What Pastors Could Learn From Jordan Peterson

Last night, along with a few online friends, I watched this debate on the meaning of life between William Lane Craig, Rebecca Goldstein, and Jordan Peterson, hosted by Wycliffe College. While watching it, and reflecting upon Peterson’s work more generally (about which I’ve written in the past), I was struck by some of the lessons that preachers can learn from Peterson. Several of the people I was watching with gave thoughts of their own, some of which I have incorporated into this post.

1. People are longing to hear true and weighty words. Peterson is someone who takes truth extremely seriously, treating it as a matter of the deepest existential significance. Telling lies will lead you to perdition. He first came to international attention through his resistance to Canada’s Bill C-16 and his opposition to compelled speech in relation to the pronouns used for transgender persons. What animated Peterson on this issue was not opposition to some supposed transgender agenda so much as the more general principle of truthful and uncoerced speech.

Listening to Peterson speak (the video above being an example), one of the most striking things to observe is how carefully he weighs his words, the way he manifests his core conviction that words matter and that the truth matters. People hang on his words, because they know that he is committed to telling the truth and to speaking words by which a person can live and die. The existential horizons of life and death are foregrounded when someone speaks in such a manner.

We live in a society that is cluttered with airy words, with glib evasions, with facile answers, with bullshitting, with self-serving lies, with obliging falsehoods, and with dishonest and careless construals of the world that merely serve to further our partisan agendas (‘truth’ merely becoming something that allows us to ‘destroy’ or ‘wipe the floor with’ our opponents in the culture). In such a context, a man committed to and burdened with the weight of truth and who speaks accordingly will grab people’s attention.

Christian pastors should be renowned for such truth-telling, for their commitment to speaking as if their words really mattered and for the courage to say what needs to be said, even when it is unpopular. This requires taking great care over one’s words. Weighty words are harder to speak. It also requires refusing to speak on many issues. When you weigh your words more carefully, you realize that you do not have weighty words to speak on many matters. The more easily you are drawn into unconsidered or careless speech (social media affording many traps here), the less value people will put on your words. The more seriously you take the truth, the more cautious you will be in your speech.

Even when Christians do speak the truth, we so often speak it glibly and lightly, as those who aren’t putting weight on our words. We have polished answers to objections, platitudinous counsel, and tidy theological frameworks, but possess no gravitas because our hearers regard our words as little more than a showy yet hollow façade. Declarations of the profoundest doctrines trip off our lips as if they weighed nothing at all. We can become more exercised about a recent piece of pop culture than about Christian truths by which we can live and die. Our speech is superficial and shallow, conveying no recognition of the seriousness of handling the truths of God and our responsibility for the lives of our hearers. Much of what Peterson is saying is not new at all, but is familiar to anyone who has been around for a while. The difference is that Peterson is declaring these things as if they really mattered, as if in his speech he is actually reckoning with reality in all of its power, scariness, and danger. This wakes people up.

2. People need to hear voices of authority. As I argued in my recent post, when someone speaks with authority, people sit up and pay attention. Our society has tended to shrink back from authoritative words, as such words threaten people’s autonomy (‘who am I to tell you what to do, man?’). Speaking authoritatively seems to shame, judge, and make claims upon people, all of which are anathema to contemporary individualistic society. However, carefully spoken words of authority can be life-giving. They can give direction and meaning to people who are lost, hope to those in despair, light to those in darkness, and clarity to those in doubt. People desperately need to hear wise and loving words of authority from people who know what they are talking about, rather than being left without authority or harangued by leaders without the depth of character to speak the words they utter.

Peterson is, for a great many young men in particular, the father they never had. He is someone prepared to speak into their situation with a compassionate authority. His authority is not an attempt to control them or to secure his own power over them, but functions to direct them towards life. He isn’t wagging his finger at them, but is helping lost young people to find their way. People instinctively respond to such authority. Such a fatherly authority is rare in our society, but many people are longing for it. This is the sort of authority that pastors can exemplify and by which they can give life and health to the lives committed to their care.

3. People need both compassion and firmness. It is striking how, almost every time that Peterson starts talking about the struggles of young men, he tears up. This recent radio interview is a great example:

Peterson’s deep concern for the well-being of young men is transparently obvious. Where hardly anyone else seems to care for them, and they are constantly pathologized and stifled by the ascendant orthodoxies of the culture, Peterson is drawn out in compassion towards them. He observes that such young men in particular have been starved of compassion, encouragement, and support. There is a hunger there that the Church should be addressing.

However, Peterson’s compassion is not the flaccid empathy that pervades in our culture. He does not render young men a new victimhood class, feeding them a narrative of rights and ressentiment. Rather, he seeks to encourage struggling young people—to give them courage. He tells them that their effort matters; their rising to their full stature is something that the world needs. He helps them to establish their own agency and to find meaning in their labour.

People notice when others care about them and respond to them. However, far too often our empathy has left people weak and has allowed the weakness and dysfunctionality of wounded and stunted people to set the terms for the rest of society. Peterson represents a different approach: the compassionate authority of mature and wise persons can shepherd weak and lost persons towards strength, healthy selfhood, and meaning. Pastors can learn much from this.

4. People are inspired by courage and a genuine openness to reality. Peterson exemplifies existential struggling with and openness to a real and weighty reality. By contrast, cowardice, acedia, a shrinking back from reality into the safety and comfort of our ideological cocoons, and a preoccupation with shallow theoretical games are largely characteristic of the existential posture of both the society and our churches. You won’t have real experience without courage and openness to a real reality, yet so much of our lives involve childish squabbling and ironic posturing about a reality in which we have little deep personal investment.

Pastors need to display such courage and openness to reality, as these traits beget the experience that will give their words weight. The example of such a pastor will also lead people into true life, rather than just sealing them off from struggling with suffering, sin, questions, and reality more generally. If you lack courage and openness to reality, your teaching will often also serve to close people off from reality, to dull their questioning, to soundproof their lives against the voices that might challenge or unsettle them, to rationalize and facilitate their shrinking from the world. Too many pastors are concerned to reinforce a pen in which they secure their flocks, rather than to protect and minister to them as they undertake their perilous pilgrimage through the vale of shadow.

We should also consider the relationship between preachers and congregations here too. We often lack manly and courageous preachers because we ourselves are so cowardly. We don’t want to be unsettled and challenged. We want messages that are reassuring, comforting, pleasing, and convenient, rather than messages that call us to action, effort, responsibility, or present us with difficulty. There are many with a hunger for courageous engagement with reality and truth and a disgust with people who shrink back from it into palliating falsehoods. Unfortunately, when they look at the Church, they mostly see the latter.

5. Being a student of human nature matters. Peterson stands out from many scholars in the humanities and social sciences because he is attentive to people. Far too much scholarship in the humanities and social sciences treats human beings primarily as conceptual constructs or as lab rats. Particularly in the social sciences, one witnesses an over-reliance upon scientific methods for understanding and measuring human beings. However, Peterson reveals that there is no substitute for understanding human nature and that, in attempting to understand human nature, there is no substitute for paying close attention to many people. Much social science attempts to understand human nature as if from without, while a wise student of human nature will exhibit a knowledge of human nature from within.

Something that makes Peterson stand out from many of his critics is that Peterson has countless hours of attentive listening to and engagement with clients in practice and is expert at noticing. Through such clinical engagement, Peterson has been attentive to human nature as it functions from within. He has learned much about what makes human beings tick, how they find meaning, how things can go wrong in their lives, and how people can be restored to well-being. As a practitioner, he notices things that reigning ideologies train us not to notice, not least the differences between the ways that men and women tick. As an attentive student of human nature and experience, Peterson is well able to speak into people’s experience with a wisdom, insight, and authority that those who merely devote themselves to books, theories, and experiments lack.

Once again, pastors have much to learn from this. Many pastors are narrowly focused upon Scripture and theology. However, the pastor is responsible for human lives and he must be a diligent student of them. Pastoral visitation and counselling is not only an important part of a pastor’s general duty, but is also a necessary part of his preparation for preaching. In approaching such visitation and counselling, the pastor shouldn’t merely be concerned to dispense his wisdom and advice, but must also be concerned to grow in his own knowledge, to learn new lessons for himself. As pastors devote themselves to learning about human nature and experience, they will be better able to speak powerfully and truthfully into it. The opportunity and responsibility to learn from close and sustained attention to human nature and experience are afforded to a pastor to a rare degree. If a pastor will dedicate himself to this, he will become much more effective and powerful in his teaching.

6. A compelling presentation of truth is enough to get people’s attention. Peterson doesn’t speak as an entertainer. He doesn’t use flashy audio-visuals. He isn’t relentlessly up-beat. He doesn’t give people a comfortable and affirming message. He isn’t young and hip. He often speaks at great length and makes heavy demands upon his listeners’ attention spans. He tells people about their responsibilities, and downplays messages about their rights. He says a lot of things that challenge and discomfort his audiences. And yet people still flock to hear him and have their lives turned around by what he has to say.

Many contemporary churches have carefully diluted the Christian message to make it more palatable to prevailing cultural tastes. Pastors speak like entertainers, salesmen, and self-help gurus. Yet Peterson is a self-help teacher who speaks like a preacher! There is a great deal more actual engagement with Scripture in many Peterson lectures than there is in the average Joel Osteen sermon. Even though he is far from an orthodox Christian, Peterson’s lectures are full of references to Christ, to God, to hell, to evil, to redemption, and to other themes that display the power of the Christian message to illuminate the meaningfulness of the world. Peterson speaks with a genuine urgency and passionate intensity, displaying his conviction that the lives of his audiences depend upon his presentation of the truth.

In this Peterson provides a salutary reminder to the Church that preaching need not be considered a dying medium. Done well, preaching can speak into people’s lives with a force that few other forms of speech can achieve. Yet in seeking to recover the importance of preaching, preachers could also learn much from Peterson’s attention to humanity, his compassion, his gravitas, his concern for truth, his care over his words, his courage, and his authority. If Peterson can so powerfully resonate with certain fragments of Christian truth, how powerfully could a full-bodied presentation of Christian truth speak into the disorientation of contemporary society?

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Christian Experience, Culture, Ethics, Society, The Church, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

108 Responses to What Pastors Could Learn From Jordan Peterson

  1. John R Ahern says:

    Good comments here. I am curious, are you at all uncomfortable with the fact that Christians are so eager to ally with a man whose only and deepest commitment is to evolutionary psychology? Isn’t it an odd sign of the times in itself that we would say Peterson is a “student of human nature” when his vision of “human nature” is fundamentally not so different from LGBT’s, that is, it is genetically determined by our evolution, therefore, we ought to behave in x/y/z way? The fact that his interpretation of human evolutionary instincts is less, hm, leftist than Peter Singer’s or Susan Okin’s seems incidental to me. I know the point of this post was “what we can learn” not “what we can find fault with”, but I suppose the current moment of ubiquitous praise for Peterson from conservative Christians is a little concerning to me all the same.

    • PSBS says:

      I would recommend a deeper analysis into Jordan Peterson’s work if you believe that to be the case. Why would Christians be wary of the scientific study of human behaviour? Jordan Peterson at the very least makes evident that even a Darwinian understanding of the universe necessitates, either, a metaphysical truth or at the very least an acted out version of an archetypal truth. He’s making the case that we all should’ve been making all along. Belief is pairs of action sets and you cannot say there is no objective truth and then act out the opposite. We as the worldwide church have completely lost the plot when it comes to the rest of humanity. We tell them they need Jesus to save them from the evil inside of them and they ask us what evil is.

      This is not to say that his study is without fault. I’m sure under careful reflection you could find much to correct, especially in his “Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories” lecture series. But the church has a serious issue with masculine archetypes and if he helps bring balance to this world whether in the pew or in the street it’s alright by me.

    • Thanks, John. I don’t believe that is an entirely accurate or fair representation of Peterson’s position. I agree that we need to be critical in our appropriate of Peterson’s insights. However, my preference has always been to be open to learning as much as we can from people, registering important disagreements, but not foregrounding them. We don’t jettison our caution, but we don’t allow it to hold us back from gaining insight. If a great many Christians were completely and uncritically adopting everything Peterson says, I would be more critical than I am.

    • Ubiquitous praise? You need to get out more. As soon as I found out he was an evolutionist I started reassessing how useful he is. You really should be more careful before making sweeping statements. And find better sources!

      And I’m asking the same questions. Including of WLC who compromises on origins and attacks and lies about those who believe Genesis.

  2. jeremylars says:

    Alastair, have you reviewed Wilson’s Father Hunger? I’d love to see your comments on it.

    • I haven’t read it. I hope to do so at some point.

      • CW says:

        Father Hunger may serve as a good initiation for those who haven’t thought about the particular ways the absence and abdication of fathers affects their children’s lives and, through them, society. However, it is unlikely to provide much additional information or lines of inquiry if you have spent time considering the problem.

  3. Well said Alistair! I was putting together my own piece, but decided to hold off in light of your good reflections.

    One thing I’ve wondered about for many years: Where are the pastors who befriend and speak into the messy lives of awkward, emotionally mature, and socially stunted (many times stuck there due to parents and grandparents who have the same problems) young men? We all know people like I’ve described, but it is terribly costly and complex to address so we steer clear. For all his heterodox ideas, Jordan Peterson is willing to engage awkward others.

  4. timbushong says:

    I “second” the endorsement for “Father Hunger” by Doug Wilson.

  5. hranderson says:

    I think we have to acknowledge that Peterson is speaking into a void. Like any other public thinker/speaker, his audience grows around him, based on whomever his rhetoric resonates with; most often in his case, young men. A pastor is in a very, very different position: he’s tasked with teaching and guiding a *specific* group of people that includes men and women from variety of contexts. His rhetorical style is intrinsically tied best pedagogical practice as suits needs of congregating that been entrusted to him. And from my work with women, I think Peterson’s style could present significant barrier to their spiritual formation.

    • hranderson says:

      Void is not quite right word. Peterson’s speaking out into the marketplace of ideas and gathering people around himself based on his rhetorical skills. That’s slightly different from pastoral office I think which may include preaching into the marketplace but also includes speaking TO specific people and his rhetoric must take that into account. For example, if he knows a woman in his congregation has had abortion, that knowledge will necessarily personalize how he delivers a msg about the sin of abortion. He won’t couch or dismiss seriousness, but he will speak in a way that recognizes abortion is not simply an abstract idea fr his congregation.

      I hope that distinction makes sense.

      • Yes, that does make sense. However, I do think it is important to bear in mind the fact that there is the original context of the lecture threatre and genre of the lecture for his remarks on abortion, for instance. This clearly isn’t the way that Peterson would address the question of abortion if talking to someone in his clinical practice. However, it isn’t as if Peterson isn’t addressing specific people in answering questions upon one of his lectures.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Hannah.

      Much of Peterson’s speech is spoken into very specific contexts, but those statements are then set afloat on the sea of social media, ending up on all sorts of unknown shores. In many respects, it can be like a pastor who podcasts his sermons: there are specific audiences, but there are also a great number of eavesdroppers who do not share their contexts.

      I would be interested to hear more of your thoughts on how Peterson’s style may present barriers to women’s spiritual formation. There clearly are gender differences that are foregrounded in the response to Peterson, though. He resonates very deeply with a number of realities in many men’s psyches and his power to reach men and turn their lives around isn’t surprising. I’ve compared him in the past to people like Brené Brown, who can speak powerfully into many women’s experience, but are much more likely to leave men cold (although I know a number of women who are big fans of Peterson and a few men who are big fans of Brown, such people tend to be departures from the norm).

      You are right: the pastor has to know the very specific group that he is addressing. However, he also needs to know human (and male and female) nature more generally. A gifted pastor will generally be able to speak wisely into new contexts: his knowledge isn’t limited to a particular community. Rather, he can speak so effectively into particular people’s lives because he knows more general truths about humanity that help him to notice patterns when they surface in the particular.

      • hranderson says:

        Your comparison btwn Peterson and Brown is apt & helps illuminate my concerns about employing Peterson’s rhetoric in context of pastoral ministry. It’s not that Peterson’s rhetorical style is itself harmful to women, but simply that it’s not as accessible to women as it is to men. It is a classically masculine style that discovers & reveals the “rightness” (truth) of something through a structured, ordered process. Despite the risk of negative connotation, I think it’s fair to say that it is clinical and academic, prioritizing objectives.

        Such rhetoric is not meaningful or persuasive to women as a category. As you note, both Peterson and Brown fans include gender outliers, but cursory analysis seems to confirm this. Men respond to Peterson because his rhetorical style resonates with the way they think at fundamental levels. Women, as a group, respond to Brown because her rhetorical style resonates with them at fundamental levels.

        But the difference is not about emotion vs. logic. Peterson, as you have noted, is an emotional person just as much as Brown is a logical one. So it would be wrong to interpret Peterson’s lack of female fans as proof that women are less logical than men; women simply employ a different kind of logic than men do—they determine “rightness” through personal or social logic. They test the integrity of an idea when it is applied in context of the individual and community. Not only is this the type of logic they employ, it’s the type of logic that is most meaningful and persuasive to them.

        Personally, I don’t think that either rhetorical approach is wrong but both are limited and are meant to work together. So my concern about employing Peterson’s rhetorical style in context of pastoral ministry isn’t whether Peterson’s rhetoric is helpful in an abstract sense (it is) but whether it is sufficient for a mixed-gendered group.

        This question is especially pressing in church contexts that 1) centralize preaching as the primary (sometimes exclusive) means of discipleship, 2) restrict preaching to men & have no mechanisms for women to speak publicly, & 3) have underdeveloped women’s discipleship. Employing Peterson’s rhetorical style in such a context has the cumulative effect of reinforcing masculine thought paradigms as spiritually normative, both through modeling and through the isolation that women feel in context of them. If women are outliers to Peterson’s rhetorical style, can a pastor risk having 60% of his congregation feeling like his sermon wasn’t “for them” after he preaches on Sunday morning? That they were simply eavesdropping? Add to this the research that women as a category lack confidence. When they sit under a predominately masculine style of teaching and struggle to accesses the logic, they will likely blame themselves and perceive that they are simply not “smart” enough to get it.

        The risk of centralizing masculine thought goes beyond how a woman “feels” about a sermon to whether that sermon can be spiritual formative for her. If she can’t access the truth being presented, how will she be changed by the truth? Further, women who want to grow spiritually will be tempted to resist and deny core parts of their God-given womanhood in order to attain “maturity.” I’ve seen this happen in contexts that prioritize doctrinal correctness but do not have public female teachers. Women begin to parrot male engagement with the Scripture and disparage overtly female styles of thought and communication as “fluff.”

        Because a pastor has women sitting in his pews and because of the significance of the truth, he must make certain that the message is accessible to his entire congregation. There is the very real possibility that a male pastor could interpret his own appreciation for Peterson as meaning that Peterson’s rhetoric is universally helpful when it is not. There’s probably a strong case for adopting Peterson’s style in contexts where masculine thought paradigms are the preferred means of communicating—clinical settings, male-only groups, etc. Compared to similar styles of rhetoric, Peterson’s may be superior; but when it comes to mixed-gender dynamics in a local congregation, it’s limited and may actually be less effective if used in isolation. I suppose the ideal would be to have Peterson and Brown working together to teach truth–now there’s a picture–or to make sure that there a multiple avenues for women to access truth if male logic is going to dominate in preaching.

        (Please enjoy the irony that I just argued for my idea based on its social logic and its applied affect. You’re welcome.)

      • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Hannah. It was caught in spam for a while, and then I was busy for a few days, but I am finally getting around to answering it!

        It is definitely not the case that there is a logic/emotion divide at play here, although there are contrasting tendencies of other kinds that help to shape the differing responses to this. For instance, there is suggestive research ‘self-control’ may be more important and effective for male psychological health and ‘emotionality’ more important and effective for female psychological health and mindfulness seems to work for women but not really so effectively for men. The stereotype of the man who tries to fix a woman’s problem, when she wants him to empathize with her may not be without a measure of illustrative force for many men and women (of course, there is plenty of overlap and many exceptions too)… Peterson’s emphasis is on recovering agency and self-control, while Brown’s is on vulnerability, emotionality, and openness. There is plenty of overlap between their core themes—courage, compassion, honesty, etc.—but the themes function in significantly different ways. Neither should be dismissed as ‘wrong’, simply because they don’t resonate with many members of the population. People work differently, and those differences often hew closely to gender lines.

        In response to the core of your comment, however, I think a few points need to be stressed:

        1. The pastor should not be a ‘one-stop shop’ for ministry to our spiritual needs. If a pastor functions in such a way, we are losing out. Many of our problems result from a church model that treats pastors in such a fashion, rather than more carefully focusing and specifying their ministry. Churches that are overwhelmingly about teaching, preaching, and authority—as if the main purpose of the Church was to be a source of official instruction for individual religious consumers—will tend to marginalize women in the life of the body. And, while we should have women teaching in various ways in the Church, it is important to consider that part of the problem here is that so much of the Church’s life has been reduced to, or narrowly focused upon, ‘teaching’ in the first place. More women teaching largely passive Christians isn’t going to be a real solution; this just seeks to address some of the most unpleasant symptoms within the framework afforded by the disease itself. Unfortunately, much as with the economy and the workforce, where we fail to challenge the more fundamental issue of the alienation of labour in the modern world, we tend to double down on the problem, rather than pulling out its roots.

        2. As the ministry of the pastor is more carefully situated and focused, it will gradually become clearer that the gender of the pastor is not just an arbitrary restriction upon women, but maintains dynamics that are necessary for the health of the Church. The pastor is called to be a father figure in the community, or a representative of the authority of the bridegroom. His authority is a gendered authority, not just some generic authority that happens to be limited to men.

        As those exercising a fatherly form of authority, pastors must speak to both men and women; however, they must speak as men not as neuters. Just as males and females both need fathers and mothers, not merely a parent of their own sex, so the maleness of the pastor and his manner of approaching life is something that ministers to women too, albeit often in different ways than it will minister to men. Besides, the sexes aren’t alien species to each other: many women will be ministered to by words that chiefly relate to young men and vice versa. There are things that men need to learn from a Brené Brown type and things women can learn from a Jordan Peterson type. Both can and have had a transformative effect upon the lives of many persons of the other sex.

        3. The pastor doesn’t just speak in a single way. He needs to be a father to young men, but he also needs to be a father to young women too, and that often requires forms of speech more specifically targeted to each group. Remembering that pastoring isn’t merely preaching is important here, as is recognizing that a sermon can contain many different forms of speech and address alongside each other: exhortation, words of comfort and encouragement, rebuke, etc., etc. Sometimes the pastor more specifically addresses children, sometimes the elderly, those experiencing depression, backsliders, the wealthy, fathers, women, etc. The problem that Peterson has discovered with young men is that many of them have never received genuine encouragement or positive recognition of their power to make a difference in the world. Addressing this doesn’t require the reduction of pastoral speech merely to words addressed to young men.

        Nonetheless, there are certain elements of pastoral speech that cannot be abandoned without dangerous loss. For instance, the pastor needs to speak with authority and weight. This isn’t all he does by any means, but if he doesn’t do this, he is failing. Furthermore, contrary to many prevailing assumptions, the pastor’s role isn’t primarily a therapeutic and didactic one. To be ‘pastoral’ isn’t primarily a matter of being empathetic and sensitive, nor even one of instruction. The pastor is to be a guardian of the flock and must also uphold Christ’s authority in the congregation. In such a position, while gentle encouragement, feeding, and support is also a crucial part of his task, all must be tempered by a deep firmness and nerve when it comes to the truth. The leaders of the Old Testament were frequently condemned for allowing pity and human attachments to lead them astray from truth and justice. Once again, it is crucial to remember that the pastor shouldn’t be a one-stop shop for ministry in the Church.

      • Lynn says:

        I’m a woman who likes Jordan Peterson’s talks (with many of the same reservations Alastair has expressed) both in terms of content and style. Not only that, but I engage with his materials in mixed gender contexts and in conversations with other women. Lately, I’ve been getting together once a month with two friends (a married couple) and we pop open a bottle of wine and listen to a Jordan Peterson talk with regular breaks for discussion. I also have lunch twice a month with a friend, and we discuss all the links and podcasts we’ve sent each other in between lunch meetings. Jordan Peterson is regularly on the agenda and we dissect his biblical interpretation over sandwiches while her toddlers play at our feet. I guess I didn’t realize I was so far outside the norm for my gender! But hey, if these kids of in-depth, robust, logical, Bible-grounded conversations are weird for my gender…I don’t want to be normal. 🙂 Or maybe the content JP produces IS accessible to women and my feminine nature is expressed in my preference to work through the content in social settings. Who knows? But I thought I’d chime in as a female Jordan Peterson fan.

      • Thanks for the comment, Lynn! Unfortunately, it got caught in my spam filter and I’ve only just retrieved it.

        You may not be the most typical case of a person who appreciate Peterson’s work. However, you are certainly far from alone. Several women have expressed their great appreciation of Peterson to me and their interest in his work. While 80%+ of Peterson’s followers may be men, the remaining 20% represents a large number of women.

    • CJ says:

      As a woman, I am quite edified by Jordan Peterson’s style and many points of his content. (I only disagree on points where his views diverge from Catholic doctrine). He has many qualities of being a good role model for both men and women.

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  7. Stephen Crawford says:

    There’s some great conversation in these comments. I’m really thankful for it.

    Let me start by saying that I find Peterson to be really compelling. So in a sense, Alastair, I understand your enthusiasm, but I do feel a bit confused that your enthusiasm is quite so … enthusiastic. Though I’m broadly sympathetic with Peterson, I’m still trying to work through my disagreements, and I’m wondering if those tuning and chiming in can help. First a few clusters of questions, followed by some observations that might reveal a bit about what’s driving those questions.

    Peterson is not speaking from a robustly Christian perspective. This raises several questions for me that I want to go ahead and lay out for y’all. First, is Peterson then representing a kind of pagan wisdom (obviously using the word pagan very broadly–I suppose I could have also said “worldly,” “natural,” “fleshly,” etc.) that the Church can find useful? Is he providing precious materials that are fit to be incorporated into the Tabernacle that is the Church? Generally, such materials have to be hammered out, cut, sewn afresh. Differently put, does the vision of masculinity that Peterson puts forward need to be baptized? I don’t just mean sprinkling some holy water on it, either. I’m asking what masculinity looks like that has been crucified and resurrected with Jesus, and how will resurrected masculinity (or masculinity lived out in the power of the Spirit) differ from what Peterson brings to light? On the other hand, what lines of continuity will we discover? Another Exodus question: in what ways is the masculinity Peterson represents susceptible of being molded into an idol?

    Relatedly, Peterson seems to be a good guy, like Alastair notes. Should he then be understood as the “virtuous pagan”? (This question occurs to me, though I do want to flag that I know very little about Peterson’s faith, devotional life, relationship to Jesus, relationship to Jesus’s Church, or sacramental history–such as whether or not HE’s been baptized.)

    Let me say a bit about where that last question is coming from–and, Alastair, this marks a disagreement I have with some of your remarks. I don’t think Peterson is fathering men by way of YouTube. It seems to me that he’s doing something that is a part of fathering, a feature of fathering, an aspect of it–but not itself the full-fledged undertaking of being a father to someone. Alastair, when you said that Peterson is for many men the father they never had, it’s possible you didn’t mean for guys sitting at home on their computers, but that’s what I understood you as saying. If I’m reading you right, then that’s what I want to disagree with. And I don’t think I’m just quibbling here. I think this needs to be clearly stated. He’s telling men to cowboy up. A lot of guys need to hear it, and often it’s not received as a word of judgment, but it communicates a certain confidence that the speaker has in the person he’s speaking to. Peterson calls these “words of encouragement,” which captures pretty well the good thing that’s happening in such words. This is certainly an important aspect of the love of a father, but there’s still more to it than that. And I suspect that while YouTube might serve as a medium by which some of the dynamics of fatherhood might be received, there’s a deeper love and healing that men are going to need. (I’ll point out that this isn’t a knock on Peterson, so much as a recognition of the limitations of what he’s doing when he posts lectures on YouTube.)

    I guess what seems to be missing from a YouTube video (and I suspect necessarily so) are words of blessing. He can’t tell men that he’s proud of them, not with the same force or power or integrity. He can’t speak his delight into their hearts: “You are my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Boys at home on their computers can’t know and feel themselves to be the apple of Peterson’s eye.

    Part of why I want to dig into these questions with y’all is because the Lord has been doing incredible things recently in my life and in my family and in my priesthood. Specifically he’s been giving me the love of a Father in a way I had never experienced, but he’s also cultivating in me the heart of a father who contends for his sons and daughters. It’s a complicated story (maybe there will be an opportunity me to share that story with you, Alastair, in a more private correspondence). But part of that story is my coming to know a priest who very conscientiously re-fathers people.

    Following from that, let me end with one more quasi-critical remark, and I think it cuts against the kind of comment that’s being made fairly widely. I don’t think we should say things like, “Pastors really need to start fathering people.” That’s certainly true, but there’s something about putting it that way that disguises the problem–or at least it can monopolize our attention and keep us from seeing a real hurdle to this actually happening. I don’t want to overlook the reality that plenty of pastors themselves need to be told to cowboy up (or in the biblical idiom, to gird their loins). But I do want to say that pastors generally can’t just up and decide to start giving their churches the love of a father, for the very simply reason that they can’t give what they haven’t received. So I think it’s much more helpful, if we want to make exhortations to the Church, to say, “Pastors: go looking for the love a father for yourself.” A significant reason there are so few fathers out there is because there are so few men who are willing to be sons. So go out looking for the word of blessing. Ask the Lord for it directly. Ask him to put you in the orbit of a man who can be a channel of the God the Father’s love for his Son into your own life. Seek diligently, like Elisha striving for Elijah’s mantle. The Lord is gracious, and if you seek you will find.

    • Thanks for the comment, Stephen. Great to hear about your positive experience more recently!

      I think you may have gotten the impression that I am more enthusiastic about Peterson than I actually am. Peterson is resonating powerfully, but there are all sorts of problems with the content of his beliefs. He needs to be approached quite critically. However, the strength of his appeal and the specific factors that I mentioned are things to which Christians really ought to be paying attention. You don’t have to approve of his entire package to do this (more generally, not referring to your comment, I wish Christians were more open to learning what lessons they can learn from people like Peterson, without feeling the need either to underwrite everything he says or to dismiss him almost entirely because he isn’t a good Augustinian, or something like that). As I conclude the piece: ‘If Peterson can so powerfully resonate with certain fragments of Christian truth, how powerfully could a full-bodied presentation of Christian truth speak into the disorientation of contemporary society?’

      Peterson may not be coming from a robustly Christian perspective (for that matter, neither are most professing Christians). However, he is attentive to, receptive of, and alert to the natural order in ways that many Christians aren’t. He is also speaking to certain natural realities that, in principle, one doesn’t need special revelation to recognize. As a result, he sees things that many Christians miss. Peterson also exemplifies a commitment to speaking truthfully and with weight that many Christians could learn from: he may not have much of the content of the truth that Christians have, but he knows how to handle and approach truth in ways that many Christians don’t.

      Peterson’s vision of masculinity definitely needs correcting in certain aspects. However, we should beware of holding the idea—particularly attractive to a certain sort of Van Tillian—that Christianity presents us with some essentially alien form of masculinity and femininity, much as we should beware of holding the idea that it presents us with some fundamentally alien form of politics, economics, society, or anything else, and that everyone else is condemned to miss the point, while it supposedly comes fairly easily to the Christian. Christian revelation confirms and restores the natural order and someone who is deeply attentive to reality and pursues the good will often have an advantage over a less attentive Christian. This isn’t to deny that the gospel reveals a lot of sin in our visions of politics, economics, gender identity, etc. and that it directs us to the natural order, but it doesn’t offer us some alternative that will be radically foreign to someone attentive to reality. It probably will be surprising, but the surprise shouldn’t be foreignness but a beautiful naturalness and fittingness.

      Peterson is clearly not doing everything a father does. However, to the alienated and isolated kid sitting at home on his computer, Peterson’s voice is a fatherly one in such a kid’s situation, which has hitherto lacked such a voice. Such a voice can be genuinely fatherly in its fundamental character even if it is only bringing a very limited dimension of the work of an actual father to bear upon the situation.

      Absolutely: expecting pastors to act as fathers and brothers when they themselves lack fathers and brothers won’t help anyone. As I suggest earlier in the post, we also need voices of authority, but many people in positions which call for such authority shouldn’t try to act authoritatively, as they lack the substance to back it up. They need to develop the substance before they ever attempt to speak with weight. The last thing we need are moral lightweights on an authority kick.

      • Stephen Crawford+ says:

        Thanks for responding, Alastair. You reiterate a number of your original points in your response, and I should probably clarify that I agree with just about everything you say in the initial post.

        A fair amount of your response didn’t seem to fit my comment very well, though. I asked a number of questions that were aimed at clarifying the relationship between what Peterson offers, on the one hand, and what a “full-bodied presentation of Christian truth” would offer, on the other. I think the despoiling of Egypt motif should have made it fairly clear that I think there’s really great stuff to learn from Peterson–exactly as your article spells out. And it’s not difficult to infer from my questions that I don’t expect Christian masculinity to be utterly strange. Rather, I expect nature to be perfected by grace, not destroyed. So exactly as you point out, Peterson–a helpful interpreter of nature–has a lot for us. Notice then that I’m not so much asking for a criticism of Peterson. I’m asking for a criticism of masculinity that’s merely natural. And really, bringing out a vision of grace-redeemed masculinity doesn’t necessarily mean disagreeing with a natural vision of masculinity. It’s simply a matter of going beyond such a natural vision, and I suspect this may even allow us to grasp nature more fully.

        I agree with the final paragraph of your response so far as it goes, but I still think it falls a bit short. I appreciate that it’s a word of agreement, but then I don’t quite recognize the point I was making in the summary you give of what we’re agreeing about. I’m not saying I disagree with the summary, I’m just saying I’m not sure that it captures what I was getting at.

        I think that even a pastor with a great deal of substance–with gifts in terms of preaching, wisdom, counseling, theological depth, devotion in prayer, and so on–is still going to be stunted if what I’m trying to describe hasn’t happened for him. Even if his storehouse is full–he’ll have substance, depth, gifts, but he’ll struggle to share them with others. Because he’s going to have to know who he is. And to know who he is, he’s going to need someone to tell him. I think a number of your observations point in this direction, so maybe I’m just trying to bring it out a bit more clearly.

      • My attitude here is that we must take one step at a time. If I thought most pastors had a strong sense for natural masculinity down, I would be happier to talk about how grace completes the lessons of nature. However, as things stand, a great many of the appeals I see to grace are attempts to avoid the lessons of nature. I am deeply reluctant to allow appeals to grace to deflect any attention from lessons about nature that we badly need to learn.

        There are times when we are despoiling the Egyptians, but there are also times when we must go to them for food because there is a famine in our lands.

      • Stephen Crawford+ says:

        Understood. I appreciate your turn on the reference to Egypt. I guess I was asking for my own edification. Masculinity is something I’ve read and thought about fairly seriously for some time now (from the vantages of its creation and its redemption), and so the questions I’ve put to you and your readers stemmed more from my own sincere questioning of what to make of Peterson. Though I can see how you would reach the judgment that we as a culture are so alienated from out own nature that, when we come across someone who makes real headway in recovering that nature, it’s worth stopping and sitting with them for a while.

  8. Pingback: What pastors could learn from JBP | Leadingchurch.com

  9. Aaron Siver says:

    What could William Lane Craig learn from Jordan Peterson? :-p

  10. Geoff says:

    Thank you for this, Alastair,
    Peterson has far more traction with the secular than the church, on important matters of common concern to the church. Those causes are furthered by Peterson and we should thank God for raising him up at such a time as this. He is a preat example to a chuch that, in many places, has lost its confidence to speak without fear or favour, or even flavour. An apt quotation comes to mind:
    “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” Billy Graham

    I am wary, however, of his influence on Christians, with sub- Christian influences on him and citings, from the likes of Jung.
    But if read with discernment and if we support the view that all truth is from God, is God honouring, there seems to be much that Christians can beneficially glean from his book and work, particularly as a Clinical psychologist. One key element in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the knowlege that there is a thought before there is a feeling, that feelings come from thoughts, even if they can not be readily identified identified at the time, that the thought may have come as a result of something that happened, maybe a day or two earlier, with delayed onset feelings. It can take some time and person honouring deep listening to uncover the thought(s), they can be in deep, part of the fabric of their personhood, often based on a lie. From a Christian view point there would need to be pastoral, renewing of the mind with the washing of the word.
    Also key in CBT is challenging the thought by asking, what is the evidence for the thought – is it true? Here, life circumstances and personal history play a huge part. and frequently seem to corrorate the thought. And again, as Peterson emphasises, another key aspect is the small (sometimes extremely small) step approach starting from where the person is now, not where they should be or once were.
    Will I buy the book? Maybe, if it comes out in paperback.

    • Yes, we should definitely be discerning readers of Peterson. Much of what he advances is misguided, nonsense, or confused. There is also an unhealthy cult-like dynamic in some of the movement around him. However, those who do approach him critically have a great deal they can learn as a result. (I’ll be reviewing Peterson’s book soon).

      • “So you’re saying” to quote your words though, not Cathy Newman’s, …. “much of what he advances is misguided, nonsense, or confused” just after you’ve said, “one of the most striking things to observe is how carefully he weighs his words, the way he manifests his core conviction that words matter and that the truth matters” .
        Which is it?

      • It’s both. ‘Much’ is certainly not the majority, but it is a significant amount. A large amount of the Jungian stuff, for instance, is quite unconvincing and Peterson’s treatment of Scripture often has huge problems with it.

        Nevertheless, even in such cases when he is wrong or misguided, he speaks with a concern for truth that is noteworthy and praiseworthy.

      • I question some of Peterson’s statements myself and am definitely not a cult follower of any man. However …
        Jesus says.”For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” [ Luke 6:43]

        … so is he a good tree or a bad tree, and is his fruit good or bad?

        Are you speaking about Jung more authoritatively than him?
        Is your interpretation of Scripture more sound than his?

        I would really appreciate your supportive evidence from your authoritative viewpoint of what these “misguided, confused and nonsensical, problematic” fruit are.

      • I didn’t say that he brought forth ‘bad fruit’, but that a number of his positions are misguided. These are different claims.

        I am not challenging Peterson as an interpreter of Jung, but arguing that his Jungian teaching is often quite unpersuasive and seemingly wrong. And, yes, I maintain that my interpretation of Scripture is much sounder than his.

      • To return to my query regarding your statements that logically contradict each other yet you insist compliment each other, perhaps I am not as good an interpreter of Scripture or Jung as you are but, putting what “fruit” is, and what it is not, aside …

        You are proposing that although Peterson “carefully weighs his words and the truth of his words”, what he eventually says after considering them carefully is “misguided, nonsense, or confused” (the significant percentages of either the nonsense or the truth is another matter).

        I am logically stating that if you insist that it is both, you are accusing the man of either being confused and misguided himself and in his confusion carefully confusing and misguiding his listeners but “with a concern for truth that is noteworthy and praiseworthy”, or you are accusing him of deliberately deceiving them. He cannot be doing both …and you can not be accusing him of neither when you use those words simply because …”a good tree does not bring forth corrupt fruit; neither does a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” [ Luke 6:43]

        Am I misguided and confused as well or are you just really trying to say that ”you feel you have a much sounder interpretation of Scripture than his” and a “more persuasive grasp of Jungian teaching than his”, without providing your readers examples from Scripture, and from Jung, of where he is confused and misguided and you are not ?

      • Patrick, I am a trained theologian, with a doctoral degree in the subject. A lot of what Peterson says about Genesis and other parts of Scripture really would be strongly challenged by theologians across the spectrum as confused or mistaken. This doesn’t mean that what he says isn’t stimulating, or that it doesn’t provoke helpful questions. Even though I disagree with a great deal of them, I still thoroughly appreciate Peterson’s lectures on the Bible.

        There is a difference to taking some wrong turns in our theoretical work and ‘bringing forth bad fruit’. Many of the greatest scientists of the past presented much that was confused and misguided, but which was nonetheless driven by a laudable commitment to the pursuit of the truth and important for later scholarly development. Scholarly mistakes aren’t necessarily sins or bad fruit, nor are they necessarily evidence that someone doesn’t care about truth.

        The purpose of this post was not to offer critiques of Peterson’s many theories. I could do so, but have no interest in doing so in a largely abandoned comment section. Reread my previous comments: I never claimed to have a stronger grasp of Jungian teaching than he does. I just believe that Jung is often quite wrong. This doesn’t mean that, like Freud, he can’t be a tremendously illuminating, brilliant, and important thinker.

      • Alastair, all I have is an “ignorant love of learning”, no degrees in theology or anything else and I agree with “much” of what you say about the dangers of Peterson and Jung only because I have prayed a lot and I try to read a lot.

        I agree that much of what Peterson says about Genesis and other parts of Scripture really “could be strongly challenged by theologians across the spectrum” and probably will be. JP though, unlike many theologians who tend to sit on their comfortable balconies merely observing and criticizing the way pilgrims struggle on their pilgrimage towards the spiritual dimension of Christ or The Kingdom of God, HAS taken the effort and time to, step down and reach out, physically and mentally to bring as many intellectually confused and mistaken individuals towards appreciating the reality and benefits of seeking a “spiritual dimension” to their lives in the best way he can. This means that what he says and does has spiritual implications, simply because it provokes spiritual questions from intellectual minds.

        All JP is doing is what we all do – “The value lies in the substance of the spiritual reality being reflected in the literature or the art, not in the artist or his methods. “Applying this principle to literature, in its greatest generality, we should get as the basis of all critical theory the maxim that an author should never conceive himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did not exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of eternal Beauty and Wisdom.” [C S Lewis]
        All I am doing is to say that to critique, intellectually, “in a largely abandoned comment section” an individual artist who’se “fruit” is actually turning so many lives around to “seek first” the abundant “Life” should be beneath a Christian disciples criticism. Or as Augustine, or was it Pope John XXIII who said – “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty. In all things, en agape”

  11. Geoff says:

    Thank you for this, Alastair.
    Peterson has far more traction with the secular than the church, on important matters of common concern to the church. Those causes are are furthered by Peterson and we should thank God for raising him up. He is an example to those in some church circles who have lost confidence, to speak without fear, favour or even flavour. An expression fro Billy Graham comes to mind:
    ‘When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.’
    I am wary, however, of his influence on Christians, with the sub- Christian influences on him and his citings, (from the likes of Jung).
    But if read with discernment, and if we support the view that all truth is from God,is God honouring, there seems to be much that Christians can beneficially glean from his book and work, particularly as a Clinical psychologist. One key element in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the knowlege that there is a thought before there is a feeling, that feelings come from thoughts, even if they can not be readily identified identified at the time, that the thought may have come as a result of something, maybe a day or two earlier, with delayed onset feelings. It can take some time and person honouring deep listening to uncover the thought(s), they can be in deep, part of the fabric of their personhood often based on a lie. From a Christian view point there would need to be pastoral, renewing of the mind with the washing of the word.
    Also key in CBT is challenging the thought by asking, what is the evidence for the thought – is it true? Here, life circumstances and personal history play a huge part. And again, as Peterson emphasises another key aspect is the small (sometimes extremely small) step approach starting from where the person is now, not at a stage or or mental condition where they or others think they should be, or once were.
    Will I buy the book? Maybe, if it comes out in paperback.

  12. Alastair – interesting though this is, I won’t venture an opinion on what pastors might learn from JP! What strikes me most about JP is that he is just himself, with no pretensions as far as I can see. Liberals might describe him as ‘authentic’ (a word some conservatives seem to loathe) but this quality in him appeals to me, and it seems to appeal to others.
    Geoff – re: your comments about CBT – I think JP’s interest in Jung shines through him because Jung focusses on non-verbal experiences such as images, dreams, sensation , in addition to words, and I think this is significant given that our primary and, I believe, formative experiences (in the womb, being born, being needy infants) were all pre-verbal. JP seems to have what my Jewish friend calls ‘Shalom’, which she defines as integrated heart, body, mind and spirit. I pray that JP will come to love and worship the Creator of Heaven and earth who created him – sadly I get the impression that he thinks of himself as a self-made man, but that is of course only an impression.

    • Thanks for the comment, Christine!

      Yes, Peterson’s openness and lack of deceit can be disarming. We should definitely pray for him: much that he says suggests to me that, in some respects, he is not far from the kingdom of God.

      • I wasn’t going to comment on ‘that’ interview but I just thought that ‘disarming’ is a good word. JP disarmed (defeated) Cathy Newman in debate by being so reasonable and patient that she finally became lost for words,but I think he also disarmed ( charmed) her – I thought that at that point in the interview the expression on her face showed softness, acceptance and maybe some admiration for JP 🙂

      • Absolutely. It was depressing to see the way that people presented it afterwards as a ‘destroying’ of Newman. Newman clearly warmed to Peterson and found him charming in many respects. Peterson disarmed her, he didn’t ‘destroy’ her. He was firm yet playful, rather than aggressive and belligerent.

  13. philpawlettjackson says:

    Alastair, Thanks so much for your blog, and everything you have put out there, I’ve found your words on gender particularly to be life-giving, provocative and compassionately nuanced.

    I thought the WLC/Goldstein debate/trialogue was poorly framed and poorly chaired, uncomfortably less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts. I have heard WLC on less point-scoring form. And Peterson’s dialogue videos, such as with Jonathan Haidt or Camille Paglia, I have found to be a lot richer, and they’ve made me think that you and he would be exceptionally well suited to a such a recorded conversation. His peculiar interest in Genesis, his sense of the current dilemma of gender as symptomatic problem which prompts his fight for a presuppositional frameworks ~ and so putting to pastoral use a deep intellectual grappling with the history of ideas, further, his attunement to the poetry of language and gender has much in it that I have also recently received from you – your gender-as-a-dance, his reality-as-a-symphony.

    Agreeing with your 6 points, your post provoked in me a few further thoughts on JP, partly in the vein of what else pastors could learn, partly on issues JP raises which I’d be fascinated to know your thoughts on.

    7. A sense of very specific urgency. A sensitivity to trajectory in the history of ideas, an arguing for proportional action from statistical trends. His call to be seriously afraid about where things are going, would sound hysterical if he didn’t say these things in his soft, musically Canadian, earnest ex-smoker’s rasp. Drummed up time-limited urgency is a rhetorical devices, maybe, and risks to sound catastrophist and fan the flames of his apocalyptic cult by default. But nevertheless, I think that JP’s mode of speaking, connects with people because, yes, it is “1. true, weighty.. 2. authoritative .. 3. compassionate, firm .. 4. courageous, authentic” but also, irreducibly, Urgent – the “in 15 years there will be no men studying in the humanities..” calibrates what we are doing. Urgency and timing in Christian rhetoric swings between an “if you were to die tonight..” and leaving things “to the Lord’s timing” ~ the former being timing only in the most ultimate sense the latter contributing to Christianity-as-hobby religion – rarely an informed sense of the intermediate urgencies of current social calamities in waiting.

    8. Audacity which is combative. Driscoll would speak of waging an air-war and a ground-war. I think that Peterson’s grasp of his gift and his platform exemplifies a how-to in the broadcast approach of an air-war which pastors need to be involved in (at various ranges I suppose, according to gift and platform). Vs @hranderson’s point that he should nuance to accommodate local specific cases and *may* speak into the marketplace, I would say that pastors *must* speak to the marketplace, and will speak to the marketplace even if only in their silence – the marketplace is people organised around other influencers, pastors existing within a panoply of such at subsidiary scales, who effect to salt a culture at all levels of influence, the marketplace is engaged in various ways, through mediated broadcast, but ultimately through engaging persons who are influencers in the place of influence.

    9. Authenticity ~ of knowing (and being known?). I think Peterson has the gift to appear authentic, and has cultivated a personality and a platform which perhaps exaggerates this. Nevertheless, I do find him to be authentic in a proper sense, and valuable for so being. I think that at least some part, and probably a significant part, of his ability to speak directly to the peculiar pain of certain sections of society, and to me, has been hard-won by hours of attention to the particular of his clients. No pastor out there is going to deny the value of this model in principle, and the pastor-for-preaching-only category is relatively rare. But there is something in the order of priority and the sheer proportion of his life, which qualifies him for his office, and the relative lack of which enfeebles other pastors pretending to speak into the pain of others. He has also shared quite frankly his own depression etc, without, I think, making it a banner.

    I wonder about the strengths and the weaknesses of this a preacher’s formation via counselloring, being so pre-eminently dyadic, but before I query that, just to highlight that it’s such an obvious takeaway, that his attunement to the shape of the pain of a generation half his age has been preceded by extensive dyadic relationships of psychological counselling. Commensurate attention to the fundamental dyadic relationship of one-to-one discipleship offers the same broad access to authenticity, and contrasts acutely with program-led approaches to discipleship.

    Beyond dyadic, Peterson is interesting in his scepticism about church, and beyond merely reducing him to Randian individualism – and he seems too compassionate for that. I wonder that there is something in his previous experience of multi-personal power dynamics which play out in the more-than two of a church. And I think it is this which then speaks back to @hranderson’s good emphasis on the local.

    I suspect there is churchpain in his past, and the resulting positioning of himself as an isolated genius reformer sets him up to be an ideal cult leader.

    9. Accessible. Peterson’s monthly Q&As are really moving, not reducible to self-promotion, or agony-aunting, or postsecret.com live, or philosophical mastermind. I’ve only dipped into the Peterson back catelogue only in the last few days, but I already have such a sense that I have access to him as a three-dimensional person to a far greater extent than pastors I have known directly in real-life church, and pastors, such as Piper, whose life I know sort of through hundreds of hours of podcast. In that three-dimensional person, I have a picture of father-figuring which I could seek to embody by my own equivalent accessibility. In terms of the risk of a personality cult, I can only think that this risk is inherent to any inacted father figure, or anyone exercising Personalistic (ref Mounier) being at all.

    Pasters can learn from Peterson’s Q&A the same as with Mars Hill Religion Saves series (2008), and related Q&A polled, Q&A involved modes of preaching, the effect is disproportionately personal, or it was for me.

    10. Appropriately humble. @quinnjones2c is right that he presents as one who thinks of himself as a self-made man, and his expression of “self-authoring” self-help plays to that further. However, I am more often more struck by his gentleness, his willingness to admit ignorance and mistakes. See the long debrief interview with Timon Dias at Geenstijl, he considers that his ‘gotcha’ with Cathy Newman was not a win etc. More generally, and conceptually, Peterson’s style of intellectual engagement, whilst combative, is, by contrast with the postmodernism he opposes, humble in it’s submission to history, tradition, scientific inquiry’s due process.

    11. Obsessed with the Old Testament. His series on the psychology and symbology of the Old Testament applied to contemporary life has its own audacity. Not since Rob Bell Exodus/Leviticus etc series have I been so attracted to the depth of the bible and the immediate and life-changing true truth of it as a text to be taken a face value through a mythic lens to speak to very visceral psychological realities.

    12. Subscription model. Noting in other parallels between yourself and Peterson – academics producing content on soundcloud, seeking funding via Patreon. How is that? Does it offer appropriate remuneration? Does it affect your relationship with the content? Would you observe this more broadly as a model that is democratising or a vanity for those in the long tail.

    Those were some thoughts. More totally, I would enjoy (Roberts-Peterson youtubed dialogue notwithstanding) to have you engage the details of his gender theory content as well as style – you have two posts on Peterson, and, by comparison to other topics you hve addressed, they both somewhat abstract, in that they concern the phenomena of Peterson, the tone of his rhetoric, the event of Cathy Newman. I haven’t read any Peterson, and I don’t know how explicit his gender theology has been in writing.

    I’d love our paths to cross, I see we’ve both spoken at L’Abri. Perhaps we’ll meet sooner.

    • Some really stimulating thoughts here! Thanks for sharing.

      The discussion about the online marketplace of ideas really is one worth getting into. I am not quite as sanguine as you might be about its positive character. Online, we too easily buy into teachers who flatter and appeal to us. Despite his strengths, Peterson’s fans are a group that often isn’t especially helpful or healthy. Many of them latch onto Peterson primarily as someone attacking their enemies on the left, for instance.

      Peterson himself has talked about the immense qualitative difference between consuming his material online and actually being present in a physical audience. As I observed recently the realm of social and virtual media is one that attenuates and weakens selfhood and community in various ways. Although it is great to reach large numbers of individuals, online media are inherently deeply limited.

      Peterson speaks about the church directly here. I suspect many would resonate with his experience: recognizing the importance of the Church in theory, yet feeling alienated from it in practice.

      I might interact with Peterson’s Jungian theory of gender in more depth at some point (my impression is that he grounds much upon books such as Neumann’s The Great Mother). Suffice it to say that he is able to see some very important things that others miss here on account of their methodological individualism and resistance to types, but there is a lot that needs correction along the way.

      On the subscription model, I wouldn’t really compare myself to Peterson here. The donations I and Mere Fidelity receive aren’t sufficient to cover our costs: we do this for love, not money! That said, such a model is about being able to work more upon one’s own terms, without the same limitations of speech that exist in most organizations. One of the reasons I’ve largely chosen to work freelance is that freedom of speech may be easier to find this way than through a fruitless pursuit of tenure in the academy.

      • philpawlettjackson says:

        Thanks again.

        Online market place of ideas. Sorry I probably could have been clearer. I have very significant, and far from sanguine, ambivalence about the depth or usefulness of online ‘community’. Here and generally. I was attempting to make an a fortiori argument, to say that, despite the limits of online’s self-selective siloing, self-filtered mediated interactions ~ Peterson achieves a degree of intimate access and meaningful communication sufficiently surprising that I am provoked by it to consider that if-that-then-how-much-more ought it be possible for the church on the ground, in face-to-face, to out-do. I am aware that online community has the cake-and-eat-it attraction of allowing all parties to simulate beknownness in a riskless way, and that churching and pastoring IRL is hard and scary (but, in principle, radically more transformative?). I am aware that the involvement of financial transactions related to this intimacy makes the performance of webcam fathering even more opaque in its authenticity. Even so, I’m struck by what appears to be an effort to make himself available, his display of emotion, his sense of purpose in using the platform presented to speak hard and personal words and to invite hard and personal questions.

        Peterson’s fans. Be clear about how you are invoking this, re his responsibility for the fans he inspires, their constitution as a group (does such meaningfully exist?) and the actions they take in his name. It is possible to insinuate that Peterson should be judged on self-styled Petersonians – this is less interesting to me, being hard to establish causality, cheap to employ as an argument, and beside the point. As your book will go to join the canon of theological literature on gender interaction, it too will come to inspire unintended praxes, uncontexted soundbites, and weaponised simplifications of, I suspect especially, the role of women in church. Again for this reason, a dialogue between yourself and Peterson, would be interesting.

        Church. I’d seen the Peterson re church clip, I’m still expecting an anecdote to emerge of specific church-pain around a specifically disingenuous paster, which is motivating his disengagement. In the meantime, I speculate, in a very undeveloped way, on the difference between dyadic where Peterson excels, [two-person interactions, the psychoanalyst-client, the male-female couple, the mother-infant, the podcast conversations, the Q&A] and the triadic, in the more-than-two, and emergent complexity of churching, groups, etc ~ these seem less comfortable for him, and they are also the melting pot where gender becomes difficult, exponentially more controversial and rapidly tribal, tyrannous and unpoetic.

        Gender. The place where I have heard him being most explicit is the second half of his How to Change the World He considers the emergence of the individual via Christianity in a way that I have previously enjoyed to receive via Emmanuel Mounier, but presses the gender point as if civilisation depends on it. The Christ is male, whereas, not in as many words, women are saved through child bearing.

        The life of a freelance academic. From the outside it looks like you’re living the dream. I’m sure it is not easy, and thanks again for everything you share. Thanks for engaging, and apologies if, again, my ideas are not as clear as I hope they would be.

      • Thanks for the response.

        I think that there is a measure of responsibility for the way that people employ our ideas. When people are misconstruing and twisting our ideas, we may not be guilty. However, if we fail to correct wrong things done in our name, we may have a greater culpability. I think Peterson could have done more on this front to challenge certain behaviour of his fans. However, I can partly understand why he is wary to take this route, as it is a typical ploy used to discredit people by various parties.

        Ideas are always going to be twisted, especially online, and even more so by those who dislike us. I expect a raft of gross misrepresentations of my positions when my book comes out. This isn’t anything new to me. However, I am more concerned about my positions being misrepresented by people who claim to agree with me.

        Haha! You might have a few misconceptions about the romantic character of the life of a freelance academic. That said, there are many, many worse things to be. 🙂

  14. Mark Lurie says:

    Excellent post, could not agree more. Yes, he is an evolutionary psychologist who appreciates the Bible mainly for its “mythopoeic” or archetypal value, and he misses the mark big time (I doubt he’s ever paid much attention to what believers call typology). We believe he is wrong on these points. And yet he still impresses far more than many Christian leaders. His courage in the whole transgender debate can only be admired, as well as his unapologetic recognition that young men today need help big time. One reads the evangelical literature, and there seems to be a kind of tacit agreement with some aspects of feminism, and a contempt for masculinity (defined as anything more than just being willing to die for our wives) … indeed, the evangelical church is complicit in the demonization or marginalization of manhood.

    Here’s a question: If you were a young male in your 20s — a seeker as opposed to a committed Christian — and wanted real-life help, who would you be turning to? Someone like Peterson or any of the Christian men you hear on Christian radio these days? Yes, they need the gospel, but if they perceive that the gospel is propounded by men who are detached from reality as they experience it, and not tellers of truth in other areas, but rather hopeless conformists, they may very well conclude that their message about “ultimate realities” is, itself, detached from reality. So, I think the author of this article is saying that we need to up our game, and I would not disdain to learn from men like Peterson — not one bit.

    Regarding the discussion you alluded to, I watched the whole thing on youtube. I’d love to watch a real debate or discussion between JP and William Lane Craig, in which Craig could answer what I thought was Peterson’s main critique of Craig’s point: namely, that just because we may not live forever doesn’t mean our lives are ultimately meaningless. Craig never addressed this point, because as you say above, the format of the discussion did not allow for it. Also, the presence of Rebecca Goldstein (a complete lightweight whose main contribution to the discussion was to tell us she is “scared” of the very word “transcendent’ … evidently because of the holocaust) detracted from what could have been a better discussion.

    • If I were such a young man, I would definitely sooner turn to Peterson than I would to almost any Christian teacher. Despite the fact that they know the gospel, most cannot adequately address the more immediate issues in many young men’s lives. Sometimes, to address the deepest need in people’s lives, we have to be more attentive to addressing well their more immediate needs.

  15. lutey says:

    I recently watched several videos of Jordan Peterson and was immediately struck by many of your same observations. I am not a preacher but do teach a Bible class to roughly 120 students and am constantly studying gifted speakers such as Peterson. The combination of the wisdom to know truth, the courage to speak truth, and the compassion that allows that truth to sink deeply is rare and highly effective. My first thought upon listening to Peterson was, “What a shame he’s not a Christian–what a ministry he would have!”
    I would give anything to have any of the pastors of my church care about my kids the way Peterson so obviously cares about young men he doesn’t even know. It’s not that large of a church but I think they simply don’t see it as being a part of their “job”. As believers, we can learn a lot from Peterson about reaching people (not just “an audience”) effectively while understanding that while he may have answers for some questions here on earth, only Christ has the eternal answers to the questions that matter most.

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  19. Peterson is certainly confirming what Dallas Willard (a professor of Philosophy and preacher) taught some time ago – “In vain do we try to change people’s hearts or character by moving them to do things in ways that bypass their understanding”. [Dallas Willard]

  20. XERO says:

    I still can’t get over the fact that this album expects Pastor to take it seriously, and points out the importance of free speech, while (when considering the audience) still manages to use swear words. Even for the right reason this is a bright light only Spirit of the author. One of Peterson’s rules in his new book is to make sure that your house is in order before trying to criticize others. I think this is a pretty good example of that and it shows up in the first few paragraphs.

    ( I noticed this the first time I read the article, and a few days later it was still bothering me so I had to come back and say something)

    With that said, the thing about Jordan Peterson that’s so appealing as that he lays out his convictions, and he remains consistent in them. He’s not afraid to cite his sources, as unpopular as they are. I usually get skeptical when people start talking about Yung, but Peterson doesn’t seem to care whether or not people think Yung is cool. It’s important to him and that’s why he quotes it often. Could we be more like this ourselves as Christians? Can we remain consistent and our beliefs, say not swearing when trying to correct pastor, and not shy away from using the scripture as our reasoning?

    • XERO says:

      That came out as barely coherent. Sorry I was using voice to text, and now I can’t edit.

    • I presume that you are referring to the term ‘bullshit’. I do not apologize for the use of such a term: it is used descriptively, rather than as a form of obscenity. I’ve articulated my position on such language in the past. There are occasions that call for such language. Our convictions clearly differ on this matter, but I am not being inconsistent with mine.

  21. Among other things, it seems that Jordan Peterson is forcing us to think through how much we can “plunder from the Egyptians.” That alone is a worthwhile endeavor.

  22. kycatfan says:

    Outstanding through and through. Thanks. As a by-and-large fundamentalist who,for example, can’t quite swallow evolutionary theory (even given the opening argued for by Plantiga et. al.), I still find Peterson remarkably helpful. Yet, I want to keep true to the Gospel in all respects. The above conversations are deep and thoughtful. Again, thanks! I will keep listening to Peterson and using his best as much as I can in pastoral work.

    I assume you have seen Peter Burfeind’s piece? http://thefederalist.com/2018/02/01/dr-jordan-peterson-gateway-drug-christianity-just-highbrow-joel-osteen/

  23. Mark Powell says:

    You might want to check this out. Peterson is not as orthodox as it first seems.https://www.spectator.com.au/2018/02/jordan-peterson-psycho-religious-heresy/

    • Thanks for the link. I’m not sure who believed Peterson was ‘orthodox’, though. Although the very fact that we are talking about the supposed orthodoxy of a psychologist with a Jungian interpretation of the Bible is an interesting indication of how unusual a thinker Peterson is.

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  30. If Jordan Peterson went to The Gospel Coalition, he’d and spit them out with their leftist theology. Most Protestant and Evangelical churches sympathize with The Gospel Coalition’s leftist neo-social gospel and couldn’t tolerate somebody as honest as Jordan Peterson

    • ‘Leftist neo-social gospel’?! It’s quite reasonable to argue that of the implicit politics over on TGC are a little squidgy, and in ways that are hardly new for evangelicals. Evangelicalism’s characteristic individualistic activism often leads evangelicals to miss the bigger picture and to lack political prudence. Under the guise of loving one’s neighbour, we can advance a universalist and individualist ethic that throws the neighbourhood under the bus. However, ‘leftist neo-social gospel’ is not the right terminology here. Like or it not, this is just fairly conventional evangelicalism, and is still bound up with evangelicalism’s characteristic right-leaning emphases and its principled opposition to the social gospel.

      • I would be interested then in your answer to C S Lewis’s question – “The Christian is called, not to individualism but to membership in the mystical Body. A consideration of the differences between the secular collective and the mystical Body is therefore the first step to understanding how Christianity without being individualistic can yet counteract collectivism.”[C S Lewis ]

      • How will Christianity without being individualistic counteract collectivism ?

      • There are alternatives between those two extremes, both of which are highly modern. American individualism is a huge problem, of a different form to the problem of collectivism, but still huge. While we must forge robust moral selves against collectivism, individualism consistently fails to form such selves.

  31. A list of what you believe to be the modern alternatives would be helpful and could you please define “American individualism” and explain why you separate it from “individualism”.

    • We’re straying quite some way from the topic of the post here, so I’m not going to get into a discussion on this issue right now. American individualism is the peculiar brand of individualism framed by the peculiarities of American society: its relationship with the car, its emphasis on self-realization, self-expression, and self-affirmation, its focus on freedom as the lack of boundaries upon the individual, its advanced consumerism, its form of capitalism, its radical code of freedom of expression, its uprooting of people from communities and its social atomization, its design of towns and cities, its forms of child-rearing and education, its sexual mores, its weakening of the family for the sake of individual autonomy, etc., etc.

      There are plenty of alternatives, when you start to realize that collectivism and individualism (especially of the American variety) are extremes. Most traditional societies have placed far more limits on individual autonomy for the sake of healthy togetherness in community, while still firmly resisting the sort of collectivism represented by socialist societies. A great of what passes as American individualism is a serious departure from the conservative tradition, and is rather an expression of the liberal tradition in its various guises.

      • God is nothing to you if He is not personal to you and I don’t think we’re straying too far from the topic because the Bible is full of stories of “individuals” (prophets etc) who, if they had not been individuals, would not have been able to revivify and save the “collective” from suicide.
        “”The will of the world is always a will to death, a will to suicide. … The world is neither capable of preserving itself, nor is it capable of finding remedies for its spiritual situation (which controls the rest). It carries the weight of sin, it is the realm of Satan which leads it toward separation from God.” [Jacques Ellul]

        You still have not answered Lewis’s question though.

      • As I said, this is straying quite some way from the topic, which is the lessons that pastors can learn from Jordan Peterson. I’ve addressed these issues to various degrees in other contexts, but to have this conversation here, in the comments of a post that is over two weeks old, is taking us some way from the subject, for little potential gain.

        I also—excuse me if I’m wrong—get the impression that you are more interested in interrogating me to see whether I align with your own opinions, than in honestly wanting to know my thoughts in a spirit of openness to dialogue. Even if we were on topic, that isn’t a game I’d be interested in playing.

        Thanks for the time you’ve given to commenting, though. You are quite welcome to raise these issues again in the comments of a post where they are on topic.

  32. One of the main lessons pastors can learn from Jordan Peterson is the importance of individual personal responsibility, but if you think that is “straying from the topic” then this is your post and you dictate who gets to comment and who does not. Also I am attempting to get you to answer a question (you are the qualified theologian after all) posed by C S Lewis, not me, I am not interrogating you and you do not know my opinion, simply because I don’t have an answer to the question and have not formed one yet. I was hoping for some clarification from you on what you really think and believe before giving you my opinion but you must have your reasons for refusing to answer the question and not wanting my perspective. This level of mature intellectual wisdom certainly qualifies you to say that much of what Peterson, who … “We should also note, with regard to those who impugn his scientific credibility, that Peterson’s “h-index,” or citation count in peer-reviewed articles and papers, is through the roof, some 8000 to date. This metric, which measures both quality and ubiquity, establishes Peterson as a leader in his field.[David Solway] …“is misguided, nonsense, or confused”

  33. Bill Nicely says:

    Hmmm. Not gonna make a lengthy post but draw out a few things I noted in the dialog portion of the evening between JP and WLC. When JP explained or defended his reliance on Naturalism, WLC called him out on the genetic fallacy. Instead of answering the charge JP responded with words equivalemt to “when we get this abstract then truth and objective truth are very fuzzy”. Yes, when talking about formal logic, grounded in mathematical principles and widely accepted philosophical first truths, it is always acceptable to respond that it depends on what you mean by truth. He is not often put in a corner but he ALWAYS offers up this gem of the fuzziness of truth or this one “it is even more true than you can even imagine”. Neither response advances the conversation and goes against JP’s plain dictate to always speak the truth. He loves catching people out but does not respond well when he is caught out. You will likely NEVER see JP on the same stage as WLC again. JP will avoid it like the plague. Naturalism fails on philosopical arguments. JP copies Sam Harris by pretending to answer reductio ad absurdum with a smokescreen of verbosity and hand gestures as if to dismiss pesky flies. I liked JP at first but was unsatisfied. I am now more certain why. Mythology born of naturalism is what JP offers. Wolf in sheep’s clothing comes to mind. A charismatic scratcher of ears. We have those already.

  34. Like you I am also unsatisfied when JP uses biology or evolutionary psychology to float fuzzily on the infinite translations and meanings of the numinous to avoid his ignorance or to avoid his personal conclusions . But don’t we all ?, including pastors and theologians who at least have sufficient maturity to admit it. Mythology is often born of a mixture between naturalism and spirituality, unless you don’t believe in miracles and you have to believe in miracles to accept a virgin birth, see C S Lewis explaining that he was led to Christ by realizing that the virgin birth was a myth that had really happened in time and space.
    I think you may have hastily interpreted JP incorrectly though, I think he is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
    I am not a JP or WLC fan and besides, JP himself said – ““There is intense pleasure in momentary domination, that’s why people do it all the time, but it’s no formula for long term reciprocal relationships.” [JP] relating to discussions, so I have two quick questions.
    Are you ruling out the possibility that JP can be led to Christ by his biology or evolutionary psychology?
    Are you saying that JP applies reductio ad absurdum fallaciously or that he is using it as a technique to expose the fallacy in arguments from others?

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  36. Another Viewer says:

    I feel as though we watched different presentations. I agree with Bill Nicely. I’ve read of Peterson saying a number of interesting things on other topics, but he came off as a lightweight in the area of philosophy. (And that’s okay because that’s not his area, though it seems silly that they had him on the program. “Hey, he’s famous right now, so…”) Craig was, as always, excellent in this, his area. Truth and authority indeed.

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  42. Kevin G says:

    Simply put, that man changed my life and brought me back from a very dark place. Life changer

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  45. Theosis4u says:

    There is one way the Church should see Jordan Peterson, in my opinion, as an opportunity. What else can the man do without being kicked out of the university and his profession [or a complete restart & rewrite of it]? Should he end every lecture with an opportunity to approach the stage for people to commit themselves to Christ? It’s NOT his job, it’s the Churches job and the ministers to take advantage of the opportunity that Jordan is creating.
    The fact so few of the clergy, across all denominations, fail to see this explains so much about Christianities current state of affairs. Constantly threatened by the loss of false power and false authority rather than being convict by divine humility. If the church, regardless of the denomination, knew how to do its job – Jordan wouldn’t have the audience he does.
    Ministers – Be the fisher of men you were called to be and get your nets out before Jordan either gives up or is taken out from reeling them in. Another way to say it – someone needs to bag what Jordan is shooting.
    Eastern Orthodoxy has an expression it uses to describe itself – “The fullness of truth”. That is a good position for the church to take with those being exposed to Jordan’s message – “We love Jordan’s message and what it’s doing, now let us help you with an understanding of the fullness of the Truth.”

  46. Susan Owings says:

    Allistar, I dont know how to describe the power of your commentary. At best I can say I’m energized and disturbed. Peterson realizing truth and speaking it into principles like an evangelist incites me to longing for such preaching from the podiums of every church. I’m grateful for your assessment. I pray daily for Peterson to come to Christ; to recieve personally John 14:27 through surrender to the gospel. If not I imagine he could bring many of his listeners to a false god.
    I am grateful that Peterson has the courage to speak facts about men in the current broadly advertised tide of male bashing and gender confusion. I teach 3rd and 4th grade Sunday school. I continually hear girls talking negatively about boys. I intercede by expressing my appreciation for both genders, and how loved we are by God. It grieves me that books and media denegrate fathers and men overall. I wonder what it is like to grow up male and be under this cloud of “dispicable me” for men.
    It seems and I may need correcting, that
    truth is truth no matter who speaks it. God has spoken truth into nature and it is there to be read by all. If Peterson can find the truth about human nature, in my non academic opinion, it is because God has made it clear for everyone who has the inclination to find truth. Peterson needs to know the God whose principles he has adapted and put faith in Christ. I hope prayers are going up for him everywhere.
    Thank you Allistar for your voice going out to speak truth. I learn every time from you since the first time you spoke to us in Memphis.

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