Jordan Peterson is a Canadian professor who hit the headlines in 2016 for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns. His YouTube lectures receive millions of views, striking a chord particularly among disillusioned young men. In 12 Rules for Life he brings together his accumulated wisdom.
Peterson is not a Christian, but there is much to enjoy here. His writing is entertaining and articulate, full of illuminating personal stories. Christians would agree with much of the practical advice he gives. We see echoes of Proverbs, whether it’s Peterson’s Rule 3 (Make friends with people who want the best for you) or Rule 9 (Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t).
Peterson quotes frequently from the Bible, exegeting it seriously and thoughtfully. He repeatedly returns to the opening chapters of Genesis, grappling with what it means to be made in God’s image, how order has arisen out of chaos and the reality of sin.
He is a student of the cross, writing, ‘I knew that the cross was simultaneously the point of greatest suffering, the point of death and transformation, and the symbolic centre of the world’ (p.32). He also draws on other writers, reflecting on works such as Milton’s Paradise Lost. His challenge to atheists, based on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, is ‘You’re simply not an atheist in your actions, and it is your actions that most accurately reflect your deepest beliefs’ (p.103). There’s much to which we add a hearty ‘Amen’!
Peterson also puts his finger on the hunger which humanity has for genuine meaning. He isn’t willing to concede that happiness is the highest goal in life. But it’s when he unveils his solution to this that the book becomes so dissatisfying. For Peterson, the answer is to be found ‘through the development of the individual, and through the willingness of everyone to shoulder the burden of Being and to take the heroic path.’ It’s as we stand up straight with our shoulders back (Rule 1) in the face of great suffering that we develop ourselves and others, and this will give sufficient meaning to our lives.
Peterson believes that the Bible (along with other religious texts) can play a valuable role in this, as it’s a collection of stories representing wisdom that’s been accumulated through the ages. But that’s all it is to him. Personally, I need more than a sense of meaning derived from ‘manning up’ and making the best of things. I need a real Saviour, for my real sins, to bring me back to a real God, who will grant me real everlasting life.
If you read this book, it will stretch your thinking in helpful ways. God has given Jordan Peterson much common grace and wisdom. But it won’t satisfy you. If, however, it leaves you grateful for a Saviour who brings real meaning to life, then it will have been well worth your time.
Nelson, S Wales