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Is Jordan Peterson a Christian?

by | Culture and Spirituality | 10 comments

In my travels, I’ve been asked many times what I think about Jordan Peterson. There seem to be two main questions that people ask:

  1. “Is he a Christian or not?”
  2. “Do you think people are becoming Christians because of him?”

Since those are both two big questions, I thought I would tackle them one at a time.

So is Jordan Peterson a Christian?

I would never presume to know the state of a person’s heart so I will resist giving a definite answer to that question. I think we can evaluate what Peterson has said, however, and see to what extent that lines up with a Christian confession of faith.

Peterson has called himself a “pragmatic Christian,” which means he consciously follows Jesus’ moral teachings. Beyond that, he avoids giving definite answers about his ultimate beliefs. When asked if he believes in God he says,

First of all, I don’t respond well to that question. It’s kind of like asking what you do in the bedroom….. It’s manipulative as well… I don’t like the question, and I don’t like to answer questions I can’t feel solid about in my answer.1

One of Peterson’s greatest strengths is that he chooses his words very carefully.2 This means that when he does make a clear and affirmative statement, you can be sure it’s what he genuinely believes to be true.

The crucial point for our question then is, “What does Peterson say about Jesus?”

Nailing that answer down is difficult because Peterson’s explanations are deeply rooted in Carl Jung’s psychological theory of archetypes, which isn’t easy to understand. Simply put, archetypes are mental images or symbols which represent to the mind some universal pattern or form.3 The word “symbol” is crucial here because a symbol only ever represents a thing; it is never the thing in and of itself.

The word “symbol” is crucial here because a symbol only ever represents a thing; it is never the thing in and of itself.

Herein lies the problem I find with Peterson’s views on Jesus. For Peterson, Jesus is an archetype. That doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t exist. It’s just that whether he did or not isn’t really the point. The point is what Jesus represents.

For example, Peterson describes Jesus as “the archetype of the perfect man.” In this sense, then, Jesus is the perfect model for us to follow. In another instance, he explained that when Jesus took the sin of the world upon himself, it was an archetype revealing the fact we are all capable not only of great good but also great evil.4 In this sense, then, Jesus gives us true self-understanding.

Same words, different meanings

This is where the confusion comes in. What Christian wouldn’t agree with saying that Jesus is the perfect model for us to follow, or that Jesus gives us true self-understanding? On the surface, these sound like very Christ-affirming statements.

The problem is that the “surface” is only true if it rests on a true foundation. Understanding how Peterson views Jesus as an archetype, however, shows that while we may agree in our words, we certainly do not in our meaning. Here is an illustration that I think helps:

Conclusion

We could say a whole lot more, but I think this one point is the most important in clearing the confusion around Peterson. Whatever affirmations he makes about Jesus or the Bible seem to come solely from psychology, which is ultimately focused on self-understanding. For Peterson, the lessons from Jesus or the Bible are meant to give us knowledge about us. The point is to teach us the truth about ourselves, and from that truth make ourselves the best “selves” that we can be.

…true self-understanding is only ever a by-product of discovering the truth about God.

Self-understanding is certainly essential for the Christian faith. The difference in the gospel however, is that true self-understanding is only ever a by-product of discovering the truth about God. Truly knowing ourselves first requires truly knowing God. And the truth about God is not found in Jesus’ example, but in Jesus himself.

As Paul beautifully spells it out,

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

Is Jordan Peterson a Christian?

I have no idea what God is doing inside the man’s heart and mind. All I can do is evaluate the things that he says. As much as I find him fascinating, interesting, thoughtful, and intelligent, his message does not begin and end with Jesus Christ, which necessarily disqualifies it from being Christian.


Notes

  1. Jordan Peterson: I need ‘three more years’ before I can give my position on the historical Jesus https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/jordan-peterson-i-will-explain-my-position-on-the-historical-jesus-in-three
  2. This is an interview between Peterson and a British TV journalist that is a classic example of how Peterson’s cool and careful choice of words not only showed how intelligent he is, but how foolish his opponent was. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54&t=915s
  3. https://dictionary.apa.org/archetype
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFdsMKno-Pw

Originally published May 10, 2018, last updated Jun 10, 2021.


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10 Comments

  1. Sandra Reimer

    Whether or not Peterson is a Christian himself he is stimulating the kinds of conversations that could lead people to think deeply about the Bible and the meaning of life. For this reason, I think it is worthwhile for Christians to read and listen to Peterson’s material so that we can have intelligent discussions with people attracted by Peterson’s message. I think Christians miss the point when they only want to listen to other Christians. Peterson is resonating with a whole bunch of people on spiritual and philosophical topics. We should find out what is resonating about his message and add our voices to this very important cultural conversation.

    Reply
    • Scott Stein

      I couldn’t agree more Sandra. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
    • Charlton Krause

      https://youtu.be/a4AlCk-NDz4

      I think Jordan is slowly being converted to the Faith. I think he has realized the truth but it scares him because of what it implies. In the above link you can see that he is deeply troubled by the world and he does pray to God for help. That’s a pretty good start.

      God Bless You All

      Reply
  2. William Dunlop

    Now do one on Joel Osteen!! That might generate a ton of comments.

    Reply
  3. Deborah Dennis

    To be honest, I have never heard of Jordan Peterson but I think it is important for Christians to be able to decipher a person’s beliefs so that we can thoughtfully read popular psychologists works and determine what to apply to our lives. I have been told to read Brene Brown and have listened to her Ted Talk on courage. I like some things she says but not everything. just some food for thought.

    Reply
  4. Kjetil

    I think Peterson is obsessed with Carl Jung. Carl Jung was an occultist. Beyond that, I recommend his debate with Shapiro. When the two minds meet, it becomes clear that one of the two has a muddled mind – and it is not Shapiro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1opHWsHr798

    Reply
  5. Roberta Reis Heinrich

    I found your article so much assertive.
    It is was Biblical grounded and let bo room for double minded about it.
    Thank, thank very much.

    I heard about J.P. from a coworker here in Brazil, and I see many conservative people kind of enjoying his lectures.

    Anyway, I am glad I search for this in gogoduck and was able to find you guys.

    Blessings in Jesus alone.

    Reply
  6. Gary Jessel

    I don’t subscribe to muddled intellectual, which he has admitted to is because of his thinking technique and communicating, as thinking out loud.

    Reply
  7. Robb Besosa

    I appreciate your overview. At the same time let’s continue to remember that NONE-OF-US came to Christ with a complete understanding of who he is nor with pure motives of why we came to him. We see this in Jesus’ very own disciples who walked with him. Most of whom did not completely understand his motives or their role until after his death and resurrection. Most of us, were drawn to Jesus for self-motivated reasons: we were scared of hell, we were attempting to get out of trouble, we were trying to make our lives better, etc. That does not mean we were not disciples, or followers of Jesus, it simply means we were immature in our faith/learning.
    When Jordan says in one interview, “And the ultimate example of that in principle [morality]is supposed to be Christ. But I don’t know what to do with that…it seems to me to be oddly plausible. But I still don’t know what to make of it. Partly because it’s too terrifying a reality to fully believe. I don’t even know what would happen to you if you fully believed it.”
    Upon this statement, Jordan tears up. In this way, I think he is actually offering more GLORY to God and the sacred reality of what it means to belong to him and what implications this has on a person’s life than many who claim Christ yet treat the relationship so flippantly.

    I believe what we are seeing with Jordan is a public display of what it looks like for Jesus to draw to himself an intellectual willing to be honest. Let’s focus on the issue at hand and pray for Jordan to continue to grow in his understanding of God the Father through Jesus Christ, along with many of us, and receive the peace, comfort, and rest that comes from God doing the work for us. And my it cause all of us, along with Jordan, to glorify God through a continued progress in understanding the immensity of His Truth! “Thank You Father to your generous grace and mercy to all of us!”

    Reply
    • Scott Stein

      Thank you for your response Robb. I don’t disagree with you, and certainly hope that I did not communicate in any way that I am judging Jordan Peterson’s motives. I admire him very much and believe he is on a very genuine search for truth. My purpose in “analyzing” Peterson, however, is for the benefit of Christians who may listen to him and wonder to what extent his understanding of Jesus aligns with a biblical understanding.

      I’ll also point out that this post was published in 2018. I would say that Peterson’s views have changed a lot since then, and we’ve heard a lot more of them, so my perspective on him has also changed. Here is a more recent analysis I posted about Peterson, actually in response to the very event you mentioned, the is his emotional response to talking about Jesus in his interview with Jonathan Pageau. https://preparedtoanswer.org/topics/culture-and-spirituality/what-should-we-make-of-jordan-peterson/

      You said: “I believe what we are seeing with Jordan is a public display of what it looks like for Jesus to draw to himself an intellectual willing to be honest.” I totally agree! And, I too am hoping and praying for that day where he receives Christ as Saviour.

      Thank you for your comment Robb!

      Reply

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