Thursday, December 06, 2007

Review - Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands

Tripp, Paul David (2002) Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (P & R: Phillipsburg, New Jersey)

In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (IRH), Paul David Tripp seeks to set forth a biblical model for pastoral counselling. According to Tripp, the task of helping Christians to change is not to be left to trained professionals, but is something to which all Christians are called.
The book can be neatly divided into two. Chapters 1-6 lay down foundations and principles and chapters 7-14 expound Tripp’s model for “serving as an instrument of change.”

- The gospel teaches us that change is possible – it really is good news! – and that change comes through a person not a system. (chapter 1)
- God changes people as people bring His Word to others, which means not dipping into the Bible randomly, but seeing how our lives fit into the overarching story of redemption. “Lasting change begins when our identity, purpose, and sense of direction are defined by God’s story.” (chapter 2)
- Our status as people in need of help is established by both creation and fall. (chapter 3)
- The central focus is the heart. Not addressing the heart will lead to only superficial change, and indeed can serve to fuel heart-idolatry. (chapters 4-5)
- Christ is our model for being instruments of change. We are called to be ambassadors for God in serving each other in the process of change (chapter 6)
Chapters 7-14 then develop four aspects of a personal ministry relationship that focuses on heart change. We are to love by entering the other person’s world, incarnating the love of Christ to them, identifying with their suffering and accepting them while looking for change. (chapters 7-8) It is vital to get to know the other person, by asking questions and not making assumptions (chapters 9-10). Speaking the truth in love through honest, godly confrontation is vital to helping the other see where their hearts need to change (chapters 11-12). But change hasn’t happened until change has happened, and the goal is to help the other do what is necessary to change, through establishing your own personal ministry agenfa, clarifying responsibility, instilling identity in Christ and providing accountability. (chapters 13-14)

Don Carson commends Mark Dever’s The Deliberate Church for giving an ecclesiology that is both thoroughly biblical and practical.
[2] Something similar could be said of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. The great strengths of IRH are its rootedness in the gospel, biblical theology and a biblical perspective on human nature. The consistent emphasis on the heart as where counselling must focus, with concomitant discussion of themes of idolatry and desire etc. is very helpful, particularly as this fits with an emphasis on the gospel as the means of real change. For the gospel does indeed deal with the human heart – it is the only thing that can! Likewise, Tripp’s approach to the use of Scripture in counselling is helpful. The Bible is not an encylopedia whereby we turn to isolated verses to address issues such as television, schizophrenia or teenagers. Rather, the Bible gives a framework for interpreting life through an overarching story and grand themes that run through the whole.

And on those key foundations, IRH builds a model of personal relationship ministry that is detailed in its practicality. It is one thing to emphasise the gospel, the right use of Scriptures and the importance of the heart, but another thing to apply those truths in ways that will actually practically help people to change! And the second half of IRH achieves that by (a) setting out a biblical approach to particular issues (such as confrontation, the importance of knowing people well) (b) suggesting practical ways to do it (e.g. example questions that could be used to get to know somebody) (c) giving real-life examples of counselling situations that help to see how the principles work out in practice.

[NB. I will address possible weaknesses in the next section, questions]
IRH emphasises that pastoral counselling is something for all Christians to be involved in. The focus of the book is very much on one-to-one relationships, which leaves me with questions regarding the role of the church in helping each other to grow and change. Is it in the one-to-one relationships that real change takes place? What then of the small group or large congregation gathering, the sermon or bible study? How do these different aspects complement each other? If the focus is on individual change, what about corporate change? Is there a place for an individual’s struggles to be shared in a group wider than a one-to-one relationship (e.g. a homegroup)?
Secondly, in the examples that are given of pastoral problems there does seem to me an abundance of examples of more openly conflictual type problems, such as anger, and less examples of more ‘passive’ issues such as cowardice, depression and indifference etc. – issues which I see more frequently in my own life at least. It would have been good to have given more examples of this kind too.
Some points that have impressed me:

- “Sinners tend to respond sinfully to being sinned against” (11) People on the receiving end of terrible acts also need to be helped to repent. This can be hard when someone has suffered unjustly, but must be sensitively done. First, though, what is my own response to ‘unfair treatment’ – do I take advantage of the idea of being a victim?

- “Why do we spend hours preparing to teach while we offer important personal direction without a second thought?” (22) People need God’s Word not off-the-cuff personal advice. Will I love others enough to think through prayerfully and biblically what best to say?
- “All of life is counseling or personal ministry” (45) God has made us to be interpreters of ourselves and of the world around us. In addition, the fall means we are susceptible to believing and living on the basis of false interpretations. “We were created with the need for truth outside ourselves to live life properly.” (55) And for this we need each other. Will I strive to be continually seeking to bring God’s interpretation to bear in conversations with others?
- “If we fail to examine the heart and the areas where it needs to change, our ministry efforts will only result in people who are more committed and successful idolaters… We will even use the principles of God’s Word to serve our idols!” (69) Whoah!!
- The challenge of genuine love: “We want ministry that doesn’t demand love that is, well, so demanding! We don’t want to serve others in a way that requires so much personal sacrifice. We would prefer to lob grenades of truth into people’s lives rather than lay down our lives for them.” (118)
- “Asking good questions is doing the work of change.” (173) because it helps people to examine areas of their hearts and lives, it helps them to see themselves in a new light. But it is important not only to ask good questions but also to have someone ask you those questions too.
- “Biblical personal ministry is more about perspective, identity and calling than about fixing what is broken” (185)
- “Our failure to confront one another biblically must be seen for what it is: something rooted in our tendency to run after god-replacements… we fail to confront, not because we love others to much, but because we love ourselves too much.” (201-202) This is a challenge to my unwillingness to challenge and confront where that is the loving thing to do.

[1] There are also 5 appendices, which I haven’t read!
[2] Carson, Don “Foreword” in Dever, Mark & Alexander, Paul (2005) The Deliberate Church: Building your Ministry on the Gospel (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway) p.p.13-14


Anonymous said...

I want to know if I have this book in portuguese

Jonathan Skipper said...

Hi Di,

Thanks for leaving a comment. I am afraid I don't know if there is a translation into Portuguese. I have heard that a Spanish translation is being done, but know no more than that. You could try asking the publishers: