You’re Wrong Unless You Have the Right Emotional Response (115)

In this episode John and Gregg discuss an open letter by Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The letter concerns Dr. Piper’s response to a student who felt “victimized” by a sermon on 1 Cor 13, a chapter of the Bible devoted to explaining the nature of love.

(NB: Gregg has created two blog posts responding directly to this letter).

John sees similarities between this discussion and episode #108, where we discussed an article from The Atlantic magazine. John finds that the tenor of the letter is all too similar to the Christian perspectives that John experienced in his past, in that Dr. Piper clearly assumes that everything that the message that his staff (the minister or preacher) presented was completely correct and that the presentation was entirely appropriate. By consequence, if the student has an issue with the sermon then the problem is with the student (and his inability to understand or respond properly)!

As John summarizes, “Here’s the message, get on-board with it, and if you don’t agree with it there’s something wrong with you!” Everything is the responsibility of the other party and the authority figures (the university and / or its president) takes no responsibility

Gregg agrees with Dr. Piper that our emotions should not be the determining factor in our thinking or responses. Yet neither should any of our faculties take this role, reason included! Each should be balanced and informed by the other faculties to allow for ‘checks and balances’ in our decision making.

Gregg likewise sees a connection with episode #54, Is there a crisis in biblical literacy? In both cases, something is “not working out” for someone. Yet Gregg’s point is that rather than simply critiquing someone we should instead question what may be happening for someone such that they are acting or reacting in seemingly extreme ways.

John rejects Dr. Piper’s immediate association of emotional response (feeling victimized) with the idea that this is simply the person’s conscience, convicting him. Maybe yes, but maybe it’s more complicated. So one may feel “convicted” but the message my be bogus! In this way, Dr. Piper’s agenda seems to be that the student should have “the right” emotional response, as decided by Dr. Piper / those in authority.

Gregg disagrees strongly with Dr. Piper’s claim that we need to learn that “life is not about me” and that life is “not about my self-actualization. Instead Gregg argues that he, as a Christian, needs to value himself in order to love others rightly. This because Christians are called to a) love God entirely, b) love themselves rightly in order to c) love others as themselves.

This is partly related to the false understanding that theology can “go it alone,” rather than only being able rightly to understand ourselves by setting theology in dialogue with a number of other disciplines (psychology, neurology, geology, etc.). Gregg further is suspicious that Dr. Piper having given no further attention to the student’s perspective is indicative of the likely fact that Dr. Piper is unaccustomed to being challenged—he is immune to critique. In other words, the tone and content of his letter are as though he speaks for God / has a somewhat “God’s eye view” on the matter.

8 thoughts on “You’re Wrong Unless You Have the Right Emotional Response (115)

  1. Pingback: Being Right Might be Wrong (116) | Untangling Christianity

  2. John Poelstra

    Thanks Mary!

    I really like how you summarize this. It goes well with some thoughts I’ve been having since Gregg and I had this conversation and that I want to explore more. I wonder if the crux of a lot of this is the preoccupation and need that some Christians have to be “right” and a determination that everyone else share and embrace this “right” perspective or behavior as well.

    I think there is a very subtle, but profound difference between sharing what one believes to be true vs. insisting that what one believes IS true and that as a result everyone else must embrace that same truth. Often the next step I see here is the use of fear to proclaim the importance of that truth and insist that it must be embraced. When someone believes a truth based on fear or someone else’s insistence (or manipulation) I don’t think it becomes a healthy part of them.

    So I wonder what is underneath the need we have sometimes to be “right?” Why is it so important to us and what is it doing for us?

    1. Mary

      Sorry it took me a while to figure out how to see your replies–I am a kind of a low tech person. As to your question of having to be right, I think part of it is the legalistic mindset. When I was a new believer I felt I had to defend Jesus like a lawyer at a trial! Took me a long time to understand that Jesus didn’t need me to be his defense lawyer. Kind of laughable now but very frustrating at the time. Also I think we don’t always listen to each other. If I feel like someone doesn’t want to understand my point of view then I will either get defensive or stubborn and refuse to continue the discussion. That’s why I like the way you and Gregg discuss topics. You both try to understand the other one’s point of view. And you respect each other’s journey/experiences. Plus you like each other! And you are able to laugh about stuff! It took me awhile to learn to laugh with my friends during intense discussions and to agree to disagree. Seems simple now. Thanks again for replying.

      1. Gregg Monteith Post author

        Hi Mary,

        Great line: “Took me a long time to understand that Jesus didn’t need me to be his defense lawyer.” I think that this is a very valuable insight–thanks for sharing it. Thanks also for your kind words about our podcast and how you find the interaction between John and I. I’m particularly glad that you seem to find us modelling dialogue well, as cultivating and sustaining dialogue (in the church, among Christians, and between Christians and non-Christians) is a major emphasis that I bring to the podcast. So glad to know that this “shows.”

        I wonder what you think about this: can dialogue take place when one party has the orientation of a “defense lawyer”? In other words, if dialogue is a key component to engaging others about God (and likely being open to what others may have to say about God in return), how does the need to defend (or at least the possibility of being critical of a different viewpoint) go together with the openness necessary for real, authentic dialogue? Be glad to have you thoughts on this.

    2. Mary

      Hi John
      Thought about your question and several ways I could answer it and decided on this answer:
      Back in the day when I felt i had to convert people to Christianity, I needed to be right about my beliefs both for me and them. I had to absolutely believe so they could believe in God. Since then I have learned that caring means helping others and listening to them—-not just telling them about Jesus. Having deeper conversations involves trust, hopefully mutual trust. Even with close friends there is going to be disagreement. How you handle that (eg. laugh about it, agree to disagree, talk it through several times or even take a break from that topic) will affect the relationship. If there is some trust or respect, I think the relationship can survive even disagreement or diverse opinions. The feedback from Evan ( and Gregg’s replies) on Episode 56 seems very insightful especially about what is major and what is minor and how we distinguish between the two. I plan to listen to that podcast to learn more. Thanks again for the making these discussions available. It helps a lot.

  3. Mary

    Thanks for a really great discussion. I have often been told to speak the truth in love and found it difficult. Truth can often feel harsh. So the dilemma was how to soften it but keep it truthful. Usually I ended up not speaking because that seemed more loving . Or when I did, it caused discord. But after listening to your dialogue I am beginning to understand that truth and love are equally important as Gregg points out. This concept of equality creates a new perspective on disagreement between Christian friends. I think it just may give me a new freedom to speak my perception of truth in a loving way. Not to win an argument but perhaps share a personal insight. Some call me contrary but I sometimes see thinks differently or I refuse to go along with the crowd. Thanks again for your time and effort in helping me untangle some Christian teachings. I may be a silent listener but I definitely appreciate what you are doing.

    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Mary,
      Thanks for your encouraging and insightful comment. I’m glad that the content of that episode was helpful and that some of the ideas and focus that John and I bring to the podcast generally seem to resonate with you. How did you hear about us? Also, you mentioned “not going along with the crowd.” Are there any examples that you would be willing to share, and how those situations worked out for you? Probably the only common feature among all the listeners who have responded is the experience of marginalization at the hands of the church, whether for seeing things differently or simply not agreeing with a “truth first, love second” approach to problem solving. Be great to hear more from you.

      1. Mary

        Still learning how to navigate the site so i just found your reply today. I found your podcast as a link on “The God Journey” and I’m glad I did. Most of the my not going along with the crowd happened at church. Actually none of my ideas got any serious consideration so after a while it wasn’t worth trying. Once I realized we wouldn’t ever agree or even have a real discussion, it just seemed more loving to both of us to part ways. I didn’t make that decision without a lot of soul searching. To me, the contrast between the respect and autonomy I had at work and the lack of it at church were just too obvious to ignore. It’s that old hierarchy thing at work. It was hard to love people who marginalized your feelings as some (not all) did. But it wasn’t loving to me to try to be someone I wasn’t so they could be happy. There are other ways to do church after all. Love compelled me in a way; however I wasn’t feeling that loving at the time I have to confess. The truth part had to take second place that time but I’m pretty sure God is okay with that. Love is the greatest truth in a way. Thanks for asking.


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