Reviewed by Carol. K. Tharp, M.D.
In his book Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad, Paul David Tripp draws a “word picture” of our life and of the world as a “broken-down house … groaning for the restoration.”1 He claims his book teaches “how you can live above the damage” and “be an active part of the restoration” (11). He says that the “brokenness around you” brings personal hurt and anger, causing you to feel overwhelmed, sad, and “tired of the effort” (17). Tripp further states that “this world” is “a broken-down house in the process of being restored” (18), that God has “instituted a plan of restoration” (10), and that God “is able to look at it and see promise…. And he has asked you to move in with him to be one of his tools of restoration” (18).
Foundational to Tripp’s message is the psychological doctrine of environmental determinism. Most counselors, secular or Christian, counsel as if people’s problems are caused by their environment. For Tripp, this environment is the “broken-down house” in “a world gone bad.” As he asserts, “It conditions what you face … shapes what you experience … structures the struggles … creates the stresses … determines the issues … molds the work of the church … shapes the struggles of your heart … and even determines the things you deal with in your body” (19). According to Tripp, the reader has been chosen “to embrace the promise and possibility of a restoration lifestyle” (20). He is called “away from self-focused survival to the hard work of restoration” (21). He says that the broken-down house is “the only environment you have” (19), but by “the hard work of restoration,” you can achieve freedom from these environmentally determined problems and lead a “life that can truly be called successful” (209). In other words people have become broken down through external circumstances, but have the ability not only to fix themselves but to fix the world.
Having established this doctrinal base, Tripp, like most psychotherapists, proceeds to offer a number of methods by which a troubled person can supposedly restore his own broken-down house. Describing the Bible as “a copy of [God’s] repair manual” (85), Tripp offers “five ways to pursue the character qualities to which God calls us” (30), forty-four ways to be “an instrument of cross-shaped love” (172-174), five ways to “Celebrate Grace” (188), three approaches to “daily living” (201), and five “principles that help create the sort of legacy each one of God’s children should want to leave for those who follow” (209-222).
In offering these methods, Tripp reveals his reliance upon another fundamental psychotherapeutic doctrine, that of self-cure. While attractive to the natural man, the promise of self-cure contradicts the cure obtained by Christ alone on the cross. Tripp’s talk of becoming “more authentically human”(91) “in a step-by-step way” (188), this promise of “how expansive my potential actually is”(47), this being put “in your place without ever putting you down” (42) , this “you are more than a sinner” (41), this being “willing to embrace the sadness” (36), and this “it requires you to…”(19) all amount to the same old mind-science put forth in thousands of other self-help best-sellers. Tripp boldly declares, “In each case it’s your choice. Take hold of the grace that God makes available” (123). As such, he echoes the Roman Catholic doctrine of grace being in a store house available for us to draw upon as we cooperate with God in the restoration. Recognizing this kind of doctrine as Satanic, John Milton had Satan say to Eve: “… your eyes that seem so clear,/Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then/Op’nd and clear’d, and ye shall be as Gods….”2
Tripp’s readers should remember Ezekiel 28:2, “Thou hast said, I am a God … yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God.” In attributing to man god-like restorative powers over the environment, Tripp’s book echoes Paul Billheimer, who said, “Thus, through the new birth, and I speak reverently, we become the ‘next of kin’ to the Trinity. A kind of ‘extension’ of the Godhead…. This group outranks all other orders of created beings.”3 This was called “patent error” by Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute, when evangelical Christians cared enough about truth to use the term heresy.4
In 1963, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached the following: “The world is as it is because it has rebelled against Him, and men and women are in their present trouble and distress because they are rebels and because they are reaping the fruits of their own evil deeds, and God is pouring out His punishment upon them.”5 According to Tripp, “The biblical doctrine of sin confronts each of us with the reality that we are not as good as we imagine we are, and therefore more needy and vulnerable than we typically consider ourselves to be” (35). What a stark contrast between the message of Lloyd-Jones and Tripp’s sinner-as-victim mentality!
A FABULIST FUTURE
In addition to his psychologically influenced self-help methods of personal restoration, Tripp offers an environmental “restoration” promise based upon his unscriptural view of man’s place in God’s creation, arguing that, because man “broke” it, he can “fix” it. When he says that “sin has ravaged the beautiful house that God created” (10) or we live “in a place that has been sadly damaged by sin” (11) and that humans are called to “the hard work of restoration” (209), he is focusing solely on the actions of man. In contrast to this man-centered view, Scripture says, “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope” (Romans 8:20). “I am the Lord, and there is none else…. I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:5,7). The Edenic transgression did not break down or curse the creation; God did that Himself. The creation is in “the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21) and will remain so until God Himself redeems it.
Concerning the future, Tripp claims that the world is “in the process of being restored” (18), but offers no Scriptural support for this optimistic eschatology. He ignores Scripture’s clear message that “the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition” (II Peter 3:5-7). Tripp assures his readers that “evil is in the process of being defeated” (105) and that “the enemies of God and good are being progressively defeated” (106). He ignores Scriptures such as 1 John 5:19 stating clearly that “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” in the power of the evil one. After 222 pages of how to be Living Productively in a World Gone Bad, he claims that “you can, beyond any question, be one of God’s tools of rescue and restoration … with the sure expectation” that God will “put a tender hand on your tired shoulder and say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ You can do these things” (222, bold added).
In these assertions, Tripp reveals his kinship with the emergent church. A belief held in common by emergent church leaders is their “eschatology of hope.” For example, Tony Jones says, “God’s promised future is good, and it awaits us, beckoning us forward … in a tractor beam of redemption and recreation … so we might as well cooperate.”6 Emergents Stanley Grenz and John R. Franke declare, “As God’s image bearers, we have a divinely given mandate to participate in God’s work of constructing a world in the present that reflects God’s own eschatological will for creation.”7 Elsewhere, emergent church advocate Doug Pagitt claims, “When we employ creativity to make this world better, we participate with God in the re-creation of the world.”8
In contrast to all of this, Scripture presents the world as guilty and groaning under the curse and waiting for the redemption of our bodies. The biblical promise lies in “him who hath subjected” it, not in us. Believers have hope but not in their redeeming creation. Our hope is in God and His promises, not in what we can see, for “hope that is seen is not hope … we hope for that we see not…” (Romans 8:21-25). Isaiah 63:3, 5 says, “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me…. I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me.” There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that we are helping God restore the creation.
When Scripture speaks of the restoration of the fallen creation, it speaks of a future restoration which is solely the work of God. Nowhere does Scripture support a notion of “restoration” as being “in process” and something accomplished by man. While people may labor to repair their “broken-down house,” believing that “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Genesis 11:6), the Lord alone will accomplish “the restitution of all things” when He comes again. “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (II Peter 3:13).
Tripp asks his readers to “face how bad things really are, not as survivalists, but as restorers.”(20). By this, he means restorers of the world in the here and now. He says, “You have been chosen to be engaged in a process—to care about, to work for, and to embrace the promise and possibility of a restoration lifestyle … as the hammers, saws, and screwdrivers of a brand new world” (20, 21). Tripp acknowledges God as the “ultimate Restorer” whose work one day “will be over and the world will be completely renewed” (21). However, he adds, “In the meantime … He calls us … to the hard work of restoration” (21). As such, Tripp evidences the same utopian notions that gave birth to modern liberalism, the so-called social gospel, and more recently the “missional” goal of the emergent church to “make the world a tangible paradise immediately.”9
Scripture has much to say about believers being “overcomers,” but nowhere are we called “restorers.” I John 5:4 says that whoever “is born of God overcometh the world.” Revelation 12:11 says believers overcame Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Victory is never the result of the efforts of mortal men helping God. “Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).
The apostle Paul tells us that perseverance in the face of suffering produces character due to peace having been made with God “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Peter advises us to “be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless…. But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:14, 18). In contrast to this peace, Tripp informs his readers, “In a fallen world, people of character and conscience will always be angry” (129) and asks, “What will be the legacy of this week’s anger for you?” (134).
He declares, “God is not satisfied with the state of this house, and he calls us to share in his holy dissatisfaction” (20). He says that “the ongoing dissatisfaction of our Redeemer is a theme of this whole book” (196). In seeming denial of Christ’s last words on the cross, “It is finished,” Tripp says that “God cannot and will not be satisfied with His work of redemption as long as the physical world suffers the effects of sin” (197). No explanation is offered as to how God, who creates and destroys by the Word of His mouth, who knows the end from the beginning, and whose ways are beyond our understanding could ever be “a Dissatisfied Redeemer” (196).
Thus, when Tripp claims, “you can, beyond any question, be one of God’s tools of rescue and restoration” (222), he builds upon a man-centered understanding of the Fall, makes a man-centered eschatological promise, and attributes to man god-like powers and to God human-like limitations. He says that man broke down his house, and man can fix it up. As such, Tripp proffers a false and misleading gospel, one that is all too familiar among psychotherapists, both secular and Christian. His gospel is false because it presents an unbiblical view of the problem of man and offers an unbiblical solution. Nowhere does Tripp acknowledge the fundamental relationship between sinfulness as a condition (alienation from God) and sins as expressions of that condition.10 For him and most counselors, the client complaint, the “problem,” is the sole subject of therapeutic attention, rather than the condition from which it originates. Separated from its origin, the “problem” is viewed as external and avoidable. Problem correction and avoidance become the goals of the client and the counselor, who promises cure via insight, self-help methods and, as Tripp emphasizes, correction of the external environment.11
Man’s real problem is rebellious alienation from God and His wrath upon that rebellion. The Bible never presents man as wounded by his environment. God’s solution is the free gift of His Son having taken our punishment upon Himself at Calvary with Christ’s righteousness having been imputed to the believer by faith alone. All Tripp can offer are “principles that help create the sort of legacy that one of God’s children should want to leave for those who follow” (209). These can neither restore the fallen creation nor solve the real problem of mankind. The psychotherapeutic view of man espoused by Tripp is starkly opposed to that revealed in Scripture. Tripp trained at Westminster Seminary and now holds a pastoral position at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, the home of such faithful men as Donald Grey Barnhouse and James Montgomery Boice. Nevertheless, Tripp appears to hold a view of man and of God in opposition to the doctrinal history of these institutions. To quote from a Barnhouse sermon: “God is at war with this world. Christ has made peace by the blood of His cross. When will peace on earth come? Not until the Prince of Peace returns.”
To be continued….
1 Paul David Tripp. Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad. Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2009, p. 10. Hereafter references to this book will be in parentheses in the text.
2 John Milton. Paradise Lost, Book IX, lines 706-717.
3 Paul Billheimer. Destined for the Throne. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1983, pp. 35, 37.
4 Walter Martin, “Ye shall Be As Gods,” in The Agony of Deceit, Michael Horton, ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1990, pp. 94, 95.
5 Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The Kingdom of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 1992, p. 21.
6 Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, eds. An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007, p. 130.
7 Stanley Grenz and John R. Franke. Beyond Foundationalism—Shaping Theology in a Post-Modern Context. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, p. 272.
8 Doug Pagitt. Church Re-imagined. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, p.185.
9 Bob DeWaay. The Emergent Church. Saint Louis Park MN: Bob DeWaay, 2009, p. 31.
10See C. F. Allison. The Rise of Moralism. Vancouver: Regent College, 2003, p. 202ff.
11 See Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Person to Person Ministry. Santa Barbara, CA: Eastgate Publishers, 2009, p. 21ff.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, March-April 2010, Vol. 18, No. 2)