Jordan Peterson and the Scriptures as the Precondition of Truth

One of my first forays into philosophy while a grad student at Calvin Theological Seminary was in writing a term paper wherein I compared the wisdom of the Wise Ruler in Plato’s Republic with the wisdom possessed and revealed by the Jewish king, Solomon. Not only did I compare them, but I also equated them. This as it turns out was a mistake and my paper showed the marks of that mistake.

In the last week or so the inimitable Jordan Peterson made some rather provocative, and for some Christian observers, encouraging comments on the nature of the Christian Scriptures and their role in establishing the substructure of Western truth paradigms.

Not long after Jordan Peterson made these comments some made naive jokes about how something could be truer than true, others were quick to claim Jordan Peterson for the Church as was done with Soren Kirkegaard, and others offered more measured and penetrating commentary. One such commentator was the Chestertonian pastor Presbyterian from Moscow…Moscow, Idaho. That pastor is Douglas Wilson.

Some know him to be a faithful pastor and gadfly on the horse that is modern Western culture. Still others perceive him to be a firestarter for the sake of firestarting. For this last group, I believe they hold Wilson in such a light because they have no taste for unrelenting razor-sharp rhetoric. Either that or they find affective comfort in soy lattes and/or skinny jeans and Wilson triggers their malformed Christian sensibilities which are chiefly expressed in their conflation of some amorphous concept of kindness with Christian love.

You can find Wilson’s observations and commentary here:

In the above video, Wilson observes that what Peterson means by truth and what the Christian means by truth is equivocal. Both are using the same term, but they do not precisely mean the same thing. Indeed, I agree that Peterson is not far from the kingdom of God [Mark 12:34] given the above statements and others regarding living as if there is a God and speaking of the Divine Logos and Christ being the embodiment of that Logos.

Regarding Peterson’s most recent comments, let us try to get ahold of his ideas first then juxtapose them to the Christian view and particularly what we are propounding here at Then finally we will note the differences and similarities between the two.

Beginning with Peterson, if you pay careful attention to the argument leading up to his statements on the truth quality of Scripture and Scripture as the precondition of truth you will note where he starts. He starts with western civilization and particularly with a less-than-brief western literary history. By my lights his points are as follows:

1.) There was a time when the Bible was The Book for western culture. By this he means that there was a book held in higher esteem or a book set apart by western culture and no other western book was considered its equal. In this sense the Bible was The Book.

2.) There is also a sense in which the Bible was The Book for the English-speaking western world because it was the first book printed. Note Peterson’s emphasis on technology and its advancements. The Gutenberg Press was inestimable leap in the means and method of communicating and the first book printed with this technology was the King James Version of The Book.

3.) Peterson uses 1 and 2 to begin to construct an inverse pyramid where the most foundational book to western society and culture rests at the pinnacle of this inverse pyramid and all other books are built upon this pinnacle. According to Peterson, close to the base or bottom of this inverse pyramid are the works of Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante in translation and by extrapolation, the great books of the western world as compiled in the Britanica series by the same name. But there is no doubt that Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante derive much of their material by either direct experience with the Bible and/or by experience through the culture via media i.e., stories, art, music, song, ecclesiastical architecture etc.

4.) Peterson thus concludes that the Bible is the foundation for all the truth we know, teach, and read about in at least our current western culture if not for western generations immemorial. In this sense the Bible is truer than true. The Bible is the precondition to truth as the western mind understands it. Put more concretely, to make a robust appeal to some truth, especially if truth is only a value in the fact\value divide, without referring to the Bible in some ways is like making a robust appeal to a child’s existence without referring to her parents in some way. You can do it, but the picture is profoundly incomplete.

Regarding the orthodox Christian position, the Scriptures are more than the precondition to truth as touching the western mind. Rather, the Scriptures are the precondition to all theological truth which includes ontology, epistemology, and morality or being, knowing, and ethics. The Scriptures are the precondition to these truths no matter the time or place in which the reader of the Scriptures finds himself/herself.

This is because the Scriptures are more than The Book which rests at the epistemological foundation of all other books in the western lineage of learning and teaching. The Scriptures are the propositional revelation of the incarnate Logos, the Archetypical Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. As such, the Scriptures rest as the founding pinnacle and the precondition of truth because the Scriptures are the revealed proposition of The Truth, and it is for this reason primarily that the Scriptures are The Book. And not just for the West but for all of humanity.

In sum, the efficacy of an argument depends on its explanatory scope and its explanatory force. We determine the former by how much of the data an argument can account for, and we determine the latter by how rational and believable the argument is given its attempts to explain the data. Peterson’s argument has considerable explanatory scope and force. It explains much of the data and in a way that is rational and believable, but it quite clearly seems to leave out the spiritual and theological implications of arguing for divine revelation as the precondition to truth. Thusly construed, the distinctively Christian argument employs the theological element and can absorb Peterson’s argument without doing violence to either.

If the Bible is the living word of God, then it is not we who examine it, but it that examines us. In other words, the virtues of the West were not built on the Bible. Rather, the Bible built the virtues of the West.

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