Part I – Genesis: Feeding the Multitudes

Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way”

Luke 6:26

Feeding the Multitudes

            One wonders … what explains the massive popularity of the 12RFL and the answers it proffers? Why are these rules so popular? Why now? What nerve do they touch? What desire do they address? What solutions do they offer? And why—as I assert—should Christians be both attentive to the counsel provided in the 12RFL, but as well, note the differences between it and Christian orthodoxy? As we should about anything that catches the public eye, Christians should be wondering about its massive popularity.

            Some of the reasons it is popular are good; some are not so good. One potential reason for this ambiguity is that some of the wisdom offered replicates to some degree and in a nuanced way that offered in the Word, by God, and there is within the human spirit that which recognizes such wisdom as ultimately beneficial, in the same way flowers turn their faces to the sun. The response to Mr. Peterson’s replies on Quora—the basis for much of the 12RFL—shows how desperate people in the world are today for true wisdom; hungry for meaning in their life, and deeply desirous of learning how to live productive lives with honor. Mr. Peterson should be commended for his courage and perseverance and discipline and tenacity in working throughout the decades in his discipline so as to understand what drives man and what means or method of living and understanding our lives might produce a little more peace and harmony in the world.

            But as to why such a message is popular today … there are deeper reasons. In the writings of Francis Schaeffer one may perhaps discover an explanation of greater insight:

“When people refuse God’s answer, they are living against the revelation of the universe and against the revelation of themselves. They are denying the revelation of God in who they themselves are. I am not saying that non-Christians do not live in the light of real existence. I am saying that they do not have any answer for living in it. I am not saying that they do not have moral motions, but they have no basis for them. I am not saying that the person with a non-Christian system (even a radical system like Buddhism or Hinduism or the modern Western thinking of chance) does not know that the object exists – the problem is that they have no system to explain the subject-object correlation. As a matter of fact, this is their damnation, this is their tension, that they have to live in the light of their existence, the light of reality – the total reality in all these areas – and they do live there, and yet they have no sufficient explanation for any of these areas. So, the wiser they are, the more honest they are, the more they feel that tension, and that is their present damnation.”[1]

Schaeffer, Francis, The God Who is There, p. 180

        Today’s searchers, especially the wise and honest, feel an incredible tension caused by living in today’s world, a world bereft of answers. Such are thirsty for truth, for something that works, something that explains life and gives purpose and meaning to their existence. And lo, the 12RFL appear, backed by years of study, lectures, interactions with people hungering and thirsting for meaning, living in tension, and written with humility and humor and an honest desire to help people overcome those tensions and slake their thirst for answers.

            Yet even all this doesn’t explain the popularity. Rather, the underlying reason for the amazingly wide acceptance of the 12RFL—the ‘formula for its success in the world’—is that it has taken concepts and answers which have worked and sustained mankind for centuries—concepts and answers based primarily in a Judeo-Christian worldview, and which have originated from God (which is why they have worked so well for so long)—but attributed the origins of this wisdom and these answers to man. Sadly, man will seize upon any offering through which he might derive the benefits of God without a commensurate or accompanying need to admit there is a God (and thence be required to submit to Him).

            One may have read Mr. Peterson’s quote regarding the Bible:

“The Bible is, for better or worse, the foundational document of Western civilization (of Western values, Western morality, and Western conceptions of good and evil). …The Bible has been thrown up, out of the deep, by the collective human imagination, which is itself a product of unimaginable forces operating over unfathomable spans of time. Its careful, respectful study can reveal things to us about what we believe and how we do and should act that can be discovered in almost no other manner.”

[p. 104]

             Mr. Peterson very truthfully acknowledges (in sort of a half-hearted way: ‘for better or worse’, he says) that the Bible has been the foundational document of Western civilization. Yet there is an immediate assertion that the Bible did not originate with God but out of man, ‘thrown up, out of the deep, by the collective human imagination, which is itself a product of unimaginable forces operating over unfathomable spans of time’.[2] No, the Bible has not been ‘thrown up, out of the deep, by the collective human imagination.’ The Bible is the Word of God. It was written physically by the hand of men, but men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit—in much the same was as an author would dictate his words to a secretary or scribe. The words in it are God’s words, not a product of man’s imagination. Does the Bible deserve careful, respectful study? Yes; the highest calling any man can have in the world is to study God’s word with the end in mind that he may increase his knowledge and love of the personal, infinite Creator. But it deserves more than just study; one studies history or bugs or psychology, sure. The Bible is more than simply some ancient text that should be commended for its ability to reveal things about what we believe and how we should be and act. It is God’s revelation of Himself to the world, and to us as individuals. Yes, it reveals man’s nature, how man behaves, and commends specific conduct, but it also reveals Who God is and what a relationship with Him requires of mankind. It communicates to man what God requires of man, and therefore is the seminal and ultimate document of human civilization. One can carefully and respectfully study it until the cows come home, but unless it is ultimately obeyed it does man no shred of good, other than to explain to those who disregard it the absolute justice and rightness of the guilty verdict they will receive when they stand to be judged by the Living God, and to explain what will happen after they leave this life and proceed to the next (hint: things get hot).

            The Bible is not some product of the collective human mind and imagination. Such a claim is misinformed at best and deceptive at worst. It is akin to the tendency other religions have demonstrated in which they refer to the Bible in a respectful fashion but order their lives according to other writings, writings generated by man, writings that are truly the product of man’s imagination. See how that has worked for Rabbinic (i.e. Talmudic) Judaism, for Catholicism, for Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and, in today’s world, many Protestant denominations. All these religions have ‘holy’ texts that have been truly thrown up, out of the deep—the ‘deep’ being a prophetic choice of words. Such books and their words are those which truly have been thrown up out of the deep pit of hell by the collective human imagination; books such as the Talmud, the Apocrypha and the Catechism and the pronouncements of the Popes; the Koran, the Tripitaka, the Vedas, the Purpose-Driven Life, and the Shack—even a few paraphrase translations of the Bible itself.[3]

            The Word of God has much to say about ‘the human imagination’—it makes the bold claim, a claim hated by man but true nonetheless, that man’s imaginations, the things generated from man’s heart, are wicked beyond knowing, and any who trust in such imaginations will be doomed to a life of wickedness and self-deception. Such claims position the Word of God (and God Himself) directly in opposition to humanists and their theories and philosophies, and as well against any religion that puts man above Him.

            The reason the Bible is so sustainable—the reason it has weathered time and tyrants, empires and emperors—is because it comes from God, not man. But this claim made by the 12RFL in its quote about the Bible, and in the way the 12RFL is written, can lead unsuspecting readers to the belief that the Bible’s wisdom has come from man; that it originated from mankind’s collective imagination; that we have known these things without knowing that we knew them, that it is man’s wisdom, and that the stories (i.e. myths) we have told ourselves over the eons contain dramatic man’s own hidden wisdom to which we materialists need now attend (and to which we should always have attended) so as to discover answers to the deep questions man has about our universe. The Christian, however, must grieve over such an assertion and for those who adopt it, for it completely ignores a holy, righteous, personal God, a God Who is there; a God Who has spoken and continues to speak to man, trying to get his attention. What wisdom one finds in the 12RFL—and there are many golden threads in that tapestry, make no mistake—has its origin in God, not in man’s imagination. Where the philosophies in the 12RFL resonate in consonance with, and are in tune with, truth, it is because something in those principles agrees with the principles God has established as true in the realm of existence (in Reality, the realm in which there is true ‘Being’).

            The Word of God revealed to us through the Bible provides all the answers man needs in today’s world (and in any other world or time, for that matter). Mr. Schaeffer described how the Bible is the answer to the chaos of life in which people today live.

“The Christian system (what is taught in the whole Bible) is a unity of thought. Christianity is not just a lot of bits and pieces—there is a beginning and an end, a whole system of truth, and this system is the only system that will stand up to all the questions that are presented to us as we face the reality of existence. Some of the other systems answer some of the questions, but leave others unanswered. I believe it is only Christianity that gives the answers to all the crucial questions.

What are those questions? The questions are those which are presented to us as we face the reality of existence. God shuts us up to reality. We cannot escape the reality of what is, no matter what we say we believe or think.”

The God Who is There, p. 179

            One might wonder why more people do not embrace (real) Christianity since, as Schaeffer (and millions of others have, down through history) asserted, it has the fundamental answers for life. The answer is tragic but self-evident, discerned by many over the centuries. After making the point that the Bible fully, rationally, clearly, and with finality answers the elemental questions presented to us as we face the Reality of existence (or ‘Being’, as Peterson would say), Schaeffer answers why most people do not turn to the clear answers God provides:

“But now we can ask another question. If it is so that there are good and sufficient reasons to know that Christianity is true, why doesn’t everybody accept the sufficient answers?

“We must realize that Christianity is the easiest religion in the world, because it is the only religion in which God the Father and Christ and the Holy Spirit do everything. God is the Creator; we have nothing to do with our existence, or the existence of other things. We can shape other things, but we cannot change the fact of existence. We do nothing for our salvation because Christ did it all. We do not have to do anything. In every other religion we have to do something – everything from burning a joss stick to sacrificing our firstborn child to dropping a coin in the collection plate – the whole spectrum. But with Christianity we do not do anything; God has done it all: He has created us and He has sent His Son; His Son died and because the Son is infinite, therefore He bears our total guilt. We do not need to bear our guilt, nor do we even have to merit the merit of Christ. He does it all. So in one way it is the easiest religion in the world.[4]

“But now we can turn that over because it is the hardest religion in the world for the same reason. The heart of the rebellion of Satan and man was the desire to be autonomous; and accepting the Christian faith robs us not of our existence, not of our worth (it gives us our worth), but it robs us completely of being autonomous. We did not make ourselves, we are not a product of chance, we are none of these things; we stand there before a Creator plus nothing, we stand before the Savior plus nothing – it is a complete denial of being autonomous. Whether it is conscious or unconscious (and in the most brilliant people it is occasionally conscious), when they see the sufficiency of the answers on their own level, they suddenly are up against their innermost humanness – not humanness as they were created to be human, but human in the bad sense since the Fall. That is the reason that people do not accept the sufficient answers and why they are counted by God as disobedient and guilty when they do not bow.

“People are living against the revelation of themselves. They are denying the revelation of God they themselves and all reality are. They are denying it and yet they have to live with it. When the person comes to see that there are good and sufficient reasons, then he or she is faced with a problem; either they bow before those good and sufficient reasons, and bow to the Person behind the reasons, or they refuse to bow.

“It is not that the answers are not good, adequate and sufficient. Unless one gives up one’s autonomy, one cannot accept the answers.”

Schaeffer, The God Who is There, pp. 182-183

            Schaeffer’s analysis also explains why today every public figure desiring to remain within the good graces of the world’s system (which requires maintaining the world’s narrative) asserts that the theory of evolution is a fact; it is so referred to throughout the 12RFL. Though there are countless viable and scientifically sound reasons that easily cast the theory of evolution into complete disarray, these are patently ignored, for a simple reason having nothing to do with factual or evidential analyses. Accepting as true the plenitude of scientific explanations testifying to the bankruptcy of evolution would require an acknowledgement of a Creator—something greater than man, something able to create man, something not created by man, something other than man.[5] Such acknowledgement would then therefore impose upon man a requirement to submit to this Creator’s authority, ‘to bow’, as Schaeffer puts it; to give up our autonomy, to voluntarily remove ourselves from the center of all things; to remove man (and, more painfully, our individual selves) from being the sine qua non in the universe.

            It is also no coincidence that as so-called Christians adopt the theory of evolution, there is the commensurate and pernicious growth of the meme that the Word of God is also ‘an evolving document’—that it can change, that it should be adapted to what man thinks is appropriate to and in the zeitgeist, i.e. the culture of his day. They tend to interpret the Word through the lens of the culture in which they live.

            Perhaps readers are aware that the Bible refers to the Word of God as a ‘sharp, two-edged sword.’ Two-edged swords are sharp and powerful and can cleave through untruth and unbelief—but used improperly, like any sharp two-edged implement, it can also do damage, sometimes significant damage, should it be used improperly.

            Men should strive to improve themselves, to grow, to learn about the world in which God placed them, yet always and forever ensure that their first duty, their first joy, and their first priority is to learn about the Living God Himself. Men should with strength and courage and diligence strive to gain wisdom, make no mistake. But consider—whose wisdom should we be striving to attain, man’s or God’s? Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 2 speaks pointedly to this question:

“And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.”

1 Corinthians 2:1-16, emphasis added





[1] Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) spoke pointedly and effectively to the idea of ‘Being’ and purpose—concepts woven throughout both Maps of Meaning and 12RFL—far more clearly and powerfully than this author can hope to do. Mr. Schaeffer’s work titled ‘The God Who is There’ is particularly commended to readers who want a clearer understanding of the philosophical basis underpinning Christianity’s assertions relative to ‘Being’, and one’s purpose and meaning in life.

[2] That the Bible is simply a collection of stories that represent man’s distilled wisdom is not a new concept. Gleason Archer, in his A Survey of Old Testament Introduction published in 1964, writes: “the Genesis accounts of the career of Abraham and his descendants are untrustworthy and often unhistorical. Noldeke even went so far as to deny the historical existence of Abraham altogether.” Julius Wellhausen writes in his Prolegomena to the History of Israel, published in 1878, “From the patriarchal narratives it is impossible to obtain any historical information with regard to the patriarchs; we can only learn something about the time in which the stories about them were first told by the Israelite people. This later period, with all its essential and superficial characteristics, was unintentionally projected back into hoary antiquity and is reflected there like a transfigured mirage.” And, on page 320 of that same work, Wellhausen says (to be later channeled by the 12RFL), that he viewed Abraham as “a free creation of unconscious art.” These are just two of hundreds of ‘higher critics’ who dispute the truth of the Bible. For a superb, comprehensive, and utterly convincing refutation of these and other higher critics, please do consult Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, published by Thomas Nelson in 1999. It is a revision of his first work, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

[3] The Message, by Eugene Peterson, comes to mind.

[4] Ah, but this characteristic of Christianity itself offends man; it belittles man’s pride, because man in his own strength or wisdom or holiness or piety cannot make himself in any way accepted by, or righteous in the eyes of, God. And oh, how this does grate upon man’s pride.

[5] As mentioned later in the text of the 12RFL itself, “scientists are people, too.” Let us not forget that there was a plethora of scientists who vigorously and voluntarily testified to the existence of verifiable scientific evidence that Hitler’s racial theories were based in solid science.

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