What to make of Jordan Peterson


Last month I became aware from various people that Jordan Peterson is an interesting guy and worth reading and listening to. I was intrigued by the title of his book “12 Rules for Life”  and had a read. Here’s a few thoughts…If you don’t know Jordan Peterson my blog here isn’t the place for a thorough description. I’d suggest a google search or listen to this podcast from the Centre for Christian Living. The short story is that he’s a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who, through his books and internet lectures, has reached millions of people, and suggested to them all sorts of ways of doing life better. He’s not a Christian, but values the Bible and other religious texts, and teaches things that seem to go against traditional “progressive” values. For example he doesn’t think people are basically good, rather they are a mixture of good and evil; and he dismisses the pursuit of happiness as a healthy life goal

As pastor for Maturity I’m always curious about anything to do with change, or living life well, so I had a read of “12 Rules for Life”. This is about how we can live life better, especially in a world of potential chaos. And there was a lot to enjoy about the book!

The rules themselves are instantly engaging and interesting. For example: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them” (rule 5), “Set your house in order before you criticize the world” (rule 6) and “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t” (rule 9). Each chapter explains more about the rule using ideas from religion, philosophy, psychology and his clinical experience. Peterson invites you to put the rule into practice as a way of countering the chaos of the world and being more meaningful and purposeful in life.

It took me a while to figure out what to do with it. By a few chapters in I realised I was reading “wisdom literature” a bit like Proverbs (only not infallible or inspired). Peterson is giving guidance in life from his thoughts and observations. This allowed me to take on board some things as true and helpful, disagree with others, and remain undecided on the rest. It’s not explicitly Christian, although a lot of his advice is consistent with a Christian worldview.  Overall it was enjoyable and thought-provoking. I’d probably even say I’m trying to put some of the rules into practice!

My advice to Christians (at least at our church) is similar to David Hohne on the CCL podcast: if you know your Bible reasonably well and enjoy reading and thinking you’d probably enjoy this book and learning things from Jordan Peterson. You’ll be able to listen critically, take away some good points and appreciate the limits. We won’t find salvation with Jordan Peterson but he can be helpful.

A second benefit of reading him is being able to engage better with our secular world. You’ll be able to talk with others who are listening to / watching / reading his work. You’ll also perhaps gain insights into our world and why so many people find his ideas interesting.

Thankfully, God has provided us with perfect wisdom – that found in Christ (1 Cor 1:30). Wouldn’t it be great if we could appreciate him more and share him with a world hungry for wisdom?