“You’re Churches… attend to some souls!” Jordan Peterson’s Scathing Message to Churches
14 July 2022
In a recent video, renowned psychologist and thinker Jordan B. Peterson made a scathing critique of the Church. He challenged churches to invite young men back — to make church a place where they are welcome. Here are my thoughts on several of Peterson’s points.
Yesterday, Jordan B Peterson, a now-famous psychologist and philosopher, published a video on his YouTube channel: “Message to the Christian Churches”. At the time of writing, the video had received almost half a million views. In it, Peterson criticises the Church — particularly Western churches — for their adherence to Woke ideology and their treatment of young men.
Four points — critiques of either the Church as a whole or Christian people — stand out to me. They certainly ring true.
1. The Church has Gone Woke
Maybe this is too broad of a generalisation. Nonetheless, it is sadly true for many churches and Christian organisations in Australia and the West.
Peterson rightly points this out in his video.
He argues that Western culture, in general, has embraced a deviant version of Original Sin that imputes responsibility for any number of social ills (from systemic patriarchy to environmental abuse) to masculine tendencies — what he sarcastically calls “damnable male ambition”.
In response, according to Peterson, our culture attempts to inculcate men with an “extremely damaging ideology” that disillusions them and saps them of a healthy, adventurous spirit.
“… young men… have come to believe, in pain, that every deep impulse that moves them out into the world for the adventure of their life — even that impulse drawing them to women — is nothing but the manifestation of a spirit that is essentially satanic in nature.” (Peterson)
Peterson argues that this inculcation is undertaken from childhood when boys are “hectored” for their toy preferences, through to grade school, where they are trained to conform to “a docile, harmless obedience”.
“… our young people face a demoralisation that is perhaps unparalleled.” (Peterson)
In my opinion, the issue here is not the adherence to and support of a particular ideological framework (i.e., what is sometimes called “Woke” ideology), per se. Rather, it is the fact that the church is not ascribing to God the fundamental place that He deserves.
The Christian Church is now often answering to a “higher” authority than God and His Word. That authority is our culture — one dominated by neo-paganism and the institutions and structures that enforce it.
Christian faith demands so much more than secondary adherence to certain Biblical principles. As Paul points out, Christians’ whole lives are living sacrifices — totally committed to the worship and service of Christ (Romans 12:1).
We are called to be transformed by the renovation of our minds. Instead, Christians so often fall into conformity to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2).
Nevertheless, we should not dismiss the concerns raised by those who hold to Woke ideology. Often, they are tapping into a genuine concern — one that Scripture has an answer for.
John Calvin writes,
“All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.”
The Church is not obliged to reject outright all of the ideas the world presents.
Nevertheless, our authority is God. We should interpret all worldly ideas through the paradigm of a Scriptural worldview and reject anything that conflicts with His Word.
2. Low Expectations for Christian Young People
Towards the end of his video, Peterson implores Churches to welcome young people — young men in particular — back to church. He urges them: “Put up a billboard. Say, ‘Young men are welcome here’.”
“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)
Importantly, however, Peterson exhorts churches to explain to young men what they can do. “Ask more, not less, of those you are inviting,” he says. “Ask more of them than anyone ever has.”
This is significant.
I think Peterson is actually touching on what has been a weak point in the church for quite some time.
In the West, the church has increasingly become about consuming religious goods and services (to borrow a phrase from Dallas Willard). Instead, it should be about participation in the life of a holy community of Believers, a community designed to provoke Christians to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Christian community is not only about receiving; it is also about giving, and it is heartening that Peterson recognises the danger of churches having low expectations of their youth — particularly their young men.
For a long time in the West, many Christians have settled for something less than authentic Christian community.
Peterson’s call for the Church to “ask more” of those we are inviting to Christ and into Christian fellowship is timely. It stands in stark contrast to the ‘easy come; easy go’, church-shopping mentality of many Western Believers.
Thankfully, as I noted in a recent article, Australian young people seem to be increasingly likely to proactively engage with a church community. Hopefully, this trend continues.
3. Church is Not About Us
Another point that rang true from Peterson’s video was his message to sceptical young men in particular:
“What else do you have? You can abandon the churches in your cynicism and disbelief, you can say to yourself narcissistically and solipsistically, ‘the church does not express what I believe’ properly… who cares what you believe? Why is this about you? Do you even want it to be about you? What if it was about others? What if it was about your duty to the past and to the broader community that surrounds you in the present? What if it was incumbent upon you… even to live to rescue your dead father from the belly of the beast where he has always resided and to restore him to life?”
There is so much truth to what Peterson says.
Firstly, he rightly points out that the Christian focus should not be self. It should always be on others.
While Christ has died for us to reconcile us to Himself, He then calls us to be others-focused and thoroughly integrated into the life of a Christian community.
‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ was Jesus’ command (Mark 12:31). We are not commanded to hate ourselves, but the focus is nonetheless on others.
C.S. Lewis put it well:
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
Christ commanded us to be outwards-focused.
Likewise, James explains that true religion is thoroughly neighbour-centric:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27 ESV)
Secondly, and this point is perhaps lost in Peterson’s psychological perspective, the Christian life is pursued to the glory of God — not to the glory of humans. While we do Christian life for the sake of others, we ultimately do all things for the glory of God.
I cautiously suggest that the Western Church has become too self-focused in many ways.
Worship, faith, service: all of these things are God- and others-focused. They cannot long be sustained in an ego-centric, narcissistic church.
4. Attend to Some Souls — Discipleship in the Church
Some of Peterson’s final words serve as a stinging rebuke of the Western Church.
“Remind [young men] who they are, in the deepest sense, and help them become that. You’re churches… attend to some souls.” – Peterson
He urges churches to call young men — in particular — “to the highest purpose of [their] life”.
Say to young men, he advises:
“We can help fix you up, and you can help fix us up. And together, we’ll aim up.”
Attending to human souls. This is the eternal purpose of the church. Whatever happens on earth, the Body of Christ cannot be distracted from its foundational purpose.
Sadly, in many instances, it already has been.
In 2006, noted philosopher and theologian Dallas Willard published a seminal work entitled The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship.
Willard argues that the last words of the Great Commission — for Christians to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) — have been neglected by the Church. Instead of being the Great Commission, they have been “the church’s Great Omission”.
In many cases, Christian denominations, ministries and churches have neglected this command. They have instead taken one of two routes.
Firstly, some Christians have only heeded the command to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15 NIV). They have focused only on preaching and winning converts.
But converts are not disciples.
Once new believers are in church, there is no serious and intentional attempt to turn them into followers, apprentices and disciples of Jesus.
Secondly, however, and this is the more grave error, many Churches have neglected the Great Commission altogether. They have instead turned to a Social Justice Gospel that attempts to solve earthly problems without reference (or with little reference) to the eternal reality spoken of in Scripture.
While the Church should undoubtedly participate in ameliorating social ills and speaking up for justice (being salt and light), it cannot do so without preaching the whole Good News of the Christian message.
Jordan Peterson picks up these themes in his video.
Firstly, he criticises the Church for neglecting the true business of the Church by focusing on Woke causes and embracing Woke ideology.
Secondly, he highlights the Church’s true purpose: to attend to souls. Soul-formation through discipleship to Christ is the true mission of the Church.
To quote Peterson,
“That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s your holy duty. Do it. Now, before it’s too late!”
An encouraging, convicting and relevant book that I’ve found helpful is The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in Darkness by Erwin W. Lutzer. It touches on all of the themes I covered in this article. I would encourage you to grab a copy and have a read.
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Brilliant article about a brilliant video by Dr Jordan Peterson. You need to watch it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It is an amazing video!
Cody, thanks so much for sharing this, brilliant as Warwick says. Some highlights that stood out for me in Jordan’s piece:
1. Competition vs Compliance. So much of church seeks to lull us into compliance and never encourages healthy debate and competition.
2. Jordan say that the church is complicit in the idea that ‘people are a cancer on the planet’. No we are not! We are the pinnacle of God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made!
3. Our mission as Christians is ‘to live without fear’. I love this.
4. Jordan levels the accusation that Protestants are the worst at the moment in Christendom, I agree we are.
5. ‘Ask more of people in church’. There is nothing that makes someone feel valued and wanted than to be asked to contribute (more than money I mean, arguably not money!). If folks are encouraged to help in a project, lead a small group, that is, asked individually, not collectively, that really builds community and a sense of belonging.
Yes, Jordan is blunt and fired up, I believe he right to be!
Totally agree, Jim. Great observations. Although in many ways Peterson misses the heart of Christianity, he has identified some real issues that we have an opportunity to address as Christians.
Thank God for Jordan Peterson, and great work Cody – Keep it up Legends! While Peterson comes across as a little scathing, his message is actually a prophetic challenge to the Western Church (especially us Protestants – Spot on Mr Twelves! 😉
Thanks, Nat. Yes, let’s keep praying for Peterson – like I said above, I think he has still not gotten to the heart of Christianity. But he seems to be edging closer.
Nathaniel, Many thanks for your approval! Yes Jordan Peterson is such an enigma, his clarity of thought, prophetic insight and piercing oratory are a so much needed challenge for ‘the church’. God bless him! Shalom, Jim
So very relevant! What makes this even more poignant is Mr. Peterson’s obvious struggles with his faith; he’s not beyond questioning everything that we have been fed. He has, in his own way picked up his Cross.
Would that the Church take heed!
Thanks, Leonie. I agree!
I have been listening to quite a few of Jordan Peterson’s videos and can see him struggling to understand Christianity … but he does see that it’s the best thing for humanity. Praying that he let’s go completely an surrenders to God as until he does he’s not going to fully comprehend the love of God for him.
Having said that he has a lot of wisdom that I pray church leaders will take into consideration and through prayer find a way to reach the lost by the power of the Holy Spirit of God and not just strategies but love and honesty.
Amen, Anna. I agree with you.
You rightly point to the difference between convert and disciple Cody. So relevant and so overlooked.
You also address the need for those who have been converted, to also be – discipled.
It would be sooo relevant if you could in due course, speak more to this.
In the interim I believe it is as vital for us to pay attention to new converts as it is for us to pay attention to any/all new babies we bring home .
Or, run the risk of creating more fatherless families = angry devastated Christians who are open to those who appear, to value them.
Thanks, Kaylene, great thoughts.
Do you, church leader, teach your converts to “…observe all things that [Jesus has] commanded you…”?
Church leaders can’t honestly think of themselves as obedient to Christ if they do not teach their converts to “…observe all things that [Jesus has] commanded you…”
In fact, a pastor who neglects that last clause of Christ’s command is not a true shepherd, but a hireling.
Most sermons I have heard fail to serve to “…teach [disciples] to observe all things that [Jesus has] commanded you…”
A pastor who neglects that last clause of Christ’s command is not a true shepherd, but a hireling.
We get busy with responding to culture, with apologetics, philosophy, life coaching, and witnessing.
When are we taught and expected to observe all that Jesus Christ has commanded?
How are we readying ourselves to meet the Lord?