Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands (IRH) places such great importance on his methodology of counseling to the degree that one could easily conclude that believers cannot expect to grow spiritually or have victory over sin without it. To enlarge the importance of counseling, he expands the ordinary meaning of counseling to all of life when he says:
If it is true that all human beings are constantly trying to make sense out of life, then all of life is counseling or personal ministry. Counseling is the stuff of human life. We are always interpreting and always sharing our interpretations with one another. This “sharing” ultimately amounts to advice or counsel about how to respond to life (Bold added).1
Tripp also alternates between the words counseling and personal ministry, but all along he is moving towards presenting his particular methodology, which he promotes as absolutely necessary for anyone to be helped.
Tripp’s methodology is not only syncretized with psychological counseling theories and methods; it is conducted in an artificial environment, in which the counselor is in the superior position and directs the conversation according to an agenda. In this contrived arrangement, the counselor: (1) elicits information, much of which will be biased talebearing and evil speaking about others; (2) forms subjective assumptions, guesses, and opinions about the counselee’s inmost being (though he denies advancing his “own opinion,” IRH, 212); (3) opens the counselee’s blind eyes with what he thinks he sees; (4) reveals to the counselee his supposed idol-infested heart; (5) confronts him with each idol that must be destroyed; (6) rebukes the counselee who may not be cooperating; (7) insists on the counselee’s accountability to the counselor; and (8) attempts to keep counseling going until the counselee changes accordingly. Most of this is conducted in a special place, at an appointed hour week after week, and usually for a specified fee. Tripp’s counseling methodology differs from normal conversation and from mutual care in the body of Christ, because it mirrors psychological counseling more than biblical ministry.
Tripp works to convince his readers that he has the right biblical way to diagnose the heart, to examine why people do what they do, and to help people overcome their sinfulness. He says, “Help will only come as we deal with our past and our own sin. This is essential because sinners tend to respond sinfully to being sinned against” (IRH, 11). Notice here that Tripp’s methodology is dependent on revisiting and talking about the past, including how others have sinned against them.
Furthermore, to justify the use of counseling, he says, “We cannot step out of our sinfulness. We need more than love and encouragement, information and insight. We need rescue. Anything less will not address what is really wrong with us” (IRH, 11). By this he means more than what Christ accomplished on the cross, more than the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, more than the Word of God, and more than the simple fellowship of the saints as shown forth in Scripture, else why would he include methods from the world of psychological counseling?
Tripp’s book gives the idea that believers need his methodology in order to use the Bible properly. He declares, “Many Christians simply don’t understand what the Bible is.… We tend to offer each other isolated pieces of Scripture (a command, a principle, a promise) that seem to fit the need of the moment” (IRH, 24).
Yet Tripp himself uses “isolated pieces of Scripture (a command, a principle, a promise)” with counselees. Is he insinuating that a verse of Scripture does not have power to convict? Who knows but what the verse that is given is the very one that the Lord brings to mind because He is the one who knows the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 clearly shows the power of the Word itself.
As research on counseling has shown, the counselor and his methodology pale in comparison to what the counselee is and does.2 In biblical ministry the effectiveness has far more to do with the Lord, the Word, and the believer than with the person who comes along side to help. Nevertheless, Tripp places an inordinate confidence in his counseling methodology, which is dependent on counselees confessing the sins of others, gossiping, dishonoring parents, demeaning spouses, and speaking evil against others.3 Truly the Word of God ministered by the Holy Spirit in the depths of the heart will do more than external confrontation.
Discouraging Fellow Believers from Ministering
Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands appears to be written to encourage Christians to minister to each other. However, though some people will simply add some of his ideas to what they are already doing, much in the book will discourage people from ministering to one another. They will think they need the special training that Tripp and others have, as if they hold the secrets of counseling properly. For instance he talks about how so many believers do not know how to use the Word properly and says, “Being biblical does not mean merely quoting words from within its pages” (IRH, 27). While there is more to ministry than “merely” quoting from the Bible, the Word of God is the only Word that will bring life and nourish new life. Indeed we want the whole counsel of God so that there can be a context, but the person may already know the context and only need a word “fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).
In bad-mouthing the way others might minister to a fellow believer, he says “If you give counsel that does not scratch at that idolatry, you will strengthen it, you will instill it, you will institutionalize it. The little principles you give will be used to serve that idol.”4 He says, “If you do not help people to see their story from a distinctly biblical, Christ-centered perspective, your ministry will do nothing but lob theological platitudes and principles at them.” While the first part of Tripp’s sentence sounds good, one discovers that what he is really referring to is his method of examining and diagnosing hearts to discover the hidden idols supposedly directing behavior beyond the person’s knowledge or control. What may sound like “theological platitudes” to Tripp may actually be biblical doctrines and principles, which the Holy Spirit can apply to a believer’s life.
There is no example in Scripture (nor in 2000 years of commentaries) of the kind of counseling Tripp describes, even though he uses Scripture throughout his book and says many true things along the way.
Cross of Christ Not Enough
Tripp speaks of the wonderful truth of what Christ accomplished on the cross regarding being crucified with Christ (IRH, 92). However, his faith in what Christ has done is mixed with the message that believers must do an inner work of searching out and getting rid of what he calls “idols of the heart,” which are like unto the unconscious motivations of behavior and desires outside one’s awareness of insight therapy. It is grievous to see biblical truth about the new life in Christ mingled with depth psychology.
Instead of trying to identify idols of the heart through Tripp’s insight counseling and rather than searching out the past in order to uncover such idols, believers need to believe the Word and do what it says by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Following this passage of Scripture does not require looking for idols. Neither does it require counseling that depends on a methodology reflective of insight psychotherapy. It does require believers to choose moment by moment to walk according to the Spirit and to put off the old ways of the flesh.
1 Paul David Tripp. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002, p. 45. Hereafter references will be indicated with IRH and page number in parentheses.
2 Allen E. Bergin and Sol L. Garfield, “Overview, Trends, and Future Issues,” in Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior change, Fourth Edition, Allen E. Bergin and Sol L. Garfield, eds. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994, p. 825.
3 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, pp. 79-87
4 Paul Tripp, “Wisdom in Counseling,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 19, No. 2, Winter 2001, p. 9.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, July-August 2011, Vol. 19, No. 4)