Living in Light of the Gospel: An Interview with Paul David Tripp
Tabletalk: Tell us a little about Paul Tripp Ministries and your call to a ministry of counseling.
Paul David Tripp: Let me say first that the name of the ministry is not what it is because I think that it is all about me. It is so named because of the Internet; type my name and you get my website. The ministry was begun because God had given me a platform that I knew I must be a good steward of. What propels me in ministry is the reality that, as believers, we tend to understand salvation future, but we tend to be confused when it comes to the present benefits of the work of Christ in the here and now. I call this the “nowism” of the gospel. Christ didn’t just die for our past and our future. No, he also died for our here and now.
What has Christ given me for my difficult marriage, my rebellious teenager, my struggle with fear, or that private area of sin? These are the questions that shape and propel my ministry. My goal is to come alongside the local church and do anything I can to help them disciple their people into living in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To do this, I will continue to write, speak, and produce consumable gospel resources so that people will not just assent to the truths of the gospel but live out those truths in the hallways, kitchens, family rooms, and boardrooms of everyday life. It’s not enough to believe in life after death; we better start believing in life before death, a quality of existence that would not be possible apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
TT: Is there anything Christians can learn from secular approaches to counseling, or should Christians avoid them altogether?
PDT: The answer to this question is found in the brilliantly practical words of Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits (principles) of the world, and not according to Christ” (parentheses mine). Notice that Paul is not arguing that everything that the world says is trash. God allows philosophers, psychologists, and scientists to have insights. There are things that we can learn from their experience and research. But we must learn from them while being aware that there is a fatal f law in their worldview: it omits Christ.
Because of this flaw, we cannot let our counseling be controlled or shaped by a system that ignores or denies the most important person in the universe — Christ — and the most important work in the universe — His life, death, and resurrection. So while we are thankful for the insights of the culture’s thinkers, we receive those insights knowing the system out of which they come is fatally flawed, and we understand that a biblical approach to change is not just another school of psychology among many other schools. No, biblical counseling is radically different. Unlike all other schools of psychology, which put their hope in some kind of human system of redemption, we believe that lasting personal change necessitates a Redeemer. So we humbly listen to and learn from the voices around us, but we will not be taken captive by any system of hope that omits the Lord of hope, Jesus Christ.
TT: Most Christians express a desire to change, to become more Christlike, but often stumble and fall short. some even give up in despair. how is the change we desire to be achieved?
PDT: The bright hope of the cross of Jesus Christ is that lasting personal change is really possible. The person and work of Christ mean fresh starts and new beginnings can and do happen. What does the process of change look like? We must first affirm that all lasting change of heart that leads to a change in a person’s words and behavior is an act of grace. How does that grace operate in the heart of a person? Here’s how I think about the process. First, you can’t grieve what you don’t see. You have to be willing to look into the accurate mirror of the Word of God. You can’t confess what you haven’t grieved. You have to submit to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and own personal responsibility for your words and behavior. You can’t repent of what you haven’t confessed. You have to obey God’s call to new ways of living and ask, “Specifically where is God calling me to live in a brand new way?” Finally, you can’t change (actually applying these new commitments to daily living) what you haven’t repented of. That’s the process of transforming grace: see-grieve-confess-repent-change.
TT: What do you believe to be the most serious issues plaguing the modern Christian family?
PDT: One of the greatest challenges to the Christian family is rampant, culturally-institutionalized, media-promoted, hero-driven materialism. Maybe more than ever before, our culture has embraced the delusion that life can be found in the physical, material creation. The created world has no ability whatsoever to satisfy the cravings of our hearts. The creation is meant to be a finger that points me to the one place where real life and rest of heart can be found — God. Because this materialism plays to the deepest idolatries of our hearts (Rom. 1:25), it leaves us fat, addicted, and in debt. As a culture, we spend too much, we eat too much, we try to experience too much, and we are way too busy, all in the vain hope that we will find life where it cannot be found. It is hard to be a family living in Western culture and not breathe in the toxic gases of its materialism.
TT: What are the biggest challenges facing Christian adolescents today, and how should the church be involved?
PDT: You could argue that the struggles of teenagers today are exactly what they’ve always been. Teens don’t tend to hunger for wisdom and correction. They tend to be legalistic (arguing about where the boundaries are); they tend to be unwise in their choices of companions; they tend to be susceptible to sexual temptation; they don’t tend to live with the future in view; and they tend to be blind to the true condition of their hearts. We are alerted to these struggles in Proverbs in a historical setting when a father would say to his son at the end of the day: “Have you bedded down the camel?” But they map right onto a generation when a father says to his son at the end of the day: “Did you gas up the SUV?” These struggles of heart are transgenerational and transcultural.
For us, these struggles are reinforced by three things in our culture. First, our teens live in a culture where biblical faith and values have a very small place in the cultural discussion. Second, they are told again and again every day that life really can be found in material things. And finally, they live in a culture where intensely intrusive and constantly available media puts the philosophy of the culture in their face. All around me, I see teens in Christian families assenting to biblical belief but buying the idols of the surrounding culture.
TT: What are some of the dangers we face any time we speak? how should the gospel inform and shape the way we use our words?
PDT: Second Corinthians 5:15 says that Jesus died so that “those who live would no longer live for themselves.” You see, the DNA of sin is selfishness. This means that sin in its fundamental form is anti-social. Because sin causes each of us to be self-absorbed and self-obsessed, our words aren’t the instruments of love for God and people that they were designed to be. So, the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ is for His followers to quit using words in the selfish pursuit of the goals and purposes of their own little kingdoms of one and begin to speak for the King. There is no better communication of this than the model given in the prayer of our Lord. Imagine the good that would come if we would daily pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done right here, right now, in my words as it is in heaven.”
TT: All of us at times have friends who talk to us when they are experiencing serious problems. What is the single best piece of advice that you can give us when we face this situation?
PDT: I tell people who are helping people all the time to remember that they are not the fourth member of the Trinity. It is important for each of us to understand that we have no calling or ability to change another person. If it is not my job or within my capability to create human change, then my calling is to be a tool in the hands of the One who holds that power.
This means I don’t try to create change by the force of my personality, the logic of my arguments, or the volume of my voice. It also means that I don’t ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish: I don’t try to create change by threat, manipulation or guilt. No, I put my confidence in the transforming grace of the Redeemer and endeavor to be an instrument of seeing, a tool of conviction, and an agent of repentance.
I again and again tell the helpers out there to rest in the transforming power of the grace of God, working through the Word of God and ignited by the Spirit of God.
Paul David Tripp is president of Paul Tripp Ministries, which has as its mission statement, “Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.” In addition to being a gifted communicator and sought-after conference speaker, Dr. Tripp is professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas; the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas; and has taught at respected institutions worldwide. As an author, Paul has written eleven books on Christian living, including Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change.