Originally published: “Patrick Miller and Simon Keith, Truth Over Tribe: Pledging Allegiance to the Lamb, not the Donkey or the Elephant. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2022),” in Presbyterion 49. no 1 (Spring 2023), upcoming.
Reflecting on the last five to ten years of cultural changes is both dizzying and confusing. While there have always been disagreements among Americans, even strong disagreements, it seems that disagreements have become intensified. From political responses in 2016 and 2022 to reactions to Covid-19 to dealing with racial tension—it seems that Americans are more divided than ever. Local pastors Patrick Miller and Keith Simon address the issue of tribalism and polarization in their latest book Truth Over Tribe, which is both a diagnostic of our current cultural moment and proposed solutions for the church moving forward. Miller and Simon yearn for the church to be filled with people “schooled in the ways of enemy love, humility, meekness, and truth-telling” (19). This book is their attempt to inculcate such biblical virtues into American Christians so they can be more faithful to God and loving towards their neighbor.
The authors diagnose the present reality of American culture as tribalism, the instinct to form isolated groups, which rarely, if ever, interact with one another. This is happening politically but more than ever, tribalism is fracturing relationships, work-dynamics, and cultural unity that Americans have enjoyed through years past. As pastors, Miller and Simon have numerous examples of how tribalism has both impacted their particular church and their community at large in Missouri. The book assumes that the reader affirms that tribalism is harmful or at least one is growing weary of the heightened polarization in our culture. The book is intended for this particular audience and I fearful that those who are on the extreme edges of the tribes may not heed the call toward action. Many people who live on the extreme right or left may have no trouble with their tribalism or they completely blind to it. This book is written for Christians who yearn for a better way to engage our culture with the love of Jesus yet are struggling how to speak the truth in love.
SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENTS
The authors have divided the book into three sections. In part one (chapters 1-5), the authors demonstrate how tribalism is causing great harm not only to our nation but to individuals. The heightened polarization is wreaking havoc on our relationships, causing us to grow more insular and afraid of the “other side” (chapter 1). This is leading to a growing sense of anxiety and fear, particularly as it relates to being the victim of cancel culture (chapter 2). The next three chapters argue that tribalism is causing people to live inauthentically, as we often feel pressure to conform to our tribe, lest we become like our enemies. This in turn, blinds us to the truth and does not foster the ability to have an open mind where one may change their opinions.
In the second section, Miller and Simon explain why we have become so tribalistic. Tribalism first begins with our neurochemistry, as the authors note our brains are hardwired for tribalism, which has been impacted by the fall (chapter 6). It is natural and normal to bond with those who are most like us, though sin takes this to the extreme. Now in the 21stcentury, social media companies have discovered how to harness that tribal instinct to garner more hours onto their platforms (chapter 7). These social media platforms reinforce what we think is true, even if our beliefs are based upon extreme conspiracy theories. These social media companies are tapping into the epistemology of Americans: your own personal truth is what is true (chapter 8). As life has moved even more digital, our physical communities have become more fractured, leading to greater perceived tribalism among one another (chapter 9).
In the third section, the authors argue how the church can and must move past tribalism toward radical generosity and hospitality, coupled with truth-telling and honesty. Despite our culture’s continued rejection of God, everyone longs to be in a world with no death, suffering, or pain. The church can be a picture of that coming reality, as we all long for the Eden we once lost (chapter 10). The following six chapters detail ways for Christians to engage our culture that does not lead to tribalism. These chapters are full of practical examples and illustrations that will help ordinary Christians be faithful to Jesus in our tribalistic times.
As mentioned before, for Christians who are already feeling exhausted of the tribalism in our culture, this book will be welcomed response to the angst and fear that is pervasively invading the lives of ordinary Americans. The strength of this book is its simplicity and applicability. The chapters are short, the prose is informal and conversational, and there are numerous illustrations peppered throughout the book which serve as examples for how Christians can engage in this moment. As a local pastor myself, I could recommend this book to almost anyone in my congregation. This is not to say the book is not full of hard truths or challenging topics—quite the opposite! Rather, the tone of the book serves as an example of the purpose of the book itself: to teach Christians how to be charitable, kind, humble, gracious, while at the same time honest, truthful, and bold.