Jordan Peterson’s Misunderstanding of The Gospel

A few weeks ago on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson said, “And so it isn’t that the Bible is true. It’s that the Bible is the precondition for the manifestation of truth.” The statement was praised by Big Eva. Appropriate, given Dr. Peterson’s take wasn’t far-fetched.

Dr. Peterson has built himself quite the reputation among evangelicalism—nearly all Christians are familiar with the psychologist. Some are critical, while some are open to his commentary. Nonetheless, I think it’s safe to say evangelicals have a soft friendship with Dr. Peterson.

It’s obvious Dr. Peterson is sympathetic towards the Christian faith. He’s defended Christianity against The New Atheists—in his own way—and gave captivating lectures on what The Old Testament, Christ and God mean to him. These lectures amassed several millions views on YouTube. And I would go as far to say I agree with several tenants Dr. Peterson espouses. Namely, his emphasis on personal responsibility. But after listening to many, many hours of Dr. Peterson, I fear has a false understanding of The Gospel and is wrapped up something antithetical to it. It breaks my heart the man does not have the ears to hear or eyes to see.

In the spring of 2019, PragerU—a conservative media and education platform—hosted a national summit in Los Angeles. PragerU invited Dr. Peterson to deliver the keynote speech. There was much anticipation going into the event among political conservatives about his attendance. This was during the peak of Dr. Peterson’s fame.

And what a moving keynote it was. The man is a talented speaker. Honestly, he’s articulate, unlike anyone I have witnessed before.

After the keynote, Dr. Peterson sat down with Dennis Prager, founder of PragerU. I realized Dr. Peterson’s misunderstanding of The Gospel soon after Dennis asked him the question, “… you regularly say you live as if there is a god, is that correct?

After briefly stating why he does not enjoy such questions, Dr. Peterson replied, “… I thought, who would have the audacity to claim that they believed in God if they examined the way they lived? Who would dare say that? To believe, you think—to believe in a Christian sense—This is why Nietzsche said there was only ever one Christian and that was Christ. To have the audacity to claim that means you live it out fully, and that’s an unbearable task in some sense.

Fredrick Nietzsche—a 19th century German philosopher known for cutting rhetoric and intellect—influenced hundreds of thinkers. Dr. Peterson is one of them. Nietzsche was a devout critic of theistic systems in general, though he despised Christianity in particular. Salvation denies reality and is attractive to those unable to live out their potential in the present, according to the philosopher. Salvation and Christianity were “life denying” by Nietzsche’s lights. He was most critical about empty professions of faith and the outward piousness of Catholicism, though Nietzsche despised Protestantism too, writing “It is merely a less respectable form of Christian faith, not by any means a more comprehensible one.” in The Will To Power.

The quote Dr. Peterson referenced in the Dennis Prager interview came from Nietzsche’s writing in The Antichrist, a literary assault on Christianity and the personhood of Jesus. The exact quote is“The very word ‘Christianity’ is a misunderstanding–at bottom there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” Here, the philosopher asserts attaining salvation through Christ was something laughable and claiming something of such a magnitude without deeds to show it was a hollow proclamation. A front you could say. Dr. Peterson quotes Nietzsche is his New York best seller 12 Rules For Life,The Christians have never practiced the actions Jesus prescribed them; and the impudent garrulous talk about the “justification by faith” and its supreme and sole significance is only the consequence of the Church’s lack of courage and will to profess the works Jesus demanded.” Here, Nietzsche shows his disdain for Sola Fidè.

Christians may now see where Nietzsche got it wrong after reading the above quotes. Nietzsche is correct in that there was ever only one “Christian”—one good, worthy person—though using this as a criticism is self-defeating. The philosopher erects a steel-man, failing to make a dent in his construction, and is blind it the error it in his critique. Because no one is good but Christ and a creature’s works cannot satisfy the debt for sin, Christ must go to the cross for the Christian’s salvation. The Christian admits their works are nothing and clings to the cross in their weakness. My surprise abounds when I think about how Nietzsche thought his critiques of Christianity were anything but caricatures.

Dr. Peterson is wrapped up in a similar vein. Like Nietzsche, he’s correct in that no one “has the audacity to say they believed in god”. By this Peterson means no one can burden the moral responsibility to claim they are a Christian because the demand for performance is so great. This is true. Man is unable to keep God’s law because our nature is contaminated by the sin we inherit from Adam. However, the Christian has someone standing in their place. This someone is Jesus, and He credits His performance—fulfillment of the “unbearable task” which is God’s law—to the Christian.

Claiming that one is a follower of Christ (analogous to Dr. Peterson’s “believing in God”) is not akin to praying in the street, proclaiming to the world your moral piety, or asserting you to meet some moral standard. It’s the converse of self-righteousness. Dr. Peterson is in error to think that “to believe in a Christian sense” is anything of that nature. No, claiming Christ is an admission of inadequacy after one has “examined the way they lived” as unrighteous in the eyes of a holy god, and in need of a plea in front of the righteous judge.

When a man confesses “Christ is Lord” he puts on a garment of humility, not one of boasting. How could it even be so? It’s anything but self-righteous to accept you cannot fulfill your obligation to a law, and therefore must off-load that abdication to another who can fulfill the obligation and did. Thus, Dr. Peterson’s understanding of The Gospel is based on one’s own performance. Works. That is no gospel at all.

I wish the man could see it. It’s saddening Dr. Peterson knows he isn’t enough in the eyes of God and yet doesn’t grasp Christ’s atonement was enough and can be offered to him. I pray The Lord grants Dr. Peterson repentance and one day his heart is opened to realize how far he is from God no matter how humble he tries to form himself. Such a humility is admirable, yet it is nothing without Christ.

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