Someone last year, and I can’t recall who, recommended that I watch some of the videos on Jordan Peterson’s YouTube channel. Since my workouts include time on the treadmill, I listen to all kinds of teaching and preaching on the web. I believe my entrée to Peterson was some of his lectures on the Bible.
In the first few minutes of the “Biblical Series I: Introduction to the Idea of God,” there are several things Peterson says that will make Christians wince. He wants us to know that he sees the “…Biblical stories as if they’re a mystery, fundamentally.” He goes on to say that there “…is a lot we don’t understand about them. We don’t understand how they came about. We don’t really understand how they were put together.” Much could be said about Peterson’s need to better understand salient details about the Scriptures, but that is not germane to my reflections here.
When one watches Peterson, one is struck by his sincerity and his careful choice of words. At times Peterson seems tortured as he struggles to find the best combination of words to communicate the urgency of his concerns. Those concerns convey an earnestness which is not easy to dismiss.
Peterson doesn’t raise his voice much, though his vocal cadence is hardly monotone. Aristotle said that the merging of content (logos), proper affection (pathos), and what we would call integrity or credibility (ethos) are what make a speaker effective. Interestingly, Aristotle said an effective speaker may not truly have ethos, but his audience must at least believe he is in possession of it.
Peterson’s loyal and growing audience believes he lives in light of what he says. Indeed, Peterson’s credibility hardly looks like artifice. He seems genuinely concerned about addressing the biggest issues facing young men. Granted, young men get the bulk of Peterson’s attention, but it should be noted that there are women who equally appreciate Peterson’s call for taking responsibility and doing one’s part to reduce the suffering in this world. Peterson’s clarion call for all people to grow up and do good, is a simple one in many ways. In our confused times, it is sadly all too rare.
What draws me to listen to Peterson, notwithstanding my heavy trunk of objections to his overall worldview, is the willingness to get involved in the messy details of terribly broken people. Peterson’s own counseling has included extended care with those carrying deep wounds, the kind that don’t easily go away.
For many years, I’ve wondered where the ministers are who not only teach on, but get personally involved with socially awkward or emotionally immature people. We all know what I am talking about here. We label folks like this as “needy people.” They don’t make friends easily. They say strange things. Many times they have little common sense with the basics of manners and grooming. We steer clear because these kinds of people are “draining,” which is another label we gladly employ. Even more convicting for me personally is to admit an additional fear I have: If I reach out to those who have difficulty navigating life due to their lower social or emotional intelligence, will others assume I must be similarly inept?
I’ve heard many preachers proudly proclaim that “the gospel speaks to all of life.” Why then have I heard so little about the gospel speaking into the lives of those who are awkward socially and/or emotionally immature?
Gladly, my own minister regularly addresses all kinds of challenges of living in a terribly broken world. Forty years of exposure to many churches and parachurch ministries tells me that Pastor Peter is all too rare.
In the comment thread, I congratulated Alastair for his good words:
Well said, Alastair! I was putting together my own piece, but decided to hold off in light of your good reflections.
One thing I’ve wondered about for many years: Where are the pastors who befriend and speak into the messy lives of awkward, emotionally immature, and socially stunted (many times stuck there due to parents and grandparents who have the same problems) young men? We all know people like I’ve described, but it is terribly costly and complex to address so we steer clear. For all his heterodox ideas, Jordan Peterson is willing to engage awkward others.
From his own experience, Alastair responded with humility and gratitude:
I was one of those lost young men as an older teenager and there were mature men who spoke into my situation. It made an immense difference in my life.
You can see that I changed my mind about writing, but I certainly haven’t on the immense amount of work there is to be done in ministering to those whose awkwardness makes us run in the opposite direction.
In one of his cheeky comments, Dallas Willard liked to say that one advantage of going to church is that it gives you a great opportunity to love your enemies. Identifying with a local church also affords plenty of opportunities to befriend and encourage those who we are not naturally drawn to hanging out with!
David George Moore lives in Austin, Texas, and ministers through Two Cities Ministries. His ebook, Pooping Elephants, Mowing Weeds: What Business Gurus Failed to Tell You and his book, Get to Know Bill: the Generosity of William F. Buckley will be out this year. Dave is a regular contributor to Patheos/Jesus Creed. He also hosts an online show: www.mooreengaging.com.