Crossing the Jordan
Regardless of exactly where Peterson is on his faith journey his recent ‘Message to the Christian Churches’ makes it clear he feels passionately about the role the Church should be playing in society, especially in the lives of young men. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone this impassioned on the subject since Mark Driscoll at the peak of his oratorical powers.
Don’t let that comparison put you off though: this is worth ten minutes of your time. At least, it made me laugh and cry and cheer.
Peterson frames his message by referencing his lectures on Genesis, the impact of which was remarkable, especially in their appeal to young men. He clearly feels that the strange success of those lectures gives him authority to challenge a Church that is much less effective at connecting with this demographic.
Peterson performs some quick cultural analysis: that we are plagued by western guilt, a variant of original sin, and that young men, in particular, are demoralised by this. He identifies three accusations which are made against humanity, especially in its western expression:
1. That human culture operates under an oppressive patriarchy and every element of society needs to be understood in light of these power structures.
2. That human activity is fundamentally planet despoiling.
3. That the prime contributor to 1 & 2 is “damnable male ambition”.
This is an accurate summary of the accusations levelled at our culture and they shape the culture wars we find ourselves in – either you believe they are true accusations or you reject them as false. There are very distinct sides of the Jordan on these issues.
Peterson identifies this divide as being not only political but religious, which of course it is, as everything has a religious dimension. His challenge, Will you worship the divine logos or that ‘mass murderer’ Karl Marx? Good question.
Peterson’s message (perhaps we should call it a sermon, and he’s definitely preaching for a response) crescendos with his direct appeal to the church. Remember church what you are there for. Remind the 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. Teach them to face the catastrophe of life stalwart in love and without fear. Invite the young men back! Tell them we want to call you to the highest purpose of your life. Make your life, wife, family, country, better. Join us! Together, aim up! Put up a billboard: “Young men are welcome here.”
And Peterson appeals directly to those young men too: Young men: what else do you have?! Who cares what you believe? Make it about others.
There is much about this message that I find salutary and invigorating. As I say, it made me laugh and cry and cheer. Although, without clarity about the atoning work of Christ on the cross, without a proper notion of grace, Peterson’s appeal represents only a robust Pelagianism and is therefore insufficient to deal with our most fundamental problem. Pelagianism does not offer a solution to the problem of original sin; at best it can ameliorate the symptoms, not cure the disease.
For young men to step up, take responsibility and live with a sense of purpose is, I’d suggest, wholly positive. And I’d agree with Peterson’s general thesis that what the world needs is more masculinity (properly understood), not less of it. But crossing the Jordan to a positive vision of manhood is insufficient: we need to cross over to Christ. Without grasping the power of His death and sin defeating death no amount of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps will save us.
Wherever he might be on his faith journey, the concluding statement of Peterson’s message is striking,
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.
Yes, the hour is nigh, as it always has been,
For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matt. 24:38-39)
Peterson’s message might be insufficient, but it is certainly necessary. Church, invite in the young men. Fix them up. Introduce them to Jesus. Before it’s too late.