Is Jordan Peterson bringing the prodigals home?

The room was divided. One half knew of Jordan Peterson. The other half had no idea who he was: 'I've never heard of him. Is he some kind of televangelist?' asked the man in the jazzy shirt.

Jordan Peterson is most definitely not some kind of televangelist. He doesn't preach on Christian radio or Christian television. He doesn't preach in Christian magazines, newspapers or bookshops, either. You won't find him at a church service and he won't be on the platform at any of the major Christian conferences. You're unlikely to find him in the pulpit of a cathedral or at a Christian festival.

Jordan Peterson was interviewed by Channel 4's Cathy Newman.Channel 4/YouTube

And yet Jordan Peterson speaks to thousands of young men about the wisdom of the Bible. Or, more accurately, thousands of young men listen to Jordan Peterson. At length. Typically they will listen to him speak for two and a half hours at a time. That's longer than any Star Wars movie.

You will find the phenomenon that is Dr Jordan B Peterson in the fast-moving world of the internet, where the videos on his YouTube channel have received more than 50 million views. He has a massive, loyal following. Peterson is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist, author and academic of some considerable note. In 2016 he drew the attention of mainstream media and YouTubers when he criticised the Canadian government's Bill C-16 because of free speech implications. In May 2017 Peterson began broadcasting a series of live theatre lectures on 'The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories'. Each lecture in the series of 11 lasts around two and half hours. They are also published as podcasts. The lectures analyse archetypal narratives in The Old Testament.

Peterson delves into the books of the Old Testament with the unbridled enthusiasm of a child in a sweetshop and the painstaking academic rigour you would expect from a professor of his calibre. He explores the stories from all angles, taking them apart and delighting in new discoveries. The reach and complexity of his emotional range is matched only by the reach and complexity of his intellect. Sometimes he'll pause before delivering a weighty, deeply felt, intensely serious, word of warning. Minutes later his focus becomes more joyful and a broad boyish smile will lift his countenance and the mood of the whole auditorium seems to shift right along with his. And young men are listening to him, in their droves.

Peterson was thrust even further into the limelight when he was interviewed by Cathy Newman on Channel 4. The robust exchange won him even more followers but he is not without his critics among the faithful, the atheists and the undecided. While some people of faith view him as a dangerous figure, many of the very moving comments on his YouTube channel clearly suggest that his lectures are engaging with unbelievers in a positive way. One young man wrote an affectionate post and revealed: 'I used to call myself an atheist.'

Susan is the mother of three grown up boys. She said: 'My eldest son turned away from the church, away from God, and away from his family. He utterly rejected Christianity as old fashioned fairy tales. He was beyond my reach, there seemed to be very little left I could do to help him. He rejected the Christian values he grew up with and went his own way. For years I prayed that God would send someone into his life who would speak wisdom. I prayed as hard as I knew how to pray.'

Things began going very badly for Susan's son and she feared for his future. 'But lately there's been a huge change in him; he's warm and affectionate towards me. Out of the blue he told me that Christian values, such as saying what is true, are very important to him. He explained that he'd been watching all of Dr Peterson's lectures and it had opened up his mind to the idea that the Bible isn't just fairy stories.'

Darren's son made no secret about the fact that he thought Christianity and going to church was just something his Nan did. Father and son drifted apart many years ago, meeting up only for birthdays and Christmas, and speaking on the phone occasionally. Feeling helpless and without influence Darren prayed that God would send someone into his son's life to help him.

A year ago Darren's son began following Peterson on YouTube and has watched every one of his online lectures and interviews several times. He has become a huge fan and advocate. Darren's son used to poke fun at his father's faith but these days he's exceptionally kind and respectful towards Darren and his church friends. Darren said: 'He's also read Dr Peterson's books which has been a mind expanding experience for him. Suddenly he seems so mature and we have a healthy dialogue as equals now. He's sharing wisdom with me and expressing great appreciation for the stability of his humble upbringing. I could never have got my son through the doors of a church to hear a message, but he does watch YouTube. God seems to be doing something on the inside of my son and I'm extremely grateful to Dr Peterson for reaching out to young men and meeting them right where they are. It's as if my prodigal is on the horizon, I can see him coming home.'

Dr Jordan B Peterson's lectures can be viewed on his YouTube channel. These stories have been used with permission but the names have been changed to protect privacy.

Val Fraser is an author and journalist. Follow her on Twitter @ValFraserAuthor.