A Look at “What’s stopping Jordan Peterson from rejecting Jesus’ resurrection?”

Jordan Peterson is a big hit with young men. Trust me, I know! I have done campus ministry for a long time and have seen his impact on that age group.  Most recently, an article has been posted on Premier Christianity, called “What’s stopping Jordan Peterson from rejecting Jesus’ resurrection?” 

As the article notes,  In his Big Conversation episode with Susan Blackmore, Peterson said it is action that constitutes “the hallmark of belief”. He has argued that Western Christianity lost its compass when it defined “belief” as the affirmation of a set of propositions about reality, rather than our embodied response to reality.

This has been an ongoing theme for a long time. Is pragmatic outcome the most important thing? Does orthopraxy (right/correct practice) trump orthodoxy (right/correct belief)? Does there need to be a dichotomy between these two things? As the article says, this issue comes up in other debates. I experienced the exact same thing in my dialogue with a Reformed rabbi.

So what about pragmatism?  Our culture is built on pragmatism. If something doesn’t work, you try something else that gets results. Thus, the idea that “if theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true” are seen in the writings of William James (1842–1910) and recently by neopragmatist Richard Rorty (1931–2007). People want to know if beliefs can be tried and tested out in the reality of life. This does have some merit. After all, if one’s faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. However, what would you say if a person of another religious background said the following: “I follow Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, or another faith because it makes a difference in my life.” Would you consider committing to a different belief system just because it has led to moral and personal transformation? Once again, the lesson here is that the practical difference a belief makes in one’s life should be one aspect of our overall cumulative case for what we believe.

Back to The Correspondence Test for Truth

The correspondence theory of truth has dominated most of Western philosophy for quite some time. It is also the way the majority of people live their lives on a daily basis. This happens to match up with the Biblical data as well. Both the Old and New Testament terms for truth are emet and alethia. In relation to truth, these words are associated with fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. According to a Biblical conception of truth, a proposition is true only if it accords with factual reality. There are numerous passages that explicitly contrast true propositions with falsehoods. The Old Testament warns against false prophets whose words do not correspond to reality. For example Deuteronomy 18:22: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”, and the ninth commandment warns against bearing false testimony.

Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” This correspondence applies to abstract realities as well as actual ones. Falsehood, then is what does not correspond. It tells it like it is not, misrepresenting the way things are. If  I say “God is real” or “Jesus rose from the dead,” I am making a claim about reality. Of course, I would have to provide evidence for my claim. But that is another topic for another time. But if a Muslim says “Jesus didn’t die because the Quran says he didn’t die,” that is claim they think is based in reality. But the evidence for that claim is very weak. So no matter how much Islam make ‘work’ and make a difference in their life is not the most important question.

Because of the false dichotomy between orthodoxy (belief), and orthopraxy (emphasis on practice or action) we always have to discuss both the correspondence and pragmatic tests for our claims.