Podcast: The Dehumanizing Habits That Social Media Has Normalized (Paul Tripp)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Why So Much Anger, Division, and Mockery?

In today's episode, Paul Tripp discusses how we as God's people should think about the reactive culture in which we live and how to make sure we're not part of the problem.

Reactivity

Paul David Tripp

Award-winning author Paul David Tripp instructs believers to view digital media and technology through the lens of the gospel and points them toward a biblical framework for communication.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

00:51 - Has Sin Been Normalized?

Matt Tully
Paul, thanks for joining me again on The Crossway Podcast.

Paul Tripp
I’m excited that we have a chance to talk.

Matt Tully
Today we’re going to talk about the reactionary—the charged—culture in which we live that surrounds us, both inside and outside the church. By my count, this is our sixth interview together. I think you hold the record for the most interviews, but in some ways this feels the most timely and the most pressing to me. Do you resonate with that feeling?

Paul Tripp
Yeah, I think, obviously, because I’m trying to write the gospel into everyday life, the gospel in the streets, I always want a book to feel current and timely. But this one addresses something that I think is this moment at a level of real importance.

Matt Tully
It’s fascinating because it is incredibly timely. It’s hard not to look around and every day feel like there’s a new person or situation or decision that we should all be outraged about. And yet this is not a new phenomenon. Since Eden, we have been reactionary beings in our sinfulness, but you do say that there is something new about our cultural moment today, that this has become more normalized than maybe ever before. I wonder if you could unpack that. In what ways has this reactionary culture normalized these tendencies?

Paul Tripp
Let’s step back a little bit. I think one of the subtle dangers of sin is that it allows us to normalize things that in God’s plan should never, ever be normal. By normalize I mean I become comfortable with it, and because I’m comfortable with it, it becomes a habit. You can see that in a marriage, for example. Five years into a marriage, you are responding in ways to your wife that you would’ve never responded when you were courting her. You’ve allowed things in that shouldn’t be normal to a marriage, and they become habits that then shape the way you respond to one another in the character of the marriage. And so I think we’ve done that. We’ve normalized anger, and anger that is less than righteous. I think there are things going on in our culture that I should feel righteous in indignation for, but let’s think about this. God’s love is never compromised by his anger, and his anger never diminishes his love. So this anger that we’re expressing is something different than righteous anger. We have normalized disrespect. There are things that I read that are so disrespectful that it hurts me, and it’s not even directed at me. I was reading somebody’s Twitter feed that I really respect, and somebody just typed in “Bro, shut up.” And I go, do you know what this person is? Do you know how God has used him in so many lives? Do you know what he stands for? A normalization of a subtle sometimes and often not so subtle self-righteousness. I’m always on the high road. I’m always right. I always have a wiser thing to say. I always have a better solution. Now, none of those things are true of anybody, but that feeling of I’m on the high road and I’m looking down is never going to take you anywhere good. I think that’s a big deal. I think the normalization of vengeful responses—Because you’ve said something that makes me angry, I’m going to hurt you. Not just disagree with you. I’m going to hurt you. The normalization of the love of controversy. Why do we love controversy? Controversy should hurt us. It should make us sad. We should pray with Christ that the church would be one as the Trinity is one. That’s the goal, instead of, Wow! Here’s some division. Yeah! And everybody piles on. And then the normalization of this tribalism: I got a team and I’m going to defend my team and I’m going to go after your team. In Ephesians 4, when Paul gets done laying out the gospel, and he starts talking about living out the gospel, one of the first things he talks about is doing everything he can to preserve unity. I think we have allowed things to become habits of relationship, habits of identity, habits of response that are sinful, destructive, harmful. They become normal for us. Now, normal means this, and this is what’s really important to say: It means I don’t feel bad about them anymore.They don’t plague my conscience anymore. I don’t feel the need to say to that person, Would you forgive me? I shouldn’t have responded that way anymore.

06:31 - The Role of Social Media

Matt Tully
So what role has social media and the Internet played in this normalization that we’re seeing around us?

Paul Tripp
Because it’s easier in a digital environment where I’m not actually in real relationship with you to do these despicable things. A person can literally hit fifteen sites in an hour, participate in harmful communication on every one of those sites—tribalism, jumping into controversy, vengeance, anger, whatever—close their computer and walk away.

Matt Tully
And I think most of us, as Christians, we are only ever on one side of that. We might be posting things and engaging in that, but we’re not necessarily receiving that. You kind of have to have a certain kind of prominence or platform, like someone like yourself. You’re seeing stuff directed at you all the time. I wonder if you could just give us a little insight into the kinds of things that you’ve experienced and that you’ve seen come your way that you would say fall into this category.

Paul Tripp
Fairly recently, and it was just a response to a gospel tweet—and my tweets aren’t always going to be perfect. They don’t always perfectly express what I’d like to express. Some of them I understand could be misunderstood. I am surely a less than perfect instrument, and I live with the huge burden of this huge platform. So all of my imperfections have a wide audience.

Matt Tully
So, it does feel like a burden sometimes to you?

Paul Tripp
The burden isn’t that people are going to respond negatively. It’s the burden of my responsibility to God to represent him well. I don’t really care what people think about me. If you bring me God’s word and you’re concerned about something in my life, I’m going to submit and listen. But other than that, I don’t care. But someone just said, “Just shut it down. Retire.” That’s not, Could you clarify? That’s not, I think I disagree. That’s meant to hurt, because I don’t gain anything from that. I don’t get any help. If what I posted was less than helpful, you haven’t helped me at all. And you’ve just punched me in the nose. I’ve experienced that not infrequently.

Matt Tully
Do you find that it’s hard for you not to sometimes want to respond in kind?

Paul Tripp
By God’s grace, it’s not a temptation at all. I early realized that social media is a tool. If I have a screwdriver in my hands, I can build something with it or repair something with it, or I can stab you in the chest. And I decided I was going to be a builder and repairer and I would never do anything else. I made that commitment from the very first post that I made. This was a way that human beings were going to communicate to one another, and because it was a platform for human communication, I wanted to use a platform for the gospel, and I would not respond to that stuff. I just wouldn’t.

09:57 - What’s behind Anger-Driven Responses?

Matt Tully
So let’s dig into what this reactive culture tends to look like in its expressions, the different overlapping ways that we express this sinful reactivity in our lives. I have a few of them that you highlight in the book that I wanted to walk through, and the first is maybe kind of the baseline, foundational that we see: the anger. The anger-driven responses that then are expressed in a variety of ways. You write in the book, “We are mad, and we are about to let you know it.” Do you think that anger is a big problem in the church? I think we think of that maybe in the broader context, but do you see that as a particularly problematic issue for Christians?

Paul Tripp
Oh, I do. But I want to say something about this. I don’t think that’s the bottom. I think the bottom is self-centeredness, but let me explain. If I’m self-centered, then I’m in the middle of my world and nothing is more important to me than what I think and what I feel. Now, if that’s where you are, you’re going to be offended all over the place because the world wasn’t designed to agree with you. The world wasn’t designed to do your bidding. The world wasn’t designed to make you happy. The world wasn’t designed to make you comfortable. The world was designed for God and to give glory to him so that humanity would serve him. So that will never work. And I think the more that we’ve gotten away from that God-centered worldview, what always replaces God is self, and the more we just have a culture of constantly offended, constantly angry people. I get it. If I hadn’t been rescued by God’s grace, if he weren’t central in my heart, I’d be one of those. As an illustration of this culture, I was standing in Philadelphia waiting for public transportation. I’m looking down. I don’t know why I was looking down. The guy standing next to me said, “Dude, you got a problem with my shoes? You want something from me?” And I said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t even looking at your shoes. I was just looking down for some reason.” There it is. I mean, there’s a person who is angry, but the anger is all about me. You can’t even look at my shoes without me being offended and thinking somehow that’s an action of criticism.

Matt Tully
It seems like with anger, and maybe especially the kind that you see online oftentimes—the kind that is attached to someone’s viewpoint or someone’s opinion—that there is almost this enjoying of being angry. There’s this relishing of feeling angry and upset all the time. Is that a dynamic that you’ve noticed, and how do you explain that?

Paul Tripp
Sure. Anger is powerful. It’s fulfilling because it’s self-righteous. Blowing off steam is enjoyable. I get the attraction of that, the sort of evil attraction of anger. When you silence somebody, that feels powerful. And when you walk away saying, I’m right, they’re wrong,
and I let them have it
, that feels incredibly righteous. I mean, we just need to say this: there are payoffs to sin. The Bible talks about the pleasure of sin for a season. So, anger has its payoffs. That’s one of the ugly draws of sin is that there’s pleasure to be found there.

13:46 - Disagreement and Disrespect

Matt Tully
All of these are so related and interconnected and not mutually exclusive, but another propensity that you highlight is our tendency to respond disrespectfully to one another. You write, “The level of cruelty, dismissiveness, and downright mockery that lives on Twitter (and
other social media sites) within the Christian community is breathtaking and disheartening.” So that’s another question I have. Help us understand why it is that we so often pair disagreement—maybe legitimate, valid disagreement—with disrespect?

Paul Tripp
The way you said that, and I’m not criticizing your question here, but sort of depicts intentionality. I don’t think it’s there. I think I respond that way because I don’t respect you.

Paul Tripp
I didn’t walk into this relationship respecting you. And this is an aspect of the over-personalization of disagreement. I believe that I should be able to disagree with you but respect you, if for no other reason that you’re made in the image of God. And I want to treat you with some dignity. But I think that, again, is something that’s just broken down. So, rather than respect being something I offer you, we are in a culture where you don’t get any of that stuff from me unless you earn it. Now, you combine that with centeredness and you have, You earn it by agreeing with me. You earn it by doing things that I like. And so the combination is pretty deadly. So it means that we can’t have, in a proper sense of this, toe-to-toe discussions of things that mean something that are important because they degenerate into things that are harmful. Does that make sense? So, there are high stake things that we need to talk about. What could be more significant than just our understanding of the theology of God’s word and how we apply it to everyday life. You can’t have those conversations unless you grant respect, because they degenerate into personal attacks. And at that point, content’s gone, the helpfulness is gone, the learning is gone, the wisdom is gone. We’re not helping one another. And we surely don’t walk out of that conversation with greater awareness, greater standing.

Matt Tully
Do you think Christians owe each other a certain higher level of respect than we even owe other people just because they’re humans? Is there a certain baseline of respect that Christians should be giving to one another?

Paul Tripp
Well, the apostle Paul answers that question. His call for us to be completely humble, be gentle, bear with one another in love, keep the unity of what? The Spirit. What he’s saying is because the Spirit of God lives inside of this other guy, I have hope for him. I think good things could happen in him, so I approach him with that rather than with, He’s whatever. With expectancy, with hope, because literally the presence of almighty God is with that person. If that doesn’t change the way that we relate to one another, what in the world will? Paul isn’t saying, Look, just make good things happen between you. He’s saying there’s something that’s already happened, that the God who is in you is the God who is in him. And that should change the whole way you think about how you relate to one another.

Matt Tully
But my sense is that that doesn’t even cross our minds in those moments. It’s kind of to the point you made earlier that it’s not that we’re intentionally ignoring that, it’s that we don’t even think of that fact that the Spirit of almighty God is actually inside that person, that they are redeemed children of God just like me. That doesn’t even cross my mind in that moment.

Paul Tripp
So let me speak to that biblically. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks of speaking the truth in love. He’s not saying be truthful lovingly. He’s talking about the truth, because in that passage he says that we haven’t all reached unity of the faith. We have unity in the Spirit, but we haven’t yet reached unity of faith. That’s a process. That process is still going on. We’re still unpacking what we believe. So he’s saying you have to speak the truth in love. Now, what he’s saying is love shouldn’t compromise your ability to speak pointedly about truth. And truth should not be compromised by your commitment to love. In fact, he’s saying it’s only truth in relationship that will actually create communication that will actually lead to unity in matters of the faith. It is literally the truth together in relationship. At the end of chapter 3 he says we’ll understand the love of God together with all the saints. The hermeneutic of understanding—the way we keep interpreting and keep interpreting until we fully understand—is to be done in community. If you destroy community, you’ll never get there.

19:36 - A Love of Controversy

Matt Tully
The last dynamic I wanted to talk about was the love of controversy, which you argue is what causes us to view others not as community, not as part of our community, but as prey—prey that can be hunted and killed. Unpack the mindset. Help us get into the mind of the person who loves controversy.

Paul Tripp
This sounds weird, but I think life is a hunt. It’s the same evil thing in us that means we love the salacious Hollywood story. It’s the same reason we love gossip, because we get a charge out of knowing and then jumping in. I don’t find joy in the hunt and then jumping into the controversy. I want to be a builder. I want to be a repairer. I want to be a restorer, because that’s what my Redeemer is doing. He is ultimately going to make everything new, and there won’t be any more controversy. There will be peace and righteousness forever and ever. Do I think that we’re always going to agree on everything? No, I don’t. But to find joy in jumping into the thing and adding my part and watching this thing get bigger and bigger and sucking in more people, and that somehow is fulfilling to me is moving in the exact opposite of the way the redemptive story is going.

Matt Tully
You’ve talked a little bit about how love is supposed to be tempering, or held together, with this love for the truth. A few times in the book you reference Jesus’s famous words in John 13, that the world will know that we are his disciples by our love for one another. But I guess one response that some Christians might have to that is they might think to themselves, *Here we go again. That’s yet another example of using that verse and that idea from Scripture to justify maybe being too soft or too weak or too cowardly to stand against unsound theology or a bad political ideas or compromised morality. How would you respond to that idea that all of this language can sort of be a cover for maybe just not being courageous to stand up to things?

Paul Tripp
I would just say the cross, the cross, the cross. The perfect, unstoppable, transforming love of God meant that Jesus had to die, because love calls sin, sin. Love calls falsehood, falsehood. Love names evil as evil. If it doesn’t, it’s not love. If your view of love is that it’s this weak, wimpy, permissive thing that just lets things go like, Oh, that’s okay. You can believe what’s not true, and you can make terrible decisions in your life. That’s okay. You would never read the Bible and conclude that God’s love is permissive, ever. Or, the redemptive narrative wouldn’t ever march toward a cross. Jesus had to die because sin is real and God hates it. But that cross is also a perfect expression of his love. And so I just don’t understand the definition of love that says, Well, in this generation that’s not gonna work. There’s no place in God’s narrative, looking at the evil that’s in his world, where he thought, I just should abandon my love and just live in a state of anger. Never.

Matt Tully
It seems like it all comes down to motivations and why it is that we’re trying to engage in these controversies or responding to people in a certain way. That’s the problem for us Christians is we tell ourselves and we justify to ourselves that what I’m really doing here is standing up for the truth. I’m really being bold.

Paul Tripp
Some of the boldest things that have been said to me that I needed to hear, places where people said to me, You are wrong or said to me, What you’re doing is wrong, I was able to hear because of the love with which those things were communicated. I had no trouble understanding what was being said to me because it was clear. But I could look in the face of that person and say, This person loves me. And what does that love do? It softened my heart because it was hard for me to say this person was being mean, ugly, or vengeful, because that was not anything in the context that was happening. And I’m so very thankful for those moments. I could go back and name those moments in my life that were transforming. So, in those moments it was a combination of righteous anger and beautiful, transforming love that God used to change me.

25:16 - Three Steps to Dealing with a Culture of Outrage

Matt Tully
That’s a great segue into the question, What is the answer to this problem? You say that this hair trigger, dysfunctional culture of communication that we are all seeing around us has infected and even stained the church. And so what do we do? How do we start to untangle the mess that we’re in?

Paul Tripp
There are a couple steps here. First, don’t let the culture and the character of the world be your culture and character. That’s surely happened on social media. I can see the progressive change of that influence instead of Christian social media influence in the world the other way around. But I think this is important to say to my brothers and sisters: this thing that we’re talking about is not hard to solve. We don’t need a social media model because the gospel gives it to us. If we live in relationship with one another in every communication, the gospel that we say we believe, this thing would not be there. Let’s just take one thing. Let’s just take the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus died so it could be my potential. And what the Spirit is now working in me, if you just took that list, the nastiness, the toxic reactivity of Christian culture media would end. Now, I don’t have the power to produce that, but it’s the fruit of the Spirit. And so the first step is we recognize the world’s culture is wrong. We need to recognize the gospel forms for us a culture. The second step is to humbly admit that I’m not there. Often, my communication does not rise to the level of what the Spirit of God is seeking to produce in me. So, the final step is we need to cry out for help. We need help. We need God’s help. And what Paul trip needs to be rescued from is not Twitter trolls. What Paul trip needs to be rescued from is Paul Tripp. And that’s a rescue I can’t provide for myself.

[00:27:41]
Matt Tully
And Paul, you’ve you’ve testified to that before, but I wonder if you could, briefly as a final question, share a little bit about that story, about how God has rescued you from a reactive type of mindset that had a hold on you.

Paul Tripp
There are a couple of things I could say. I was once in my life destroying my life, my marriage, and my ministry because I was such an angry person. I didn’t see it. I would deny it. I would feel hurt when somebody pointed it out, but I was angry and it was growing. God did place in front of me somebody who knew me, somebody who loved me, who God used to expose that anger for what it was. I’m very thankful. I’ll say another thing: I’m naturally an impatient person. My dear wife jokingly says that I do everything in my life as fast as I could possibly do it. That’s true, and I don’t know why. But it is a miracle in my life of God’s goodness to me that I work hard at being patient and being appreciative and being grateful and willing to wait and express those things to others. The fact that I ever do that is an argument for the power of God. And so it’s possible for us to get to a better place. If you would’ve met me at 30, you would’ve said, This guy’s gonna be a social media mess. And the fact that that’s not where I am is an argument for there is hope for us because God cares.

Matt Tully
And I would imagine that that process, the process of being confronted, the process of having that sin exposed, and then working every day to put it to death, is painful. Testify to that. How hard has it been, how hard it is, but then what is the joy? What is the blessing that comes from that that you’ve seen in your own life?

Paul Tripp
The everyday struggle I have to live consistently what I write is mortifying. I wish I could just hand you the Reactivity book and say, Read this. I’m good at this. And I I’m very aware that sometimes, although I haven’t hit the keyboard, there are vile thoughts in my mind that I should not have for another human being. Now, fortunately, God’s given me the grace not to express those things, but they shouldn’t even be there. So, I’m not free of this struggle at all. People will think this is just something that a writer says, but I wrote this book because I need it too. And I needed every confronting thing in the book. I needed every gospel reminder in the book because I haven’t arrived yet. I’m not a grace graduate by any means.

Matt Tully
Paul, thank you so much for helping each of us to evaluate our own hearts and think about these issues, to think about the ways that we, as you said, whether we are posting something on Twitter or just thinking in our minds about our spouse, we all need this reminder, and we need the gospel to help us to control ourselves on this front.

Paul Tripp
Thanks. I’m glad we could talk.


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