Jordan Peterson and the Church
Many of you are aware of Jordan Peterson. He is a Canadian intellectual who specializes in clinical psychology, and has rose to fame in recent years for his bold stance against political correctness and various leftist ideologies. He has written books of the self-help variety, more robust than the average sort. And he has done much speaking and lecturing throughout the world – especially dealing with issues related to men. Lately he has been saying some interesting and positive things about his relationship to the Christian faith. It is unclear exactly where he stands, but perhaps he is not far from the kingdom (Mark 12:34).
It seems to me that Jordan Peterson may be on a journey much like C.S. Lewis found himself on. A journey where one begins to see that the stories and dreams that one took for mythology might actually be true. That beyond the ideas of truth, goodness and beauty, there is a person who is the truth, who is goodness itself, and who is the perfection of beauty. Lewis came to believe in the Word behind the words, the true God, who really did die for His people, the reality beyond all the shadows and echoes – Jesus Christ himself. And perhaps Jordan Peterson is on that same path. I certainly pray that he is.
Well, that is the introduction. The reason I am writing is to respond to a video that Peterson released last week. The video was titled – Message to the Christian Churches. I will link to it here:
Peterson does a great job describing the problems in our culture. He focuses on the demoralization of our culture, and especially the attacks leveled against young men. He talks about how men are characterized as an oppressive patriarchy, and how mankind as a whole is slandered as destroyers of the environment, as a cancer upon the earth. Peterson has plenty of experience talking to these demoralized young men. Many have come to him for guidance to improve their lives, to understand the world around them, and to find meaning and purpose moving forward.
But here in this video Peterson calls on the churches to reach out to these young men; to invite them back. And to that suggestion he would receive from me a hearty "Amen!". For too long the church has been effeminate, soft, and closed to masculinity. The modern church has been infatuated with soft preaching, passive involvement, syrupy hymns and God-is-my-girlfriend worship choruses. (The latter being a song that would double as a romantic ballad to a girl if you simply changed the words Jesus to Jessica, or Lord to Laura). In addition to this overall feminine ethos, the church has at times been actively hostile to men. We have been keen to give an encouraging Mother's Day message for the women, but we tend to either scold or lament or ignore the men. We have often failed the men. But men, more than ever, need to be taught what they are for, and how God would use them to build families, companies, and communities. The church really ought to communicate the value and purpose of masculinity.
Peterson wants churches to make a concerted push in this direction. And to that I say, "well and good". I welcome another voice pushing the conversation that way. This is something that runs with the grain of what I am already attempting to do as a Pastor. At Redeemer, we want to win men to Christ. We want to train men to live for Christ in all spheres of their lives. We want men to be masculine – to build things, to take responsibility, to take risk, to lead, to sacrifice.
Now, I am not sure what all Peterson intended with this video. It seems that he wants to encourage and influence the Christians along with the Muslims and the Jews and really whoever. He made a video to Muslims as well. Perhaps he thinks we can help young men while preaching a vague, universalist, ecumenical gospel. And that would not be good. Peterson in some ways is very much still a man of the world. He is a psychologist, he is enamored with Carl Yung and says some weird things about archetypes; overall, he wants to improve the world in a humanistic way. Yet he seems to be haunted by the truth. He has at times communicated that very thing – that he almost believes that Jesus is the real deal, and that the Bible is the foundation of truth. I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason he is reaching out to churches, and is so often dealing with Christian themes is because he knows that this is where the truth is.
But back to his exhortation. He wants the churches to invite the young men in. He tells the churches to say, "We want to call you to the highest purpose of your life… and we want to work with you to make things better." Peterson might have in mind the merely human-level recruiting of volunteers for a great cause. Bring the young men in and give them something to do. But in a profound way this is exactly what the church ought to do. When we preach the gospel, we are calling people to the highest purpose imaginable. We are not offering mere self-help, we are calling lost sinners, both men and women, to come and be found in Jesus Christ. We are calling on those who have wasted their lives in rebellion to repent and believe, which will include serving the cause of Christ for the rest of their days. We want things to be made better, don't we? We evangelize, we disciple, we preach, so that the kingdom of God which is the ultimate good in this world would advance, spread, and transform this fallen earth. We invite people to Christ as a part of this grand project to glorify Christ, which will make things infinitely better.
But it is important to clarify what we mean. What Peterson is advocating is vague and humanistic. We do not want the young men of this world to simply come and help. In fact, we don't want them to bring anything into the church, to help in any way whatsoever, until they have died and been raised to new life. Peterson says, "ask more, not less, of those you are inviting. Ask more than anyone ever has." Well, this is a big ask. Come and die. Come and live for the glory of God. Come and forsake your self-love and worship the Lord who made you. Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Bonhoeffer summed up this teaching, saying, "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die". This is more than Peterson, the world, or any religion would ask. And yet this is the bar for the Christian faith.
So, when we invite the young men in, we are asking for more than they can do on their own. We are asking them to come to Christ, to believe the gospel, to lay down their lives, to really repent. They must do this, but it is the work of God in them that enables them to do it. We are inviting them to a supernatural faith. We are inviting them into the one and only hope for this world. The need for this today is so apparent. The world desperately needs this message. So, I thank Dr. Peterson for the encouragement. And I would invite all the young men and old men, the women and the children, and even Peterson himself, to come and discover the highest purpose for life. To repent of their sins and look up to the Lord Jesus who died and rose again so that in Him we too could walk in newness of life. Come to Christ by faith, and in him die and rise again. And then with His Spirit let us go into all the world with this gospel, and maybe we just might save the world.
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