Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who is Your Knower?

Written by: on February 13, 2020

Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and former professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, is an enigma to most Christians. Peterson, author of Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief rose to stardom after some of his interviews on YouTube went viral.1 The seemingly simple things he suggests for people to adopt to straighten out their lives are met with disdain among an entitled generation. Things like “tidying up your room” in a metaphoric sense means to develop a discipline of responsibility. It is Peterson’s championing conservative values that endear him to the faithful which simultaneously estranges him from the social progressives. His talks and books borrow copiously from a variety of religious traditions, much of it containing Biblical references. But when asked if he believed in God, much less the God of the Bible, he would take offense that anyone would ask such a private question. He is not an atheist nor a moral relativist but would go on tirades when asked that question, often resorting to Wittgensteinian2 language games. 

Maps of Meaning is a dense read. Typically I would be cautious about recommending a book such as this one. However, Peterson is a must read, especially helpful to our present generation hungry for meaning. He has this idea of contrasting polarities in what he calls the three “constituent elements of experience”3:  (1) the Great Mother, creative and also destructive, the unknown; (2) the Great Father, protective and also tyrannical, the known and finally the (3) Divine Son, the hero, mediator between unknown and known, the knower. These concepts make up our experience. Peterson helps us understand that life appears contradictory at times. This is very similar to Mark Noll’s idea of doubleness that one encounters in daily experience. Applied to Christianity, Noll defines doubleness as pointing to a paradox or an apparent antinomy in the most basic understanding of the Christian faith.4

Barna Reserch conducted a poll in 2018 demonstrating that 82% of those born between 1999 and 2015 (Gen Z) consider “very important” the development of a faith that lasts into their adulthood.5 This is curious given the fact that this generation happens to be the most biblically illiterate in U.S. history6. What can be inferred here? It is that traditional ways of conducting church no longer works. It is failing to reach Gen Z while at the same time the need to find meaning and significance in life remain unmet. The courageous hero (to borrow from Peterson) in all of us must help the seeker realize that life is complex and full of antinomies. This is to be expected and we must not run away from it. We must do our part to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown.

The oldest members of Generation Z have begun to move on from college into new careers. Soon they will be parents and experience the full range of adulthood. Their search for meaning remains elusive, tucked behind church doors that appear locked from the inside. These locks may come in the form of dogmatism, legalism and hypocrisy. Whatever metaphorical form it takes, young people are not having it.

It is no wonder then that Peterson has such a struggle with the question “Do you believe in God?” while in a hopeful way holds an optimistic skepticism about Christianity. In one of his talks7 he clearly is conflicted with the idea of Christianity because if it is true, he would expect a very stark difference between good and bad people, or that there would be good people. He has a very high expectation of Christianity. Would that necessarily be a fault? Word and world are so intrinsically interconnected in Peterson’s mind that he expects Christians, if they exists at all, would behave like little Christs8. It is hard to follow Jesus and yet regrettably the church’s constant witness of “easy believism” only results in needless disappointment for many today. 

The great hope of the Gospel is that there is a Great Knower who can bridge the chasm of chaos and shalom. It is only through his power in us that we can be like Christ. It is in Christ that we have a slayer of dragons. He is not just a myth of Peterson. Rather he is, in C.S. Lewis’ words, “myth which is also fact.” This is the hope of glory. 

          1 Some of the more popular acerbic ones are his interviews with Tom Ballard and Cathy Newman.
          2 Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in the field of philosophy of language. Early Wittgenstein believed in a strong logical connection between words and what it signified in the world. Late Wittgenstein rejected that, arguing that words are best understood within the context of a language-game.
          3 Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, (New York, NY: Routledge, 1999), xxi.
          4 Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), Kindle, Loc. 551.
          5 Barna Group. Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the next Generation.
(Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2018), 83.
          6 Ibid., 13.
          7 Jordan Peterson on the Belief in God. Last modified July 14, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUD3pE3ZsQI.
          8 C.S. Lewis said “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men to Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.”

About the Author

Harry Edwards

Harry is married to Minerva and has the privilege of raising two young men. He is the founder and director of Apologetics.com, Inc., an organization dedicated to defending the truth claims of Christianity on the internet, radio and other related activities. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education and a Masters of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University where he currently works full time as the Associate Director of the graduate programs in Christian Apologetics and Science & Religion. Harry is currently pursuing a DMin (Leadership & Global Perspectives) from George Fox University. He is an active member at Ocean View Baptist Church where he leads an adult Bible study and plays the drums for the praise and worship band. In his spare time, Harry enjoys doing things with his family, i.e., tennis, camping/backpacking, flying RC planes and mentoring others to realize their full potential in the service of our Lord.

10 responses to “Who is Your Knower?”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Love your CS Lewis quote Harry. Thank you for such a great blog post!

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You are so smart, I am glad you view Peterson’s Maps of Meaning as a must-read. This means I am so glad to have a smart friend who gets and connects with Peterson, therefore it is OK if I am otherwise engaged. Blessings!

    • Hi Harry. I have to admit, it was a tough slough trying to get his ideas. He is verbose. Part of my research is leading me to what I’m calling “common ground apologetics.” Meaning, there are many things Christians and non-Christians can agree upon. That’s a good thing. From there we help others build up to a worldview that makes more sense than what exclusive humanism provides.

  3. Mary Mims says:

    Harry, although I disagree with the reasons you state for why people don’t like Peterson, I appreciate your C.S. Lewis quote where the myth is also a fact. It is only through Jesus that we can move forward toward a common goal of sharing the Gospel with the lost. Blessings.

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Harry – appreciate the interesting stats about Gen Z and the challenge and opportunity they present. Peterson is interesting to me when I consider our young people – I wonder what he would say about the 82% stat. I assume that he would say that any faith, any myth, any religion is a good thing. Christian exclusivists would not agree of course. But a high view of religion has to be positive news and a way in for the “myth which is also fact”.

    • Andrea, I think you’re right about that. I bet Peterson would say that. That’s a good start. This gives us the green light to evangelize the seekers because we know they’re already primed to recognize the great myth become fact.

  5. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your post Harry! I was also intrigued by his characterization of the Great Mother, the Great Father and Divine Son. What did you make of his summative work as he aligned multiple religious traditions to create these archetypes? I have seen a number of people undertake this work from a literary perspective, but found Peterson took it a step further to then create his own myth out of the archetypes. Do you think this project helps us access our Biblical narrative better or does it simply confuse it? How might Gen Z interact with Peterson’s mythic family? Thank you for your ongoing work for the kingdom!

    • Hey Jenn. Just so you know, I really love your question to me here. Studying the pre-Socratic philosophers such as Heraclitus, Xeno, Parmenides and the others, one will learn that they had been asking deep questions related to issues of motion, matter, change, cause/effect and other significant questions philosophers ask. Unaided by the Holy Spirit, these men pondered, wrote and lectured about their discoveries. But they just couldn’t find the answers. We get the word “archetype” from the Greek word “Arche” which means origin, beginning and/or source of action. Some of my smart friends actually think we will see Plato in heaven. These pre-Socratics actually said that it would take a very special being (ala Plato’s Cave) to help them understand all the metaphysical and ontological queries they were considering. It would take a person to help them get a glimpse into the mysteries of the universe.

      This was 500 years before Christ. They were tormented for this long because they just couldn’t get it. Cue Gal. 4:4 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”

      I say all this, and it’s a long way around my answer, that yes, I believe these ancient cosmological origins are important to know because we can say with confidence that these are the kinds of things that are like, as Augustine says, “God-shaped vacuum” in every soul. We all search for the Arche. And we can’t fully fathom him unless we are first illumined by the Holy Spirit. The pre-Socratic philosophers, Enuma Elish, etc. all point to the Word who became flesh.

  6. Rhonda Davis says:

    Excellent post, Harry! Thank you for pointing us back to the Great Knower.

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