Editor’s note: this article was written by Pastor Miles DeBenedictus as a response to a recent speech recorded by psychologist, professor, and public figure Jordan Peterson, entitled “A Message to Christian Churches.” You may want to watch Peterson’s initial video for context. Miles recorded his own video response, which can be seen below. We’ve converted his video into article format, so you can either watch or read his response.
Dr. Peterson. I’m a protestant pastor. I’ve heard your message.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to my response.
While I don’t think that it is entirely presumptuous of you to dare to speak to Christian Churches, I do have some thoughts in response.
Honestly, I’m glad you have something to say to the Church. In fact, I believe you’ve unwittingly been speaking a message to the Church for at least the last six years. I myself have written and spoken on what that message is. But we’ve not been listening.
We’ve not only not been listening to the message that you are sharing, but we’ve also been deaf to the message that our culture has been shouting for most of the last quarter century, if not more. Our culture has changed. That’s not saying much. Cultures are constantly changing, especially in a heterogeneous environment such as ours.
Because of the tremendous heterogeneity the internet has introduced into it over the better part of the last 30 years, our culture has slid dramatically. And the Church, which for many centuries helped form, fashion, and lead western culture, is now left choking on the dust and staring at the tail lights as culture is running away from it.
The Protestant Church in the West—or most clearly in the US—is (in many respects) a mausoleum to late twentieth-century Americanism. Baby Boomers feel right at home within its walls. It has become precisely what many of the assemblies in such churches are called: a sanctuary, or more pointedly, a sanctuary from the shifting culture.
Churchgoers in their 60s, 70s, and 80s feel right at home in such sanctuaries. It is the only place (other than some of the news they watch or listen to) where they feel “at home.” The attendance in such churches is dwindling. The children’s Sunday school classrooms haven’t seen a child in a decade or more. And funeral services outnumber weddings 50:1.
That is the story for many Protestant churches nationwide. They, and their congregations, are dying a slow death. But they’ve stayed the course and held the line! The rooms look, feel, and smell like 1982. The octogenarians in the pews feel safe and secure from the culture outside their doors. And yet, those outside their doors are the very ones they were commissioned to reach 2000 years ago.
Now while that is the story for many protestant churches nationwide, that is not the story for all. The mainline protestant churches (the Episcopal churches, the United Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches of America) long ago set out to reach the culture by becoming just like the culture. Their great awakening became a great “awokening” before “woke” was even a concept.
They, too, are nearly empty.
Their congregations are 50-something greying liberals, the last liberals brave enough to publicly call themselves “Christian.” And they’re only brave enough to identify as “Christian” because the doctrine of such churches has been so bastardized that it looks more like a Christian Science than Christian Orthodoxy.
And then, of course, there are the 21st century Protestant Churches, pastored by men who look more like me, if not a bit younger. The spectrum of such churches is quite varied. But there certainly are those (whom you seem to be addressing) who are experiencing their own great awokening. They, too, are following culture.
If the culture wants to talk about toxic masculinity, they’ll be happy to get a new tattoo that says “pacifist” and order an oat milk latte.
If the culture wants to protest police violence and white privilege, they’ll put a black tile on Instagram and do a TikTok video on their support of Black Lives.
If the culture wants to delve into issues of trans identity, they’ll add “He/Him” pronouns to their Twitter bio and post a thread on the dignity of all humans.
Their teaching is heavy on buzzwords and light on theology. It looks like nothing from John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, or Jan Hus. It tweets well but has little, if any, redeeming value.
While listening to your message (several times), I couldn’t help but think of God’s Word to the Prophet Elijah, when he despaired of life due to the sinfulness of his people and saw himself as the lone hold-out for truth. “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed.”
There are (actually) many churches in this nation (and others) that have not bowed to the toxic ideologies of our culture.
You want Churches to call out to the young men. We’ve actually been doing that for a long time. We’ll continue to do that because that’s precisely what Christ did.
But I also want to call out to you, as you have called out to us. It seems that you’ve directed a fair bit of the attention of your video to Protestant Churches. In your estimation, we’re “the worst at the moment.” Judging by some of the evidence, that may be fair. But there are a lot of Protestant Churches (like the one that I pastor) that are doing exactly what you wish they would.
And I ask, when will you darken the door of such a church?
It is one thing to post your 10-minute thesis on the proverbial Wittenberg Door… it is another thing entirely to show up at Church on a Sunday… something you’ve (apparently) been hesitant to do.
The ball is in your court, Jordan.
I would suggest that your influence on young men might even grow and be greater than it already is… if you showed up on Sunday.