(Photo credit: Dr Jordan B Peterson / Facebook)
Canadian Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson has become one of the most talked about people at the moment. A New York Times writer has called him “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.”
Peterson is one of the most unusual celebrities to emerge in the last few years. Not a movie star or pop sensation but a university lecturer known for giving in-depth talks about psychology, philosophy and self improvement.
Perhaps his path to stardom is even more unusual.
From the YouTube counter-culture to widespread recognition
Peterson was an ordinary psychology lecturer at the University of Toronto until 2016, when he began to challenge political correctness and speech restrictions regarding transgender pro-nouns.
There is nothing particularly unusual about this except that a growing alternative media and conservative counter-culture was paying attention to events like this as never before. Peterson's boldness, charisma and outspoken criticism of the progressive left grabbed people's attention and led to him becoming a popular cult hero among the YouTube political commentary scene.
Pretty quickly Peterson's online lectures were discovered and many soon realized that Peterson had some profound and challenging things to say about modern society. He gained a following not just for his political commentary but also the wisdom he had to offer young people looking for guidance.
Just this year, an international speaking tour, a new best-selling book and the feminism debate with Cathy Newman that went viral, has led to widespread mainstream talk about this guy who seems to have come out of no where.
A father figure to many
Recently I saw Peterson speak in Melbourne as part of his Australian tour. It was clear from the standing ovation that greeted him as he entered the stage that he was someone who had made an impact on many people in that room.
While having an influence on many different types of people Peterson seems to appeal to young men in particular, many of whom say he has helped turn their life around. Through his forthright advocacy of discipline and personal responsibility he seems to be offering a masculine archetype that is missing in today's world.
Peterson and faith
The most interesting thing about Peterson for Christians is that while he is fairly secular-minded he has a deep fascination with the Bible and Christian faith. This was immediately evident from his talk in Melbourne.
He began his talk with the question of belief in God. He talked about how human beings have a facility for the infinite and the scientific evidence that religious experience is a positive part of human life. He talked about the need for a sense of meaning and purpose. Much of his talk made use of religious imagery and almost sounded like an apologetic for faith in God.
Peterson is known for his lectures on the Scriptures and this talk was no exception. A large part of his talk was expounding on several of Jesus' teachings. For example he explored what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God.
Criticism from Christians
Given that Peterson talks a lot about the Bible and Christian concepts it is not surprising that there has been a lot of discussion about how he should be viewed by believers among Christian thinkers and leaders lately.
There has been a fair bit of criticism suggesting that Peterson is promoting a kind of individualist self improvement gospel without grace. But Peterson does not claim to be an orthodox evangelical Christian and shouldn't necessarily be held to that standard.
There are things about which many of us, including myself, would differ from Peterson but I am much more interested in how God may be using Peterson as a signpost pointing people to an encounter with Christ.
Christ in culture
What the criticism fails to appreciate is how Peterson's rise to influence is evidence that God is at work in our secular culture. For the last few years I have felt that God is up to something in our culture at the moment and that night in Melbourne I felt that the Holy Spirit was doing something very significant.
Here was a room full of mainly non-Christian people who had come to hear a guy talk about the Bible and the teachings of Christ. Many of these people are agnostics, atheists and skeptics who are realizing the nihilistic new atheist movement doesn't offer much and Peterson is opening up the door to look at Christianity in a way they never had before.
Recently I came across an Australian YouTuber on a channel called called the Rational Rise who has recently come to Christ via Peterson. The former atheist shares in a video called Jordan Peterson is a gateway drug to Christianity his conversion story that began with Peterson's lectures on Genesis. I am confident that God is moving and we will start to hear more stories like this.
No Jordan Peterson is not an orthodox evangelical Christian but I have no doubt God is using him as a gateway to rationalist minded people encountering God.
I have observed that there seems to be less hostility to Christianity and a softening to Christians over the last few years. I believe Peterson is a man raised up as part of a move of God at the moment to prepare many to receive Christ.
Conor is from Adelaide South Australia. He is a gardener and is involved in ministry. He loves God, music, reading and thinking deeply about philosophy and current events in the world.
Conor Ryan's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/conor-ryan.html