Paul David Tripp Q&A: part 2 of 2

Communications Staff — September 23, 2009

The Sept. 21 issue of Towers, which can be accessed online here, or downloaded here, highlights the topic of biblical counseling and features a Q&A with Paul David Tripp. You can read part 1 of the interview here.

Here is part 2 of 2:

Q: Do evangelicals fully understand sin? Isn’t the news, as reported by Scripture, far worse than we often tend to think?

PDT: I think it absolutely is. There are a couple of things that have happened. Sadly, the culture has abandoned the category completely. I could never sign up for a Ph.D. program in psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia and propose that I was going to write my dissertation on sin as a diagnostic category of human dysfunction. That is a sad reality that this once revered category has become a mocked category.

The second dynamic that has happened is the church has backed away from a wide-ranged, full-orbed, multi-faceted theology of sin that is everywhere in its history. If you read Augustine, it’s there. If you read Jonathan Edwards, it’s there. Jonathan Edwards’ writing about sin is so psychologically insightful, there are many secular thinkers who would name Edwards as the first American psychologist: he talks so elaborately about the nature of the human affection and motivation. But he was just exegeting sin.

We have ended up with a behavioral, externalistic definition of sin; sin is just saying or doing bad things. If you say sin is only about doing or saying bad things, then it doesn’t seem like a useful diagnostic category for understanding the human condition. But if you say sin is vertical and relational, environmental and psychological, and historical, all of a sudden, you’ve got this huge diagnostic category.

Q: Does this small view of sin cause many evangelicals to fail to realize the fullness of the hope we have in the Gospel?

PDT: Sure, because if my life is environment, history, relationships, psychology and morality, and of all those categories the Gospel only addresses morality why would I be excited? We’ve reduced the cross down to only dealing with one aspect of the multitude of aspects that is my problem. I want the whole thing. But what this view of sin does is make the cross smaller.

I like to think of this reductionistic approach this way: the circle of the Gospel is little and there are all these things that exist outside the circle of the Gospel. I am thankful for the cross because it helps me to be a better person in a behavioral sense, but all that other stuff that is part of my experience, I have no hope in the cross in all of those areas. It’s tragic and I can’t tell you how many people I counsel who begin to talk about the cross and say, “Dr. Tripp, I believe in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, but you don’t know what happened in my family.”

They hear me talking about the cross as being a bait-and-switch; they came to talk about their life and I talk about the cross and they don’t think that those two relate. We’ve just shrunk the person and work of Jesus in a way that is tragic and has damaged generations in the church. I am very excited about this resurgence of a theology of the heart and a theology of the fall and a theology of the expansiveness of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a great day, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Q: How can a pastor begin to help his congregation think in this Gospel-centered way?

PDT: A couple of things; one, I would say, redemptive-historic preaching that puts before people the grand narrative of redemption without all the theological insights that are made on the side. It is incredibly important that every passage I preach is a finger that points to Christ, that the character of every story, the theme of every story, is Jesus Christ and that I self-consciously preach that way. I think being very zealous to make every sermon root where people live every day and every sermon gets connected to my need for the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ where I live every day so truth never lives out there in some abstract world that doesn’t touch everyday life.

Another thing is self-disclosure. I think the pastor, in ways that are appropriate, using himself as an example of the dilution of sin and the rescue of Christ. Preaching is very powerful where you can turn and say, “Let me tell you about my struggle with this.” And what that does is to take something that is abstract and puts it in concrete terms for people. The congregation then sees their struggle become your struggle and your hope become their hope. That is 1 Corinthians 1:9-10 where Paul is being pretty self-disclosing. Paul’s saying, “We’re telling you this that your hope would not be in us, but that your hope would be in God. He delivered us and He will deliver you.” How effective is that? What a model for us.

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