Have you heard of Jordan Peterson? Until a few months ago I was clueless regarding this 55 year old Canadian psychologist at the University of Toronto. Since 2016, millions have watched his collection of You Tube lectures. 80% are young men (20-34). The great majority of the audiences when he appears in pubic are men. Peterson himself was surprised at first. He soon realized he was speaking to a deep concern among younger men. David Brooks observed, “…..he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined – how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives….Parents, universities, and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live. Peterson has filled the gap.”
I realize that Peterson is not a Christian. He deeply influenced by Jungian psychology. His language can be a bit rough at times. He sees scripture as more myth then the Word of God. So in digesting any of Peterson’s thought or observations it is similar to eating fish. You have to take the meat and throw out the bones. I am very interested in Peterson, because of the response from young men.
David French has noted, “Jordan Peterson’s popularity is a sign of the longing for understanding a distinctive male purpose and male way of living that is true to biology and psychology.” I agree with Dr. John Mark Reynolds, who puts it bluntly, “he is what young men need and the church is not giving: straight talk that is smart.” All truth is God’s truth, wherever it might be found. Some want to disregard Peterson because he is not an biblical believer. My burden is to help men. Could Peterson’s message help me relate more effectively to men? I am open to learning from his considered insights.
Here are a few of the themes in Peterson’s message that appeal to men. First, responsibility is not a legalistic rod to beat men down, but rather an invitation to be honorable and self-disciplined. He talk about carrying our burden. “Pick up the heaviest thing you can find and carry it.” Peterson finds that men hungry for such an appeal. Being responsible is a manly attribute, not a source of crushing shame.
Secondly, finding meaning and purpose. Peterson believes people have a hunger for principles and direction. Don’t buy into postmodern relativism and pessimism. Young men can make a difference. But they need to accept the burden of being in order to move towards what is meaningful.
Thirdly, a good dose of realism. Tim Lott says of Peterson’s worldview, “Life is tragic. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge complex and overwhelming.” Yes, life is hard. Learn to lean into pain.
Fourthly, the freedom of the individual from the grip of groupthink. “At some level Peterson is offering assertiveness training,” notes Brooks, “to men whom society is trying to turn into emasculated snowflakes.”
Fifthly, gender matters. Boys and young men need guidance and reassurance of their maleness. For this Peterson gets his most vocal feedback. Peterson maintains, “Boys’ interest tilt toward things,” while, “girls’ interests tilt towards people.” “Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories, if you leave them alone.”These interests are strongly influenced by biological factors.” He believes boys are suffering in the modern world.
As I digest Peterson’s insight regarding men I need to keep the following in mind: 1) the authority of God’s Word, 2) the need of grace and mercy, 3) the lordship of Jesus, 4) living in the kingdom 5) the healing of the male soul and 6) the affirmation of the masculine soul.