No. But it’s possible he’s ‘an’ antichrist. It’s also possible that you are… so don’t jump up and down at me for being too judgmental… yet.
There’s a bit of a conversation happening about how useful or not useful Jordan Peterson is for Christians; how much we should be learning from what he says, versus how much we should be learning about his appeal to his audience (an audience we struggle to reach), versus should we simply be condemning him for certain things he says that we interpret in particular ways that often seem removed from his intent. That last one depends on how post-modern literary criticism flies for you, and I’ve got mixed feelings on that one. I think there’s value in ‘feminist readings of Jordan Peterson’ or criticisms from women, and hearing them very carefully and incorporating them into how we might use or apply a text, but I’m less convinced they’re useful in working out how to judge a person behind a text, especially if that person is on the record disputing positions such a reading suggests he holds… the use of ‘reader-response’ critiques is in the context of a conversation, and hopefully such conversations bring about change because people, including the writer, are listening carefully to one another… that’s the ideal. This is why I keep referring to how many women are hearing Jordan Peterson as valid data and as relevant to what I’ve written about his work thus far.
There are many people who believe Jordan Peterson is on a journey towards Christian belief (perhaps himself included), and that would be a good thing, there’d be a party in heaven — just like there is when anybody turns to Jesus. I can’t know his heart, or where his journey might end, but I can wonder if he does reach that point, what he’ll then say about some of his writing thus far… and I can comment on that writing in terms of how I perceive its usefulness for Christians; it’s one thing to read a writer to understand his popularity with an audience (especially if it’s an audience that feels disenfranchised by the church), it’s another thing to read a writer critically (to figure out what gold we might plunder, see my second post on Peterson), this piece is for those who might be tempted to uncritically accept Peterson’s writing not so much as Gospel (because I think most Christian readers will recognise that what he says about Jesus isn’t quite right), but as helpful without substantial re-framing.
Asking if someone is the antichrist might seem provocative and sensationalist… especially someone who seems to love the word of God so much and to be seriously grappling with who Jesus is, but I want to suggest that’s precisely the type of person the Bible calls an antichrist. In my last post on Peterson I mentioned his ‘subtraction story’ — that he left the church in his youth, and that he now finds himself trying to figure out what to do with the ‘archetypal’ mythic quality of the Jesus story (which he sees as the grand narrative of the Bible). He wants Jesus to be a form of truth, but at this point, since he’s not yet calling himself a Christian, and since he demonstrates a flawed understanding of the Gospel in terms of the death of Jesus being the central act in history that is applied to all of us rather than an archetypal act that we should all participate in by taking up our cross. Here’s Peterson on the other half of the Easter story, the Resurrection… which again he predominantly reads symbolically or archetypally.
Here’s a quote from the video.
“At minimum, the idea of the resurrected Christ is the idea that you should identify not with that part of yourself that is stagnant and dead, and that already knows, but is prone to error. You should identify with that part of yourself that is always stretching beyond what you currently know, and has the faith to let go of such certainties so that new patterns of being can be brought into place. And so, now, that’s a purely psychological explanation and I think I’ve made the case in my Biblical lectures that I’m striving towards a psychological explanation at the moment. My experience of the Biblical stories is that there are layers of depth in them that are sufficiently profound, perhaps because of the staggering hyperlinking of the text and because of its association with the entire corpus of western literature that as you keep digging you find more and more, and so, I don’t know what to make of the more metaphysical claims… so I’m going to leave it as that. Because I don’t know…”
He seems so close. Just jump into faith Dr Peterson. If you watch Peterson, and read Peterson, and find yourself similarly profoundly struck by the Bible’s story and haunted by the metaphysical, then Try Jesus. Today.
But if he’s so close, how could this ‘antichrist’ thing possibly be sustained? Isn’t that a jerk move? Maybe. But bear with me for a moment while I flesh something out…
There aren’t many references to the antichrist in the Bible… you’ll find one in the letter 1 John. John writes:
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. — 1 John 2:18-25
A little later, John also says:
“This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” — 1 John 4:2-3
Now, I mentioned Peterson’s ‘subtraction story’ because it’s a picture of ‘going out from’ the church because of doubts about the core teachings about Christianity (he describes leaving the faith of his youth as seeing the church’s teachings as ‘wishful thinking’, and whether he’s on a trajectory back or not, there are some things in his ‘psychological’ take on Jesus that are essentially explicit denials that Jesus is ‘the‘ Christ; in his system he becomes something like ‘a’ Christ, and we all have to become Christs too.
We don’t have to become Christs, but rather, Christ’s. That’s the difference between Jesus and Jordan. Jesus says ‘be mine take my life as yours’, Jordan says ‘be Jesus, make your life like his.’
In many ways I think Peterson would be more helpful if he didn’t push a ‘psychological’ or ‘symbolic’ reading of the Gospel… because doing that is dangerous and potentially incredibly destructive and misleading if Jesus really did ‘come in the flesh’ … if he really is ‘the Christ’. That it’s a danger of the type John writes about in pretty strong terms. That it’s ‘the spirit of the antichrist’ to want to re-bake the story of Jesus into something compellingly natural, or merely ‘mythical’ or ‘symbolic’ rather than a case of the supernatural entering and redefining the natural. I want to suggest that a psychological reading, like Peterson posits, without a metaphysical or spiritual reality that Jesus came, died, and was raised, is a teaching that doesn’t ‘acknowledge Jesus has come in the flesh’ that he ‘is from God’ and that he is ‘the Christ’ and so, like anybody who denies that the resurrected Jesus is both human and divine, Peterson, at this point, is an antichrist.
It’s clear from this bit of 1 John that the antichrist isn’t one scary mini-Satan with horns and a tail, or one worldly power who sets himself up in opposition to Christ (though John does some fun stuff with ‘beasts’ and Caesar in Revelation). Indeed, anybody who isn’t ‘pro-Christ’, recognising all these categories that John presents, is ‘anti-Christ’… and people who then teach people about Jesus, as antichrists, are particularly dangerous.
There’s a hot debate in 1 John scholarship about exactly who John has in mind here… lots of people have suggested it’s people from an early stream of gnosticism, people who believed the physical world was dirty and terrible and God would never have moved from the ‘ideal’ disembodied, spiritual, forms into fleshy reality — that it’s about people denying the incarnation of God (and Peterson’s ‘psychological/mythological’ take of the Jesus story stands in that tradition a little), but I’m more convinced by a thesis advanced by Matthew Jensen. You can read a journal article summarising it here, that John isn’t immediately writing about those who deny the incarnation was real (though his argument would include that), but specifically those who denied the incarnation was followed by a resurrection in the flesh. People happy enough with a human Jesus, who were not convinced that the resurrection was a real one. In the flesh. Not just a symbolic one. Or a spiritual one. But that Jesus remains human and divine, and both a pattern for our resurrection, and the one who secures it.
John basically says you can’t just have a psychological or mythical reading of Jesus. You have to take all of it, or it’s better to take none of it. Which serves as both a warning and an invitation to Jordan Peterson and those who find his understanding of Jesus so compelling. It’s clear Jordan Peterson finds Jesus compelling. In another video he says Jesus isn’t just ‘a grounding symbol, but ‘the’ grounding symbol of transcendent good’, he feels a bit like Nicodemus, who I mentioned in yesterday’s post — Nicodemus is someone who in John’s Gospel sees something in Jesus, in his life and teaching… but who Jesus invites to see him more fully, to see what is required to not be an ‘antichrist’…
Nicodemus says something that you find traces of in Peterson’s enthusiasm for Jesus:
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” — John 3:2
Nicodemus sees signs in what Jesus is doing that show he is from God. Jesus is pointing to something ‘great’ or ‘true’… and Nicodemus wants to figure out more of what’s going on — Jesus invites Nicodemus to see him through ‘the Spirit of God’ rather than ‘the spirit of the antichrist’… he tells him he must be ‘born from above’ (John 3:3) and ‘born by the Spirit’ (John 3:5). This is the invitation Jesus extends to Nicodemus, to Jordan Peterson, and to you. Rebirth in the Spirit of God. Resurrection. These can’t just be symbols or they are utterly meaningless. Without the symbols pointing to something true — without them pointing to God — like all Jesus’ signs do… they are rubbish. Jesus is a lunatic if there’s no actual spiritual reality to his solutions they are not solutions at all. If you talk about Jesus as a good teacher, or a moral example, or ‘the ultimate symbol’ — you’re just like the pharisees, or those who went back to Judaism who John was writing to in his letter… you’re an antichrist. There’s a precursor to John’s strong judgmental claims about ‘antichrists’ in what Jesus says to Nicodemus…
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. — John 3:16-18
Belief in Jesus according to Jesus, and according to John, is belief in both the physical reality, the mythological or symbolic reality, and the spiritual reality of his life, death, and resurrection. To believe that is to have the Spirit of God. Without this, you’re an antichrist. Any ‘rebirth’ you get through Jesus’ teachings ‘psychologically’ is a finite shadow of an infinitely better reality. You get that rebirth and more when you accept Jesus on his terms.
Whoever doesn’t believe in Jesus, on Jesus’ own terms, is an antichrist who is condemned. Strong words. Judgmental words. But belief secures life on God’s terms, re-birth, resurrection, and eternal life through Jesus. Make the jump Jordan. I really hope you’ll get there because you’ve already got such a rich understanding of Jesus — but it can be richer. Cross into belief and then see what that does for life now if there’s something more to Jesus than just the psychological, symbolical, or mythological beauty. You get a better myth, a fuller wisdom, and a richer masculinity. Do it.
Don’t be an antichrist.