Book Review|12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson

If you’ve been paying attention at all lately then you’ve heard some buzz about Jordan Peterson. If you haven’t been paying attention lately then you need to hear what he has to say (half of the guy’s advice is “Pay attention!”).

I’ve been listening to Peterson’s clips and lectures on YouTube since late 2016 when a couple Canadian Christian apologist friends of mine invited me to like a FB page “Support for Jordan Peterson”. Peterson needed a support page because he was embroiled in a scandal over free speech after Canadian Bill C-16 came out which had serious implications for free and compelled speech. I was initially impressed with Peterson’s ability to keep cool under pressure and speak truth in the face of rabid hostility.

Since his initial explosion onto the public scene, Peterson’s philosophical, psychological, and theological views- along along with all his other views- have gained a wider hearing. He’s garnered lot’s of practical wisdom through years of teaching, reading, and in his clinical practice as a psychologist. His unique insight is made memorable through his sticky analogies, personal stories, and his informal tone. As with any thinker, his thought and teachings are a composition of meat and bones. My suggestion when reading Peterson or listening to his lectures is to eat the meat and spit the bones.

12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos has it’s bones but it’s also chalked full of meaty morsels. This book, believe it or not, is a self-help book. The 12 Rules were birthed out of a much longer list of answers that Peterson gave to questions posed on a website called Quora. On Quora people post questions like “What’s the difference between being happy and being content?” Other users can view the question and leave an answer. Then viewers can choose to upvote the answer if they like it and downvote the answers they don’t like. People liked his answers so much that he decided to boil them down to his 12 Rules and publish them.

This book is really well done. The 12 Rules cover all sorts of different topics and problems. He deals with a wide assortment of topics including: methods of psychology, the problem of evil and pain, Nihilism, mass shooters, consciousness and self-consciousness, “being” in and of itself, biblical stories, chaos and order, male and female proclivities, the battle between nature and nurture, petting stray cats, and lobsters on anti-depressants- to name a few. While I don’t believe Jordan Peterson is a Christian, much of what he says is in accord with a Christian worldview, but again there’s much that isn’t. Hence eat the meat and spit the bones, a principle every Christian should be using on a daily basis.

Some Meat to Eat:

  • His writing style is much like his lecturing style, informal (the guy uses smiley faces 🙂 all over the place) and peppered with an inordinate amount of philosophy, mythology, psychology and religious quotations. You will learn from him if you read this book.
  • His tireless exhortation towards personal responsibility is both admirable and necessary. He reminds the reader that many of their problems are quite possibly their own fault.
  • He traces common threads or archetypes through lots of different stories, including Lord of the Rings and everyone’s favorite Disney movies. This is, quite frankly, exhilarating! He analyzes some of the best stories ever written to show why they’ve become classics. He’ll change the way you hear and view your favorites.
  • Peterson’s emphasis on order and chaos can be taken in a dualistic new-agie manner. In that case it’s a bone to spit. But taken in a more biblical way, order and chaos can be interpreted as the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, chaos being taken as sin which is lawlessness.
  • Intellectual honesty. Just when you think you’ve nailed Peterson down, just when you think he’s about to go full Nietzsche or all out Jungian, he breaks with them in an important way. He also pits great thinkers like Dostoyevsky against Nietzsche and explains why he sides with one rather than the other.
  • His influencers are fantastic. Read the people he reads and quotes from. (Of course you’ll need to eat the meat and spit the bones in the authors he quotes as well, duh.)
  • Peterson implores his readers to tell the truth and warns of the weak character developed from lying. Even lying by omission can soften your soul and leave you unable to tell the truth when you most need to.
  • His analysis of blue collar men in Rule 11 is pure gold. I felt like he was describing every wrestling team I’ve ever been on.
  • His treatment of the Principle of unequal distribution (Price’s Law or the Matthew Principle (Matthew 25:29)) is so interesting. To those who have, more will be given, to those who have not, even what they have will be taken. He sees this as not only a moral sentiment, or an unhappy fact of human life, but rather a universal principle in the whole animal kingdom and even to Stars and galaxies- it applies to the whole of reality, a universal principle in it’s truest sense.

Some Bones to Spit:

  • Peterson seems to label everyone who reads the Bible in any literal sense (that is not in a psychological-Jungian-archetypal-myological sense) as a “fundamentalist”.
  • His psychological approach to the Bible assumes a naturalistic explanation. Rather than any sort of demonstration, he merely assumes at the outset that Divine Revelation isn’t a live option. I’ve heard him talk about his inability or unwillingness to dispense with the idea of a Transcendent Logos, yet he rarely seems to allow for that explanation in his work. He starts with the presupposition that the Bible was cobbled together over thousands of years with no concept of Divine providence or revelation.
  • Peterson’s idea of revelation and his theory of truth or knowledge can be summed up in his sentiments concerning Wikipedia: “I cite Wikipedia because it is collectively written and edited and, therefore, the perfect place to find accepted wisdom.” – Perhaps the most Petersonian thing ever written.
  • Life is suffering. Peterson gives plenty of examples in support of this concept, but he doesn’t deal with it’s origin. Why is there evil? Why is there suffering? He gives advice about what he thinks you should do in the face of it, but wouldn’t it help to know why it’s happening? He continually seeks to align this mantra with the great world religions, including Christianity, but he misses many fundamental Christian doctrines like providence, redemption, the fall, and others which affirm that suffering is a large part of life after the fall, but wont always be and indeed that there is no gratuitous evil, no purposeless suffering.
  • Peterson is a self-identified pragmatist, this makes it very hard to get a straight answer out of him when it comes to ultimate questions about God. As a pragmatist, he’s tended to skirt questions about ultimate meaning, human dignity and value, truth, and as far as I can tell he’s given plenty of examples of evil but hasn’t sought to give us a definition.
  • Peterson is often very insightful in his commentary and exposition of various Bible stories and teachings, but he completely misses the idea of progressive revelation, especially concerning redemptive history, the discipline known as “biblical theology”. There is no gospel in this book. Pain, suffering, evil, malice, murder- they aren’t a result of moral rebellion but rather the ultimate given. Life is suffering. A sentiment that many Christians can resinate with, but we don’t leave it there and the Bible itself certainty doesn’t either. We find hope not only in reordering our lives to expect and react to suffering, we look to God through Christ our savior and take Him at His word when he says that Christ has overcome sin and death on our behalf. We look forward to the day when the Transcendent Logos, the Archtype of Consciousness himself, returns to put all things right.

There’s a lot more to say about this book, perhaps I’ll do a miniseries on my other blog, Parker’s Pensees , reflecting on each rule. For now what I’ve said should suffice in helping you decide if it’s worth the read. I’ve benefitted from Jordan Peterson’s work, but I don’t adopt his thought uncritically. Peterson offers a lot of meat to those willing to read his 12 Rules, but there are some major choking hazards; pay attention! Look to spit the bones. For those who are looking for a way to reach young men with the gospel today, an increasing number of them will be listening to Peterson videos and reading this very book. My interest in Peterson’s thought has already opened lots of doors for gospel conversations.

If you’re going to grab this book, do it Here to support my book reviews. For some other Christian thoughts on Peterson check out these articles by Luis Dizon and Peter Jones .

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