“How People Change” – Book Review


How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David TrippA while back I started reading a book called “How People Change” written by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. To be honest, I think the beginning of the book has some of the greatest insight I have seen into the American church today – they call it the “Gospel Gap.” It’s actually something my friend blogged about a while back (“The Disconnect”) and something I blogged about a long time ago, when I first read the book. Even after reading the book, I still think it was really insightful.

The author takes a look at 2 Peter 1:3-9 as describing this “Gap”:

2 Peter 1:3-9 (NASB95)
3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness,
7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.

In verse nine, the symptoms of the gap are seen, for there are people who know the Lord but their lives fail to produce the expected fruit. Why are some Christians “ineffective and unproductive?” Peter tells us in verse nine, it is because they are blind or short-sighted, having forgotten that they have been cleansed from their past sins (pp. 2-3).

This plays in with the “then-now-then” principle of the gospel. For “then” in the past, when we accept Christ by faith we are forgiven – completely forgiven. Also, there is the “then” of the future, for there is the promise of an eternity where we will no longer struggle with sin, we will be perfect – glorified. But then there is the “now” part, and it seems this is the part that is much neglected, at least in my own life, for I look back and see that I have been forgiven, and I look forward to the day when I will no longer sin, but right now, well, it’s just hard.

The book then takes a look at some things that people use to fill this “Gap”:

  1. Formalism
    “Church meetings and ministry simply as one healthy aspect of a good life”
  2. Legalism
    “A walking list of dos and don’ts”
  3. Mysticism
    “Constantly hunting for a spiritual high”
  4. Activism
    “Fighting against the ‘evil’ in your community”
  5. Biblicism
    “A biblical and theological expert without Christlikeness”
  6. “Phychology-ism”
    “Christ as a mere therapist not a Savior”
  7. “Social-ism”
    “The Church as a spiritual social club”

Yet, these things cannot fill the “Gap”

This book is a good read – there really is nothing new, but it is a very good reminder as we strive after Christ, our Lord and Savior.

“Our hope is not in our theological knowledge of our experience within the body of Christ. We are thankful for these things, yet we hold onto one hope: Christ” (p. 17). “God’s goal is that we would actually become like him. He doesn’t just want you to escape the fires of hell – though we praise God that through Christ you can! His goal is to free us from our slavery to sin, our bondage to self, and our functional idolatry, so that we actually take on his character!” (p. 18).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,” (Titus 2:11-13)

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16 Responses to “How People Change” – Book Review

  1. Ben says:

    Hm, that list is funny. “The Gap” seems to be, if anything, a lack of some of those things. None of them is a panacea to “Fill the Gap”, but each, in its proper context, could be the fruit of a life grounded in Christ. As James would say, your faith must have a body. You could re-interpret the list thus:

    1) Worship as a lifestyle
    Passionate about lifting God up and displaying Him to the world, through the structure of the Church

    2) Wisdom and Virtue
    Seeking to live a life in accordance with what the Bible teaches, doing what’s right and “keeping yourself unstained by the world”

    3) Know Him in Spirit and Truth
    To know God deeply in a way that is not mere facts and concepts, to understand Him and have a relationship with Him, as “God is seeking worshippers in Spirit and Truth”

    4) Speak up for the Mute
    Part of God’s character is that he is a defender of those who are oppressed and suffering, and we are called to do the same for “the least of these”

    5) Rightly Divide the Word
    The NT warns us to be careful what we believe, to have purity in doctrine, because beliefs can affect actions, and many false prophets are in the world

    6) Heal the sick, Comfort the Mournful, Attain to Full Maturity in Christ
    Christ came primarily to “destroy the works of the Devil”, to redeem what was lost. Certainly it is our goal have “these qualities increasing” … to full maturity

    7) Fellowship and Love for the Brethren
    Can you have fellowship and learn and grow with other Christians if you don’t know them? Yes … but the point is that we be united in love, and if you can’t befriend someone socially, how can you really have a meaningful spiritual connection with them?

    Any of these, outside its proper context and twisted a bit, can be damaging … but this does not mean that Christianity, our Faith, does not need a body.

  2. Michael O. says:

    Does this book prescribe what ought to be done in the “gap” (possibly explaining some “gap-fillers” properly understood/practiced as Ben did above)?

  3. nathanwells says:

    no, it is things people use to fill in the gap, things that are not Biblical – the book is about filling the gap with Christ, not our own efforts.

    -nathan

  4. Ben says:

    Well, obviously you know how I feel about that, but it sure seems like a false dichotomy to me. The possibility or even frequency of failure to effectively follow Christ does not imply that following Christ is pointless. Rather than taking an almost buddhist tack and saying “The way to God is emptiness”, shouldn’t we be disciplining ourselves, as those who would “win the prize”? The possibility of failure should spur us to seek God even more completely.

  5. Michael O. says:

    Nathan,

    How (according to these authors) does one “fill the gap with Christ”? I agree with Ben. To me, it sounds like an oddly dis-incarnate notion of life in Christ.

    I know the best thing to do would be to just read the book, but the way the responsibilities in my life are piling up I know I won’t be getting to it any time in the near (or even not-near) future. If you have a moment to mention how the book deals with this, though, I would be interested.

  6. nathanwells says:

    Ben,
    With the holidays and such I didn’t have time to post a full response. But I will try now.

    At first I wasn’t exactly sure what you were saying, and to be honest, I’m still not exactly sure how any of the gap-fillers could be viewed as good…but then again, you did post a list that is, in my mind, wholly different than the one I took from the book.

    Each one of the gap-fillers is what someone does in order to “feel” like they are a Christian, when in fact they are not. And yes, each of us have a little of each of those gap-fillers on the list, with which we will struggle with throughout our lives – but the point of the list is to point out those weaknesses, or tendencies, so as to help us replace them with a heart that is serving and desiring Christ, rather than one who looks to perform outward service alone.

    One of the marks of a hypocrite is that they focus on one thing, ignoring others (not wholistic), as Jesus points out: ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)

    And to Michael:
    What does it mean to fill in the gap with Christ – as I said in the review, there really isn’t anything new there. Maybe a summery of their point would be this quote:

    “As you think about the Christian life as a lifelong process of change, what things stand out as the key ingredients for change? Most of us focus on the ‘means of grace’: Bible study, prayer, fellowship, reading Christian books, the sacraments, service, and witness. God has provided these as means to an end, but they are not the end! All the means of grace are good and necessary for change, but only if they do not become ends in themselves.
    The Christian life is not less than these means, but it is much more…it is far more than having devotions, giving money, participating in ministry, knowing doctrine, or having religious feelings during worship. I can do all these things without Christ at the center of my life! For Paul, the heart of Christianity is remaining faithful to Christ in a world where many other ‘lovers’ seek my affection.”

    It is like the Lord warned Israel as they came close to the promised land:

    ““When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. “It shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. “Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:10-20)

    I’m not sure if that makes sense. One last quote, in speaking of the gap-fillers listed:

    “Whenever we are missing the message of Christ’s indwelling work to progressively transform us, the hole will be filled by a Christian lifestyle that focuses more on externals than on the heart.”

  7. Ben says:

    Hm, I think Jesus attacked hypocrisy not because virtue is meaningless, but because the Pharisees’ virtue was not genuine. The goal is the true Christian good — Love for God and for Others. This can be, and should be, expressed in many different ways. I get the impression that a book like this would in the end lead to something like antinomianism.

    “Trying to look holier than you are is wrong” = orthodox
    “Seeking to do what’s right is hypocritical” = heretical

  8. nathanwells says:

    Who said virtue is meaningless? Did I?

    I still don’t understand where you’re coming from.

    If I think being “Christian” is part of a good life, regardless of its truth, because it is moral – is there value in that?
    If I think all I have to do is follow a list of do’s and don’ts and God will think I’m good – is there value in that?
    If all I care about is feeling good – is there value in that?
    If all I care about is the evil “out there” and I ignore the evil in me – is there value in that?
    If all I care about is right theology and could care less about loving others – is there value in that?
    If all I care about is how Christ can help me with my problems – is there value in that?
    If all I care about is having friends who are moral like me – is there value in that?

    By value – I mean eternal value – as in being saved and knowing Christ.
    These attitudes are not Christ-like, nor do they show the fruit of a life that has been saved by grace. Do they to you? If they do, how?

    You can be sincere and be sincerely wrong. Just because you are seeking to do what is right doesn’t mean that your desire will result in your being saved. Tons of people are trying to do what is right. And they go to hell, because they do so apart from Christ.

    The gospel is Christ-centered. He is the treasure. He is the reward. He is what will satisfy us. Nothing can replace him.

    Is that antinomianism (“The belief that Christians are free from the obligations of the moral law”)? The reason people take license is because they do not desire Christ – for if they did desire Him, they would love Him, and love of Christ is shown by doing what Christ desires rather than what our flesh desires. He came that we might be free from sin – if we go after sin, we ignore the very reason He came.

    I still can’t pinpoint exactly what you are thinking…but maybe that clears things?

  9. Ben says:

    I don’t think you’re understanding what I’m saying. I read your post about this book, and it struck me as being in the same vein as a post Lee and I discussed a while back, in which the author said:

    “Our best deeds, like our worst sins, are in the end ways to avoid Christ.”

    To me, this goes beyond the mere avoidance of hypocrisy to an ivory-tower, buddhist theology of nothingness. I think that this is the end result of monergism, and it seems to me that in describing “the gap” as you did in this post, you are referencing the same concept. I think the interpretation of that 2 Peter passage is nearly the opposite of what the passage is actually saying — the passage is an encouragement to sanctification, not a description of symptoms. When he says “these people are ineffective” it is not merely a symptom of their nature, but the result of failing to “in your faith, supply moral excellence, etc.” The “gap” should prompt us to obedience.

  10. Lee says:

    Ben, Ben, Ben :-)

    You’re right – this is very similar to our prior conversation….

    How about this – what Nathan is saying (in as much as we seem to agree on these points) is like what Malachi is trying to explain to the people of Israel when he comes to them again and again with God’s complaints against His people for not bringing proper sacrifices, for speaking against Him, for robbing Him, etc., all the while looking like they are doing the right thing – but they aren’t, because their hearts are not right. God isn’t saying there to not bring sacrifices, to not tithe, etc. – He is saying to do it properly – motivated by a circumcision of the heart. Not to do so is to do those things as “gap fillers”.

  11. Ben says:

    Yeah sure, I have no problem with that … you just have to be careful of taking it to the other extreme.

  12. Lee says:

    Ok, so just to make sure everybody is really on the same page: Nathan – do you feel that my approach adequately covered what you were saying?

  13. nathanwells says:

    In some ways – I guess I still don’t see how the things on the list (from the book) could be viewed as good. But that is probably because I read the book and I have just been unclear in presenting it.

    Like you said Lee, it does come down to motive. Kinda like 1 Cor 13. Without love, it doesn’t matter what you do, it is worthless.

    The book is more concerned with getting the reader to the heart, focusing on love for God, and then focusing on how that flows out into actions. The “gap-fillers” are what people do when they have no heart in it, it doesn’t mean that trying to be “Biblical” is wrong, it just means when all you do is fill your head with facts and argue with people about things, and ignore your own walk with the Lord, that it is wrong.

    To be honest Ben, I’m not even sure if I agree with what Tim Keller said either, that “Christians repent of their righteousness” – unless he means without Christ – but he must not since he said Christians do it…
    But I don’t know of Paul repenting from what God had called him to do…
    Not taking credit for the work is one thing, but repenting from what God has wrought? That is another.

    But that is a different conversation :)

  14. Ben says:

    Haha, I always seem to be having a different conversation than everyone else.

  15. Lee says:

    Nathan – my take on the Keller quote (and the whole article) was that he was referring to when Christians have a need to repent of merely being religious, which I see as the same as gap-filling… Did you read the article? Here’s another quote which may help, if not:

    We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal.3:1-3) and are renewed (Col.1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom.1:16-17). It is very common in the church to think as follows. “The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.” But Col.1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you–it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32)

    (Tato – are you reading this thread? This is the 2nd time in as many weeks that Ben and I have come to a consensus!)

  16. Bill says:

    Here’s where Keller and Tripp are coming from… we are seen by the Father as being righteous because the Father sees Jesus as righteous. We are heirs with Christ because of the work of Jesus upon the cross. Jesus conquered our sin because He was sinless. We inherit everything that Jesus inherits, including our forgiveness, justification, adoption, eternal life in heaven, etc.. This is what “propitiation” is all about. Jesus is seen in Hebrews are our intercessor. He intercedes with the Father on our behalf. Praise be to God alone. We offer nothing to the table in our acceptance by the Father. We, the bride of Christ, are called in scripture a “royal priesthood”, sons and daughter of the King, and prophets because these are the attributes of Jesus that are passed on to us as He adopts us into His family. His cloak of righteousness is placed upon us by Him. We earn none of it. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. From a reformed view, I would even conclude that our faith is not our gift to God but rather His gift to us through regeneration. Grace precedes faith NOT faith precedes grace!!! Yes, I must put my faith and trust in Him to be saved but before His grace was given specifically to me, I would have never initiated the faith on my own. When I was dead in my trespasses, I was hostile to God, not seeking Him in any way. Now to the GAP. The “gap” between God’s complete holiness and my utter sinfulness can only be bridged by the CROSS. When I think I am able to add my works to it, I am actually saying that salvation is 99% his work and 1% mine. My works always fall short of his holiness and requirement. Two ways that we try to add to the work of the cross is to either “pretend” that our sin isn’t there or as bad as it really is OR we “perform” for God to be more holy and righteous. Some do this performing by being moralistic, a Christian activist, (all 7 from the list in the review). Both of these humanistic pursuits (pretending and performing) are false hopes and empty, leading to a shrinking of the cross in my life. The gap is never filled by me…. only by resting in the work of Jesus on the Cross. “How People Change” discusses being cross-centered and to allow God to change us as we repent and run to Him. Remember, our Christian journey parallels that of the Israelite’s exile from Egypt. He delivers us, we run away from Him in idolatry, we repent and run back to Him. The Holy Spirit uses the (Heat) in our lives to uncover our sin (thorns) within our hearts. It is God who is growing us, turning our (thorns) into (fruit) in the sanctification process. My circumstances do not define me but rather what is in my heart. We are justified by Christ, yet living in an ongoing struggle with the flesh that must be crucified daily as we are being sanctified by Him.

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