Book Review: 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

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Jordan Peterson is a thought leader on the political right and continues to grow in popularity. He has been interviewed and featured by popular conservatives like Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder. His videos have spread like wildfire, and what he has to say really strikes a chord with many people.

Peterson is a professor and clinical psychologist from Canada. One of the things that has captured the attention of many is his arguments against the identity politics that are becoming so common in the US and Canada. He denounces the idea that there is a hierarchy of oppressed and victimized peoples and instead proclaims the need for personal responsibility.

Sounds good, right? Anything that pushes back the tide of “wokeness” is welcome! Peterson is spot on in his emphasis on personal responsibility, but I was curious to discover more of what he had to say. I also love personal development type books, so I eagerly checked out his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos from my library. This was my first real exposure to Jordan Peterson, and I was excited to see what he had to say after hearing so much about him.

Spoiler alert: the book was mostly terrible. I was profoundly disappointed in what I read. Peterson operates from a humanistic point of view and has little to offer believers in terms of counsel or advice. I do think it’s important to understand what he is saying because he is becoming (and already is) so influential on the political right, where I suspect most of us reside. For that reason, I would like to offer a short review of his book and his basic philosophy.

Peterson spells out his basic philosophy in the introduction to 12 Rules for Life: life is a struggle between order and chaos. Too much chaos wrecks our lives, but too much order, or the wrong kind of order, makes us miserable. Therefore, we must impose the right amount of order on our lives. This will lead to a meaningful and happy life. Peterson sees this struggle between order and chaos in everything from the yin-yang symbol to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. In fact, Peterson ultimately boils down all of man’s spiritual needs to a need for order.

You can see the problem already. I like to be ordered, but I am not always good at it. That’s why I like personal development books! A chaotic life will certainly have dire consequences. But I have deeper spiritual problems than a lack of order. Without the Gospel, all the order in the world will just make a very efficient and productive sinner. No amount of order can provide meaning or atone for my sins.

Because Peterson operates from this worldview, almost everything he says comes from an unbiblical point of view. Peterson’s rules, although fairly insightful, are packaged in a nauseating mix of humanism, darwinism, and poor biblical exegesis. He quotes the Bible constantly, but only as a way of allegorizing and interpreting it to fit his view. He takes it for granted that no one would actually take the Bible literally. Peterson, thousands of years after the Bible was written, has at last arrived to reveal to us all the true meaning of the Bible. It’s a good thing he came along, or we wouldn’t have any idea what the Bible really means.

This unbiblical point of view is certainly a damaging blow to 12 Rules for Life, but there is another critical hit: the book is just boring. This is primarily because Peterson spends around 90% of each chapter rambling on about some darwinian idea that has captured his attention, and only 10% on practical application of his rule. The rules themselves are fairly insightful, and there are one or two chapters that may be worth reading. Overall, though, the book is an absolute slog to get through. It isn’t worth wading through 40 pages on the mating dynamics of lobsters to get 5 pages of practical insights.

I wouldn’t recommend 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. More importantly, I wouldn’t recommend Jordan Peterson. Although he may rightly fight against our victimhood culture, Christians ought to be very wary of embracing a man who preaches such an unbiblical ideology. 

Make no mistake, Peterson’s message of humanism is poison. It may be a slower-acting poison than others, but it’s poison nonetheless.

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