Throughout drafts of writing this, my thoughts have strayed from the topic at hand. As a millennial man attracted to the teachings of Mark Driscoll and Jordan Peterson, what was/is the appeal and connection to them?
Our contemporary culture is reacting to previous circumstances. This should be an obvious observation, but we (as a common society) are constantly forgetting about cultural contexts and being products of the time. I would argue that this forgetfulness is why we consider it a moral obligation to criticize generations of a century or millennium (or more) ago based on progressive standards. By definition, the standards change, to which our posthumous judgment is vindictive against passé mores.
C.S. Lewis had a line about the importance of knowing history to understand our place in time, however, we must acknowledge that it is only in our current time that we can live. I am also reminded of Søren Kierkegaard’s saying that life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards.
With this in mind, I typically join my baby boomer boss in criticizing Millennials. On occasion, I am guilty of her complaints. Particularly, my nerves twitch when I have to talk on the phone rather than email, and there are times that I find myself looking at the small screen of my phone while sitting at a 27” computer monitor. However, I do often end our critiques with- but we are the result of your generation. (OK BOOMER)
So what am I talking about, what is the setting in which Dr. Peterson rose to fame? Well. Everything is sexist, everything is racist, and anyone that disagrees with you is Hitler. Add to this, a growing number of people are confident in explaining the nuances of a gender spectrum, yet are incapable of distinguishing the difference between legal and illegal immigration. You soon have Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker being labeled far-right-wingers simply for supporting free speech. The anti-fascists are fascists wanting the government to enforce censorship, and the socialists/communists proudly hate Nazis but ignore (or don’t know) that the Nazi party translated into English is the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
Now, I will admit that this may not necessarily amount to hypocrisy. For instance, while in college, my favorite author was G.K. Chesterton. Although I learned a lot from him and enjoyed most of what I’ve read of his, he was Catholic and I am Protestant. Meaning, despite the vast areas of agreement between us, I knew we disagreed when it came to topics such as atonement, sacraments, and Mariology. Here’s another example. Despite my frequency of quoting Ben Shapiro, because he is an Orthodox Jew, we disagree when it comes to the divinity of Jesus and whether the New Testament is to be viewed as Scripture. However, it is not hypocritical of me to refer to his arguments regarding American politics when discussing American politics. My integrity is based on knowing where and why we disagree, not the mutual agreement on all points at all times.
Getting back to the mindset of Millennials, I would use the two words“social justice” or Don Quixote. Here’s my quick comparison of the two. Don Quixote grew up reading the heroic deeds of the past and he eventually wanted to have his own adventures. Social justice warriors grew up reading the heroic deeds of women and men who stood up to racism and sexism. Many great things were truly done and our society has improved. However, media outlets and celebrities ignore advancements and we are told that times are worse now than ever. To summarize, a part of the country is trying to be heroic and on the right side of history, while the other part views the first part as misguided vanity.
At the time I encountered Dr. Peterson, there was an incident at Yale in which the student activists demanded a professor be fired. It was almost Halloween and students were told that if they encountered an offensive costume they should have a mature discussion about it. This was deemed insensitive and required justice. Not that the series of events are strictly related, but then Brown University began putting tampons and pads in the men’s bathrooms because men can menstruate too. You have Oberlin College removing food options from dining halls because culinary diversity is considered cultural appropriation. I could go on, but I’m hoping you can see how the fierce giants are beginning to appear as windmills. This was the context in which Dr. Peterson came across my Youtube recommendations. Since then, Google fired James Damore for writing an internal memo that claimed a giant was a windmill.
Enough with Don Quixote and on to Dr. Peterson. Yes, he does have an appeal to Christians because he will often cite biblical stories. However, he also frequently quotes the Buddhist saying, “life is suffering.”
When asked if he believes in God, the most common answer I’ve heard him say is to clarify that he has no idea what the person is talking about. God has three qualities, 1- omniscient, 2- omnipotent, and 3- omnipresent. What is god lacking? Rules and structure.
He clarifies the conundrum a little bit, but that’s where he usually leaves it. So, I don’t expect him to be clear about supporting Trinitarian confessions. But I’ve never heard him claim to be a Christian.
No, his quick appeal with Christians is that he references the Bible and he’s intelligent. (Just as Christians flocked to Creed because they were a popular rock band that talked about golden streets- which had to be about Heaven.) Yet, what follows after quoting the story is a secularized Christianity akin to bad Easter sermons on Fighting For The Faith. Particularly the type that says, “It doesn’t matter if Christ physically rose from the dead, if you believe in him then he still lives, and that’s what we celebrate.” This is not the Biblical response, if Christ did not rise from the dead your faith is in vain. For Peterson, the stories are followed by a psychological examination of how the principles will inform a proper way to live. Starting with Genesis, he states his fascination with Jesus being the Logos. He has no concern with this pointing to Jesus as divine and holy, but rather focuses on how out of the chaos God spoke and the logos (being the word) is what clarified man’s place in the world. With Adam and Eve and the “forbidden apple” as he references, the point wasn’t about spiritual death or sinning against a holy God, but was about knowing the truth about life, that there will be pain and suffering. Yet, being conscious of this will allow you to find purpose in your toil. And this is where the Bible begins because these are the things you need to learn quickly if you want to make sense of the world.
I want to compare him to Rick Warren and Purpose Driven principles. In addition, context urges me to discuss Charles Finney and other reactions to Puritan Catechisms. Then there is Friedrich Schleiermacher reacting to the Enlightenment. There is a burden of history and context to discuss, but the time for such a tome is not a Facebook response. For now, I will just point to Norman Vincent Peale’s “power of positive thinking” and Robert Schuller’s “possibility thinking” opening the door for popular Christianity to begin resembling popular psychology. This is why an actual psychologist simply quoting a few verses of the Bible resembles the generic Christian preacher.
I could list character flaws that led to the demise of Mars Hill Seattle because I watched it in real-time. I was streaming services on the weekends and listening to Citizens and Dustin Kensrue during the week. My initial interest in Driscoll was Kensrue. What kept me listening to Driscoll was his use of theological terms that had been absent from Steven Furtick’s vocabulary. Driscoll didn’t shy away from cultural taboos, and his honesty (when he was honest) was blunt. Same with Dr. Peterson. I know where our disagreements are, but I admire honesty and courage when a person is being a contrarian. That is their appeal to me.
Coming to an end >
Popular Christianity has been reduced to motivational speaking with a few “Christian” terms and a couple of verses without context. However, intelligent Christians are fighting against this predicament. The Church of Tares and the American Gospel documentaries are good starting points, but I will also mention Dr. R.C. Sproul (Ligonier Ministries), Dr. Voddie Baucham, and Dr. James White. Despite our mutual admiration for many, I’m sure you would reference a few others.
Sorry, it took so long for me to reply. Imagine the pages of rants I deleted.