Jesus Invented Twitter

Hitchcock and The Birds

“The truth wrapped in a riddle or a joke is irresistible. What looks like skylarking is sometimes the fowler’s snare.”

Tweeting Since the Dawn of Time

INTRODUCTION to “Birds of the Air

Richard Baxter famously exhorted Christians to screw the truth into the minds of their hearers and to thus work Christ into their affections. Baxter’s exhortation is itself a perfect example of the means of such an exhortation. Who can hear these words and not be struck with the image of someone twisting a screwdriver in close proximity to somebody else’s brain?

PrintHis use of the word “screw” communicates not only that effectively imparting truth is a process but also that it is painful. The truth will not change us until we actually feel it. Moreover, Baxter’s image suggests that the darkened minds of human beings are as dense, stubborn and unresponsive as blocks of unseasoned wood. Delivering truth most often meets with some resistance.

A further and no less important observation is that a screw is a tiny instrument. Like a claw or a tooth, a screw is simply the spearhead of a larger tool. This makes it not less effective but more so. It concentrates, focuses, magnifies all of the blunt brute strength behind it into a single point. Most great men in history became great because they were compelled by a single truth, one expressed in so few words that it caught like a splinter in the flesh of the mind. Being both small and sharp it could not be ignored and thus allowed them no peace.

Yet there is one more facet of a screw that sets it apart from a simple nail. It has a thread which holds it in place, making it almost as much work to take out as it was to put in. The most effective delivery of truth is not necessarily the simplest. A screw must also be tough.

Bob Jones Sr. tells us that “Simplicity is truth’s most becoming garb.” However, this statement requires some qualification. A better choice of terminology might have been “the facts” rather than the word “truth.” Jones’ intended meaning is that deceivers (disguised as salespeople, teachers, politicians, scientists and theologians) employ complexity to obscure or mask the facts. That is darkness masquerading as an angel of light. But like God, enlightenment also comes wrapped in thick clouds. As Albert Einstein quipped, “God may be subtle but He’s not malicious.”

Paul condemned those who were “ever-learning,” filling their minds with facts but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth. Are facts not true? What is the difference between a fact and a truth? Truth is composed of facts which exist in relation to each other, and thus is not simple. Facts are steps. Truth is a journey.

Oswald Chambers firmly believed in the concept of “seed thoughts” — brief, pithy sayings designed to arrest attention and stimulate thinking. He writes:

Our Lord was never impatient. He simply planted seed thoughts in the disciples’ minds and surrounded them with the atmosphere of His own life. We get impatient and take men by the scruff of the neck and say: “You must believe this and that.” You cannot make a man see moral truth by persuading his intellect. “When He, the Spirit of truth is come, He shall guide you into all truth.”1Oswald Chambers, Run Today’s Race: A Word from Oswald Chambers for Every Day of the Year, December 9.

In every sphere there are degrees of knowledge. Knowing something because you read about it and knowing it by experience are different levels of the same thing. This is why we struggle to learn from the mistakes of others.

Facts are dead elements. Truth is a living organism. Facts are things which we can collect and store, but the truth is something which possesses us. It cannot be caged and will not be pinned down. The modern scientistic mindset confuses the accumulation of facts with an understanding of the truth. Knowledge is not wisdom, which is why many well-intended government schemes go so horribly wrong.

Truth is transformative, something which causes us to grow and brings us to spiritual maturity. That is why animals can survive on food alone but human beings also require a steady diet of truth. Paul takes it even further, noting that spiritual maturity is a progression from milk to something that requires chewing. Spiritual nourishment is work because work makes us strong.

To change us, a truth must engage us, so it is often imparted in an enigma. The truth wrapped in a riddle or a joke is irresistible. What looks like skylarking is sometimes the fowler’s snare. When God speaks to us in veiled language, symbols, parables and even architecture, we are forced to contemplate, or ruminate, upon what He has said. In some cases, the meaning of certain Scriptures is still being debated, even after many centuries. But what we must realize is that this was always the plan.

“Jesus was at the pointy end of a long line of troublemakers who trafficked in barbs, riddles and shocking object lessons. Instead of doling out rose water they went straight for the gasoline.”

The very first law given by God to humanity was itself a puzzle designed to provoke meditation and bring forth the fruit of wisdom. Jesus’ own ministry, the testimony of the Man who declared Himself to be the light of the world, was anything but a “simple” delivery of the truth.

Our desire to speak the truth plainly is part of the reason why modern preaching mostly fails to engage its hearers. God’s process is “word-and-response” so His true prophets are always provocative. Jesus was at the pointy end of a long line of troublemakers who trafficked in barbs, riddles and shocking object lessons. Instead of doling out rose water they went straight for the gasoline.

Those who indulge in murder and adultery are often the first to insist upon table manners, which is why God sends a Jeremiah to smash the pottery or an Isaiah to preach naked in the street. King Solomon might tell us that there is a time to be polite and a time to give some obstinate official a poke in the eye. Douglas Wilson writes:

In a sinful world, giving offense is one of the central tasks of preaching. When the offending word is brought to bear against those who have shown themselves to be unteachable, they are written off by that offending word. When this happens, or there is a threat of it happening, the natural temptation is to blame the word instead of taking responsibility for the sin that brought the rebuking and satiric word. Employing a scriptural satiric bite is therefore not “rejoicing in iniquity” but rather testifying against hardness of heart.2Douglas Wilson, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, 102.

Like King Solomon and the other authors of the book of Proverbs, Jesus also understood the power in pastoral ministry of a well-timed and well-considered sound-bite. Toby Sumpter writes:

I would defend the art of pastoral tweet bombing by pointing to the perfect pastor: Jesus Christ. He’s the Head Pastor of the Church, the Chief Shepherd, and we take our cues from Him. Jesus invented Twitter. Jesus was the first pastor to employ Twitter in His pastoral ministry.

He may not have had a smart phone or even a dumb phone, but Jesus was the master of throwing out short truths that were calculated to poke, prod, and offend.

Here are a few samples from Matthew’s Twitter Feed:

“Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead.” (Mt. 8:22)

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mt. 9:12-13)

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Mt. 10:34)

“I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Mt. 10:35)

“Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” (Mt. 16:6)

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow Me.” (Mt. 19:21)

The point is that Jesus frequently said things in short, pointy ways that not only could be misunderstood, but which frequently were and were meant to be. Jesus didn’t apologize and promise to only write essays, books, and give long sermons that explained everything more carefully. Jesus kept right on saying things that were startling, confusing, and could be easily misunderstood. In fact, Jesus ultimately was condemned for statements that were twisted and taken out of context.3Toby Sumpter, “In Defense of Pastoral Tweet Bombing,”, April 25, 2012.

Although the aphorisms of Solomon and Jesus share the characteristic of brevity with most of what flies on Twitter, the difference — and power — lies in their ability to pack gravity into a grain of sand. A tweet with more impact than airborne poop takes time to consider and thus time to compose. Peter Leithart writes:

I joined Twitter to keep track of my kids, and so I could bash their short attention spans. Then Pastor Douglas Wilson observed that tweets are like proverbs. You try to capture, in a haiku flash, some of the goodness and beauty of things. Doug was right: Now they’re faster and there’s more of them, and more that are useless, but folks have been tweeting since the dawn of time.4Peter Leithart, “Bashing Twitter’s Bashers,”, January 21, 2014.

The Proverbs were no doubt designed to be read aloud either at court or in the congregation, and a moment of silence, a mental breather, like the “musical rest” of the original Sabbath, would be necessary after each to allow time for meditation. I make this speculation because there is a danger in reading Proverbs as though it were a book of prose. Doing so — to turn upside-down Luther’s analogy concerning sinful thoughts — allows birds to fly overhead which were specially created to nest in our hair.

One tweet per page would facilitate such rests in what follows here, but since that would be impractical, I will trust you to give each its intended Sabbath. Hopefully they are stimulating or provocative enough to give you pause all on their own.

Birds of the Air is available here.

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1. Oswald Chambers, Run Today’s Race: A Word from Oswald Chambers for Every Day of the Year, December 9.
2. Douglas Wilson, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, 102.
3. Toby Sumpter, “In Defense of Pastoral Tweet Bombing,”, April 25, 2012.
4. Peter Leithart, “Bashing Twitter’s Bashers,”, January 21, 2014.

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