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Will John Lennox lead Jordan Peterson out of Egypt?

Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson | Jordan B Peterson

No public intellectual on the planet today seems more insistent on interpreting Scripture through the lens of psychology than Jordan Peterson. So when John Lennox sat down recently with this hugely popular psychologist to have a conversation about God, the Irish mathematician and theologian was careful to tactfully navigate through Peterson’s problematic biblical hermeneutic. 

Jordan Peterson's interest in Scripture has skyrocketed in recent years, as evidenced by his lectures on Genesis, and his round table discussion with six other scholars who read through Exodus together. 

And it is Peterson’s interest in Exodus that John Lennox picked up on during their recent visit.  Lennox discerningly noted that God gave His people the Ten Commandments in Exodus only after the Passover sacrifice. He said, “Setting up rules and regulations is hugely important. We need them. They are in the New Testament and the Old Testament. One of the major messages of Exodus is first redemption, and redemption is by the blood of the Passover lamb, and then the teaching.”  

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While Peterson initially nodded in agreement, the blurry lens of his unorthodox hermeneutic quickly steered him off course.  Rather than judiciously engaging Lennox in an earnest effort to learn why the Passover lamb was so enormously significant to God, Peterson hurriedly directed the discussion toward the sacrifices man made in the “post Paradise lost transition in Genesis.” “Human beings,” Peterson said, “are called upon to sacrifice.”

The clinical psychologist’s anthropocentric emphasis at this critical juncture completely bypassed the redemptive nature of the Passover lamb.  And, he expressed no interest in exploring what Scripture reveals about the divine plan and prophetic significance of the Passover sacrifice, not to mention the entire sacrificial system in the Old Testament.

Peterson then posed an excellent question: “What is the sacrifice that is most pleasing to God?” He presumed to know the answer as he immediately opined, “The answer to that has to be … that you offer up everything to what’s transcendent … it’s the willingness to lay everything on the line in the pursuit of truth and something more abundant.”

The former professor would have been prudent at this pivotal point to proceed more like a student and less like a teacher. I say this because Dr. Peterson seemingly failed to recognize the simple fact that the sacrifice most pleasing to God was the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. There is not even a close second. After all, Christ is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 

Lennox graciously offered an informed response to Peterson’s perspective: “It seems to me that we may need to think in terms of different kinds of sacrifice. You see, at the heart of Christianity is not my sacrifice, but God’s sacrifice … God’s acceptance of me depends on a sacrifice that is entirely outside of me but can be appropriated by me. Christ died and rose again … It goes to the heart of God doing something so that He can forgive me and deal with the guilt that I have incurred by messed up behavior and all the rest of it.”

Theologians use the term “extra nos” to describe what God did outside ourselves, and it underscores the massive chasm that exists between Christian theology and human psychology. One is rooted in man’s behavior, while the other shines the spotlight on God’s particular redemptive act that allows us to enter into an eternal relationship with our Creator. Salvation comes from outside ourselves as we place our faith in the Savior’s sacrifice at Calvary.

Lennox, like the Apostle Paul before him, has a laser-like focus on the central event of human history, and his compelling conviction and clarity regarding the good news of the Gospel is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart and mind. Jesus said, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). 

The cross of Christ is the only means by which man can be reconciled to God. Paul wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21). All of man’s noble efforts, religious deeds, and personal sacrifices cannot wash away even one of his sins.

Mathematicians, scientists, and psychologists who become grounded in the Gospel and in Scripture interpret the Bible through the lens of theology rather than psychology. I addressed the difference between these two academic disciplines in my CP op-ed, “Comparing Psychology to Theology.”

Jordan Peterson has spent the past four decades analyzing, adapting, and applying concepts introduced by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Carl Jung. And yet the personal opinions of famous psychologists pale in comparison to the spiritual insights and eternal truth that the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostle Paul and the other biblical authors. God gave Paul a tremendous amount of “sanctified reason,” and this enlightened reasoning from Heaven is light years ahead of worldly wisdom due to its supreme accuracy, scope, relevance, and benefits. 

In order for someone to successfully press on with God, it is necessary to leave Egypt and enter into the robust promised land of New Testament theology. The book of Romans, for example, has been called “the cathedral of the Christian faith.” Apart from God’s sacrifice at the cross, we would go to our grave clinging to little more than a lifetime of lectures on psychology, scientific discoveries, technological advances, etc.

Jordan Peterson's theological understanding continues to evolve. My 2018 CP op-ed, “The Truth Claims of Jesus and Jordan Peterson,” explores a few of his earlier ideas. Jordan Peterson and John Lennox clearly appreciate one another. Peterson even suggested that Lennox join the group when the scholars meet again in Miami for their next Bible seminar. So, will Lennox lead Peterson out of an Egypt of his own making, and into a theological understanding of the Lamb of God’s redemptive accomplishment? It is certainly possible.

Like Moses before him, John Lennox is not a self-appointed prophet. When called by God, Moses stated: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) You see, “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

Likewise, those who are led out of Egypt possess the genuine humility necessary to gratefully affirm this glorious certitude: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:10,14). 

A blameless and unblemished sacrificial Lamb was slain 2,000 years ago on a hill called Golgotha outside the gates of Jerusalem so that the Father can accept spiritual children into His family and see believers in His Son as perfect in His sight. 

“Christ entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption … How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:12,14).

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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