By: George William
The past two days Jordan Peterson has released two videos on his YouTube channel where he does what I’d describe as an open letter to Christians and Muslims. (I assume he will also do one tomorrow about Judaism.) I will cover the message to Christians and perhaps in the following days, his message to other religions as well.
In the video titled, “Message to the Christian Churches“, Peterson starts his monologue, saying, “Of course it is completely presumptuous to dare to write, and broadcast a video entitled “Message to the Christian Churches, but I’m gonna do it any way. Because I have something to say, and because that something needs to be said.” This intro sets the tone for the whole video. Yes, it is incredibly presumptuous. And, yes, unsurprisingly this presumption lead to many errors.
After providing a personal and cultural backstory, around the seven minute mark, Peterson begins to address the “Christian Church” and it’s purpose. He states, “The Christian Church is there to remind people, young men included and perhaps even first and foremost, that they have a woman to find, a garden to walk in, a family to nurture, and ark to build, land to conquer, a ladder to heaven to build and the utter catastrophe of life to face stalwartly in truth, devoted in love and without fear.”
To address Peterson’s message, I would first like to point out that there are two kinds of Christian Churches: The building itself (church), which is the place of worship, and the body of Christ (Church), which is the group of people who truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the Cross for the sins of the world. Given the way Peterson talks about the “church” throughout this video, I’m going to assume that he is addressing the former small ‘c’ church, the building.
The purpose of this locality is for believers in the body of Christ to gather and worship the Almighty (Col 3:16). While this may involve the collection of followers, church is not man-focused. Church is God-focused. The passages of Scripture that is covered during sermons or Sunday School lessons certainly can apply to individuals and speak to them on a personal level. However, that is not the work of the speaker. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is the Spirits job (John 14:26) to grow and sanctify believers through God’s word. It is the job of the speaker, who is covering Gods word, to give it the proper honor, glory and understanding.
Peterson continues, “Invite the young man back. Say literally to those young men. You are welcome here. If no one else wants what you have to offer, we do. We want to call you to the highest purpose of your life. We want your time and energy and effort and your will and your goodwill. We want to work with you to make things better. To produce life more abundant for you and for your wife and children and for your community and your country and the world.”
First thing’s first – it is not the stance of any church honestly practicing the faith that young men aren’t welcome. In fact, 50% of the church that I, myself, attend is comprised of young couples. However, I will recognized that this is a blessing and not shared by everyone. The low attendance of young families in some churches is an issue I will address later.
Secondly, the purpose of the church is not a “self help” social club or “live your best life now” seminar. Church is about worshipping God. Sure, by following Christ there can be blessings one receives in life, such as freedom from anxiety and depression (Philip 4:6-7). But it is not because of some sort of transaction that has taken place between you and the church, or even between you and the Almighty (Ephe 2:8-9). It is because obeying and worshiping God is good, and good comes from obedience and worship.
Next, Peterson states, “And we have our problems in the Christian church. We are more abundant and sometimes far too often corrupt and sometimes deeply so. We are outdated as are all institutions with the roots in the dead but still often wise past. So join us. We’ll help fix you up and you can help fix us up. And together we’ll aim up.”
Truth is, yes, the church, is flawed. It is made up of flawed people and people make mistakes. However, what is not flawed is the inspired word of God or God himself (2 Tim 3:16, John 1:14, Matt 5:48). God is perfect, the Word is perfect. Such a distinction is an important one. By Peterson’s standards for an outdated institution, all institutions are outdated for they were started by men. However, if he is suggesting that the central theme or goal or focal point of the church is flawed, then he is wrong. Because he is missing one crucial detail: God is alive. Alive in the Father, and the Son (Mark 16:9) and the Holy Spirit. Not only does Peterson miss the mark on the faith-based nature of the church, he fails to effectively make the case how these young men can make a difference. How can the young men who are a mess and need help, help the church that is a mess and needs help? It is the blind leading the blind and doesn’t make any sense.
This is Petersons last tirade, aimed back again at the church.
“Once again to the churches. Protestant you’re the worst at the moment. Catholic, Orthodox, invite young men. Put up a billboard say, “young men are welcome here.” Print some flyers and put them in a box by the billboard. Signal their existence of those flyers with an arrow with the words, “more information about attending here.” Tell those who have never been in a church exactly what to do, how to dress, when to show up, who to contact. And most importantly, what they can do. Ask more, not less of those you were inviting. Ask more of them than anyone ever has. Remind them who they are, in the deepest sense. And help them become that. You’re churches for God’s sake. Quit fighting for social justice. Quit saving the bloody planet. Attend to some Souls. That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s your holy duty. Do it now, before it’s too late. The hour is nigh.”
Here, Peterson’s lack of knowledge really shows itself. For decades churches have had a difficult time bringing in young people. Many have tried every gimmick in the book, and then some. Switching out traditional hymns for contemporary music and rock bands. Tailoring sermons to speak to and resonate with todays culture. Using the pulpit for politics rather than faith. This is exactly how we have ended up with churches like one in Flatirons, Colorado, where they have a full on concert playing Queen before service.
The electrical company I work for is very small. Of the six people that work there, two are nonbelievers. One of those nonbelievers has been best friends with another coworker since they were children. The four believers have been trying for over a year to lead this young man to church. We have been evangelizing to him during work and this, at least, it seems to be taking hold. Praise the Lord. However, he has only been to our church twice in that entire time. Even now as the Word seems to be taking hold in his life.
This is how hard it is to get people to attend church. Even a few times. Now imagine this on a country wide scale. Not so simple now is it, Peterson?
Peterson concludes, saying, “Remind them who they are, in the deepest sense. And help them become that.” What people are in the deepest sense is that they are completely degenerate sinners (Rom 3:10, Jer 17:9, Rom 5:12). They don’t need help becoming that. They are born that. What they can become, however, are new believers in Christ. Saved from their sin. Not from their works but by grace alone. The church does not do this. The church only serves as a guide to the truth. And that truth, is found in Jesus.