And so it was that Jordan Peterson said the thing that the reformed movement was trying to avoid, and lo, they pretty much pretended he was a right wing nut job. And it might be much to their peril.
Three things have come together times rather closely together and Peterson was the emulsifier for this thinking. Those things are, the unending Mars Hill podcast, David Ayers article on American Reformer, and Peterson’s video to Christian Churches on young men.
I have for a while now been saying that the current “leaders” of the reformed movement, Or Evangelical Elites, or possibly more precisely, those who inherited the mantles from the likes of Piper, Sproul, Keller, etc. are being shown the door. They are leaders loosing their followers.* And they are pretty snide about the upcoming batch which has not entirely coalesced, but my suspicions is that Doug Wilson and his ilk (The Keller-esque one with a plan of engagement), Aaron Renn and Co. (His media tools to be TGC-ish) and it would appear Kevin DeYoung is making the transition (Your new John Piper?), will all have some level of prominence in the upcoming movement. If I had to guess I would say the kinds of alliances will be much more akin to the early days of the Emergent Church before it all kind of split into distinctive camps: Reformed and heretics. But what is missing from this picture is the guy who gets the men in, Mark Driscoll. Enter Jordan Peterson.
Now before you cry high dudgeon hear me out. Peterson is very like Driscoll, and this is not a good thing. They both have a way to communicate to young men, but also on cultural issues. It is firm, definitive, and feels authoritative; there is a lot of truth there, but also just enough un-truth to make it dangerous, Like Driscoll. For example, Peterson followed up his video with one to Muslims suggesting that muslims, orthodox Jews and Christians will share “paradise” together. It showed a shocking lack of understanding of all three faiths. And this is the kind of stuff young men are gobbling up. Again like they did with Driscoll. I don’t think Peterson is likely to go Reformed, if he is/becomes a Christian. But he will have a Driscoll like voice in the movement from inside or outside, no matter what.
David Ayers is helping bring this, for lack of a better term, “Driscoll Deficit” into specific relief. His article What’s Happening to Young Evangelical Women? pointed out the rise of a new form of Victorian sensibilities in the church that refuses to speak plainly in favor of mealy mouthed insinuation, or cloudy G rated language, or even just a refusal to address specific issues (usually justified by “rejecting pragmatism in the pulpit, or being appropriate in the pulpit). The problem is that plain talk on orthopraxy is needed. In a world of jargon speaking clearly is more necessary than ever. And evading direct communication out of empathy for a minority of people who might be hurt (triggered), offended or outraged (triggered and triggered) is not loving or kind to even that minority who also need clarity. Because the vast majority of professing christians are confused over what we believe, what we practice, and why. And for all of our talk about “gospel centered preaching” how do we justify our immature and anemic churches?
Two, of many excellent points, Ayers makes is how women are the majority of active Evangelicals, and that number is only going to grow. Which means that the future depends on clarity. But also that we are not clear:
“Even when we look only at those who claim to be more religiously committed, evangelical females are not doing that well. For example, in the most recent NSFG, among those who claim to attend church once a week or more, an incredible 14 percent of those 15 to 17 have already had sex with another female, then 11 percent at ages 18 to 22, 8 percent for those 23 to 27, then up to 12 percent at ages 28 to 32 and an astounding 16 percent for those 33 to 37. As for sexual intercourse among the unmarried, among evangelical females who attend church at least weekly, 37 percent have done so by ages 15 to 17, and well over half of those 18 to 22 and 23 to 27, respectively. Among those who are still unmarried by ages 28 to 32, and 33 to 37, the percentages are 88 and 97, respectively. How well are evangelical pastors grasping, much less responding to, these kinds of statistics among their regular church-going young people and singles?”
“Churches need to provide direct teaching on sex, including why and how God has morally tied it to covenantal, heterosexual, monogamous marriage bonds rather than its being acceptable whenever it is simply consensual, “safe,” and non-abusive. This means understanding its beauty within God’s design and perversion outside of that. Christians need to know about the true dangers and consequences of premarital sex, especially when it is promiscuous and begun at young ages. These go well beyond sexual diseases and pregnancies in ways few lay people are aware of.” – David Ayers, What’s Happening to Young Evangelical Women?
If there was one thing Driscoll did well it was to be clear on sex. Granted his conclusions were debatable, but you can not argue the clarity of his preaching on the subject. No one walked away from a sermon from him wondering if God was ok with premarital sex, or homosexuality. And more often than not they had an exhaustive theology of why to boot.
And now we come to the practical. What would be useful is for Mike Cosper to pivot The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast to examine in equal detail all of the things Driscoll did right. A pipe dream to be sure. But my reasoning is he already has the resources, contacts, and audience. And it is what we need. I am the first to admit kicking a guy when he is down is fun, but it is not edifying, and this never ending story he is weaving is starting to wear thin. I mean, even if for no other reason than to re invigorate his audience numbers have a refresh. But if we are going to learn from the failures of Mars Hill we also need to examine the successes.
My fear is that in the coming reformed wild west, Jordan Peterson is going to become something worse than Mark Driscoll ever appeared to be. He won’t have a church, but because of his Biblical and theological illiteracy he will create a million mini Driscoll’s chest thumping reformed types who flock to him for his plain talk but won’t submit to anyone else as an authority. The cohesive structures of Young Restless and Reformed will not serve in this new version, for example the big theological conference is going the way of the Dodo. This new movement will be even more decentralized, and therefore more prone to outside meddling. Driscoll brought the young men, and the young women followed. And wether you like it or not when Mars Hill was good, it was good. We need to learn from what he did right and figure out how to replicate it and do it even more faithfully. Otherwise we will have another Driscoll, and one who is not even trying to be in our camp.
*And they are dragging many well meaning pastors down with them.