On Joel Peterson: "My Enemy's Enemy Is My Ally?"
As my colleague Caleb recently noted at his blog, what we call "American Christianity" should not be assumed to be synonymous with a pure representation of historical biblical Christian faith. One of many complicating factors for generally conservative evangelicals, such as myself, is that much of the political right shares social values which overlap or seem to largely agree with biblical values. For examples, both political conservatives and biblical Christians might agree to some notion of personal responsibility or sexual morality, at least as it is socially manifested, in contrast to what we see as liberal interpretations. The more thoughtful Christians will be aware that the shared conclusions are reached for different reasons based on a different underlying worldviews than those held by unbelieving conservatives. With this awareness, some Christians will struggle over how much it matters why or how we agree, so long as the believing and unbelieving conservatives both contribute toward and lobby for the same desired society.
I say it matters--it matters deeply. Why? Because the shared desired outcome, a more healthy/righteous/productive society, is not the Highest Good. It is a good, even a great good, but not the ultimate. Indeed, what if the motive and means by which we work toward a great good, actually undermine our greatest and eternal good? (And perhaps, ironically, spoils the temporal worldly good in the process as well?)
All of that is to set a bit of context for my question about one of the most recent media sensations of interest to American Christians:
How closely should evangelicals follow Joel Peterson?
Joel B. Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, who is lately a darling of convervative Christians who are delighting in his devastating critiques of liberal identity politics as much as his articulate championing of many conservative values. One of those leading values is "personal responsibility," concerning which Peterson may be likened to a voice crying out in the wilderness, the postmodern void of accountability. It hardly hurts his standing with us that he sometimes discusses biblical texts, in a positive, constructive approach. Yes, conservatives want to hear rigorous, intelligent, passionate and practical arguments for our marginalized beliefs such as gender being a real thing. But why does he hold these views that sound so friendly to "our side?" What is the basis and reasoning supporting his conclusions? As it turns out, the presuppositions and some of the premises he employs actually rule out the possiblity of Christianity being true. Peterson is a humanist, albeit a spiritual one; a disciple of Jung not Jesus.
To get a clear idea of where Peterson is coming from, take the time to review this engaging and well-researched article:
(Note: There is a bit of irony in my linking to an author who himself leans toward the dominionist-reconstructionist view (held by theonomists and by so-called New Apostles), as I am critical of that view, not just of Peterson's humanism.)
None of this means Christians can't learn anything from the highly intelligent Peterson. However we should not learn it naively, as I suspect many have rushed to do. This includes remaining aware that the foundations for his beliefs cannot be true without Chrisitanity being false. And, that our unbelieving conservative friends can very well be drawn into the spiritual substitute for Chrisitanity that Peterson advocates.
I hope this will help readers ponder not only the Peterson problem specifically, but more generally the perennial challenge of (re)examing our lives and beliefs daily as we navigate this world in light of eternity.
-- Kevin Smith
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