophecies are conditional, leaving the future open, and presumably, God's knowledge of it.” And Richard Rice argues, "Where human decision is presupposed, God cannot achieve his purpose unilaterally. He requires our cooperation.” Open Theist theologians acknowledge “the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all,” but in His freedom and desire to enter into a relationship of love with humanity has “decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions.” They also believe that God is “dependent on the world in certain respects.” Consequently, they propose that the traditional view of God's infallible foreknowledge is a conviction that should be dispensed with. Open Theist theologians seem to highly esteem people while limiting God. For example, according to Pinnock human freedom can be won only by surrendering divine foreknowledge. I agree with those theologians who call Open Theism radicalized Arminianism. And if our future free actions cannot be known with certainty, even by God, how can we believe in the fulfillment of prophecy? Why would God "promise" anything if He cannot know the future or guarantee it by His almighty power? For the authors, the doctrine of election does not seem to hold any mystery. In fact, an appeal to mystery scandalizes them. They claim that some Calvinists “make a hasty retreat to mystery” when faced with charges of inconsistency. And they argue, “It isn't a sign of true piety for one to be willing to dispense with logical coherence in the name of mystery.” They critique John Piper's declaration that the potter has absolute rights over the clay, and if God chooses not to save some persons, it is not for us to understand but simply to adore. Interestingly, on the one hand the authors state that Calvinists have been zealous evangelists and missionaries and have contributed powerfully to the cause of winning the lost for Christ. On the other hand, they argue that Calvinists can't make coherent sense of their claim that God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to persons he has not elected for salvation, nor can they explain how God can truly have compassion for such persons. They claim, “the consequences for evangelistic preaching are profound indeed.” Why I am not an Arminian What are the counter arguments from the authors of Why I am not an Arminian? In their carefully reasoned, understandable exposition of Calvinism, they address the historical context, theological concerns, and biblical texts in a readable manner. In fact, they are Bible-centered in their presentation. They point out that the question of ecclesiastical authority and the integrity of the church as a confessional body was an intense bone of contention for both sides in the struggle between the Calvinists and the Arminians within the Dutch church. The Calvinists argued that a Reformed church is a confessional church. Hence they pleaded for the maintenance of particular confessional standards. Following in the tradition of Erasmus of Rotterdam, however, the Arminians championed the liberty of the individual conscience relative to doctrinal standards. The authors show that Calvin was not the first one to talk about reprobation or the absolute sovereignty of God. They point to the church father Augustine who emphasized the utter dependence of man upon God alone for salvation and the supremacy of grace to the exclusion of all human contribution. His teaching has proven a problem for many Christians throughout the centuries, and it still lies at the heart of the Arminian rejection of Calvinism, which was in many ways a 16th century revival of Augustine's teaching on sin and grace. The authors show that Calvinism stands for the doctrine that all humankind is sinful. Human beings will not and cannot make their way to God, retrieve their own lives or earn their own salvation. If humankind is to be saved, God must act. God must be gracious. Human beings are utterly dependent upon the saving grace of God. And apparently, God has not acted on behalf of all. He has not chosen to be gracious to all human beings. Sovereign in His grace, God showered His redemptive love upon a Jacob but not on an Esau. It is a mistake, therefore, to pit individual and corporate election against each other. In other words, egalitarian fairness – treating all persons the same – may be a cultural ideal for the modern West, but there is no biblical reason to suppose that God shares it. The authors write:

"For his own reasons, God assumes the right to save one and not another – a Jacob, for example, and not his older, more talented brother; for Esau, left to himself and his sinfulness, is deserving divine wrath.”

Why does God elect some and others are passed by? God does not elect Abraham and Jacob based on foreseen merit or even foreseen faith. The basis of their election is God's love and will. The authors also show that both individual and corporate election are taught in the Old Testament. God chose Abraham and Jacob, also the nation of Israel. As fallen human beings, Calvinists struggle with a sovereignty that stretches and often transcends our abilities to discern the redemptive ways of God. Scripture leads us to the contention that divine sovereignty – God always prevails – is compatible with human freedom. God is not rendered idle by a world ruled by human freedom. Furthermore, in the new heaven and earth:

“the ultimate life of the redeemed will not include libertarian freedom, the ability to choose sin rather than obedience, apostasy rather than faithfulness.”

The authors also show that Calvinism is much broader in scope than the TULIP doctrine. The five points of Calvinism do not sufficiently define Calvinism, and certainly do not say all there is to be said about the Reformed faith. They affirm the five points of Calvinism but also a Reformed understanding of the church and sacraments. They explain the particular Reformed contribution to Christian reflection on the covenant and the kingdom of God. They also stress the church as the people of God with a call to seek a cultural life in the world that is typified by justice, mercy, and a transformational vision for individual vocational life. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that not all believe. One person hears the gospel as the word of life; another sees it as foolishness. But the authors of Why I am not a Calvinist critique Piper's rejection of "the wider hope," which holds that saving grace is available to all persons, not just those who have heard the gospel in this life. The Cannons of Dordt follow Augustine in their explanation. God has sovereignly chosen to save some but not all. And unlike Arminianism, Calvinism believes in the perseverance of the saints. The Canons of Dordt judged the Arminian agnosticism regarding perseverance as a hopeless position. If our salvation depends on us, whether it be our merits, our will or even our striving to keep in step with God's grace, we are most surely lost. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist claim that an emphasis on God's sovereignty in salvation hinders evangelism, yet that emphasis encouraged the apostle Paul to continue preaching. In the line of Paul, Calvinists believe that the message of the cross is to be presented to all in order that they may believe and be pardoned. The good news of a provided forgiveness is to be as universally proclaimed as is the command to repent. God commands us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to every person in it. The Synod of Dordt did not see the doctrine of particular atonement as compromising preaching in the slightest. "God wants all to hear the gospel, but He intends to save only some. Why that is the case, we don't know." As evidence of the compatibility of belief in limited atonement, and a fire for spreading the gospel, Calvinists can refer to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles H. Spurgeon and Francis Schaeffer. They proclaimed a redemption that is definite and yet good news and offered an invitation addressed to all. Much more can be said about the differences between Calvinism and Arminians. I hope that this summary review will enhance our readers' love for our Calvinist heritage and the rich doctrines of sovereign grace.

Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. 

Media bias

Proverbs 18:17: the antidote to Fake News

In the era of, not so much fake, but exaggerated, partisan, and selectively reported news, how can we discern the truth of a matter? God shows us the way in Proverbs 18:17, where we are told the first to present his case seems right until a second comes and questions him. What does it look like, to put this verse into action? Let’s take a classic example from the US gun debate. In the early 1990s Emory University medical professor Arthur Kellermann told Americans that owning a gun was associated with a 2.7 times greater risk of being murdered. Kellermann shared that in his study of three metropolitan areas they had found three-quarters of the victims were murdered by someone they knew, and nearly half by gunshot wounds. That raised the question of whether having a gun in the house might increase rather than decrease a person’s chance of being murdered. The New York Times, and other media outlets, spread these findings far and wide. But was the anti-gun case as compelling as it seemed? To find out, we have to continue on and hear from the critics – the first has presented his case and now we need a second to come and question him. Critics noted that Kellermann’s study showed an equal risk increase associated with owning a burglar alarm. National Review’s Dave Kopel pointed out, this study overlooks “the obvious fact that one reason people choose to own guns, or to install burglar alarms, is that they are already at a higher risk of being victimized by crime…. Kellermann’s method would also prove that possession of insulin increases the risk of diabetes.” The National Rifle Association wanted people to understand that a study of homicides couldn’t give a good measure of how effective guns could be for personal protection. "99.8 percent of the protective uses of guns do not involve homicides," explained NRA spokesman Paul H. Blackman, but instead would involve brandishing the weapon to hold off an assault, or perhaps firing the weapon to scare or wound the assailant. The first presenter might have had us thinking guns clearly needed to be banned. But that was only half the story. Even after hearing from the critics we don’t have the full picture – veteran newsman Ted Byfield once noted that to provide every side of a story we’d need more ink than exists in the whole of the world – but by hearing the two sides argue it out we have a much better picture. God tells us in Prov. 18:17 that if we hear only one side – even if it’s our side – then it’s likely we’re going to miss something. So if the truth matters to us we want to give even our opponents a hearing. At least the thoughtful ones (Prov. 14:7).

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

Abortion supporters don't believe in equality

There are two ways society views human worth. Which leads to a better society?

****

In his now famous TedTalk, author Simon Sinek unlocks the secret to how the most powerful leaders shape their messages. They start with “Why?"  "Your Why", says Simon, “is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do What you do." Simon illustrates with great clarity how powerful it is when leaders of any organization or movement start their message with an explanation of their purpose, their beliefs. I thought about this yesterday as I stood on the side of Main St. in Grimsby quietly participating in the Life Chain demonstration. I wondered how many of the people driving by really understood why we were there - our purpose, our belief. I wondered too if my fellow demonstrators really understood how people with opposite views on the issue of abortion can arrive hold the position they do. You can’t really take seriously the folks who drive by yelling at you and giving your kids the finger. But putting that aside for the moment, let’s be honest; demonstrations are not the most effective format for respectful and rigorous debate. They tend to polarize groups into opposing camps and do little to create empathy between people who hold different views. We’re content to consider each other crazy. However, at one point in yesterday’s hour-long demonstration a passing motorist rolled down her window and yelled to demonstrators “It’s my body, It’s my choice!” And I thought; There it is! Her “Why.” Her belief. And as horrifying as the consequences of that belief are, it struck me how perfectly logical it was that this woman might also support the idea that she has a right to end the life of another human being. There’s nothing wrong with her logic. She’s not crazy per se. She just doesn’t believe that the human growing inside her is...well, human. And that is precisely where we differ. Two views I believe that human life starts at conception. And that belief changes everything. I’m not crazy either. Far from it. Feminist author and pro-choice advocate Mary Elizabeth Williams (also a staff writer for Salon) would agree with me. In an article that Mary wrote titled “So what if abortion ends life?” she states the following:  "I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life.” She goes further:

"When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory....When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand.”

I totally agree. Which makes Mary’s following statement so confusing. She says "And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.” How can someone believing that the fetus inside them is human still claim the right to kill it? That does sound crazy to me. 1) All life is not equal But Mary explains...

"Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always."

And there it is: Mary's “Why." Her belief. Mary believes that some humans are more important than others. She’s forced herself to believe that or else her pro-choice position would be, to use her own words, "illogically contradictory.” Mary also thinks she should be the one to decide whose lives, in particular, are more important and whose aren’t. And this why I (and many others) stand in silent demonstration at the corner of Main St. and Christie St. each year. 2) All are equal because all are made in God's image I believe that I am not my own (Nope. Not my body. Not my choice) ie: I do not belong to myself. Rather, I believe that in both life and in death I belong to my faithful saviour Jesus Christ. I belong to and submit to the one (and only) creator-God who made me and who alone determines the purpose of my life. Therefore I personally am not the ultimate authority on what I can or cannot do with my life or the life of others. I believe that all lives including the lives of those who stand in direct opposition to what I believe are equally sacred and worthy of protection. I believe that the protection of life is everyone’s responsibility and so also my responsibility. My purpose here on earth is to love God, love my fellow human beings and to serve them by putting their life and well-being ahead of my own. I and those who believe as I do are not fighting for self-importance or survival. We're fighting to outdo one another in kindness. I realize that we can’t make you believe what we believe. But surely you can see that we’re not crazy either. Which kind of society do you want? And to those of you who don’t quite know what you believe consider this: What kind of society do you wish to experience? What kind of society do you wish to build for your children? What kind of leaders will you choose to support and follow? Will you follow those who believe that some lives are more important than others (who believe that their lives are more important than yours perhaps)? Or will you choose to follow those who believe all lives are of equal value, and who believe that leaders should put others ahead of themselves? Simon "Start-with-why" Sinek has another book out which may help you decide. It’s called Leaders Eat Last. This choice is indeed yours. I’m praying that you’ll choose wisely.

This article was first published in October 2016. Jason Bouwman is a graphic designer and author of the utterly unique book "Still Thinking" which we review right here.

Assorted

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.

Conclusion

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 AmericanVision.org 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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