Thoughts on scrutinising well-known public figures:
It seems to happen quite often: a bunch of articles or podcasts or interviews by Christians will appear, all having to do with Canadian public intellectual Jordan Peterson. And many of them are expressing big concerns. On the extreme end, we hear that Peterson is a false prophet, or is deceiving many, or should be avoided like the plague.
Less harsh are those Christians who are happy to say Peterson has a great mind and so on, BUT… And that ‘but’ becomes the main part of what they have to say. A few sentences offering some positives about JP are quickly swamped with a page full of negatives.
Now if there are any Christians absolutely idolising JP, and believing he is an inspired prophet of God, or almost the messiah, then yes, such correctives are certainly in order. The trouble is, I am not aware of any thinking Christian who believes JP is any of that. I never hear Christians singing his praises as if the Second Coming has just occurred.
So while seeking to present a balanced view of JP and his ideas is worthwhile, I never quite see where he has been put on a pedestal to such an extreme in the first place. I never quite see where believers think he presents us with an infallible and inerrant word for today.
Peterson – and others like him – are never far from the news, including Christian news, so he will always be a topic of discussion and debate. I have already written a number of articles on JP, and other public figures, including Elon Musk. You can see a few of these pieces here for example:
So my general response that I often give when I encounter these sorts of critiques of JP tends to include some or all of the following 5 points. I think all are necessary points to make, but the first two especially may be the most important.
1. Critics often tell us many of his ideas are not fully biblical or Christian. They worry that he is pushing more of the gospel of Jung than the gospel of John. To which I always must scratch my head and reply: Well duh. If he is not yet a Christian, then why are we so surprised that he is not yet talking fully like a biblical Christian?
Why do we expect someone who may well not yet be a Christian (and JP can be a bit ambiguous on this matter) to sound and act like a Christian? This always puzzles me when I read some of these critics – even the friendly critics. And of course we have plenty of folks who ARE Christians who are often not talking or acting like a Christian as well – but that is another matter.
2. Whenever I hear or read these various criticisms of JP, I always feel like saying – and sometimes do say – the obvious: Um, why not pray for him? The truth is, I pray for him daily. If we want him to think and talk more like a Christian, instead of just criticising him, why not start praying for him for a change?
The best way we can get JP offering us much more Christian views and insights would be to have him become a Christian. That is a no-brainer it seems to me. And yes, I assume that at least SOME of his critics also do pray for him as well. But I suspect most Christian critics are not, sadly.
3. I always like it when truth is spoken. All truth is God’s truth, as the saying goes. If truth comes from Balaam’s ass (Numbers 22), or from a pagan king like Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 4), or from the very stones crying out (Luke 19:40), I am OK with that. I am happy to run with that. JP often speaks more truth than most Christians – all the more reason to pray that he does indeed become a real-deal Christian.
Sure, we must be careful in this regard. Cultists for example speak some truth but it is mixed with lies, so one must be very discerning about what they are saying. However, if a Stalin or a Hitler says that 2+2=4, they have spoken truth, and on that matter at least I can agree with them, even though disagreeing with almost everything else they said – and did.
4. There is a place for co-belligerency. This too is something I have made the case for time and time again. It simply means being willing to work with others to a certain extent on limited objectives, even though we might differ with them quite a bit on, say, theological or spiritual matters.
Thus I am happy to join forces with non-Protestants, even non-Christians, in something like a pro-life march. Just because someone is not a Christian does not mean we can never work together with them on certain important projects or tasks. Complete separation from everyone who is not fully on our same theological page is not all that helpful or wise. But see more on this here:
5. There are differences between constructive criticism and gossip that we need to keep in mind. The latter can entail things like critiquing or attacking someone, sometimes decrying or slamming a person in public, and is often done from a cosy armchair.
The former MAY involve all those things, but would also include this: you pray for the person and you hope he is improved, or repents, or gets saved, or whatever is needed. It seems to me there are far more gossips around (a sin that is regularly warned against in Scripture), than there are constructive critics.
In sum, only God knows those who are truly his. Whether Peterson is a Christian, or is on the road to becoming one, I am not privy to. But I do know that often he will share much-needed truth that far too many Christian leaders will never speak out on. That alone scores him some points in my book.
By all means, we must critically assess all those who come along and have some influence and a public impact – be they Christians or non-Christians. We must do that for JP and others. But sometimes we must remember that our prayers are as vital as our assessments. And no, it is not one or the other – we can and should do both simultaneously.
So as I say, I pray for JP every day. Who will join me in this?
BTW, while most Christians seem keen to offer criticisms of JP – whether a gentle and helpful criticism, or a more irrational and unhelpful criticism – there are some Christians who are more or less rallying to his defence. Most recently, Dr. Jim Twelves did so in a useful piece: https://blog.canberradeclaration.org.au/2022/12/06/is-jordan-b-peterson-a-prophet/
Also, the left of course hates Peterson and wants him fully silenced. Another brand-new piece speaks to this matter as well: https://caldronpool.com/why-did-australian-communists-protest-jordan-peterson/