Patrick Miller joins to talk about why Christians should value truth over their tribe, how to talk about politics with family and friends, why Jesus was “political,” and how to avoid fear in our post-truth culture.
Patrick Miller begins by discussing his podcast, Truth Over Tribe, why it was started, and how it’s become so successful (1:47). Then, he talks about writing the book, and how he learned how tribalism can be a good thing in its proper place, in addition to why it’s so dangerous (7:45). They turn to consider the loss of common ground and truth in our culture (16:47). They explore the importance of love in a post-truth culture, how to talk about politics, and how the left and right can be relativistic (21:00). Miller moves to talk about why Jesus was “political” (33:13). He then turns to focus on how Christian the state should be, and why we don’t need to worry (41:29). They close by talking about the way we should use social media redemptively (50:48).
Resources and further reading:
- Truth Over Tribe – Podcast
- Truth Over Tribe – Patrick Miller, Keith Simon
- “What does the Bible say about politics” – Jim Denison
- “Peace in Politics: How to reduce anxiety during the 2022 midterms: A conversation with Josh Miller” – Podcast
- “In ‘post-truth’ politics, how can we distinguish truth from falsehood?” – Steve Yount
- How tribal are you? – Quiz
About the hosts
Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
Mark Legg is the Associate Editor for Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University in 2021 with a degree in Philosophy and Biblical Studies.
About the guest
Pastor, Co-Director of Digital Relationships. Patrick Miller has called Columbia home since 2006. He met his wife, Emily, at Mizzou, where they both completed their undergrads. Together they have two children. Patrick started following Jesus his Freshman year of college after getting connected to The Crossing. He joined the Veritas college ministry staff team in 2010, helped co-direct the ministry in 2015, and became the Director of Crossing Twenties in 2017. He graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary in 2018 and was ordained as pastor shortly after. Patrick leads the Digital Relationships Team, co-hosts Truth Over Tribe, Ten Minute Bible Talks, leads two Covenant Seminary cohorts, and teaches Men’s and Women’s Bible studies.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:09
Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Mark Turman, Executive Director at Denison Forum back for another conversation. We’re going to talk about truth over tribe. And I’m here with my co host, Mark legg. Good morning, Mark. Good morning, Mark. Yeah, we got a we are remarkable, aren’t we? Yes. Yes, we are. We’ve passed a law here at our organization. Nobody else can be hired who has a name that sounds like, yes, that’s great. It can be no more marks. And we are joined today by Patrick Miller, who is one of the CO pastors at the crossing church in Columbia, Missouri. Patrick, welcome to the podcast.
Patrick Miller 00:47
Thank you so much for having me. I love opening a podcast with a good Mark lark.
Mark Turman 00:52
Oh, no, you’re not one of those kindred spirit people that’s going to take us down that road, are you?
Patrick Miller 00:57
Well, I am a dad. So these kinds of jokes come to me naturally. Oh, okay.
Mark Turman 01:00
Yeah. Well, I just so you know, we have a co worker here that likes to refer to us as the Remarkables. So if you would do that for the rest of the podcast, we’d be grateful.
Mark Legg 01:10
Yeah, we’ve already used the remarkable joke once. So I think we can I think we can’t do it anymore on the podcast.
Patrick Miller 01:19
I don’t know, my cause he has this running joke that I went to a private school, which I did not do and he is beat that thing into a bloody pulp of a horse and will not stop. So you know, I think you keep going with it. If it if it works, run with it.
Mark Turman 01:33
Well, I get a sense that you are way more experienced at podcasting than Mark and I are. You have a podcast? Tell us. Tell us a little bit about the truth over tribe podcast just as a starting place? Maybe?
Patrick Miller 01:47
Yeah, absolutely. We started truth over tribe a little over a year ago. And we’re both pastors, we’re not academics. We what we realized, though, at the time was that as pastors, we were being asked different kinds of questions than we were asked five or 10 years ago, five or 10 years ago, people would ask us questions about baptism, you know, should you baptize infants or not? They’d ask questions about predestination or election or God’s sovereignty. And I really kind of miss those days when people ask me those kinds of questions, because they don’t ask them any more. Now, the kinds of questions they’re asking are, what’s your view on CRT? What’s your view of Donald Trump? How do you respond to the LGBTQ agenda? And I think that in a lot of ways, those are sincere questions. But as we sought to answer them, what we began to discover was that for many people, they didn’t want Jesus’s answer. They didn’t want the Sermon on the Mount. What they really wanted were the scriptural pages of the New York Times or The sermonizing, maybe of Tucker Carlson, they, they wanted us to pare it their favorite media personality. And when we refuse to do that, it caused all different kinds of problems. And our church. And I kind of saw that as a failure in discipleship that we had a real paucity of good content that was helping sincere Christians to navigate this political world. And I think we didn’t have it because we didn’t want to offend people, we didn’t want to put obstructions in front of the gospel like political talk. But the net result was that Christians, they didn’t cease to be disciple and said they were being discipled, largely by media. And so that was really the heart behind the podcast was, can we talk about these political cultural issues in a Jesus honoring way? So with kindness and gentleness? And can we do it in a way that that foregrounds Jesus’s Kingdom ethics and backgrounds, or maybe the partisan ethics that people tend to get stuck in. And so that was really the genesis of the podcast. And in a lot of ways, it’s also the heart behind our book, we’re not very creative. So everything’s called Truth over tribe. Victory over tribe is very much the exact same part. That’s it. I will say this, the book is less about politics. We’re not trying to convince someone to become a Republican or a Democrat or anything like that. It’s more about how can we help our churches become less tribal? How can we help our churches be places where there is some maybe political diversity, where you can feel welcome whether you voted on the left, or you voted on the right, and we wrote that book, in part, because that’s actually what our church is. Missouri is a Republican state, we consistently vote for Republicans. But we live in a college town. So as you can imagine, a lot of our town is actually progressive or on the left. And that meant that our church was always a mix of those two things. People were in small groups together who voted for different precedents, people were worshipping alongside one another, who voted for different state senators. And so that’s always been at the heart of what our church was. And we thought it was really beautiful, because where else can those kinds of people come together in this world, when Jesus structures your reality, you can put those things into the background, they become less important, what becomes more important is what we have in common, which is that he died for our sins and that we will be raised again with him. And the resurrection. I mean, isn’t that far more profound than we voted for the same person? And so that’s really the heart behind both the book and the podcast.
Mark Turman 04:47
Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s, that’s a great way to get started. But let me back up and give the formal introduction to Patrick Miller. Just so people can kind of color in the lines a little bit and then Patrick, you can add to this any which way you Want to. But you told me a little bit ago that you’re a native of Missouri. Patrick Miller is pastor and also a cultural commentator who writes about politics, culture and technology. We might even get into that area. Eventually. He has contributed articles to Christianity Today, Newsweek, the Gospel coalition and other publications. As he just mentioned, truth over tribe is his podcast along with his co author and CO pastor Keith Simon, one of Apple’s top rated news commentary podcasts. It features interviews with Christian thinkers, writers scholars, Patrick received a master of divinity from covenant Theological Seminary, and pastors as he said, a politically diverse church called The Crossing in Colombia. He is married to Emily and they have most importantly, two children, right? They are the two best children on the planet. I’m sure
Patrick Miller 05:54
they 100% Or there’s nothing wrong with those kids at all.
Mark Turman 05:57
Which means they’re still preschoolers, right? Yes, yes. Well, first grader and
Patrick Miller 06:01
a preschooler, you know, I’m dreading once they become teenagers. I don’t know how I’ll manage that.
Mark Turman 06:05
All right, since he’s not here, and we can blame him for everything. Give us the elevator speech on your co pastor and co author Keith Simon.
Patrick Miller 06:14
Well, Keith co founded the crossing with our other co lead pastor, Dave Kovar, and they founded the church really, along the same lines that I just laid out, they wanted a church that was going to welcome people to meet Jesus. And that’s been at the heart of the crossing. We’re a church that emphasizes process where a church that says, You don’t have to have your whole life together. And you can come here, even if you have doubts, even if you’re a skeptic. And what we’ve seen is I mean, this, this church has led to the conversions of I mean, really 1000s of people since it launched 20 years ago. And that’s, that’s, again, really at the heart of what we’re saying, inside of the book, and what’s the heart of our churches, we want to make disciples of all the nations. And to do that you have to have a place that isn’t politically syncretized, that that doesn’t just match up with one political ideology. Because the minute you do that, you’re going to turn people away from the gospel.
Mark Turman 07:04
Mark Legg 07:05
So do you think when you started this book, when you started writing it, were the things that you came to realize in the process of writing it that you didn’t see already? pastoring? What were What did you have some unique insights from the book? And then, yeah, why don’t we I want to kind of start there, because it’s, there’s, I’m sure that there’s a lot of pastoral experience that went into this book that I saw when I read it. But there’s also the, you know, unique insight that you get from studying something like this. So in depth to actually write it.
Patrick Miller 07:45
Yeah, I feel like I learned so much in the process of writing this book. One of the things that I discovered was that there’s there’s a huge amount of writing right now on tribalism, why humans are tribal, how our particular cultural moment has become so tribal. But those books tend to be by academics. And that’s where they tend to start, that’s where they tend to end. And we realized that there was a real need here for a book that was going to speak to everyday people using everyday illustrations, everyday applications written in a conversational tone. And that was really the heart of writing this was we wanted to give people something where they would walk away and say, I have real action steps in my life comm then they come from the way of Jesus, of how to turn down the temperature on political conversations on political tribalism in my church, build bridges with people who aren’t like me. You know, one of the things I felt like I learned in the midst of this was you write a book that is ostensibly, essentially the anti tribalism book, let’s not be tribal. But what I learned in the process was that really no one is anti tribal, we all have tribalistic tendencies. And I actually think that God hardwired this into us for good reasons. If you think about the world before Genesis three, the tribal desire to belong, to sacrifice for the tribe, to give of yourself for your neighbor, that’s a really beautiful, wonderful thing. But in a after Genesis three world that metastasizes into the desire to exclude, to kick people out to, to demonize to attack. And what I discovered was that Jesus, he really established a brand new kind of tribe. And I hesitate to call it a try, because it’s so other than the other kinds of tribes out there. Because his tribe is the only tribe where there are no ethnic boundary markers. There’s no one who’s kept out of his tribe, everybody is invited to be a part of his tribe. It doesn’t matter what your sexuality is, no matter what your gender is, what your nationality or ethnicity is, no, no one stays the same once they come into the tribe, but everybody is welcomed into this tribe. And the other thing is that normal tribes, at least in a Genesis three world, they want to attack others, they want to win, they want to be the top tribe. But Jesus launches the first tribe in human history that says one of our chief goals is to love other tribes is to put other tribes first and so yes, I’m going to kind of learn in the process was I am a tribal is but I only get one choice which tribe am I going to join? And if you join the Jesus tribe, you join the only tribe that doesn’t exclude and you go and you join the only tribe that is for others.
Mark Turman 10:09
And I noticed there’s some indications that you put in the book, as I’m sure this came in your research about that neuroscience actually affirms this kind of innate, built in hardwired tribalism, right.
Patrick Miller 10:24
Yeah. And I really kind of had to wrestle with that. Because, again, if you think tribalism is just a Genesis three reality, you kind of have a hard time, when you start reading all of this social psychology that’s suggesting that it’s actually hardwired into us. And that’s part of why I laid out a theological vision. In fact, let me explain that a little bit. There’s something called oxytocin. That’s the love drug. This is what a mother’s brain releases when she sees her baby for the first time. It’s also what the baby’s brain releases whenever the mother is holding the baby. It’s what you feel when you’re with your love. And it’s what you’re missing when you feel like the love has gone out. And oxytocin is also what’s released. When you get military people and they’re marching in lockstep together, it releases oxytocin in your brain, when we worship together, it releases oxytocin in your brain, if you go to a rave, and everybody’s dancing together, it releases oxytocin in your brain. And so the thought of these researchers, a guy named Carsten Drew, was if we just put more oxytocin into the water, maybe we can end tribalism, because when you have more oxytocin, you’re more self sacrificial. I mean, maybe that’ll solve the problem. And so what he did was he had a test, and he had a group of men. And he put oxytocin into their noses. So he infused them with oxytocin, and there was a control group as well. And he discovered that the group that had the oxytocin was, in fact, more self sacrificial, they were willing to give for one another. But here’s the disturbing part, he also discovered that they were more antagonistic towards outsiders. And so oxytocin is the tribal drug. It’s what makes you love group insiders. And it’s what makes you want to attack group outsiders. And that’s again, why I think we have to have a robust theology of tribalism in saying that God gave oxytocin for the good side of things for the self sacrifice for the love for the sense of belonging. But when you live in a Genesis three world, you get the bad side of things where it becomes this antagonistic attacking of others chemical in your brain.
Mark Turman 12:10
So just so I’m clear, if I found some oxytocin’s people would like the way I dance, including my wife, is that what you’re telling me? Or she could have the exact opposite and current reality, which is to try to get me to stop dancing as fast as possible? Is that what I’m supposed to take away from this point?
Patrick Miller 12:31
Well, you know, Mark, there’s only one way to find out.
Mark Legg 12:34
Something that makes me think of is, when you talked about a mother bonding with its baby? Right? What, what immediately came to my mind was, what is something that a mother will fight over? Like, one of the most dangerous things is a mother protecting her baby? Right? You think about like the oxytocin that your disgust like that. Think about like a mother bear. You know, that’s when most bear attacks happen is when you get in between a mother bear and her cub, right, like, so just thinking about that aggression. Like, it makes sense that I think as men, we can feel this way, especially it’s true of everyone, but like I just said, mothers, but for men, it feels like, Okay, I need to protect my family. Like that same if I’m correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like there’s that same approach that same feeling. So it makes sense why it extends a little bit farther out to into our tribe, but in a familial sense, like I would do anything to protect my wife, you know. And so if that happens to be aggression, and that’s what I feel needs to happen, then it makes sense why something that seems like it’s so loving, could be, could lead to that.
Patrick Miller 13:53
Well, and along those lines, it shows why tribalism can be so dangerous, because it turns out, it doesn’t take much to flip on the tribal strip, the tribal switch in the human brain. There was another researcher Henri Taj Vall, who was trying to figure out he came out of Nazi Germany, he was Jewish, and he’s trying to figure out what happened there. How did all these Germans become convinced that the right thing to do was the Holocaust? And so he’s he’s trying to understand tribalism at the root of it. And so he creates this experiment. And he begins with a way to kind of see this at a minimum viable product. And his goal is to add conditions over time to see at what point do adults start becoming tribal? Like, what do you need to do to flip that switch? And so his base level experiment was this he puts all of these people into a room, and he gives them a board that’s full of dots. And he asks them all to estimate the amount of dots on the board. And then the researchers they randomly assign these people not not based on what they actually selected. They just randomly assign the people into overestimated groups or underestimated group and they divide them up and at the end of it, they bring in people from each group and they ask them, okay, you have you have you have two choices. Everybody can get $3 or your group can get $2 in the other group can get $1. Now, the rational thing here is to take the $3, everybody makes more money, why wouldn’t you take the $3? Over 70% of adults pick the second option, they took the $2. And the other team gets $1. Why? Because we want to win. Again, it turns out he was shocked by this because he thought surely when it comes to over estimating and under estimating dots, people are not going to get tribal over something that dumb. But the reality is we do, it doesn’t matter if it starts, it doesn’t matter if it’s sports teams, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a debate over whether a hot dog is a is a sandwich or not like it really doesn’t matter humans, we seem to become tribal, over the very, very smallest things. And so to your point, it’s one thing to have a dad who wants to protect his family. I mean, I’d had this happened last night, I was sitting in my living room, and it was dark outside. And my wife said, I see a flashlight in our backyard. And so I immediately go into the kitchen, I grabbed my Maglite I walk out there, I flashed the flashlight on the guy and I say, who are you? What are you doing? You know, and it turns out, it was the kid across the street who lost the ball and was just looking for it. So it was totally, you know, just just to illustrate just to illustrate the point, that fear was the right response in the moment. But once I realized it was just the neighbor kid looking for a ball that he lost. If I stayed in that place of like tribal defensive anxiety, you know, I could do something awful to him. And of course, I wouldn’t want to do that thing to him. And so again, this highlights where when when we get to this tribal mindset, sometimes we end up doing things that are really out of balance with the offense, you know, we’re putting a $10 penalty on a $2 fence. And so again, I think I think that’s why tribalism especially political tribalism can be so dangerous, especially inside the church, which is called the love it’s,
Mark Turman 16:47
yeah, it’s such a powerful thing. Like I said that the upside of it, the power, the positive side of it is something God seems to have put into us but but sin has twisted his martyrs warped it right and causes it to start acting in in destructive ways. But kind of syncing Patrick, kind of the spirit of, of what the crossing is all about the book and the podcast kind of all dovetailing together. One thing she talks about is, hey, we wanted to be, we found ourselves not being and then we wanted to be in a place where people with different views, beliefs, practices, could all try to coalesce together for the common good. Here’s one of the questions if we back the train up practically pretty far from standpoint is, okay, well, where does this start? If you can’t have an agreement about what the definition of common good is? Where did where do you? Where do you begin when, because, you know, we talk a lot about you’ve probably heard Dr. Dennison, talk about how we now look at truth, everybody looks at truth as being personal and subjective. And so even the ability to get to this place of a definition of common good is becoming more elusive, and then feeding right into this tribal nature that we have. So where did you guys start to struggle with that? Or how Have y’all worked with that?
Patrick Miller 18:16
Yeah, we have a whole chapter on this topic about the loss of truth. And it is one of the I think, the unique challenges that we’re facing in the present that perhaps wasn’t present in tribal battles of the past. So if you go back to the election of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and you read some of the political ads, these guys put out about each other, they were awful. In fact, they make the stuff we do today look, you know, pretty nice. They were writing terrible things about each other. But here’s what they shared in common. They both believed in a capital T truth. In other words, there were some shared realities, there were some shared truth. And now they were debating about what that truth was, but they weren’t debating about the concept of truth, they weren’t debating about the idea of it. And that’s really the difference I think we’re living in now is that we’re beginning to see people, I would say action on both the left and the right, who are increasingly living in their own relativistic truth chambers, I think your listeners probably will be able to see that a little more clearly, with people on the left. Sometimes it’s harder to see with people on the right. But I would talk about things like conspiracy theories and Q anon. If you if you have a loved one who is invested in a conspiracy theory, there’s almost no way for you to confront them. Because the minute you say, you disagree, you are now outside of the circle of trust. And when you get outside of that circle, there’s nothing you can say to convince them because you don’t understand. And the exact same thing happens on the left, where again, they have this kind of internal circle of trust. And once you get outside of it, you lose your voice you can’t speak in and when you have these two groups of people who both are living in these highly relativistic visions of truth, my truth is the only truth no one can disconfirm me if you try to disconfirm me It proves that you’re wrong, which is circular watching. What ends up happening is coercion. Because in the absence of persuasion, when you cannot have have common ground, the only thing you have is an arm wrestling match. All you have is majority rule. And again, this is incredibly, at least for Christians, anti Christian, and Romans 14 Five, Paul says that each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. He’s saying that Christians should change people through persuasion. But persuasion is really hard when someone gets locked into one of these relativistic truth chambers. Now, again, you’re asking the question, well, how do you deal with that? And unfortunately, you try to persuade people, that’s often ineffective, I find that actually the best approach to dealing with someone who’s locked into one of these truth chambers is relative to chambers, is instead to show them radical beauty, radical goodness, radical kindness, generosity, listening, if your life is such that it convinces them to give you a hearing, that’s the only way you’re gonna break in because the fact that you’re not a part of their tribe makes you de facto wrong. There is no disconfirmation for them. So you have to have a different tack. It can’t be, I’m going to argue you into the truth.
Mark Turman 21:00
Yeah. Patrick, I love what you were saying. I was listening to another Christian commentator yesterday, he was talking about that when when people get locked into these kind of echo chambers of of where they think somebody is credible, and it and it’s really become very, very, very personal from a standpoint of its families. It’s it now even going into the holiday season and a couple of months, it’s like, okay, well, how are we going to handle conversations at the Thanksgiving dinner table again, right, because maybe last year or two years ago, it was some kind of a really bad kind of bloodbath, of relational conflict over, because one of the things, you know, I’ve experienced in my relationships is, is that people who used to never pay attention to a lot of these things have been energized, in a way that, I mean, for decades of knowing them, they were not in any way interested in all this, they might want to talk about something about sports teams, they might want to talk about the economy, they always wanted to talk about their kids, usually, but they never wanted to talk about a lot of these things. And now they’re just hyper energized around it. But anyway, this commentator I was listened to yesterday said, Look, when you realize that you’re not going to be able to persuade by simple, you know, logical rational conversation and and argument, if you will, that the his his immediate response was, the first thing is, how much time are you spending with this person? Because the more time that you spend with them, the more opportunity there is to build credibility across the bridges of just simply caring and kindness. Right. Is that, is that kind of what you’re talking about?
Patrick Miller 22:51
Yeah, I think so. And one thing I would add to this is, there are some really easy ways to determine how locked in someone is to one of these echo chambers, because you don’t just want to assume, I mean, if you’re talking to somebody who’s believing conspiracy theory, they actually still might be open to reason. And so two questions that I love to ask people. The first one is this, on a scale of one to 10? One being not confident at all, and 10? Being very confident, I’m absolutely certain would be 10? How confident are you about the perspective that you have, if they give you a nine or a 10, you are not going to be able to convince them, they are not open to this confirmation. A second question that I like to ask people is what kind of evidence could I give you that would convince you that your perspective is wrong? And again, if they say there’s no evidence, you could give me some great examples. This was that we had, we were doing a series on kind of the religious right and and we brought on a guy named Greg walk. He’s a pastor in Nashville, who’s become CNN favorite pastor, because he’s just bombastic and he says awful things. But I wanted to interview him just guess perspective and isn’t really humanizing interview, I learned a lot from him. I actually ended up liking him in some ways, even though we disagree vehemently on some things. That said, at the end, we were talking about COVID, and things around that. And I asked him those questions. I said, How certain are you about your perspective on this? And he looked at me and he goes, I’m not a 10. I’m a 10 to the 20. Oh, bro. So that told me there’s nothing I said, Is there any evidence I could give you that would convince you? He goes, No, there’s no evidence you can give me that would convince me. And so I knew from that point forward, this is not someone who is rational. This is not someone who is reasonable. This is a relativist. That is by definition, relativism, your truth is the ultimate truth and there is no convincing you. And when I’m in those kinds of scenarios, I am I’m very quick to disengage. In fact, the best thing you can do is actually show and model the kind of behavior that you would like in return. So if they’re going on a rant and they say something that actually convinces you, I go, You know what, that’s an interesting perspective. I can hear that if you can show them what it looks like to say, hey, that actually changed my mind. It may sometimes Do we get fearful like if I say that I’m going to give them too much ground, you’re not trying to win a debate, you’re trying to win a person. So model for them the kind of behavior that you would like them to show you in return. And then like you said, if you have relational time with them, show kindness, show generosity show a different way of being in the world, and pray that God’s Spirit would actually convict them of their relativism and of the way that they’re thinking about things
Mark Turman 25:23
on this. This, we may be stumbling, you know, kind of in the territory of Solomon, nothing new under the sun, and that there were a generation or two ago, maybe even further that kind of realized these kinds of dynamics. And that’s where this whole idea of look, when you get together with people you don’t see very often just don’t talk about religion and politics. That may have been where this idea came from, right?
Patrick Miller 25:48
Yeah, I’m just one of those people where there’s only so much I can talk about, you know, weather and kids sports and what happened in the NFL, before I start getting really bored. I want to have these kinds of interesting conversations. But if I’m talking to a moral relativist to a tribal, this will only listen to people in his or her own tribe. That’s not going to be a fruitful conversation. The net result will almost inevitably be relational hurt in the long
Mark Legg 26:10
Yeah. And along those, I think this could be helpful to explore more for our listeners, because I think some people in their minds think of openness or open mindedness as more relativistic. But what’s fascinating about what you just said, is that it’s almost the opposite where certainty becomes relativistic. Because there’s an indication of if you’re so certain about something, it must be purely from something internal. And I love that question asking about evidence because it asks, if there is something external that convinces you otherwise, would you change your mind? And if they say, No, then that is relativistic. But I think exploring that because, because I think that there could be this, you know, misunderstanding of relativism, that says, you know, open mindedness is because there’s a difference between being open minded to the truth and being the way people use that phrase, open minded, you know, and I just curious,
Patrick Miller 27:13
I mean, open mindedness I think becomes relativistic when CS Lewis had this image of someone who sees through everything, and seeing nothing at all right, where you’re so open minded, that you can’t land. In other words on that, that that one to 10 Confidence scale, being a one is not a win either on everything. That’s a different form of relativism, it’s just not the form that we’re dealing with. And here would be the case for saying that being a 10, on lots of things is relativistic, it comes from this, God created an objective world, I am a subject, I don’t know everything, I don’t have the corner on all of the truth out there. There is an objective world outside of me that God created, and God wants me to be in conversation with that world, that world has to have in some, in some ways, a right to correct me when my search, my subjective perception is wrong. And when I start saying that the objective world outside of me that God created can’t correct me, I’ve now said that my Subjective Truth is the ultimate truth. And again, that’s the definition of relativism. And this is what you’re going to see in the conspiracy theory bowels is what you’re going to see when people start fighting over the science of COVID. And this and that, I mean, that you see it on both sides. I’m not saying this isn’t one way or the other, you’re just gonna see it on both sides. Is this kind of my truth is the ultimate truth, my tribe has the ultimate truth and there is no objective reality that can disconfirm it.
Mark Turman 28:31
It’s, it’s what we talk about is kind of saying in a different way, right, is that you get to that place where I’m so real, I’m so much into my relativism that I just think that history begins with me. It all history begins with me. But in the, in the book, Patrick, you talk about this metaphor of the elephant and the rider can you kind of describe the metaphor and then unpack it for us a little bit? What do you what are you getting out there?
Patrick Miller 28:59
Yeah, so we take that that metaphor, a little parable from a social psychologist named Jonathan Hite he wrote the righteous mind and the coddling of the American mind to absolutely excellent books if I could say something
Mark Turman 29:10
and and and correct me if I’m wrong, he’s not a believer, right? He’s not a Christian, right? No, no, he’s
Patrick Miller 29:16
he’s not he’s he’s an atheist. What’s fascinating is that he wrote the righteous mind as a response to the new atheist who were saying that religion only leads to culture wide society wide destruction. And he said, Actually, you’re
Mark Turman 29:29
totally wrong. Richard Dawkins, Peter Singer type group that that group.
Patrick Miller 29:36
He was rejecting their perspective and saying, no, actually, religion is really good for society. And in fact, if you take out religion, if you take religious belief out of society, there are some moral foundations to how we think about morality that we lose in the process. Now, I don’t know how he squares the circle of being an atheist and saying those things but that’s what the bucket is about. I’ll leave that for John. But in a different book he has called the happiness hypothesis. He says, He tells a parable of a elephant writer and this elephant writer wakes up one morning, he decides, I’m going to go visit my aunt. And so he climbs on top of his elephant, and he starts telling the elephant where to go. But the elephant being the elephant doesn’t want to go anywhere at all. And then off into the distance, the elephant sees a tree with some nice fruit and starts walking towards it. Well, precisely at that exact same moment, the writer had hit the elephant and said, Let’s go. And so the writer thinks, ah, see, I’m in control of the elephant, I made the elephant get up and go. As the journey continues going forward, he gets to a fork in the road. If it goes right, he goes to his aunt’s house where he intended to go, it goes to the left, he goes to his mom’s house. And when the elephant gets to the fork in the road, he takes a left and takes the rider to his mom’s house. And when he arrives at his mom’s house, his mom says, What are you doing here today, I thought, you’re gonna go visit your aunt. And the writer responds to his mom says, Well, I was going to go visit my aunt. But when I got to the fork in the road, I decided that I wanted to see you instead. Now, the point of the parable is to say that the human heart our desires, our loves, that’s the elephant and the human mind, the rational mind is the writer. And the rational minds job in many ways, is to rationalize what the heart wants. The heart wants, what the heart wants. I mean, Blaise Pascal talks a lot about this. And this is something that I think sometimes Christians miss because we have a tendency at times to treat the rational mind as though it’s not fallen. But that’s not what Jeremiah says, Jeremiah says that the heart is sick. And because the heart included both our thinking and our feeling that it’s deceitful. In other words, our minds can be deceived. And so one of the problems is that your elephant your heart, it loves tribalism. It wants to belong in a group, it will always given the opportunity run towards the tribal option over the more honest option. And so you’re in a tough place, because that means your rational minds job is to justify the tribalism that your heart wants. And we do this in a lot of different ways. We talked in the book about how we do it as the politician or the preacher or, or the or the litigator. The politician is someone who justifies what the heart wants, by word policing other people like, oh, I want what I want, because it’s the kind thing because it’s the best thing and it’s, it’s winning people by you know, saying, Hey, this is this is the right thing. And in that sense, the preacher, it rationalizes what the elephant wants. Morally, it says this is the correct thing to do. This is the upright thing to do. And the litigator is the is the is when the rational mind starts arguing the rational case, I want this for all of these rational reasons. And why it’s important to know this about yourself that the heart wants, what the heart wants. And by the way the heart is largely in charge is that it tells you that the only way that you’re going to leave tribalism behind is by changing your loves. Your your rational mind is going to justify all different kinds of things. And I’m not saying that the rational mind has no part to play. I’m not trying to minimize it. But I’m saying more fundamentally, this is this was Augustine has great insight, that sin is just disordered love. It’s when you love something more than you should. And that’s exactly what Crescenzi we have to have correctly ordered loves in our heart. And when your elephant wants and loves the right thing, your rational mind becomes this amazing tool for truth telling. But if your elephant loves the wrong things, your rational mind becomes an amazing tool for deceit,
Mark Legg 33:13
man. Yeah. And I had the immediate temptation, which I’m sure pretty much anyone who’s listening can relate to, which is, oh, that’s other people, other people do. Proceed to rationalize how I don’t do that, you know? No, but it’s it’s really good to, I think, know yourself, according to those categories is really interesting. And I’d recommend people to read the book for that it was those three little buckets of kinds of ways we rationalize or, yeah, cover up what our heart desires. So I guess, one question, at this point, I feel a little cynical about that, like, and as you mentioned, we mentioned earlier how, with the holidays coming up, a lot of people in the past have ignored it or wanted to stay away from it. And maybe that’s going to be true in the holidays this year, because of how polarizing everything is. But considering how it seems very hopeless, especially with people who are stuck in this relativistic position, or these echo chambers, you know, we could delve into all those it’s take us hours and hours to talk about those things, but just as far as practical steps for holidays, you know, is it even worth talking about politics? Should we be a political in our churches? You talk about that in the book, too. What are your thoughts on that?
Patrick Miller 34:43
Yeah, you know, we in some ways are going to run against the grain of a lot of people who are talking about the same stuff. There’s a fantastic book out so I don’t say it’s a critique. There’s a fantastic book out by Andy Stanley called not in it to win it and he’s saying a lot of the same things as us the one of the major differences between what Andy said As in what we say is, for Andy, the goal of the church is to win souls. And I don’t disagree that the goal of the church is to evangelize and bring people to Jesus. That is one of our missions. However, I have a more maybe robust view of what the church is called to do that we are called to be renew errs and restores of God’s created world and that God, Jesus’s prayer, your kingdom come on Earth, as in Heaven, is only actualized through Christians obeying his way and being faithful to him. One of the ways I’ve tried to illustrate this is by pointing out that the Gospel itself is a political message. And what I mean when I say that, so back in nine BC says, before Jesus was born, there was an inscription that was written celebrating Augustus Caesar, the Caesar at the time of Jesus’s birth. And this inscription describes Caesar, as the Son of God. It says, this is the good news or the gospel is literally the Greek word for gospel. This is the gospel of the birth of, of Augustus Caesar, who who has brought salvation to the world, who is a bringer of peace, who is Lord who is the Son of God. So this is before Jesus was ever born. And when you realize that there was a gospel of Augustus Caesar, and now all of a sudden you have this Jewish rabbi going through ancient Israel, pronouncing a good news of a different Lord have a different Son of God, you begin to understand why this guy was crucified, because his message was terribly offensive to the Roman regime. And that’s exactly why by the way, early Christians were martyred because they refuse to give their hearts deepest allegiance to Caesar, they would not pledge allegiance to Caesar. Instead, they pledge their allegiance to Jesus. And so when we talk about the term gospel, we have to realize that was actually a very political term, it has a political vision. But Jesus, when I say political people think I’m talking about partisan politics. Jesus’s politic isn’t about partisan politics. Look, the guy’s on the throne of heaven, getting a job in the Oval Office would be a major downgrade. He’s got a better job. Right? Jesus is politic. What I mean, when I say that is a politic is is is classically, the way in which we organize society, how we deal with offenses, how we treat sex and sexuality, how we organize families. That’s these are the classical kinds of questions that politics deal with. And Jesus has something to say about all of these things. And so the key for me isn’t avoiding maybe it’s avoiding the partisan conversations. But I don’t think we need to avoid the political conversation. If the political conversation entails how do we love our enemies? How do we organize our families? How do we treat our sex lives? These kinds of fundamental questions that we need to explore? So I don’t know if that fully answers your question. But that’s what I like to do is generally sidestep the partisan conversation, and instead talk about hey, we’re followers of Jesus, He gave us the Sermon on the Mount. He’s, he’s given us our church, that’s kind of constitution. How do we live that out right now.
Mark Turman 37:58
And you know, in Wiltshire, what you’re driving makes me think about how and how we do that, understanding that we’re not the only group in the world that we’re living around a bunch of people who don’t embrace the perspective that what we generally talk about as a biblical worldview or a biblical perspective. They don’t, they’re not looking through that lens. And so they don’t see the world the way we see it. They don’t see human nature, the way we’ve been talking about it this morning on this podcast, they they don’t, they don’t think that some people, some of them don’t even think there is such a thing as sin. And that, that, that we have a, as Jeremiah said, a broken heart and a wickedly deceived heart. They they’re thinking No, whatever’s in my heart is good. And it’s just there. And it should be what is in everybody’s heart. And so we have to try to come to to this idea of this politic this, you know, I think the word policy comes from the word city or how, how are we? How are we going to occupy this planet, this house or this neighborhood together? How are we going to do that? When some of us have very, very different understandings and views? You know, it’s just listening to Jonathan Hyde, just in your comments about him. It’s like, okay, wait a minute, an atheist is canceling another atheist. How does that work? Right. But that’s kind of what goes on at all these different levels. But we have to have these conversations, we have to have these conversations about how we’re going to do this. Otherwise, we’re going to have to just all go to neutral corners, you know, out in the wild prairie of Missouri or somewhere else, and just living in communes and hope that we don’t encounter each other or bump into each other, which is simply not going to happen any in any way.
Patrick Miller 39:51
The Amish option. Well, and I would say this, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. And the second is like this to love your neighbor as yourself. And politics is part of how we love our neighbor. If you love your neighbor, you should seek their good and their welfare. Our calling is to create Shalom. Now, the major difference I think, between a Jesus’s approach to how we do this and maybe how we’re seeing a lot of the culture warriors try and do this is that Jesus trained us in the way of exile. In my view, Jesus, who was Jesus couldn’t vote and and wrote and Roman election if those were he wasn’t a Roman citizen. He saw himself as an exile Peter, when he writes to Roman citizens living in Turkey, he calls them exiles as well. And when you start thinking about yourself as an exile, it reframes your goal. My goal is personally not to take America back for God, my goal is to be like Daniel, to do my job with faithfulness, with excellence, such that the king sees the goodness of my work and elevates, gives gives you influence over time. But I’m not calling for power, a different way of framing, this would be the Lord of the Rings, the difference between Boromir and Faramir. You know, Boromir says he wants the ring of power because he believes if I take the Ring of Power, then I’ll do something good with it. Of course, the problem is everyone who takes the Ring of Power doesn’t doesn’t use it for good. Instead, they’re transformed by it into a monster. And then there’s fair Amir who refuses to take the Ring of Power and his father critiques him for this as if we had the Ring of Power. We could actually fight Mordor and now our city has is falling. And fair me understands. I can’t hold that ring. The only one who is equipped to hold the ring is the one who doesn’t want it.
Mark Turman 41:29
Yeah. So that so now you’re down a road that I think really a lot of Christians struggle to understand. Okay, because what, what I think Christians are not clear about is Okay, where am I actually living? Am I living in? I’m not leaving living in Eden. That’s clear, it doesn’t take very long to realize I’m not living in Eden. But I am headed to a new creation, God has promised that there is this new kingdom, that is the ultimate reality that is coming and is a calling that is in front of us, that is inviting us to, to this perfectly renewed place that’s coming, okay. But okay, so where am I? Am I in the theodicy of King David’s ultimate time when he was at the pinnacle of his success before he goes off the rails and? and Israel? Is this, you know, in some way, at least at the pinnacle of their the Odyssey success? Okay. Is that where we are? Or am I Daniel, living as an exile carried into to a foreign land? And I need to try to be faithful in that context? Or is the Church Age something more like, either David’s, you know, Pinnacle place? Or is it more like Daniel, which one? Is it? Or is it something? Is it something still other than that? And we’re supposed to, you know, am I supposed to simply be Daniel, or am I suppose to help rebuild a theodicy within the context of my country? And I think there’s a lot of confusion about, okay, what should be our immediate, historical, theological goal? Knowing that, okay, well, we’re not going to get to the ultimate goal until Jesus comes back or we die to go and deal with him. So what is my perspective? Or is it some of all of that?
Patrick Miller 43:29
I think, I think it’s one of the key questions that Christians are wrestling with. And you said earlier that some of us think that history began when we were born. And we have to understand that America has a long and interesting and actually very diverse history of how of how American Christians have oriented themselves around this question, you go all the way back to the days of John Winthrop, where he talked about God making a covenant with the New Englanders in that colony to establish a city on a hill. Now, I actually find that really problematic for several reasons. Reason number one is a lot of the verses he used were applied to Israel, and we aren’t to Israel. So I think we have to make a firm difference. The second thing is that where were those promises to Israel are apply. They’re continually applied not to a state, but to a church. So when Peter calls people, exiles, and First Peter, one, three, later on in chapter two, he picks up the language of Exodus 19, and he calls the church, a holy nation. That’s what God called Israel. And so Peter is clearly saying the church is now that holy nation that God has established. Well, the church is not the state. And so and so that’s why I have some problems with the idea of God making a special covenant with a state because you’re taking what God gave to the church, and you’re trying to give it to a regime. That’s a huge problem. And if you’re a conservative who doesn’t believe in big government, I mean, I just I don’t I don’t understand how you can hold that together. And so for me, that’s why I would argue that the metaphors the New Testament gives us for how we orient to ourselves, and society are largely metaphors of exile. The church should be for the shalom of its society. The church is not called I don’t think to be the rulers of society, there was a very famous House of Representatives person, I won’t name her who very publicly said that the church should rule the state. And I thought, well, that is a really strange tape, because that does not seem to be the aspirations. And the question is, well, why wasn’t that the aspirations of the New Testament church? Because Jesus already reigns. The fundamental problem is that again, I’m reformed. So I’ll just say this, I believe in God’s sovereignty. And because I believe that God is sovereign and sitting on the throne, I just don’t get really bent out of shape. When culture doesn’t look exactly the way I think I know how the story ends, I know who’s really in charge, this time is temporary. And if I see it as a temporary time, I can live loosely to the changing mores of culture, realizing that the Sovereign King he will do with it what he wants, what he needs me to do is obey Him, to love my enemies to speak with gentleness to do my job with excellence, to speak truth to power when the time comes. But to always do it with gentleness and respect. That’s what he needs. And whatever the results are at the end of that of me doing that it might be me being thrown into the lion’s den or me being thrown into prison, or it might be Christians being elevated into higher political office, whatever the results are, I don’t have to worry about the results. He is still in charge. He’s got it under control. I need to I need not fear.
Mark Legg 46:27
Yeah. So can you speak a little bit more into that not worrying? Because I’ve we’ve talked about this on the podcast before. Well, how is this perspective? How does it allow us to not worry when we realize that Jesus is on the throne? And how could that potentially open us up to being more open to the truth and less grounded or less controlled by kind of tribal politics?
Patrick Miller 47:00
I think that that fear is often the guiding star behind much of what is characterizing the culture war on the left and the right, I’m not saying just Christians in general, people are terrified of the idea that their vision of justice or the common good, won’t have supremacy in some fashion. And so everyone is out of fear, clawing at getting the power so that they can state their version of reality. And this, by the way, is one reason why I think Christians should embrace liberalism. I don’t mean, being a Democrat, I mean, the idea of liberalism, which is that a state should be run with majority power, minority rights, that we should have free speech, a public public square, where all can share their ideas. One reason why I think we should be very for that is in part because we’re not afraid we know who’s sitting on the throne. So we’re going to be okay, in the end. But the other reason is, if we take power, and then we use that power to enforce our vision of the good in the state, when we lose power, and someone else comes in, who’s coming from a very different worldview and perspective, we’ve now created the scaffolding for them to create absolute tyranny. I don’t want to live under tyranny. And again, this, this happens throughout history. There’s a great book called How democracies die. And in it, they say the way democracies die, it starts at the ballot box, when people elect those who are often demagogues who use their emergency executive powers to state a state of emergency and take power for themselves. And they often do this again, this is the ring they do in the name of the common good, I got the ring of power, I can do it. And and then what ends up happening is they shut down the press, they they shut down free speech, they begin to control it often leads to actual, you know, genocidal murder in many cases. This is the history of Russia. It’s a history of China, I can go through example, after example, why in the world are Christians following the example of Stalin or Mao Zedong? I mean, that is insanity. To me, I don’t have to worry about ruling, because I already know who rules if I can just be faithful. We’ll see what happens. God, God will put us there. So I don’t know if I if I answered your question about about fear. Exactly. I just I find in my own light, the less fearful I am, the less defensive I am, the more kind I am the more I’m able to walk in the way of Jesus. That’s what I want to do. I want to walk in the way of Jesus. Jesus said, don’t worry about what you’re gonna wear. Don’t worry, I’m maybe maybe they say, Hey, don’t don’t worry about who got
Mark Turman 49:30
into the pedis, you know, and it’s, it’s where we all live because I think, I think fundamentally, I think when I think about our common human nature, the reality of it is is after Genesis three, we have all become control freaks. And we’re and we’re all anxious about the uncertainty we’re and we’re uncomfortable with the mystery of life and not knowing everything. And so the way we try to address our uncertainty and the anxiety we feel over it is to try Gotta get control, you know, had a leader in my church who would say, you know, hey, I just I will be a benevolent dictator, if they if they will let me be in charge, I will be a benevolent dictator. And we, we all say, well, we don’t want to, we don’t want to live under a dictator, unless we get to be the dictator, you know, unless we get to be the king, then you know, we will handle the power, well, we will use it rightly we will handle it well, as you said earlier.
Patrick Miller 50:26
And that Jesus in the temptation from from the devil, I mean, the devil literally offers him the kingdoms of the world. And Jesus, if anyone was able to say yes to that somehow and use it, well, it was Jesus. He says, no, no, he rejects the offer. And so again, I’m like, man, if Jesus says no to this, maybe I’m not mature enough and wise enough to handle it myself.
Mark Turman 50:48
And, and, you know, just thinking about what you said a minute ago is, is Jesus in that moment, saying no, because he already has that position? He doesn’t have to have it. And he doesn’t have to receive it from the devil on his terms, because it’s already his anyway. Yes. And he’s going to show him what it looks like. Okay. So Petra, gorgeous, fabulous, fabulous conversation, I think that will be helpful and would love to carry it on some more. But in the time that we have left one, one kind of final big picture and practical question for you. You’ve written in the book and in in in other places, you’ve talked about technology, social media, talk, just briefly, we all kind of know that this is going on about how think, you know, people will access this podcast by technology. So we can’t just throw all technology in the trash can as being the big evil, right. But talk a little bit about technology, specifically about social media as a driver of this. And then some of the redemptive ways that you and Keith are trying to guide people under your care in the crossing. How how do we redeem our relationship and use of social media technology particularly?
Patrick Miller 52:00
Yeah, I’ll begin just by pointing in a few different directions. There’s a great piece in compact magazine by a guy named John Ashkenaz called Why conservativism has failed. And he essentially makes the argument that conservatives are fixated on getting into arguments with progressives because they think that they’ve won the war for the mind. But he actually makes the case that No, technology is what’s one and technology liquidates tradition, that technology tends to eviscerate what traditional ways of life existed prior to it. And he makes the case that what Christians need to do is constantly reinvigorate re energize their institutions to work within the new technological realities that they’re living in. And that’s what I would say, well, we have seen is that technology really has destroyed tradition. If you go back to 2005, when Facebook is launching, and you look at what Christians were saying, at the time, they were often saying this is a novelty. For teenagers, no one’s gonna take this stuff seriously. It’s not going anywhere. And so kind of out of nobility, we just ignored social media. Well, if you fast forward the clock another 1012 years later, what ended up happening, there were trolls of foreign agents that created troll farms. And these troll farms created Facebook pages targeted at Christians, an MIT Technology Review piece actually showed that 19 of the top 20 Christian Facebook pages as of I think 2019 or 2020, were run by foreign troll farms 19 of the top 20. This is over 100 million Christians who are consuming this content. Now nine out of the 10 things that they would post on these pages was just kind of normal Christian bible verses that kind of thing. But one of the 10 was always conspiracy theory. It was misinformation. And it was designed to destabilize democracy. Now the reason why they decided to go after Christians was because Christians weren’t doing enough on social media, there was a real there’s a real avoid of Christian content on Facebook. So they said, Oh, here’s a huge demographic that we can totally own. And we can totally control and they came in, and they used it for nefarious purposes. So as I look at how, how social media is polarizing us how the algorithm is incentivizing outrage, when I look at it and say Christians, we can’t disengage, we see what happens when we disengage, the enemy will fill in that gap. Instead, what we need to do is redemptive ly engage, or maybe even subversively engage. And so for me, this is where technology really comes into play. It’s Christians taking seriously the call to understand how this technology works, and then utilize it to reach people with the gospel. We do a ton of stuff at our church with technology to reach especially the church people. So people haven’t gone to church at all in last few years. And we are seeing I mean, quite literally over the last few years, well over 1000 people who stopped going to church, they’ve started coming to church because of what we were doing online to reach them. Now to me, that’s a subversive redemptive use of technology. And so that’s where I would just encourage Christians is saying, yes, technology has caused a lot of social unraveling, but the answer is not to run away from it. The answer is to dive in to understand it and then to use it for the sake of the good. The Holy Spirit is not limited to an analog network, the Holy Spirit really can work through digital networks it can work through, or he can work through digital technologies, just as he’s done with the radio, just as He did with the printing press. There’s nothing new here. We simply need to trust him and then go out in his, in his ways and uses technology for good,
Mark Turman 55:16
or what a what a good word. We know we talk a lot about praying for and pursuing that God would bring the next great awakening. And Dr. Dennison recently said, you know, what if that next great awakening is largely a digital experience, right?
Patrick Miller 55:34
I think it’ll be a lot if you talk to here’s a great example the church is blowing up in Iran right now, most people don’t realize that. If you go and you talk to an Iranian, who’s a recent disciple of Jesus, and you say, Hey, who’s been discipling? You? How have you been? discipled? There’s a good chance, odds are they will say I’ve been being discipled over zoom.
Mark Turman 55:51
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s, that’s the reality is right, is that we’re from 2005 2007, Thomas Friedman says that, you know, cloud computing and broadband capacity is like the discovery of fire, right? Is that powerful, and is going to be that prevalent. And so this is a reality that’s not going away. And the social experiment that started back in 2005 2007, is the reality now we have gone almost two decades, and the digital world is discipling at a scale in a pace, unlike anything that we’ve ever seen it, we’re being discipled by it, or by the people that are coming through it. Right. And, and that’s not necessarily all bad in the same way that the Gutenberg Gutenberg Press wasn’t all It wasn’t bad, except to the extent that people used it to spread deception in some ways, right. But, but that’s, that’s the reality, and how Christians do what Christians have often done, which is to use these things as they come along in the most redemptive ways. And in to unleash God’s goodness through them in every way that we can. Patrick, thank you so much for the conversation, the book, the podcast, and probably sounds like a whole lot more from Patrick and Keith, our truth over tribe and giving your greatest allegiance to the King of all kings, Jesus as our Savior and Lord Patrick, thank you so much for the conversation. We hope to have you on and have a little bit more conversation down the
Patrick Miller 57:26
road. All right, happy to come back anytime. It’s been great chatting with you both.
Mark Turman 57:30
All right, have a great day in Missouri. And we hope that if this podcast has been it’s been useful to you that you will use it that you will share it that you will rate it and that that will help other people find this as well. Thanks for being a part of the Denison Forum Podcast today.