Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 11/13/2007 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A clarion call against shrinking your life to the size of individual wants and desires at the expense of the freedom of living within the bounds of God’s kingdom purposes.
There are few writers whose star seems to rise and rise as they turn out book after book. Paul David Tripp is one of those writers. Tripp has been positively prolific in the last few years, with three books either authored or co-authored in 2006 and 2007 alone. Every Paul Tripp book has become an instant classic in Reformed biblical counseling circles, and each release is anticipated more than the last. Tripp is not only a prolific writer, but a prolific worker. The various hats he wears include faculty member for both the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian’s Center City initiative in the same city, and sought-after conference speaker under the banner of Paul Tripp Ministries. And this list only takes account of current activities; in the past he co-founded a church and a Christian school, as well as conducting a thriving, decades-long biblical counseling ministry. Did I mention he is a gifted, prolific writer? A Quest for More is his latest effort, and while it lives up to its expectations, it is bound to raise some eyebrows along the way. It is rife with quotable words and phrases, not to mention life-altering, paradigm-shifting observations. The challenge is therefore to select representative parts of the book for comment, and to let the actual book do the rest of the work.
Categorizing this book is a tricky business, which is probably why Tripp wrote a preface addressing the problem:
Some books are a concentrated examination of a topic. Other books lay out a set of skills or techniques for a certain aspect of life. Some books record a person’s experience or journey. Others are funny or sad.
The book you are about to read doesn’t fit into any of these categories.
Here is my best attempt to tell you what you are about to read: This entire book is meant to stimulate you to think about one central biblical concept, the kingdom of God. But this book is not a theology of kingdom, nor an exposition of the kingdom passages in the Bible. No, it is simply a meditation on what Jesus meant when he called us to “seek first his kingdom.” What does it really look like to expand everything our lives contain to touch the size of his kingdom?
Tripp is spot on when he says the book defies categorization. Some reviewers may be tempted to allocate this book to the purpose-driven category, and it is, in the best sense of the word. But “it is not enough to determine to have purpose,” says Tripp. Not simply a book of practical principles founded upon truth propositions, it bares Paul Tripp’s heart for authentic kingdom living. He labors long and hard to mark out the borderline between the `big sky kingdom’ of God and the personal, destructive, little kingdoms we build to rival the big kingdom, intentionally or not. Astute biblical counselor that he is, Tripp says no-man’s land doesn’t exist between the two kingdoms. You are either living for God or for yourself. Frighteningly, you can think you are living for God when you are in fact living for self. Throughout the book Tripp unpacks many practical (`functional,’ in Tripp’s terminology) ways in which we live for one kingdom or the other. After setting up the controlling idea of big kingdom (God) versus little kingdom (self), he weaves in analogies of civilization, costume, shrink wrap (believe it or not), jazz, and romance, just to name a few. It takes a gifted communicator to translate these concepts into productive illustrations, but Tripp accomplishes what he has set out to do in every instance. The chapter colorfully entitled `The Costume Kingdom’ is the highpoint of the book, in which Tripp relentlessly exposes ways and means Christians use to conduct little kingdom business under the guise of big kingdom living. This scrutiny of this chapter leaves no place to hide, setting the tone for the rest of the book, exhorting the reader to expansive, tireless big kingdom living.
Nevertheless, some eyebrows will be raised in the course of reading this book. Two chapters in particular will appeal to quite diverse audiences. The chapter that will resonate most with one segment of readers will likely discomfort another segment of readers, and vice versa. The two chapters in question are those entitled `Loneliness’ and `Anger.’ The former revolves around a metaphor of romance depicting certain aspects of our relationship with God, with whom “we are meant to be madly in love.” Such an approach is ever so slightly Eldredge-esque and will aggravate the crowd that rails against Jesus-is-my-boyfriend worship music, but in all fairness only this one chapter hinges on the concept of the sacred romance. But equally disturbing to the crowd that loves Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music will be a later chapter describing the narrative of Scripture as a perpetual battle between two types of anger: the holy, righteous anger of the big-kingdom-building God and the unholy, unrighteous anger of humanity intent on building its individual little kingdoms of one. Tripp notifies us that we are not to live devoid of anger altogether; rather, we are to properly practice anger in line with God’s passions and purposes: “You see, if you are living for the big kingdom you will be angry [along] with God, rather than at God.” Fortunately for both segments of Tripp’s readership, the book rounds out with a picture of our future hope, that of eternity with Christ, and an epilogue portraying a young man named Zach who possesses an imitable propensity for kingdom living.
Since one of the side benefits of reading is scanning footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies for further reading, it bears mentioning that Tripp does not quote from conventional sources. Apart from Scripture, Indian theologian Vinoth Ramachandra features most heavily early on in the book, and Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller’s influence is felt later, although responsibly mediated by Tripp.
And so we come to the question of who should read this book. At the beginning of one chapter Tripp tells a story about a retreat during which he spoke about faith. He asked for a definition of faith, which someone defined as believing, which in turn someone defined as trusting, which in turn someone defined as having faith. Tripp uses this story to underscore his concern that “we Christians tend to talk in a coded, quasi-biblical language that can cloud understanding as much as benefit it.” Tripp is not advocating a wholesale data dump of theological language but is appealing for a discerning sensitivity between helpful and unhelpful language when speaking about the things of God. Happily, Tripp applied this concern when composing the book, so we are left with a book that will greatly aid new believers as well as challenge lifelong believers. Readers both new to Christ and mature in Christ are invited to add their own names to the list in Chapter 7 of those biblical figures who unwittingly shrunk their lives to a fraction of God’s transcendent glory. The application of this exercise is universal: we are all guilty of shrinking our lives to the size of our wants, desires, and perceived needs.
Reading the Paul Tripp corpus in chronological sequence is an exercise in continuity. Thought processes that were only seminal or hinted at in earlier books are regularly brought to full fruition in successive books. Therefore, while I would heartily recommend this book to begin your journey with Dr. Tripp, I would equally recommend any other Paul Tripp book. I am certain A Quest for More will leave you wanting more – of Paul Tripp’s writing, of big kingdom living, and most importantly, of Christ its king.