Title: “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands”
Author: Paul David Tripp
Publisher: P&R Publishing
Release Date: November 2002
Rating: 5/5 (highly recommended)
Purchase: Amazon.com, WTS Bookstore
I’ve reviewed this book before, at about this time last year. I haven’t been satisfied with that review, probably because I found the book somewhat difficult to read at the time. The reason I’m doing a review update is because in the year that I read this book, I’ve found that the one truth I’ve taken from this book–address sin at the heart level–has slowly shaped the way I address sin in others and respond to sin in myself. The usefulness of that one truth made me want to read and review this book again, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to do so.
The book is split, content-wise, into two sections: the first is theological and the second practical/applicational. For those out there who think they have a good theological grasp of counseling and want to see the practical advice that Tripp has to offer, don’t do it. Do not skip the first section. A theological understanding of the heart, worship, and sin must be clearly established before one can move on and do effective counseling that encompasses these issues. Tripp does this masterfully, in such a way that even if he were to end the book after the theology portion, we could understand its implications for counseling.
The biblical truth that Tripp establishes in the first section is that sin corrupts our heart, such that we exchange love for and obedience to God for a love of lesser things. We engage in idolatry. In our idolatry, we pursue satisfaction and contentment in sin, often tied to selfishness. Because idolatry is in the heart, we are governed by sin to commit other sins. A heart that has set up self-satisfaction (a sin) will reveal itself in rudeness when others get in the way (sin), frustration and anger as well (sins). Tripp makes it abundantly clear through the exposition of Scripture that it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34) and that the heart is the root that produces the fruit of observable sins (Matthew 12:33).
What Tripp does is he makes clear that counseling is not about targeting sinful behaviors. This, he points out, is the spiritual equivalent of removing bitter apples from an apple tree and gluing on sweet ones. Such counseling only addresses the fruit of the issue, not the root of it. Behavior modification is only temporary. We as counselors need to discover the sinful motive at the heart and address it, not the behaviors it produces. Only then will lasting change take place as sin is literally uprooted from the heart.
Of course, this type of counseling and sin-fighting is daunting. How have we any hope of changing our own hearts? Here, Tripp is unabashedly God-centered in his answer: we don’t. It is only by the grace of our Redeemer that the power of sin is canceled–it is in this that we have our hope! We can now overcome sin and please the Father; moreover, God will not rest until our hearts are restored. I am glad that Tripp has such a God-focused, God-glorifying view of our sanctification. He does not nullify our responsibility to fight sin, but stresses that our fulfillment of our responsibility is made possible only by His grace. The rest of this book, then, is dedicated to the fact that, in His wisdom and divine ordinance, God chooses to use us as His instruments to assist in the sanctification of others.
So in the second section of the book, Tripp focuses on how we can be counselors like Christ. How do we discover the heart issue? How do we do this in such a way that it is out of love, not out of obligation? To teach us the answers to these questions–to be the most Christ-like, biblical counselors we can be–he places his overview of a counselor’s ministry under four headings: love, know, speak, and do. Each of these subsections focuses on a particular way we as counselors need to interact with those whom we counsel. They are not only detailed, but very practical. In this second section of the book, Tripp provides examples of how he has approached various counseling situations. Along with that, he provides questions we can ask to gain greater insight into their thoughts, things to look for and be aware of.
This book has many strengths–one of them being that it is so rich and so detailed that it is difficult for me to review comprehensively! Another thing for which I am thankful is the way Tripp breaks down counseling into categories and hierarchies. While these are not explicitly biblical, in that Jesus does not instruct us to “love, know, speak, and do,” they are drawn from various portions of Scripture as helpful ways to understand the heart and mind, as well as our counseling responsibilities. As Tripp points out, we are all counselors in some way; we give our opinions and advice on matters almost daily. That makes this book helpful and necessary for all believers who want a God-glorifying, heart-centered, grace-dependent book on counseling. I have seen, and will no doubt continue to see, fruit from this book in the way I counsel others. Learn to be a more effective instrument in the Redeemer’s hands! I highly recommend this book to you.
(This book was provided free for review by P&R Publishing, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)