Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul David Tripp
review by Tony Reinke (4/30/07)
The pens of reformed pastors over the centuries have blessed the church with wonderful books on the weightiness of the pastoral calling. But very often these books have neglected how pastors encourage the saints to care for the needs of one another. In Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor -- rightfully considered one of the classics on pastoral ministry -- we are told that pastors "must labor to be acquainted, not only with the persons, but with the state of all our people, with their inclinations and conversations [way of life]; what are the sins of which they are most in danger, and what duties they are most apt to neglect, and what temptations they are most liable to; for if we know not their temperament or disease, we are not likely to prove successful physicians" (Banner of Truth ed., p. 90). For the pastor who cannot succeed in this daunting task, Baxter calls him to split his salary and double the pastoral team (p. 92).
I consider Baxter's heart and love for his people a great example of diligence, sacrifice and humility. His sensitivity to the struggles of his people is not only important, but necessary in the experiential application of Scripture to his people from the pulpit. However, this centralization of care hampers the diverse gifts distributed to each believer (see 1 Cor. 12).
By God's grace it is possible for everyone in the church to administer love and care, to be ministered to, to be given ears to listen and voices to comfort, council, reproof and rebuke -- without a necessary increase in pastoral staff. This is accomplished as the pastor equips the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12).
Along with this conviction arise many questions: How do we pursue training the saints to care for saints? What does this look like in the church? Where do we begin? How do we train? In answering these important questions, there may be no better resource than Dr. Paul David Tripp's book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (P&R: 2002). Tripp (D.Min., Westminster Theological Seminary) has served as a counselor for over 25 years and currently serves as adjunct faculty at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) and Westminster Seminary.
At the subtitle makes clear, Tripp's goal is to see redeemed sinners (in need of change) helping other redeemed sinners (in need of change). Tripp's stated goal is nothing short of church culture transformation (p. xi).
Of all the strengths of Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, I see three of primary importance. First, a thoroughly biblical understanding of the heart. Second, a balanced understanding of sin and suffering. Third, all the counsel and training operating within the meta-narrative of the Gospel.
First, Tripp displays a biblical understanding of the heart. Without a proper understanding of the heart (its cravings, lusts and idols), counsel becomes need-driven and self-centered. We act according to the desires of our heart and unless we change the heart, permanent life change and growth (sanctification) will not take root. "Sin is fundamentally idolatrous. I do wrong things because my heart desires something more than the Lord. Sin produces a propensity towards idolatry in us all" (p. 66). Two chapters are devoted wholly to this topic and Luke 6:43-45, Romans 1, James 4:1-10 and Galatians 5:13-26 are applied in detail (the entire volume is saturated with Biblical exposition and application).
Various counseling videos, books and booklets address sin issues and there are likewise resources for those who are suffering under trials. Tripp is keenly aware that the Cross of Christ is equally applicable to those engaged in the battle against sin and those enduring under trial.
Take the following excerpt as one example of God's love displayed in the death of His Son applied to those suffering under trials.
"This is the comfort we offer people. We don't comfort them by saying that things will work out. They may not. The people around them may change, but they may not. The Bible tells us again and again that everything around us is in the process of being taken away. God and his love are all that remain as cultures and kingdoms rise and fall. Comfort is found by sinking our roots into the unseen reality of God's ever-faithful love" (p. 152).
And it's this same ever-faithful love of God displayed in the Gospel that addresses the Christian to fight against sin. God's will is that we boast and cling to the Gospel, while sin's goal is to tear us from the Gospel promises and purposes. Tripp writes,
"In contrast, sin produces in all of us a tendency toward 'now-ism,' which means we forget three things: who we are (betrothed to Christ); what he is doing now (preparing us for the final wedding); and what we are supposed to be doing (remaining faithful to him). When we focus only on what we want now, we fail to solve our problems and we also cause more difficulties" (p. 241).
And so we as Christians need to be freshly reminded of the Gospel in our lives. This duty, this privilege, this honor of living in the promises of the Gospel, provides an excellent opportunity for other Christians to serve us as we serve them. We need to be freshly reminded of God's love displayed in the Cross as we are prone to forgetfulness.
"People need to hear the comfort of the gospel again and again. They need to be reminded of who they are in Christ and what they have received in his life, death, and resurrection. It is not safe to assume that a Christian who attends a good church understands this. People often live with huge gaps in their understanding of the gospel" (p. 215).
Therefore the wisest council we can offer those in our lives is to remind them as Christians we have been deeply "embedded" into the story of redemption in Christ. The Gospel is not some abstract concept of an impersonal God. The Father sent His Son for me, to shed His Atonement Blood on my behalf.
I've copied the following quote into the journal I take to small group meetings to be freshly reminded why God has placed me in the lives of other men.
"Personal ministry is not about always knowing what to say. It is not about fixing everything in sight that is broken. Personal ministry is about connecting people with Christ so that they are able to think as he would have them think, desire what he says is best, and do what he calls them to do even if their circumstances never get 'fixed.' It involves exposing hurt, lost, and confused people to God's glory, so that they give up their pursuit of their own glory and live for his. It is about so thoroughly embedding people's personal stories in the larger story of redemption that they approach every situation and relationship with a 'God's story' mentality. We need to be filled with awe at what the Lord has called us to participate in! ... Biblical personal ministry is more about perspective, identity, and calling than about fixing what is broken" (pp. 185-186).
This beautiful statement of the purpose of Christian care ministry provides not only an encouraging blueprint for our service, but it relieves the burdens we so often feel in care relationships. We are not being called to carry an emergency kit for exhaustively diverse solutions for any and every possible problem. Certainly we want to grow wise for many different life situations, but our primary calling in ministering to the needs of fellow Christians is to point them (as they point us) back to the Cross and "embed" them (as they "embed" us) back into the narrative of the Gospel.
The church culture is changing, and Tripp is leading the revolution to equip Christians to apply the ointment of the Cross to the cares and struggles of the Christian soul. Tripp masterly follows his own advice, reminding the reader at every turn to look at situations and struggles as an opportunity to see themselves embedded in the big picture of God's redemptive plan. Like no other, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands will lead, train and encourage this model of ministry in your own personal service and among your church. Buy it, read it slowly and digest it thoroughly. You will find yourself encouraged as Tripp points you back to the Cross and trains you to apply the Cross in loving service towards others.
Title: Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands
Author: Paul David Tripp
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > comfortable
Dust jacket: no
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: yes (very helpful)
Text: perfect type
Price USD: $16.99 / $11.99 / from Monergism Books
ISBNs: 9780875526072, 0875526071
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright (c) 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
All content including reviews and photographs Copyright (c) 2007 Tony Reinke