Think Again, Sunshine: Jordan Peterson, Young Men, and the Church

Jacob Tanner

man holding book on road during daytime

Do you think we can ignore the problems facing Christianity in the twenty-first century and blindly continue with things the way they are? As Jordan Peterson would say, “Think again, Sunshine.”

The state of Christianity is in a sad, sorry state when a non-Christian philosopher calls her to repentance and action. Yet, in many ways, that’s exactly what happened when, on July 12th, 2022, Jordan Peterson released his video “Message to the Christian Churches.”

While some are outraged by Peterson’s presumption in daring to address Christians, others have been quick to embrace him as “one of us.” While none can know the state of Peterson’s soul, until he publicly confesses that Jesus Christ is his Lord, we must continue to pray for him. At the same time, this is a rare occasion where it seems that a nonbeliever has put his finger on a problem in the church, and it behooves us to listen to what he has to say: Young men have long been forsaken by the church, and it is high time that young men be ministered to from the pulpits and within the households of our churches.

Let us consider what Peterson gets right, what he gets wrong, and how the church ought to move forward with this knowledge.

A Weakened Christianity, but a Strong Church

At the end of the video, Peterson says this to the churches: “Quit fighting for social justice. Quit saving the 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.”

Peterson, of course, is right. It is not the Christian’s duty to embrace social justice philosophies like Critical Race Theory, or defend the murder of the unborn, or adopt socialist and secularist principles into the Christian faith. Those things are, frankly, sinful and are opposed to Scripture’s instruction that “we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). We are not to be taken captive by the things of this world, but we are to tear down the philosophies of this world and see all things brought captive to Christ as Lord of all. (This includes Peterson’s Jungian analytical psychology). This, of course, is accomplished by our wielding and proclaiming the Word of God, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor 10:4). We must not be afraid or intimated by any philosophy or psychology of the world because we wield God’s Word.

The big problem here is that far too many churches and their leaders have turned away from the Word of God and embraced the world. They tried fighting this spiritual war with worldly philosophies and became so corrupted by sin that they failed to recognize when they stopped being a church. The feminization of the pulpit, the preaching of effeminate sermons, and the weakening of churches are all interrelated issues. Peterson is right, in many respects: A lot of churches, by embracing liberal agendas, have become weak, mushy, and skeleton-less.

So, when Peterson calls for churches to quit their secular pandering and instead train young Christian men to become stalwarts of courage and truth in the midst of great troubles and trials, followers of Christ ought to give a hearty, “Amen.”

However, our courage and the truth we proclaim are never to be divorced from Christ. In fact, it is Christ himself who makes us courageous and teaches us truth. This is what separates the church from every other institution, religion, and philosophy: Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

Our courage and the truth we proclaim are never to be divorced from Christ.

Even though many churches have given themselves over to the world, and despite the rampant adoption of secular practices and philosophies by many evangelicals, the church as Christ’s Bride is in no danger of failing. Jesus is building His church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against this work (Matt 16:18). He is going to save every last soul that the Father has promised to him (Jn 6:37), and he will then finish the work (Phil 1:6). Jesus will present his church to himself as blameless, spotless, and pure (Eph 5:27). The true church is strong through Christ and will be strengthened by his grace until his return, whereas apostate churches will grow ever weaker.

Weak Boys Turned to Strong Men Through God’s Word

It is hardly surprising that many young men flocked to Peterson over the years. He provided a strong and wise fatherly figure for those who never had a strong masculine presence in their lives. In the video, Peterson seems to suggest that he was able to fill the void of the church for these young men because the church wanted nothing to do with training boys to become men.

This is, unfortunately, a common experience that many can attest to over the past few decades. Most mainline denominations were more interested in pandering to whatever cultural or political fads held sway at the moment rather than doing the hard work of discipleship. Weak and effeminate sermons can only ever hope to produce weak and effeminate churchgoers. Boys were trained through Sunday school coloring pages, children’s church crafts, and Wednesday night pizza parties to lay aside their spiritual maturity in favor of a perpetual adolescence. Rather than teaching doctrine, and then training boys to put doctrine to practice, boys were taught a watered-down gospel—if there was any gospel taught at all. Is it any surprise that young men would see through the charade and seek the truth elsewhere?

But there’s the rub: There is no other place to find the truth.

Peterson stated that, “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, an ark to build, a land to conquer, a ladder to heaven to build, and the utter terrible catastrophe of life, to face stalwartly in truth, devoted to love and without fear.” Peterson’s use of language and illustrations from Genesis should not be surprising considering he taught through the book of Genesis some years back. It should be noted, however, that these things cannot save a sinner, nor are they possible apart from salvation in Christ. (For example, Jesus Christ is the ladder to heaven, who himself draws us to eternal life with him, apart from our own trying or efforts.) And while it’s true that Peterson probably doesn’t understand what’s at the heart of what he’s saying, it doesn’t change the fact that the expressions, understood within their biblical context, are basically true. Churches must train young men.

Where to begin? Peterson suggests that churches simply invite young men back in. “Invite the young men 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.'”

Peterson is correct in the sense that local churches need to evangelize. But here’s the biggest issue with what Peterson is saying: While all are welcome (or should be welcome) to our churches, the first and most urgently pressing matter is that whosoever enters our gatherings hears the gospel of Jesus Christ’s atoning death, burial, and resurrection and is called to repentance and faith in Christ. Before any training, before any young man is invited to do any sort of building or maturing, the most pressing need is that he would not delay in bowing the knee to Christ.

Furthermore, Peterson is right that many churches have failed the young men of their communities. But many churches are devoted to the mission of training and discipling young men, knowing they are the future of the church on earth. So, to any young men reading this who are looking for advice on life, or who want to know how to live or what to do next: Don’t look to Peterson. Look to the Bible. Look to Jesus Christ. If Peterson has ever said anything at all true, it is only because the Bible said it was true first. You must turn to Jesus, for he alone is Truth and His Word is Life.

To any young men reading this who are looking for advice on life: Don’t look to Peterson. Look to the Bible. Look to Jesus Christ.

A Message to Peterson

I do not know if Jordan Peterson will see this article. I pray and hope he does. More than that, I hope that he will seriously consider what I say here. In fact, this section of the article may as well be written to any nonbeliever reading it—just replace Peterson’s name with your own.

Dr. Peterson: You are not exempt from the need to enter the church; more than that, the greatest need of your entire life is to bow the knee to Christ as Lord and Savior. You must repent of your sin and trust in him alone for your salvation. Your intelligence, philosophy, and psychology will not save you. Only Jesus Christ can do this. He is no myth, but the God-man himself and the very foundation for all truth.

I would invite the opportunity to speak with you, as would many other Christian pastors. If ever you find yourself in my neck of the woods, consider stopping by our church. You will find a church filled with men who are discipling boys to mature and grow in their faith in Christ, that together we would build a biblical community for generations to come. But more importantly, I’d encourage you to find a church near your home that is faithful to God’s Word and start attending. The hour, after all, is nigh.

Author man holding book on road during daytime

Jacob Tanner

Pastor Christ Keystone Church

Jacob Tanner is pastor of Christ Keystone Church, a Reformed Baptist church plant in Central Pennsylvania. He lives with his wife and two sons and is the author of Union with Christ: The Joy of the Christian’s Assurance in the Doctrines of Grace.

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