Is Jordan Peterson a Christian?

by | Culture and Spirituality | 5 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.

  1. 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 its 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.

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  1. 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

5 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
  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

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