The Church Can Learn from Jordan Peterson.

We can learn a lot from Jordan Peterson.  Yes, he is not a Christian.  And no, he does not have the answers to the questions that are plaguing man.  Since he is not a Christian, he misses some huge fundamental points that ultimately doom his philosophy.  But this does not mean that there is no value in his work.  Part secular prophet, part therapist and part caring but firm dad figure, Peterson is on a campaign against many of the problems that are facing the world today. These issues are those that naturally follow as it turns away from the individual freedom and inherent values of the Christian worldview.  If we listen closely, Peterson laments many of the same things we as Christians mourn over.  He just has answers that are formed without the understanding of Jesus and man’s inherently sinful nature.  His answer to man’s evil, follow rules to make man better, never works as a man will always revert to sin.  It is who we are after all since the Fall.  This does not mean, though, we should not take lessons from his meteoric rise and the response he has received.  In some ways, Jordan Peterson may be reminding us of the role Christians should be playing in this very lost society.

If you haven’t seen Jordan Peterson, he has taken the internet by storm.  His Youtube videos have been watched more than 50 million times.  His book 12 Rules for Life is a breakout Bestseller.  We can’t turn on the TV without him being interviewed somewhere.  He travels around the world lecturing and debating the evils of out of control political correctness and identity politics gone wild.  He attracts crowds wherever he goes.  His following among the younger generations that the church feels is lost to us is particularly enthusiastic.  He does all this as a relatively soft-spoken psychology professor.  He wears a suit and tie.  He doesn’t put on any great theatrics or gather political power, yet people are clamoring to see him.  It is an unusual package to draw in millions.

Yet, like a traveling minister on a revival tour, Jordan Peterson keeps drawing in those who are looking for an answer.  Those who know with certainty that things are not quite right in the world.  They want to hear how to fix it.  Peterson offers an answer.  In many ways, it is a tragically wrong one.  In many aspects, he is another sign of a culture that has turned away from God but the fact is people listen…and we should take notice.  In our world where there are thousands of options for entertainment, what is it about Jordan Peterson that makes people stop, pay attention and follow along?  More importantly, what can we as a church learn from him?

Assuming that we can learn something from people we disagree with is one of the 12 Rules for Life from Jordan Peterson’s book and it is a good one.  We may know the Way, the Truth and the Life personally, but we don’t know everything ourselves.  We can always learn from others, even from a man who is not Christian.   The fact is the things that make him so popular are the same things that the church can do even better.  They are the very same things that Jesus displayed in His time on earth…with the added bonus that our solution is the truth and will work.

So here are 5 plus one extra things we as the church can observe from Jordan Peterson and his popularity.

1)  Jordan Peterson Cares About His Audience

What is striking about Peterson’s presentation is his obvious concern for those who are suffering wrongs.  He is not just railing against the evils of the world.  He does not appear to want to burn things down or destroy the other side.  Rather, he believes that people are being led astray and are suffering and is pained about it.  He clearly cares for the generations that are being swept away by postmodernism and our dysfunctional societies.  He was brought to tears at one point during a debate on the plight of young men in the world today.  He is fighting for the soul of Western culture doing what he can to save people from themselves.  He does it because he cares about the people…rather than because he is right or to gain power. It is fascinating to observe.

Jordan Peterson is like a modern intellectual’s version of Ward Cleaver from the old Leave it to Beaver show in some ways.  He may have to say some hard things and even be forced to discipline his children, but it is because he loves them and wants what is best for them.  His 12 Rules for Life even somewhat attempts to try to fill the void caused by absent fathers throughout the world and teach the world how to be adults.  His goal is to protect his kids, society, from the bullies of out of control government, radical politics and bad ideologies.  His answer is ultimately wrong but he cares and is trying to help.

What the Church Should Learn From Watching Jordan Peterson

We need to care about the people, not the sins.  When Jesus is headed to Jerusalem for one of the final times before His crucifixion He stops and overlooks the city.  Do we remember what He does?  He weeps openly and greatly over the city.  His people are about to reject Him.  They are about to spit on Him, insult Him, defame Him and nail Him to the Cross.  Yet, rather than anger and judgment, Jesus experiences great sorrow over the lost despite how terrible they are.  He is willing to leave the 99 to go after the 1 even when they are going to kill Him.  Such love!

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This is the heart that we as His disciples should have for the lost of today.  Yet, it is so easy to fall into the traps set by Satan when we look at the world.  They are doing terrible things, therefore we cannot care deeply for them.  They are of the wrong political party, therefore they are destroying things and we shouldn’t care.  They are serving a false religion, therefore they are guilty and deserve what they get.    They are just one-dimensional subjects of our planned outreach rather than creations of God who Jesus died for.  What is our viewpoint on the lost and suffering of the world?  Do we have the same heart for the lost Jesus does?

Do we despise the lost?  Do we want to judge the lost?  Do we feel their pain?  Are we evangelizing trying to save those we care about or merely to prove our point?

The lost sheep can tell if we really care.  It makes a huge difference.  Jesus wept over those who would kill in Him in a few short hours.  Do we have the same heart as Jesus?

For more, I highly recommend reading  Christianity without Love, God is Love or The Relentless Love of God all showing just how much love goes into God’s outreach to us.

2)  Jordan Peterson Believes What He Says

When watching Jordan Peterson, the certainty with which he holds his positions is clear from the moment he begins speaking.  It ranges between alarming and attention-grabbing.  He knows what he wants to say and believes that it is the truth with every fiber of his being.  He is an undivided man and that is so inspiring in many ways.

Our world throws so much at us.  We are taught in our post-modern culture that there is no absolute right or wrong.  It is drilled into us so thoroughly that we have an inherent discomfort stating something is absolutely true.  We just don’t want to offend anyone, even with the truth.  Therefore, when we see speakers like Peterson say things with certainty, it cuts through the chatter of life.  Most people inherently respect people with clarity of convictions expressed well even when we strongly disagree with them.  The generations that were raised with no absolute truth and submerged in a world of agenda driven lies are clamoring for someone to tell them something, anything true.  Even if it is hard to take, they appreciate if it is true.  Peterson is doing that and people are responding.  There is something magnetic about those with conviction.  Since Peterson is just a man and his directions are built on shaky ground, this effect wears off as life takes its toll but it does demand attention.  People listen to men with a fire in their bellies.

What the Church Should Learn From Watching Jordan Peterson

Are we equally certain about the truth of the Gospel of Jesus?  Are we clear that we have to offer is the ONLY Good News that can free the world from prison and eternal damnation?  Are we passing on that certainty in our message?

What the Church Can Learn from Jordan Peterson Pastor Unlikely

When Jesus spoke, His listeners were amazed that He spoke with authority.  He knew what He was saying was absolutely true and that nothing in creation could top His message.  When He gives the Sermon on the Mount, He goes up on the mountain and then sits down like a King on His throne and speaks forth the truth.  He teaches with the eternal authority of God.  He refers to Himself as the only Truth and says that it is only He can set us free.  When he then calls His disciples salt and light in the world, the language also indicates that He means the Only salt and the Only light.  There are no other versions.  There are not many paths to fix things, just Jesus through His people.  We are armed with His truth.  We are filled with the Holy Spirit in us and therefore have access to this same authority.  Each time we speak for God with His truth, we wield more truth and power than Jordan Peterson can ever comprehend.

In less than 300 years, men and women of God speaking with the power and truth of God transformed the entire world.  From a few scared disciples hiding away in the Upper Room to the most powerful empire in the world, Rome, and its Emperor becoming Christian, these handfuls changed everything.  How did they do it?  They knew with absolute certainty who Jesus is, what He did and what He told them to do.  The message spread like wildfire.

Have we wrestled out our fears and doubts so we are ready to speak with clarity of thought to lost generations?  Have we worked out our fears and doubts with Jesus so that people know that we are certain of the power of the Jesus we call our Savior?

And perhaps the most important question in this area:  Are we living like we are certain who Jesus is, who we are in Christ and what we have to offer to the world?

If you have questions about the proof of Jesus, please read this three-part series on the historic Jesus – Was Jesus a Real Person, part I The Christian Historical Sources, part II – The Roman Sources, and part III – Josephus.

3)  Jordan Peterson Takes Life Seriously

Somewhere in the cultural changes that happened post World War 2, the male arch type shifted dramatically.  We said goodbye to the strong and silent type of John Wayne or Alan Ladd in Shane.  The men who would take on a charging grizzly bear for his family and then go out and farm to put food on the table were no longer the goal for young men to aspire to.  They did not all have to be rough and ready types, but men were viewed as serious and responsible.  Providing for our family was the goal in life.  This picture slowly went out the door and was replaced with something very different.  This new prototypical male is funny, clownish and ridiculous.  Think of Robin Williams, Chevy Chase or the constantly wisecracking male characters of most media.  Humor, fun and a general idea of “being happy” became the things to strive for above all else.  Everything is open to mockery and joyful derision.  This change infiltrated all levels of life so that we are encouraged to treat life as a big joke.  Even the gigantic issues like the meaning of life are light matters that should not interfere with our entertainment.  It is like a media device driven Brave New World.  Happy on the surface as long as the drug flows, but boiling with discontent underneath.

Peterson drills through this facade trying to get his listeners to the face and deal with real life.  Man’s experience can be tremendously painful and he makes no apologies for that.  That is just life.  But living is all the more painful and sad when we pretend that it does not hurt.  There are heartbreakingly serious matters to be dealt with and they should be respected as much.  Hard truths deserve serious examination and Peterson digs down into them to attempt to provide an answer.  He deals unflinchingly with the things that society tries to pretend don’t exist for the good of those how are hurt by them.

The result is people listen.  They may not agree and may actively dislike what he is saying, but his gravity encourages thought on the subjects.  We may dismiss him, but there is an understanding conveyed that we so at our own peril.  Hugely important issues of life are not meant to be handled on morning talk shows.  They require serious people.

What the Church Should Learn From Watching Jordan Peterson

There is no greater enemy to a Spirit-filled life than a Christian who tries to water down the painful truths of the Bible or life. I think of them as the “shiny happy” Christians.  They will tell you that everything is perfect in Jesus and all your troubles will be gone.  They try to smile and excite us into church and entertain us sufficiently and make enough promises to keep us coming.  They have fancy suits or a light bouncy appeal and promise the same to us if we just keep coming to church.  This is not the whole truth.  It is certainly not what Jesus Himself preached or what the Bible records about the Apostles.

Life in Jesus can hurt a lot at times.  Jesus says that we will face suffering and persecution.  He compares the process of growing in Christ with taking up our crosses daily.  This means lifting the instrument of our fleshly death every single day until we are more like Jesus. Yes, life in Jesus is joyful and wonderful.  It is often fun and light.  But it started with God nailed to a cross in a horrible way so that we can be saved from the judgment that we deserve.  Those who choose to reject that salvation are headed to a terrible eternity.  This is important business.  This requires serious men and women ready to fight with every ounce of us to reach those who are willing.  It requires those who have wrestled these issue out themselves and are ready to speak about joy in the trials, not just the happy parts.  Tribulations come but salvation makes them more than worth it.

What the Church Can Learn from Jordan Peterson Pastor Unlikely

This doesn’t mean that we cannot have fun, joke around or be general goofballs.  Life is a gift to be enjoyed.  But if we are to reach the world, we must understand the urgency and seriousness of what we are doing and who we are. There are times to laugh and times to be grave.

We are the ONLY SALT and ONLY LIGHT.  This is a big deal.

For more on the great privilege and amazing responsibility of being Salt and Light as described by Jesus, I recommend these sermons from the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5:14 – You are the Light of the World and Matthew 5:13 – You are the Salt of the Earth.

4)  Jordan Peterson Does His Homework

A listener may walk away unconvinced by the arguments Peterson presents and many do.  Yet, no one would accuse him of being unprepared.  It is obvious that he studies and prepares for his presentations.  He has spent years working out these issues for himself and therefore is prepared to defend his position.  He says he spent countless hours researching people, studying history and formulating his opinions.  Given the gravity of the issues, this makes sense.  If he just went on stage and said we should listen to him because he lives a happy life, this would not be very impactful.  Peterson obviously works hard at what he cares about and that is impressive.  People listen as a result.

What the Church Should Learn From Watching Jordan Peterson

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

God can do anything.  He can take the testimony of a child and convert a King.  This is very clear from the Scriptures.  It is about God’s power and not ours.  However, we as the church have an opportunity that is unprecedented in history.   There has never been a better time to be a Christian in regard to resources.  We have the Bible in 30 different translations at our fingertips when most generations did not even have one Bible.  We have thousands of hours of teaching, preaching and Christian content available in all types of media.  Do we take advantage of it?

There is evidence in the Bible that Paul would spend every day while on his missionary journeys either preaching, teaching or working to support his teaching and preaching.  At one point, it says the church met in the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus.  This would indicate that the church met to study Scriptures and learn about Jesus each day in the middle of the day when everyone else was home.  It was so hot in that climate they would not work during the midday hours taking a break to go home and rest.  The church was so eager to learn, they met at the school while it was empty and blazingly hot to study.  After the workday was over, it is believed they also met at night for fellowship and further instructions.   They were desperate to know their Savior, they choose great hardships in order to do so.

Today, many of us don’t pick up the Bible for more than the time it takes to go to church for an hour or two on Sundays.  Some of us don’t have Bibles or don’t read them regularly.  With the thousands of pages of resources available to us, some of us choose to fill our homework time with the junk of this world.

Are we doing our best to be prepared to present the case for Jesus?  Are we doing our homework?

For more on why we should do our homework first, please read Are We Giving God our Best? .

What the Church Can Learn from Jordan Peterson Pastor Unlikely

5)  Jordan Peterson Is Not Ashamed of What He Says

Jordan Peterson makes many people mad.  There is a certain segment that calls him names and gets apoplectic whenever he is mentioned.  He is openly mocked by others.  He doesn’t appear to care.  He seems to believe that the issues are too big, the individual people involved are too important and his information too important to stay silent.  It would be monumentally unjust for him to stay quiet in the face of a coming onslaught against humanity if he can identify the problem and try to help. So when you see Peterson in debates or interviews, he is polite and generally soft-spoken but he does not back down in the face of what he sees as lies, double talk or misrepresentation.  He sticks to his guns and presets his case unapologetically because after careful study he thinks he knows the truth.  The truth always is going to offend those who are opposed to the truth.  That is part of the job and doesn’t change the truth.  Evil triumphs when good men stay silent.

What the Church Should Learn From Watching Jordan Peterson

Jesus warned us that since we are His disciples, we would be hated by some.  He told us it is not because of us but rather they simply hate Him.  His reception by His people should be more than enough evidence that one telling the truth is not going to be received well by the stiff-necked and rebellious.  Jesus was nailed to a cross for proclaiming the truth.  He then rose again and gives us a mission.

Go, make disciples, baptize and teach – they are the core of the church’s mission and hinge on preaching Jesus’ Gospel to the lost world.  Proclaiming the Truth is the only way to make disciples and change this world for Jesus.  This starts with what fundamental realization for man?  That men are sinners.  The stiff-necked and rebellious really, really don’t like this message but it is the only truth.  There is no other.  Nothing else can set them free.  Salvation from our sins by Jesus is the core of the Gospel.

Are we comfortable with explaining this truth to people?  Are we watering down the Gospel to avoid offending people?  We may be successful in avoiding offense, but it requires that we sacrifice the Gospel in the process.

We may never reach the unsaved person we are preaching the Gospel to despite our efforts.  People have free will.  But we will never even offer them a chance of salvation if we offer a gospel that is different than that of Jesus Christ.  It may offend them but it also saves.

For more on the Biblical basis of how to present Jesus and be unashamed, I highly recommend We Cannot Serve Two Masters.

Bonus and Most Important Lesson

The World is Desperately Looking for Answers

Jordan Peterson Does Not Have Them – Only Jesus Does!

The tragic part of Jordan Peterson’s work is that it relies solely upon man.  Though he often references the Bible, he is not a believer and greatly misses the point of many of the passages that he cites.  Though he mentions Genesis and the fall of man, he really fails to understand the meaning and implications of it.  This lack of understanding dooms his attempts at answers.  He completely misses the solution to the big things in life that only comes through Jesus.

Peterson properly notes many of the problems of the world today.  He accurately notes the behavior of man, the corrupting influences of power and tyranny and that this life is filled with suffering.  These are hard truths for anyone to accept.  The problem comes when he sets out where we go from there.  After noting the horrors of Hitler, Stalin and other tyrants of history who prove the inborn tendency of man to do evil, he essentially chooses mankind as the answer to mankind’s evil.  Men just need to be good.  We need to try harder to be good and recognize the value in others.  If we each undertake to be noble and free and work off each other, our lives and society will improve.  I am greatly simplifying his points, but this is what his action points come down to – man should do better.  This completely misses the point that though man can do better we never do for any long stretch of time.

Man on our own will always revert to doing bad things in our own name.  It is inevitable.  It does not have to be every man.  There are many who are noble and moral in the world.  The problem is that there are not many such people and even they fall prey to the same evil temptations of their brethren, just in a different form.  This is the ultimate lesson of the history of the Nation of Israel recorded in the Bible.  Man left up to his own devices with his own desires leading him will always turn to evil eventually.  There may be golden times with a good president or good King like David, but the sinners always the moral.  For all those who read 12 Rules for Life and actually try to change, there will be very few who are actually successful, none of whom is in right standing with God.

It is this utter hopelessness that is meant to leads to Jesus.  It takes a literal miracle of God Himself to change man’s nature and ultimately make sense of this world. This is why Jordan Peterson does not have the answer to Eternal Life or the problems of life.  Yet, his methods are such that they remind us of who we should be as we proclaim the Way, the Truth and the Life in this world.  We do have the answer.  We do have Jesus and He has called us to preach His gospel in love, with certainty, seriously and unashamed.  He has called us to do our work to be ready in season and out to preach to the lost for their benefit, not ours.  He has given us the answer and the method, Jordan Peterson is just reminding us if we have forgotten how it is done.

What the Church Can Learn from Jordan Peterson Pastor Unlikely

 

 

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