Telling a Better Story than Jordan Peterson

Many people in our culture need to hear “grow up,” but that does not make it a better story.

There is a better story. It begins with men and women, made in God’s image and living in paradise, throwing it all away by believing and acting on a lie. Everything in the world is hard because of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. Work is futile and frustrating. Childbirth becomes a painful ordeal. Relationships experience strain, miscommunication, and mistrust. 

 

At the beginning of 2018, I had never heard of Jordan Peterson, but that changed drastically over the last few months. Like many, he first came to my notice because of his interview with Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman. She began the interview by asking Peterson why he tells men they need to grow up. As he started explaining why it was good for all of society to have strong, competent men, she started peppering him with adversarial questions. Peterson responded to her questions with reasoned, well-thought-out answers, which seemed to make her press harder. The interview became a study in how to remain level-headed while being accused of saying things you aren’t.

Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has garnered a strong following among men under thirty-five. The groundswell began through his YouTube lectures and has continued through the release and promotion of his new book, 12 Rules for Life.

Since watching the interview with Newman, I read Peterson’s book, listened to a couple of podcasts where he was interviewed, and read countless think pieces online. As I read Peterson, and it’s possible that I am misunderstanding him, he seems to be grappling with the age-old questions about what it means to live a good life. He encourages men to take responsibility for their lives, to get their home in order, to take risks, and to bring order out of the chaos around them. He doesn’t offer this advice as a mean-spirited dictator but instead speaks with the compassion of a father. Peterson’s work is well-reasoned, overflows with common-sense, and is rooted in philosophy, biology, and psychology. I appreciate his work and have recommended it to others.

Many Christians have discussed Peterson’s work and many have wondered if he is a Christian because of his extensive interaction with the Bible in his teaching. Peterson himself has said that it would take him 3 years or so of study to sufficiently answer questions related to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. There’s much for Christians to appreciate in Peterson’s work, yet there are a couple of areas where there are holes in his teaching.

Is Peterson’s Story the Best Story?

Vice News conducted an interview with Peterson last month. The interviewer asked him how to keep young men from falling into racist and nationalist ideologies. Peterson responded, “Tell them a better story.” My heart leaped when I heard this because we do need a better story. It’s believing a better narrative that will change men’s lives. My joy turned sour when the interviewer probed deeper, asking, “What’s the better story?” Peterson said, “Grow the hell up.”

Many people in our culture need to hear “grow up,” but that does not make it a better story. It’s good advice, but it’s not good news. In fact, telling someone to grow up may be the most dangerous thing you can do.

What about the man who works hard to find a job that can support himself and his family, but keeps running into roadblock after roadblock? What about the man who struggles to control his worst impulses and finds that he is his own greatest enemy? What about the man who made many foolish choices in his past and it takes him five years to work to pay them off? “Grow up” may be a good thing to tell someone when he thinks about slacking off and not working hard, but if they are banging their head against a wall, it will only lead to despair.

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