Relationships is vintage Paul Tripp. He (along with co-author Tim Lane) takes the same principles that he most clearly articulated in his signature work Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands and applies them more specifically in each of his other books. Whether the topic is marriage, midlife, parenting or relationships, the problems and solutions are the same. The aim of the book is stated in the first chapter:
This book will help you look through the shattered glass of our sin to see the glory of a Redeemer who is ever-present, always at work to rescue and change us (p. 2).
Lane and Tripp attempt to accomplish their goal through a number of means. First, they pull the rug out from under our cherished misconceptions. For example, “The fatal flaw of human wisdom is that you can change your relationships without needing to change yourself” (p. 7). They remind us that relational pain has divine purpose, “God wants to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would see our need for a relationship with Him as well as with others. Even painful things we experience in relationships are meant to remind us of our need for Him” (p. 8). And, “Holding grudges, becoming bitter, praying for vengeance, and gossiping are not methods that God honors. When you hold the perpetrator ‘accountable’ but not in a spirit of humility, patience, and compassion, you end up perverting the very justice you seek” (p. 39).
The central theme of the book, as in all Tripp’s books, is the need to deal with the heart. Using Matthew 6:19-24 as the basis, the authors remind us that what we treasure controls our hearts and what controls our hearts controls our behavior. Therefore true and lasting change must come from changed hearts.
These teachings, and many others, are both biblical and highly practical as we attempt to handle our relationships in ways that please God. However, I must mention three areas of concern.
1. The authors’ covenantal theology leads to some fuzzy teachings and misuse of Scripture. Lane and Tripp tell us, for example, that “whenever God’s grace changes your heart and life, you are experiencing the kingdom coming to earth as it already is in heaven” (p. 171). And, “This means that your relationships are a place where the kingdom has come” (p. 172). Once again, “The good things we experience are a mark of God’s kingdom coming to our own lives” (p. 174). None of these statements teaches a proper understanding of the kingdom of God which will come when Christ the King returns to earth. This covenantal perspective also leads to misunderstanding of Old Testament Scripture. The authors (p. 158) use Ezekiel 36:26 to assure us that as Christians “our hearts of stone have been replaced by hearts of flesh,” but in context the quote is in reference to the change coming to the nation of Israel at the coming of Christ and His kingdom. And, strangely, the authors use Exodus 33:15, where Moses is pleading for God’s presence to lead Israel to the Canaan, as a promise to us that God’s presence is with us as believers. Excellent New Testament passages could have taught the same truth (e.g. Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 6:19), why take an Old Testament narrative out of context and force it to teach something foreign to its obvious meaning?
2. I was disturbed by the authors’ repeated use of Eugene Peterson’s corrupt quazi-paraphrase of the Scripture, The Message. If I counted correctly, about 15 quotes are taken from this source. The quotes used were not as unfaithful to the original meaning as many other sections of the paraphrase, but if the reader will compare the quotes with a good translation, liberties with the true meaning of the text will often stand out. Why are these men promoting what is arguably the worst and most damaging paraphrase of Scripture in recent years?
3. More troubling still was a quote, without any explanation, from Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz (p. 118). Miller is a leader in the emergent movement and Blue Like Jazz is one of the most popular misrepresentations of biblical living flowing from the emergent camp.
4. Perhaps even more concerning, if I understand what the authors are trying to say, is their convoluted teaching on the use of imagination (pp. 157-166). They draw their understanding of imagination not from Scripture, although they offer Ezekiel 36:26 and Exodus 33:15, which I have discussed above. In addition they take John 14:15-20 and attempt to force it unsuccessfully to prove their point (p. 161). No, their teaching on imagination comes clearly from Eugene Peterson (pp. 157, 164). It needs to be understood that Peterson is not only the author of The Message but a leader in the mysticism heresy taught by Richard Foster as well as an endorser of such perversions of the faith as The Shack. To quote men such as Donald Miller and Eugene Peterson and to promote their teachings without a single word of warning or explanation leaves this reviewer bewildered. The Christian community has come to expect more from men like Tripp and Lane. They have given us some of the most helpful and biblical material available today on Christian living. I truly hope that they are not opening the door to mystical and emergent teachings that will not only undermine their ministries but will do great harm to the body of Christ.