Jordan Peterson has been going through it. The professor-turned-pop psychologist-turned-political pundit/lifestyle guru recently got dumped by Twitter after a one-sided feud with actor Elliot Page but has found new wind beneath his wings at the Daily Wire. There, Peterson has been churning out the same sort of multimedia content he built his Intellectual Dark Web brand on — a little gumbo of Hero’s Journey lifestyle framing mixed with cultural critique. He’s found an audience and that’s fine, but when Peterson steers outside of his lane, you can tell. And on Wednesday, Peterson veered well outside of his lane with this “Message to Christian Churches.” It is ridiculous.
“It is of course completely presumptuous of me to dare to write and broadcast a video entitled ‘Message to the Christian Churches’ but I’m going to do it anyway,” is how the video begins, and things do not improve from there.
After a lengthy preamble about his success as a public speaker, Peterson accurately diagnoses a sense of crisis among young men in America. He says young men are ridden by guilt, made to feel bad for playing with toy guns and ultimately blamed for all of society’s woes. Peterson paints an apocalyptic portrait of modernity in which men spend every day under the thumb of inescapable ideologies that run counter to their true nature, trapping them in an unending torrent of shame.
Now, look. One thing pretty much everyone can agree on right now is that masculinity in America is not in a great place. We might disagree on the exact diagnosis and who or what is to blame for state of things, but not many people are saying American men are just fine as is right now, thank you. Peterson spends about seven of this video’s ten-minute runtime making the case that “men are not OK” and even if you were to take issue with his journey, you can’t argue with the destination. The only question is, what does this have to do with Christian churches? He gets there at about the seven minute mark.
“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.”
OK, hold the phone here. The Christian Church is there to what now? We can all agree that modern life has a lot of pressure that is taking toll on all of us and the effects on men have been particularly difficult to understand and overcome. But Peterson’s prescription to this problem is basically the essay-length version of a “do better” tweet, offering the same grab bag of warmed over “be a real man” bravura you could find on pretty much any Facebook meme with John Wayne’s face on it. This sort of “try harder, guys!” cheerleading may be helpful for some men, but it’s not “why the Christian Church is here,” and it’s certainly not the Gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that while “outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18). In other words, Peterson says we have to do more to be good. But the call of Jesus is to be more than good. It’s to be forgiven.
This is the sort of salvation that requires humbling yourself before God and devoting yourself to another Kingdom. Whatever value might be found in Peterson’s ideas, there is literally infinitely more value in the actual mission of what the actual Christian Church is here to remind people: that God is willing and patient so that no one should perish but everyone come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). This isn’t Peterson’s message, and why would it be? He’s not a Christian, he doesn’t agree with the Christian message, so he has no reason to teach it. That’s his choice, but it follows that he should refrain from trying to contort an institution he’s rejected into the framework he’s adopted.
This isn’t to say Christians can’t learn from people who aren’t Christians. On the contrary, it would do the Church well to build more bridges and be humbly open to the general revelation God has given to all humanity. But hopefully, those people have the good sense to recognize what ideas are their own and what is actually Christianity. And when they don’t, the Church itself should have the awareness to draw those lines.
To his credit, Peterson does briefly get into some good thoughts for people resistant to the idea of church. “Why is this about you?” he asks. “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?” But since he spends so much of this message layering his own brand on top of Christian teaching, maybe he should take his own advice and ask whether or not he is making Christianity about him.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.