One of the joys of seminary has been encountering theological fields that I never knew existed. Case in point: Christian counseling. One of the best introductory books on the topic is Paul David Tripp and Timothy S. Lane’s How People Change.
In it, the authors seek to help readers “grasp the implications of the good news of Jesus Christ for [their] identity and the daily trials and temptations [they] face.” The book effectively achieves this goal. Lane and Tripp offer eye-opening paradigms, helpful observations about the nature of people’s responses, a thorough understanding total depravity’s implications, and practical guides for implementing their suggestions. Yet since the book is content to deal with “daily trials and temptations,” deeper emotional and psychological issues might necessitate a more thorough treatment than what the authors present.
The most valuable aspect of How People Change is its paradigm to help you think through everyday trials. Oftentimes people have difficulty sorting through the heated emotions of a difficult situation; they simply comprehend a tangled web of problems with no clear beginning, end, or solution. The three trees paradigm provides categories for distinguishing between the situational heat, your response to the situation, the roots behind the response, and the consequences. Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane then point you to the implications of cross and how Christ can empower a more appropriate response. By addressing the root attitudes and sin patterns in our hearts, the authors avoid the pitfall of simply suggesting behavior modification. This thoughtful paradigm can transform how you think about daily sins and problems.
Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane are similarly helpful in their observations — which range from describing common sinful responses to negative situations to identifying common scapegoats for sinful responses. These observations help you think critically about your own response — which you may have never second-guessed before.
In addition, Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane present a strong and welcome reminder about the extent of total depravity. When discussing sin, we often think of concrete transgressions like theft, murder, or adultery. But we are much more infected and distorted by sin than this caricature suggests. Throughout How People Change, the authors remind you that everything you do apart from Christ is sin. For example, your dreams:
“While our dreams can reveal our faith, they also expose the lust, greed, selfishness, fear, anger, doubt, hopelessness, and materialism of our hearts.”
And Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane even note that Christians can make spiritual disciplines more important than Christ himself, implying that they can become idols.
How People Change by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane presents more than counseling theory; it provides actionable help to equip you to enact change in your own life and church. For example, Lane and Tripp give you thirty-four x-ray questions to scrutinize your own heart and attitudes. Moreover, the final chapter shows you how to apply the book’s wisdom to the local church. These guides will continue to bear fruit beyond the initial reading.
Yet How People Change is not comprehensive. Greater psychological and emotional problems lie beyond its scope. The authors equip Christians to battle everyday sins and suffering, but the book is content to stay at this surface level. Similarly, the authors’ strong emphasis on biblical truth sometimes overshadows the importance of biblical love, which is the primary “Bible bullet” for those suffering. They never cross over into this territory, but one dealing with severe emotional problems could misinterpret their words. Even so, How People Change, though content to focus on everyday issues, successfully achieves its intended goals.
Source: Lane, Timothy S. and Paul David Tripp. How People Change. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2008.