Tripp’s language about worship is an attempt to underscore the centrality of the heart in any pursuit of holiness and sanctification. Everyone has certain objects she values more than anything else in life and around which she orders her life; therefore, everyone is a worshipper at heart (44). Since worship is inescapable, the real question is: What will we worship—God’s glory or some “pseudo glory” (98)? Because worship of God is the aim, “The Heart Is The Target” (57). The primary battle in spiritual warfare, for Tripp, is the battle over the human heart (4). Heart-worship directs behavior and is the principle element in motivation (58). The author not only sees the heart as central to the pursuit of holiness but also to the nature of sin. “Sin is much more than doing the wrong thing. It begins with loving, worshipping, and serving the wrong thing” (67). Because the heart is like the steering wheel and gas pedal of a car, directing it where to go and supplying the power to get there, whatever we worship will have an “inescapable influence” over the rest of our lives, whether this influence is direct or indirect (68). This “fundamental biblical principle” explains why some people irritate us and others do not, why some situations press our buttons and make others happy, why some respond one way in a situation and others respond just the opposite—our hearts are different (77-78).
The “Crumbs of Externalism” Won’t Do
After one recognizes the key role the heart plays in both righteousness and sin, it becomes very easy to see why Tripp would loath the “crumbs of externalism” that only address behavior (70). He compares such a grossly limited focus to stapling apples to the branches of trees that do not naturally grow them (63). This fruit-stapling imagery highlights the absurdity of addressing someone’s behavior without addressing the heart issues (63). This basic understanding of human nature will need to be assumed and taught to those to whom we minister because “when most people seek change, they seldom have their hearts in view” (109). The first step in Tripp’s game plan for being an instrument in the hand of the redeemer is to get to know people in need, but getting to know people essentially means “knowing their heart,” and true friendship is the connection of hearts (111). Thus, not only does Tripp keep the heart central to the goal of change but also to the means of change—starting with the first step.
Love Makes the World Go-Round
Tripp’s second most important principle, which is the natural outflow of keeping the heart central to ministry, is the principle of love. This is a result of keeping the heart central because love is first and foremost a heart attitude. Although Tripp never explicitly argues this, we might say he seems to take it for granted based on the wording of the first and second most important commandments (88, 93). Since Tripp defines the heart as including the entire inner person, the heart is also central to the concept of love. When speaking of the importance of loving those to whom one ministers, Tripp often makes statements that might make a Reformed Baptist’s hair stand up on the back of his neck. For example, he says, “The foundation for people-transforming ministry is not sound theology; it is love” (117). The author is aware of the tendency for us as Christians to “lob grenades of truth into people’s lives rather than lay down our lives for them” (118). Sure, counseling involves problem solving, but it must be people focused (126, cf. 116, 134, 137). A woman whose husband has just left her does not need a recap on the Bible’s teaching about marriage and divorce. If that is all a minister can do, he will likely lose his opportunity to help (127). Christians must “mediate God’s presence”(129) by being marked by compassion rather than merely being “theological answering machines” (152, cf. 131).
Emotional Connections are Fundamental To Ministry
There are many other angles from which Tripp keeps the heart central to godliness and sin, and therefore central to ministry and life transformation. He advises his readers to focus first on making an emotional connection to the person who needs help (132). Questions such as “What are you feeling?” are basic to the process of understanding how to help them (133). Whereas some might say, “Your emotions are irrelevant; what really matters is what God says is true,” Tripp does not fall for this trap. He sees emotions as indicators of our interpretations of life—whether they are biblical or unbiblical (196). The key to personal ministry is not always about knowing exactly what to say (184), but those who love will speak when they see a sin problem that needs to be addressed (202). Love is the only right motivation for rebuking and confronting others (220).
Situations Don’t Have Causal Powers? – The ingredient of Tripp’s book which most commonly strikes me as unhelpful is his insensitivity to the complex interplay between life circumstances and heart chemistry. After telling a long story about his getting angry when his hopes for a nice Cuban meal were spoiled, he concludes: “My anger was not caused by the people and situations I encountered. My anger was caused by completely legitimate desires that came, wrongly, to rule me” (82). Tripp seems to assume that since his heart had a key role to play in determining whether he allowed the circumstances to make him angry, therefore the circumstances did not play a key role in making him angry. He thus perpetuates the false dichotomy common in the Biblical Counseling Movement (BCM) between external causation and internal causation. One’s sin, according to typical BCM mantra, is not caused by external circumstances. Rather, it is caused by internal dispositions of the heart. Although Tripp effectively demonstrates that external circumstances are not always a sufficient cause and explanation for why we do what we do in a given situation, and that “any attempt to examine the causes of conflict must begin with the heart” (78), he does so by denying external circumstances a key role in determining human behavior (77, 82-83).
Situations & Heart-Chemestry Both Determine Action – In contrast to this false dichotomy, situations, as well as heart-chemistry, both play a vital role in determining our actions. I have never seen the need to affirm one to the exclusion of the other. While it is true that, on the one hand, two different people in the same situation may react differently, it is equally true that two people with the same values will respond differently when faced with different situations. A man is more likely to desire unlawful revenge under circumstances in which his wife and children are kidnapped, raped, tortured and burned alive than under circumstances in which they remain safe and unharmed. If he were to seek unlawful revenge under the former conditions, external circumstances would play a key role in explaining what caused his vengeful actions. Giving such circumstances a significant power of causation does not necessarily relieve the man of his culpability.
Furthermore, in contrast to Tripp’s oversimplification, external circumstances have a role in shaping our spiritual chemistry (i.e. our heart) over the years. Explaining a twenty-year-old’s lesbianism merely by recourse to her sinful heart begs the question about whether her life circumstances up to that point have greatly shaped the dispositions of her heart. What if she was molested from the age of 12 by lesbians? Would this not greatly pervert her heart and sexual longings? Because such life circumstances greatly influence the heart, restricting explanations for human behavior to present dispositions without due attention to one’s history and life circumstances is a remarkable oversimplification.
Extreme secularists have excused culpability in the sinful behaviors of others on the basis of hard circumstances. Radical fundamentalists have responded by ruling out circumstances from playing a key role in causing certain behavior and the development of human character. This is where I think the BCM has swung the pendulum too far. One does not need to deny external circumstances their power of causation in order to establish culpability.
Unintended Side-Effects: “It’s Not My Fault” – This reactionary error also unwittingly creates a new opportunity for denying culpability. A mother who abuses and neglects her children should take a great deal of responsibility for how bad they turn out. She should not be allowed the excuse, “But circumstances do not determine who we are, and you cannot blame me for how my children turn out. Their circumstances have not caused them to turn out to be rotten, it is a result of their sinful nature.” While a BCM proponent would seem to lack the appropriate paradigm to combat this sort of reasoning and thus be in need of revising its position, a dual explanation theory of human disposition and behavior would automatically render such an excuse as preposterous, irrational, and inconsistent with both Scripture and common sense (Mt 18:6). Although it seems that the concern of those within the BCM has been to keep the anti-responsibility models of secularists from attributing people’s problems merely to circumstance, I am afraid they have in the process allowed for parents who abuse and neglect their children to deny their responsibility in playing a key role in determining how bad their children turn out. In their concern for defending responsibility in one area, ironically, the BCM paradigm has left gaping holes in other areas. Furthermore, although secularists tend to be way off the mark about the answer to the human problem by virtue of their God-less theories, they rightly see that strategies for fixing the human problem are largely circumstantial (cf. 9). Once converted to a Christ-centered worldview through the power of the gospel, a new believer will be forced by way of obedience to Christ into a significant circumstantial repair that may take years of hard and holy sweat.