An Open Letter to Jordan Peterson

An Open Letter to Jordan Peterson April 28, 2018
  • Jordan Peterson, black and white
    Image credit Daniel Ehrenworth, used by permission

[Note: I have forayed into the world of Jordan Peterson think-pieces once before, here, but his work and the cultural phenomenon in his wake deserve more careful attention than a think-piece can capture. I hope to share more thoughts on it in this space. I encourage other Christians to engage him with the vigor, generosity and candor he deserves, between the Scylla of fawning admiration and the Charybdis of paranoid dismissal. Such opportunities and such men come perhaps once in a generation. Pass it by if you choose. It will be your loss. Herewith, my personal message to the man himself, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson.]

Dear Dr. Peterson,

I hope this letter finds you well. Many people would bristle at being told their names are remembered in prayer. I trust you are not one of them. So I trust it is some comfort to know that wherever your steps may turn, the prayers of righteous men follow after.

Once upon a time, there was a poet who knew too much. Perhaps, when you were a younger man, you would have recognized him as a kindred spirit. Like him, you found yourself “sitting on catastrophe’s knee…expecting Armageddon to come.” Like him, you woke from your dream in a sweat, with the knowledge of evil and good.

For you, it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn. For me, it was Whittaker Chambers. You sent me digging through my journals to find the entry where I analyzed my first encounter with Witness. I pick this out, in an 11-year-old’s labored, loopy cursive: “From it…I can draw several conclusions. One, man is involved in a terrible struggle in which he may either conquer, or be conquered, the struggle of his soul. There are only two options.”

Already, I had grasped what Terry Malloy puts far more succinctly: “Conscience. That stuff can drive you nuts.”

Today, inasmuch as I speak for the Church, I send you her best regards and honest thanks for those souls who once struggled beyond our reach. It’s a curious thing, how you have carried broken men to our doorstep. I don’t pretend to understand it. Yet here they are. And here you are. So, from one humanist to another: Hail, and well met. Will you not stay? The fire is warm, and we have much to discuss.

You have, as I think, something to offer us, some three decades in the making. Something you believe we might need more than we know. How does the story go? Tell me if I’ve got it right: First, there was Christianity. Then, there was empirical science. That was when the foundation began to shake. But we would not believe it. Upon this shifting rock we stood, we could do no other. For if it should crumble, what would become of the moral edifice constructed thereon?

But you come to praise Christianity, not to bury it. And you come to assure us that we need not fear. For though the foundation should crumble, you offer us a new vision, a new lens through which we might look and see that the edifice, improbably, stands.

I applaud the valiance of your labors. I acknowledge the spirit of good will in which this offer is made, even as I must decline it. Still, as Pascal put it, you make good men wish Christianity were true. That is no small thing.

You say you are a religious man, but you are also a man of science. As such, you ask what many men like yourself have asked before you: How shall the twain meet? How could the assertion that man ascended from primordial slime be anything but brute fact, you wonder?

I realize you move in circles where the word “creationist” cannot be uttered unless it drips contempt in the uttering. I realize I cannot blame you for thinking that Ken Ham is all “creationists,” and all “creationists” are Ken Ham. When once a word has been stolen, perhaps it is too late to steal it back. But let us, for a moment, be precise in our speech: If by “creationist” we mean “one who willingly entertains the possibility of a Creator” (however long He took about the matter) then you might be pleasantly surprised to meet a few real men of science who have pitched camp outside the echo chamber—men like James Tour, or Steve Meyer, or Douglas Axe. Perhaps you would discover some kindred spirits. Perhaps they know something you don’t know.

Meanwhile, we can begin at a closer point in space-time: the strange case of Jesus of Nazareth. On the fact of his existence (which you do lean to affirm), you once said there is “debate.” I suppose this is true, in the same sense that there is “debate” on the fact of the Holocaust. We have the man, all right. But what shall we do with him? And who do we say that he is?

You will recall that insistently mundane line in the middle of the creed, “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” The French doctor Paul Louis-Couchoud was known to say in snide fashion that “All the Creed is true, except under Pontius Pilate.” I must demur: While no line of the creed has lesser value, certainly none has greater.

Ecce homo. Who do you say that he is? You are an honest man, so you will tell me that you do not know. He is all we should be, and are not. He is the one to whom kings bow down in your dreams. Beyond this, who can say?

When he returned to Jerusalem after escaping from his enemies, knowing he was a marked man, they say you could have heard his doubting disciple rally the others in wry fashion: “Let us also go that we may die with him.” Let’s all pick up our crosses and walk up the God-damned hill then, for Christ’s sake.

And when the shepherd had returned to his scattered sheep, like that disciple you too could have protested when you heard it, not daring to hope, demanding the proof. They say you too could have seen it with your eyes, felt the spear wound with your hand. They say you too could have believed.

I challenge you to consider that the men who bore this record, this witness, were telling the truth—or at least, not lying. It may take three years, as you say. Perhaps that’s not so very long to an honest man, a man who likes a challenge. So seek on. Seek that place where the mind’s deepest understanding touches the heart’s deepest longing. Seek that place where faith and reason are parted no more, but walk hand in hand in the cool of the day.

Seek on. But understand what you are seeking. Once you have allowed the divine foot in the door, it is not so easy to bid the rest of the divine wait politely outside.

You ask, what do I mean by divine? And who am I to say you and the divine do not already have an understanding? True, you have no creed. But what good is a creed mouthed on Sunday and forgotten on Monday? What good is a word with no action suited to it? By this they will know you: That you live not by lies. That you keep your vows. That you rise and weep for the city, and when you have washed your face, you bear up under the heaviest load you can and journey on, a little farther up the hill.

Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and Jordan Peterson go free?

What more does God require? What more, indeed?

Only you can say what you mean by “God.” But I can tell you what I mean, and how I act: I act as if He loved me before the foundations of the world were laid. I act as if my sin has crucified Him. I act as if He loves me still.

Worship, for the only One worthy of it. Love, for Him and for that which He loves. Gratitude, manifested in obedience by word and deed. These things has my God required, who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven—infinite become finite, ineffable become empirical.

These things has He required, He who saw the crowd and saw five thousand lonely souls. He who looked at the rich man and loved him. He who told the Samaritan woman all she ever did. He who said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” and to that same man, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”

Which is easier to say? Which is easier to say?

He that has ears to hear, let him hear the One who called Lazarus from the grave. Let him hear the One who mourned with those who mourned.

And the Word was made flesh. And the Word laughed. And the Word wept.

I see a man who lost two brothers too young. I see him clinging to his wife as they ease the second brother down, crying openly, “Carl’s gone! He’s gone, and I don’t know where he went!”

Where has Carl gone? Where have the boys of summer gone?

I see a man who lost four daughters in the ocean. I see him crossing the Atlantic to fetch home his wife, saved alone. I see him standing on the deck, passing over the place where the ship went down, words rising in his mind: “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,/The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;/The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,/Even so, it is well with my soul.”

I see a man in Hell, the Hell of his nightly dreams, where he is dragged down screaming by demons. I see him awake and clutching the pen that will preserve a lucid moment: “When this poor, lisping, stamm’ring tongue/Lies silent in the grave/Then in a nobler, sweeter song/I’ll sing Thy power to save.”

I see a woman who sees more than I, though she is blind and nearly deaf, her face ravaged by a cancerous sore. I see her sit in dark solitude for twenty-five years, her only company those tired of living and scared of dying. I hear a visitor ask her what she thinks about, and I hear a clear answer, from a clear mind: “I think about my Jesus. He’s been awfully good to me, you know.”

And Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

There’s some utility in that.

Let us see one more shadow. Let us see the shy woman with a dog. You remember her, of course. Like one from whom men hide their face, she was despised, and they esteemed her not. You remember her: curvatus in se in body, but not in spirit. You weren’t the first person she had asked about whether she and her dog might take some wretched asylum inmate for a walk, beyond the gates of abandoned hope. You weren’t the right person to ask either. But you were all the same to her.

Perhaps there was something that whispered in your ear when you saw her, when you smelled her unwashed scent. Something or someone, taunting and tempting: “Look at her! Look at this woman who cannot look at you. What do you see?” Perhaps, from the depths of your immortal soul, you gave reply: “The image of Christ! What did you expect me to see?”

You remember her. You will never forget her. Neither will I.

At the end of your mourning, I wish for you a morning. I wish for you a sunrise fringed with fire, like the sunrise that broke upon an empty tomb, the grave clothes folded within, the woman weeping without. I wish for you the company of a strange gardener, with a strange accent, speaking a single, familiar word.

May you hear the Voice of this calling. May you feel the drawing of this Love, this Love that will not leave you, but prevents you everywhere.

The evening falls fast. Will you not stay?

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The Unfortunate Legacy of Brennan Manning

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  • ODT

    You seem to write about guys who attract my interest. Brennan Manning used to be my favorite heretic. He has moved into the number two position since I encountered Jordan Peterson. I have been watching Jordan Peterson for years now; I realize he is “new” to a lot of people but he got the attention of a lot of men a long time ago.

    His primary attraction for me is (1) his very intelligent, outspoken resistance to all forms of Marxism, including Identity Politics and Social Justice political agendas, (2) his direct concern for the cultural assault on masculinity, and (3) his ability to clearly communicate ideas a lot of folks have had for decades (Christians particularly and even more specifically, men) but have simply not had either the talent or opportunity to express, even in a free society.

    The thing he lacks is an “end game” or a suitable answer to the big “Why” question(s). In that regard, I see him behaving more like a doctor (a Clinical Psychologist, in case he has never made that clear for everyone a million times). He is concerned with fixing your broken arm; he is not all together concerned with all the events that led up to the injury, or even what you plan to do with your arm when it heals, he is simply concerned with healing it and giving you some good reasons why it’s better to not have a broken arm. Hard to clean your room with a broken arm.

    And that’s good for what it’s worth, and it’s worth quite a bit.

    His knowledge of history, literature and political science is just incredible, to put it crudely. But, he is doing something that our celebrity preachers are not. By “celebrity preachers” I don’t mean the Osteens. I am Reformed, and my “celebrities” are men like MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, Mohler etc. Some of these kinds of guys have been telling me for decades “which party is the most Biblical” and for decades, this is one area where I have found myself disagreeing with them. Now, to me, John MacArthur is the theological Terminator. I have a bit of trepidation whenever I find myself disagreeing with him. But too often, I have felt that the church has been guided to tolerate political philosophies that I believe should be resisted, and basically told us we need to choose between the “lesser of two evils” so to speak, when I feel that the Church should not be doing any such a thing. We ought to be doing something quite different from the ‘status quo’ in this area.

    Jordan Peterson gives a voice to so much frustration I have had on this topic for many years. I abhor politics, but at some point you have to face it. All the “leaders” in Christian America keep telling us that we have some obligation to participate in politics. Well, okay, but if we’re going to do that, then we’re going to have to think about this for a minute. And I have NEVER, and I NEVER WILL, support a Nanny State, Communism or Marxism in any form, even if you call it Theonomy or National Confessionalism or Democratic Socialism or just the best option available. A smart man once said, “the best is the enemy of the good.” In my time on this earth, I have consistently seen conservatism win battles, celebrate, and then watch those who hate God benefit from the spoils of those battles. In fact, most of the “free speech” controversies I see happening now remind me of the same political line taken back in the 1980’s by the “Moral Majority.” I keep seeing Premils and Amills behave as though they are Postmils who want to consolodate as much power as they possibly can for the state, then 20 years later complaining about the state abusing all that power because the state never got redeemed after all. The Church in America does not seem to promote a very good political philosophy and I DON’T LIKE IT, and Jordan Peterson is saying what I wish I could say if anyone would listen, only he does it better than I ever could and is far more intelligent than I am.

    And really along those same lines, I see Identity Politics infiltrating even over the very high walls of the Reformed tradition, where it is starting to actually become an issue and being spread by men of whom I have nothing but the highest respect. Even the Gospel Coalition has started to give me this taste of cultural Marxism in my mouth….suspicious treatment of subjects like Social Justice and Identity Politics. I have heard of some of our best exegetes saying they could support a Socialist for leadership in this country. I own half a dozen books by a man who has started talking about “privilege.” I have listened to hours and hours of preaching by a man who says I should not own a gun to defend my wife.

    It is as though, in the last 10 years, there have been all these Synods being held by these great men and apparently they begin the proceedings by passing around hand lotion and breath mints.

    As far as masculinity goes, this is not a whine. I have to remind myself every few years that it might not be good if I haven’t cried about something. For men, we see a bigger picture, and some of us know just enough about history to know that we cannot take what we have for granted. Our civilization may have already hit the peak, and started moving on the downside, and as Christians we know this is inevitable. But I am not convinced we should actually PARTICIPATE in it. We should RESIST it, if we really do care about justice and freedom. We DO have incredible privileges in this country, unfathomable blessings. We are committed to the Gospel first, with no question, above all other considerations. But this does not mean we want to usher in poverty and violence for our families and neighbors. We do care about justice, even if we don’t think the state fill these functions, which are truly the job of the Church. We want to preserve what has been passed onto us in trust. Gospel preaching thrives in persecuted lands and we are often at our best when times are the worst, but on the other side of that coin, if we are interested in justice, education and the welfare of others, then we do also care about preserving our free society. Seminaries don’t exist in times when NT scholars are being fed to lions. Dan Wallace doesn’t get to digitally catalog every single New Testament manuscript in existence so every believer can read them for themselves when totalitarianism reigns. And, I’m not real keen on people raping and murdering my wife or making my children into slaves. The relationship between tyranny and the debasement of masculinity is inseparable.

    So the trend has been to first accuse and then de-legitimize masculinity, to marginalize young men after first burdening them with the guilt of everything that wrong in the world, and behave as though any expression of masculinity is to perform an atrocity. Our military has become politicized to the point that the existence of any kind of warrior culture in this country can hardly be found except in all the places where you DON’T want it to exist. At the risk of offending, like all great civilizations, we are essentially becoming an effeminate culture, and that has happened to great cultures before. (They don’t exist anymore, fyi) I don’t think there has ever been a time in Western culture when it has been harder to be a woman. But that is primarily a result of all the CONFLICTING expectations that exist for women. For a long time, the specific expectation for men has been to just be SORRY, admit you are WRONG, and if you start doing anything too masculine, you need to stop before you oppress or rape someone.

    I am terribly disturbed to see that many Christian leaders are in support of the recent leftist trend to “seek justice” for all these sexual wrong-doings of high-profile men. It’s disturbing because it is happening for ALL THE WRONG REASONS. These are not controversies because something IMMORAL happened…immorality is just fine. The controversy is a result of the pervasive cultural Marxism that is spreading like cancer in this country. It’s the “patriarchy” or examples of “oppression” that are the sin, not the actual immorality. This is just a “Moral Majority” with the ladies from “The View” instead of Jerry Falwell. To celebrate that, or pretend that it’s “a step in the right direction” is offensive and frightening. It is the same story with racial issues, even within the Church….and EVEN within Reformed circles. None of this has anything to do with the Scriptures, unless your Scriptures have a chapter about “The Long March” in there.

    So yeah, a lot of men just play video games, get highlights in their hair, dress in gender-neutral clothing, and take their supporting role in some movement when they are told it’s time for them to do their duty to prove they are ‘woke’. Being a man isn’t necessarily hard…yet…in fact, it’s easier now than it was 50 years ago, if you count the complacency that results from worthlessness and low expectations as “easy.”

    Jordan Peterson speaks to all these topics with great clarity and force. He has dealt with many of these social and political issues better than even a lot of well-known pastors. Jordan Peterson is a TERRIBLE resource for theology. But he has political awareness you simply can’t find among the leadership of so many great theologians and preachers. I hope that it is because they are distracted from political nonsense by their duties as pastors and teachers. But, it can be good to look up once in a while, even to take a peek at nonsense. The power you earned for the state in ’88 to censor ICE-T might be the same power used to make you bake a cake in 2018. And I’m not happy at all with the idea that brilliant men would give room in their minds to even remotely consider Marxism. Good grief, guys, we’re called PROTESTANTS for a reason, people got on canoes and floated over to this country for essentially the same reason, and in case you didn’t notice what has happened in the last 100 years, Marxists seem to like to murder Christians. You’re giving me a heart attack.

    I do think I should give some credit to a couple men. Really, I give credit to them all, even if they frustrate me on a couple topics. But, Paul Washer is a guy who is such a forceful Gospel preacher, I think he is an example of someone who has identified exactly what we need. I’ve never heard him speak on politics in any way, and I don’t think powerful Gospel preaching requires it. And, I don’t think he uses hand lotion or mints. When he deals with men, he does it like a man, on things that men really need to hear. I take him in small doses simply because I know I am going to be seriously convicted every time he preaches. But, if he did try to tell me who to vote for, he better have an update to the “well we support this party because they are good at paying lip service to the Church.” Doug Wilson is a man who is rare in that he says that he counsels young men to marry young. Young men should prepare themselves to be husbands and fathers, and that should begin at an early age. He is a rare voice, who is not telling young men they need to go to college, find themselves, find their purpose, find their mission, and THEN find a wife. That is the plan that has been popular at least since I was a young man…um some years back, and it is exactly the opposite of what my grandpa did. My Grandpa could build a house with help from his cousins before he was 18 years old. And, I think all the grandpas before him going back to forever were essentially the same way. The whole plan, up until the hippie days, was to work to be a good husband and father. You know, BE A MAN.

    Jordan Peterson is the closest thing we have to a Patrick Henry, who was both a good Classical Liberal and apparently devout Christian. I am afraid that most of our Christian leaders are unknowingly very far from the political philosophy of America’s founders, which they embraced to a great degree as a result of the influence of Reformed Christianity. Our leaders in America like the fact that many of them were Christians, but don’t seem to care much for classical liberalism. JP has the kind of forceful speaking influence of a wig-wearing Classical Liberal, and he actually embraces that political ideology, but he doesn’t know what you mean when you say “God.”

    So, we either need to send all these great preachers lots of books by Sowell, Friedman, Hayek and lots of JP youtube videos, or send Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort up to Canada with a banana, a copy of the Institutes and an ESV Study Bible. But, really though, we just need to pray.

  • ODT

    It’s hard for me not to feel bad for expressing disagreement with men I respect, so I don’t want to take anything away from any ministry out there that is doing great work, work that even I benefit from. But, I guess I’ve just endured too many elections to not dread hearing the same old song and dance every four years, so I have to let that stand as it is. If Christian leaders in America are comfortable letting Jordan Peterson speak for our interests in the political arena, then I guess it shall be.

    There was one glaring omission I left out as a voice of encouragement, and that is James White. He has addressed the creeping presence of Marxism in the Church many times in the past, spoken truthfully about some topics when others have chosen the more politically correct road, and does not soften his tone to protect everyone from hearing the voice of a man. I hope that Christian leaders will notice that a lot of Christians are listening to Jordan Peterson, and take the time to figure out why.

    AND, not just write it off as a desire for ear-tickling, and just stick to the the party line….

  • I hear you. A bit disjointed but I mostly followed what you’re saying, and I do definitely agree that the Gospel Coalition’s fixation on racial identity politics in particular has become very off-putting. To be fair they do air countervailing opinions on that. But I have had exactly the same thought: “These guys need Jordan Peterson to talk some sense about this stuff.”

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  • Tara

    .

    Hi Esther. ; )

    You and I chatted briefly on the Unbelievable forum…..I’ve now been a guest on Skeptics and Seekers, as was Randal Rauser. David’s a little blunt on this episode with me, but if you went onto his show, I’m sure he’s tone it down. Consider it? Let me, or him know if you’re interested. Even if you just want to come on to ‘straighten Tara out.’ xoxo

    Supplemental Tara… https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/skeptics-and-seekers/id1414969538?mt=2

    Love and Light
    Tara

    .