#thosepeople - Our Problem with Tribalism (Reactivity Episode 6)

This article is part of the Reactivity: Rethinking Social Media with Paul Tripp series.


In this episode, Paul Tripp talks about our culture of tribalism in which we associate primarily with those who agree with us and find it easier to react to anyone who isn't in that group, and he discusses how the gospel calls us to think about who we are in a completely different way.

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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.

One of the ruling cultural dynamics in social media that I think, as we’ve said already, bleeds over into our everyday relationships is this culture of tribalism. I’m associated with a group of people who think like me and react like me, and at all costs I will defend my tribe. I’m closed to the thinking of other tribes. That is so incredibly different than the way the Bible and the gospel would have us think about who we are. I’m part of two communities. I’m part of the larger human community, for which I should be very, very thankful, and I am part of the more distinct redemptive community. Both communities are made up of people from different ethnicities, different cultures, and different ways of thinking. And that’s why there is such a powerful call in the New Testament to be committed to unity, because the differences among us are God’s choice. God put me in this community of all kinds of different people, thinking all kinds of different things. This is the address where he’s chosen me to live. How am I going to learn and how am I going to grow if I just exist in this silo of one tribe?

What this culture of reactivity does is, because it’s a dangerous culture and people are taking shots, I tend to run to my tribe. I find comfort in the people that I agree with. But because we now have this tribal commitment, we tend to be reactive toward people who are different from us. And so reactivity stimulates tribalism, tribalism stimulates reactivity, and that cycle just increases and grows.

There’s a reason why these terms are afloat among us—groupthink, echo chamber—because that’s what’s happening. In tribalism, I don’t get my thinking challenged; I just get reinforcement because the people I’m with, I’m with because they are saying the same things I say. In fact, at times they’re saying them in the same way that I’m saying them. That’s not a recipe for growth. That’s not a recipe for challenge. That’s not a recipe for personal reflection. That’s not a recipe for confessing that I was wrong. It’s just a recipe of the hardening of opinion and the hardening of confidence in perspective. Tribal community is unhealthy because it’s not a community of challenge, where there’s rebuke and confrontation, and because of that there’s personal growth (as we should confess we all need). It’s that culture of reinforcement and then greater confidence, greater pride in my opinion. What God has designed for us is that, by his plan, I’m in relationship in a church of people who are different from me; people who may have nuances of theology that are different from me, and that’s his plan. That causes me to think more fully and think more deeply and think more humbly, and to be open to conversations that challenge my assumptions and drive me into Scripture in a deeper way to learn more fully.

So I have to deal with those differences with appreciation and grace. I’m thankful for those differences and the way they drive me to love God’s word more, to love my Savior more, to understand more about what he’s done for me, and to be committed more to this kind of community of ongoing mutual ministry and transformation.

I don’t know about you, but to be part of a tribe is easier for me. I love to be agreed with. I love not to be challenged. The people around me agree with me and reinforce what I say. It is much harder to live in the openness and dependency and humility of gospel community. I will be confronted. I will need to admit that what I thought was so right maybe wasn’t as right as I thought it was. I will have to be patiently open to the insights of others. I’ve said this before, that between the already and the not yet, this Christian life is one unending conversation, because God’s truth is that important. People’s lives are that important. That can be a bit exhausting and hard. Every one of the commands of our Lord to us—every one of those commands—is accompanied by his grace. What is the hard way is the best way, and God meets us by his grace.

I really think that one of the ways that God works in addressing our tribalism is through the ministry of other people. I think it’s very, very important to not live only with your view of yourself and your view of how you are relating on social media and relating to others. How about opening yourself up to the watchful eyes of other people? Hebrews talks about exhorting one another daily, lest anybody be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. I need eyes on me, eyes that I wouldn’t have on myself. And I think this is absolutely true: personal, spiritual insight that gets at the kind of stuff we have been talking about in these podcasts is the result of community. It’s hard to get there by yourself.

I want to ask you a question that you would probably never ask yourself, but I think it’s practical and important. Do you get your sense of identity (your sense of meaning and purpose and motivation) from your tribe, that group of people that agrees with you? Or do you get your sense of identity and meaning and purpose from your Lord, from your relationship to him, from being his child? There’s a huge difference because if I get my identity vertically, then I don’t need everything I say to be affirmed. I don’t need everybody to agree with me. I can be comfortable with differences because that person who’s different from me isn’t where I’m looking for identity.

Let me pray for you. Lord, it is easy for us to run and hang out in places that are the most comfortable, to love being part of that echo chamber of constant reinforcement. And when we do that, we deny our need to be challenged, to be confronted, and to grow in knowledge of you, knowledge of your word, and in your grace. Help us, we would pray, in Jesus’s name, amen.

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