“The Christian church exists to remind young men 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…”
In his recent video “Message to Christian Churches” Canadian professor and clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson, offers a potent challenge. The video (found here: Message to Christian Churches) created quite a stir across religious and non-religious circles. Reactions ranged from “amen and amen” on one hand to “pump the brakes” on the other.
Peterson brings some thought-provoking declarations to the table:
- Men, and young men in particular, have been demoralized, degraded, and discouraged by current cultural movements and ideologies.
- Deconstruction (the dismantling of objective truth, doctrine, or institutions) and dangerous ideologies have damaged men’s abilities to live with purpose and a sense of adventure in life.
- Christian churches should invite young men back to the church where they can find community, involvement, and meaning.
- Young men should reconsider the church as a viable option and live to be a part of the solution instead of being a part of the problem.
My initial impressions were positive. Of course we want young men to return to the church! There are (and perhaps always have been) challenges to living fully. The church can indeed point men to a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
But as I reflected, some unsettling themes emerged that forced me to wrestle with his message. Did he make some valid points? Of course. Are there some good challenges to consider? For sure. So, should we jump on board?
For Peterson, the problem is the demise of society. His solution is to bring young men back to the church in order to shape them so they can fix a broken culture.
Many young men do wander aimlessly and live below the purpose for which they were created but the answer to purpose is found in deeper realities. The answer to the downfall of culture is found on a bloody cross and an empty tomb.
BEING before DOING
It seems that Peterson is suggesting that who we are is derived from what we do. That if we are not achieving something then we are nothing. But purpose is not found in doing. It’s rooted in being. We are created and called for divine purpose.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).
We find purpose and identity in an authentic relationship with Christ. It’s in Him alone that we find our true place and purpose. Our doing emerges from our creation in His image and living in light of His love and grace.
MASCULINITY & HUMILITY
Peterson is concerned that cultural trends don’t allow men to be men. But let’s consider the picture of masculinity he paints. Revived masculinity, cultural manhood, entrenched in bravado, machismo, and dominance, is not the solution for the world or the church. Building a ladder to heaven (a similar attempt in Genesis 11 didn’t seem to work so well) made of human effort or masculine drive is impossible. The gospel is the solution.
“…as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:12-13 NIV)
Repentance, brokenness, and humility are not inconsequential; nor are they the opposite of masculinity. They are essential to a life that is full and satisfying.
GENDER & THE GOSPEL
Peterson places men, and particularly young men at the center of his solution to what he sees as society’s problem. It’s undeniably true that the church needs young men and young men need the church. But it’s equally true that the church needs more than an age and gender-specific response.
The gospel invites all people into relationship with Christ. The church does need young men to, in the tradition of Nehemiah, help rebuild its broken walls. It also needs young women, old men, middle-aged women, teenagers, seniors . . . you get the picture. The prophet Joel spoke to a future reality of a day when the Spirit would be outpoured in diversity and unity:
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)
The church and our world need every generation and gender. And the gospel is offered to all.
JUSTICE & JESUS
The pursuit of justice for some cannot be the denial of justice for others. The solution is not jettisoning justice, care for our world, and just “getting back to saving souls.” The garden we walk in is not ours to own and rule alone. Yes we need to nourish our own souls. But we also need to care for those of our friends, and our families, and our communities.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)
Maybe the “Micah blend” is exactly what would draw young men back to the church. A blend of biblical justice, deep kindness, and true humility. Sounds like Jesus. Feels magnetic.
Peterson is an influential voice in our culture. Some love him. Some hate him. He has some good things to say, but he has some flawed foundations and solutions. What the world needs to hear is the voice of God through loving, redeemed, and hope-filled people.
Young men, we need you in the church; we want you in the church. You are welcome. Not because there’s some organization to fix or a culture war to fight. You are needed and wanted because you are loved. The God who created you has an incredible adventure awaiting you.