California governor Gavin Newsom made headlines earlier this month when he expressed concern his son was listening to the likes of Dr. Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan, calling the bestselling author and speaker and popular podcaster part of a “micro-cult” of the so-called radical right.

“I say micro-cults because I don’t know if there’s a better way to describe it,” Newsom told Bloomberg. “My son is asking me about Andrew Tate, Jordan Peterson. And then immediately he’s talking about Joe Rogan. And I’m like, here it is, the pathway.”

By “pathway” Newsom is referring to the fear his son will somehow be radicalized by what he’s listening and watching.

Writing in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the American Reformer, a Protestant nonprofit group, suggests why Newsom’s son – and millions like him – are drawn to these types of personalities:

 “What they have in common is that they’re finding a receptive audience among teenage boys and young men with a genuine desire for direction that isn’t being served by the hollowed-out institutions of traditional society,” Renn reflects. “Mainstream institutions and authorities — churches, schools, academia, the media — could learn a few things from the online gurus about how to speak to young men effectively.”

In suggesting these institutions might consider how to talk to teenagers, Mr. Renn is being gracious and generous.

The fact of the matter is that in far too many cases, these entities aren’t addressing these hot button issues at all.

Children growing up in homes without a father, or with dads who are emotionally distant, will naturally seek to fill that longing or void with someone or something. What they don’t know or hear, they will often make up.

It should also be noted that in times of chaos and upheaval, kids are especially drawn to strengthen and clarity. Of course, this can be helpful and positive if the source is healthy and biblical – but disastrous if it’s the exact opposite. Wishy washy personalities don’t make it online or on-air so it’s no wonder the strongly opinionated are making the hottest headlines and having the most influence.

All things checking out, Mr. Renn rightly sees the upside to teenagers rounding out their influences with inspirational and aspirational people and resources. But he also challenges pastors to perhaps consider crafting their messages in a way that they’re more likely to appeal to teenage boys and young men.

For example, he quotes our pastor friend, Matt Chandler, “Godliness is sexy to godly people.” He then quotes Jordan Peterson, “Girls are attracted to boys who win status contests with other boys.”

“Which rings truer to you?” he asks.

To be sure, both statements can be true, one being biblical and the other being one take on how many young people think.

As the father of a Christian teenager who regularly listens to Dr. Jordan Peterson, it makes sense why our son finds him so appealing. This counsel, while very secular, is still quite solid:

“The goal for young people should be to turn themselves into a person who stands up straight, who pays attention, who can think, who can speak and who can act in relationship to the highest good.”

Amen, Dr. Peterson.

As it is, there are countless pastors and youth leaders who pour themselves into making spiritual and emotional connections with young men a priority. As parents, we’re deeply indebted to them. But could tactics or communication be improved? Always. No doubt. In an ever-changing culture, how we minister will inevitably change with times and technology.


Photo from Getty.