‘Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands’ by Paul David Tripp: A Review

Yesterday I wrote that seminary introduced me to the marvelous world of biblical counseling. And when you talk about biblical counseling, you have to talk about Paul David Tripp.

Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands was one of the first books I read about the subject. In this exhaustive primer, Tripp calls his readers to a “daily ministry lifestyle” rooted in Scripture, argues that God has called the church to be ambassadors, and suggests that this work “involves every member of the body of Christ.”

Tripp achieves these goals by presenting the why of biblical counseling (the scriptural and theoretical basis) and the how (via his four-step counseling model, “Love, Know, Speak, Do”). As I read the book, four key emphases stood out.

1. You have to position yourself in the midst of the counselee’s suffering.

Personal ministry is difficult work. Most people place a wide “buffer zone” between themselves and the suffering, “permanently casual relationships that never grow into real intimacy” are the norm, and many pastors would rather “lob grenades of truth” at people instead of loving them with personal sacrifice.

Yet Tripp consistently reminds you that personal ministry requires you to dive into the mess of people’s lives. Biblical counselors should be honest about their own sufferings, he writes, and he challenges you to view all relationships through a redemptive and loving lens. Most importantly, he emphasizes that the basis for “transforming ministry” is love, not theology. Counselors should love their counselees as Christ loved the church — even when this task is difficult.

2. You must monitor your own spiritual life.

Struggling people project their struggles onto the counselor, Tripp notes. As a result, he suggests that you “begin by examining [their] own hearts.” If you fail to guard your own life, you will turn ministry into anger, personalize what is not personal, become adversarial, confuse your opinions for God’s, and settle for easy solutions that do not change the heart. A specific application, he notes, is that anyone who prescribes accountability to another must first be held accountable. Tripp’s helpful reminder should instill a healthy dose of humility to the counselor.

3. You must get to the root of people’s problems — instead of simply treating symptoms.

Behind most problems is a root idol, he argues. Idolatry, after all, is anything that rules the heart more than God, according to Ezekiel 14:1-3 and Romans 1 — whether that be an overt statue or a covert desire. Because of the connection between roots (idols) and fruit (behavior), he asserts that counselors’ goal must be heart change. Altering your behavior is akin to stapling good fruit on a bad tree. Similarly, he highlights the desires that war within people. Even good desires can cause a person to stumble if it becomes a ruling force. This biblical view of human nature is supremely helpful in equipping the biblical counselor to seek and identify the true problem he must address.

4. Paul David Tripp’s emphasis on the practical.

Tripp weaves real-life counseling stories and specific instruction into each chapter to prepare the reader to do his own counseling. For instance, Appendix 5 is filled with examples of homework for various counseling situations. Appendix 1 lists a series of figurative “masks” that spiritually blind people wear in their conversations. Chapter 10 helpfully explains that people interweave past and present in their stories, and it suggests categories for sifting through the data. Elsewhere, Tripp mentions specific questions to ask or themes to look for. These practical nuggets from an experienced counselor are worth the price of book alone.

Summary

In Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp skillfully weaves the theoretical with the practical to create a go-to primer for personal ministry. The book is not perfect; Tripp could have admitted that some instances have no clear-cut answers, or that not every counseling session ends in a victory. Nevertheless, its content is critical for all of us.

Source: Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2002.

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