Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Life Issues, Wisdom

The First Rule of the First Rule of Life

Someone once warned, “Be careful what you read. This is what you will write.” Since I am writing a lot, I am giving more careful attention to what is entering my cranium. A current read is Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I’m not alone. It is a current bestseller. It is a demanding, thought-provoking, upsetting, and reassuring read. My kind of book. I’m grateful for many of his insights.

My upcoming posts will reflect on some of some of what I am learning. This begins with the opening pages. I’ve learned that good books often have good Forwards. Unfortunately, Forwards and Prefaces to books are often neglected, right down there with unopened envelopes marked, “Presorted Standard.” No matter if the words “Urgent” or “Time Sensitive” are stamped on the front, these envelopes are headed for the circular file.

But this is a mistake when it comes to books, especially with this book. Norman Dodge’s powerful Forward establishes the urgent need to read Peterson’s book. He reminds readers that people are not drawn to rules, but without them, we become slaves to our passions (cf. the story of the golden calf-Ex. 32:1-6). This is a book seeking to guard us from lives that get out of control and descend into the chaos.

Dodge points out the ideologies Jordan has studied, ones that have led to such tragedies as the Soviet gulag and the Nazi Holocaust. They serve to warn us of what can happen in our present day. Extremists on both the left and the right are still determined to take away our rights. Many university campuses have shifted from centers for thoughtful dialogue to places where only certain views are allowed. Books are supplanted with rants. Censoriousness has replaced an ethos that was created to expand one’s mind, learn from divergent views, and imagine. This is what I remember from my university experience.

Will the day come Christ followers will be shunned and silenced unless they conform to the ideological cleansing demanded? Many would say it is already here.

What Dodge points out towards the end of his forward is that Jordan’s book amounts to practical wisdom. That which has guided previous generations needs to guide a present, untutored generation. Each of Jordan’s rules intends to cultivate judgment for discerning the difference between virtue and vice.

This goes against the assumptions of modern relativism, which claims there is no real good. If there is any virtue it is tolerance. But this is a lie. What we are seeing played out is a worldview that only leads to intolerance. And intolerance of other views, as Dodge notes, is not simply wrong; “in a world where there is no right or wrong, it is worse: it is a sign you are embarrassingly unsophisticated or, possibly, dangerous.”

We’re back to rules. As Dodge again underscores, people cannot tolerate lawlessness, “virtuelessness.” We cannot live without a moral compass.  And Jordan’s rules confirm this.

But all of this isn’t so new. From the beginning, God has shown us life’s rules for conforming to reality. His book amounts to practical wisdom, rules for steering. The words of the ancient sage in Proverbs transcend all human wisdom, all self-help books. They point us to the highest of ideals, helping us see, in the larger biblical context, that we can never attain them apart from God’s redemptive work. Only a radical heart change made possible by the Cross will get us on the road to universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. Ultimately it is God’s Word that moves our lives out of the daily turmoil and into a far deeper and more sustained order.

This is the necessary Forward to the Forward of the book.




1 Comment
  • Sharon Kerr
    4:17 PM, 2 March 2018

    I have learned that even when God’s rules are unattractive, unpalatable, or hard; following them benefits me! I am thinking particularly about “wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.” That one used to be hard for me. I love to be in charge. But when I make room for Brad to lead, when I encourage him instead of criticizing, he flourishes and I do, too.

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