The following is a Book Review and Response of
Tripp, Paul David. A Quest For More.Greesnsboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007. 210pp. $15.99.
Copyright ?? 2008 by Alex S. Leung. All rights reserved.
I. What I???ve Learned
In Paul David Tripp???s A Quest For More, the acclaimed biblical counselor, lecturer, and pastor writes a convincing testimony about the universal journey for ???more??? in life. He navigates through the depths of human heart to unlock what it means to live for the big kingdom of God instead of the little kingdom of self. Instead of writing an exegetical exposition concerning ???kingdom??? passages or a systematic theology about the ???Kingdom of God???, Tripp combines his Nouthetic counseling experience and pastoral insights to form a simple but sanctifying book that meditates on what Christ Jesus truly meant when he called his disciples to seek first his kingdom.In review of what I have learned from this book, I shall arrange my thoughts into three categories taken from the book: the War of Kingdoms, the Center and Focus, and the Hopeful Satisfaction.
1) The War of Kingdoms
One significant truth that I have learned is about the War of Kingdoms. We are a people who were never made to live for ourselves or the world that we find ourselves in, but on the contrary, we are a people that have been made for transcendence, for ???more???, as Tripp beautifully put it. Innate in mankind is a desire to make a difference with our lives, to be part of something big. But the sad part of the story is that because of the sin the saturates our nature, permeates our flesh, and enslaves our hearts and minds, our lives become self-focused instead of God-focused, little kings who rule a little kingdom instead letting the big King to rule his Big kingdom. How can this be, for God has placed in us a desire for transcendence, and made us live for more than ourselves! Consider Tripp???s own words as he reveals to us of our sin:
We were meant to do more than make sure that all our needs are fulfilled and all our desires are satisfied. We were never meant to be self-focused little kings ruling miniscule little kingdoms with a population of one. [???] It is a fundamental denial of your humanity to narrow the size of your life to the size of your own existence, because you were created to be an above and ???more??? being. You were made to be transcendent. (16-17)
Our transcendence is tied directly to the glory of God. More than that, this transcendent glory that we all desire finds its end and purpose in the person of God in Christ. This is a kind of glory that conforms to a lifestyle of stewardship of God???s creation, community among the people of God and love for the truth of God as found in his divinely inspired Scriptures. However, ???in a fallen world there is a powerful pressure to constrict your life to the shape and size of your life. There is a compelling tendency to forget who you are and who you are made for??? (22).While sin may cause us to talk about more and only settle for less, this is the very purpose for which God sent his Son ??? our Redeemer ??? to earth. Through the justifying and adopting sacrifice of Christ on the cross in our place and for our sins, the LORD has restored us to the God glory that should be central to everything we are and all that we do. Through the atoning blood of Jesus, God has rescued us from a life glories only in our own lives and personal concerns ??? he has delivered us into a life of Light that lives with him, for him, and through him.This is the essence of the war of kingdoms: the kingdom of man and of this world has continually been in conflict with the kingdom of heaven and of God (50). By the grace of God, our old way of living for earth-bound treasures and anxiety-bound needs has been miraculously transformed into a new way of living ??? a life that is ???driven by a focus on the transcendent glories of God???s big kingdom purposes (58).???
2) The Center and Focus
The second significant truth that I have learned is about the Center and Focus ??? namely, what should be the center and focus of such big, God kingdom living. Simply put, Christ Jesus needs to be at the very center of everything that we say and think, the focus of all that we desire and do. At the core of the war between kingdoms is the difference between who or what is at the center of our worldview. When we live for the little kingdom we are actually living for ourselves, but for us to live for the big kingdom of God, this is to live for the person of Jesus Christ. In our busy, self-focused lives, the reasons for this may be foreign or blind to us. Nevertheless, Tripp admits the folly of such self-preeminence. ???Living for Christ is the only way you will ever be liberated from your bondage to the overwhelming tendency to shrink the size of your life to the size of your life. The only way to spin free of the narrow confines of little cubicle kingdom is to live in the big sky country of Christ-centered living (99).???For this reason, Christ must be preeminent in all things ??? superior to or notable above all others, greatest in importance (97, 99ff). We ought to live every part of our lives in a Christ-centered way, and in manner that is shaped by Scriptures like Colossians 1:3-23. A Christianity that is reduced to theology and rules only reveals a bane love for self, but a Christianity that is Christ-centered and cross-focused will inevitably by God???s grace reveal a genuine love for Christ. For to ???live in a Christ-centered way means that Christ is my source, motive, goal, and hope (106).???More than that, Christ-centered living means that we are to be open and welcome to death: we must die to self-trying and living for self. This kind of kingdom living requires our death, but is the only thing that truly gives us life and protects us from death. Jesus-focused entails that he be our central point, attraction and attention (123). What God requires of us to manifest such a lifestyle is that we fear him, that we act in ways that are obedient to his word, and to love him deeply above all else.
3) The Hopeful Satisfaction
The third (but hardly last) significant truth that I have learned is about the hopeful satisfaction. Namely, living for God and finding sufficiency in the eternal pleasures of the heavenly realms is that which gives us hopeful satisfaction in God???s kingdom (133-141). The problem of little kingdom living is that such people who walk in such ways are too easily satisfied, people who find their ???enough??? in the things of this world or in the status quo of their Christian context. It may be that one is a Christian, but where there is little contentment in the things of the Divine kingdom, there will be little discontentment and dissatisfaction in the earthy kingdom. On the contrary, where there is deep contentment in the kingdom of God, there will be significant unhappiness and unfulfillment in the kingdom of this world. When we live in such a manner, we shall certainly groan for the kingdom that is to come (Romans 8:22-25) and yearn to be connected to God through his Spirit ??? living harmoniously with, responsively to, and joyfully through God.
II. Application to Life and Ministry
Through what I have learned through A Quest For More, I am convicted that far too often I am living in a way that does not manifest the big kingdom of God but the little kingdom of self. Instead of living, serving and worshiping for the glory of God, I am convicted that I have often lived in a way that enjoys being in the spotlight of ministry.
1) The Stage and Spotlight
Looking back upon the past decade of worship leading and upon the past five or so years of leading Bible study, teaching Sunday school and coordinating teams and committees, I see that there have been numerous occasions ??? not just individual moments ??? where I have enjoyed being in the center of people???s attention.In leading worship music at church and in fellowship, standing in front of a large congregation or an intimate group of worshipers has fueled a happiness in and for myself ??? that people like the way I sing, that they like the way I lead the songs, that they approve of the way I ???spiel??? and charismatically pray in between songs. Instead of directing the praise, glory and attention to the audience of One and the glory of God, I have basked in and gotten pleasure in the applause and celebration of man. Through the lens of Scripture, I now see that such a manner of living with me in the center is outright sin. While there is certainly a God-centered kingdom living that is the foundation and focus of my worship ministry, I am convinced that all my lead worshiping has not been purposed for the glory of God but the glory of myself.
2) The Tyranny of Teaching
As I consider all the areas church and fellowship in which I have taught the Word of God, I see that there also have been numerous occasions where I have enjoyed capturing the attention of my students. In teaching the glories and wonders of our great God and Savior, I have wowed the audience with the power of God through dramatic body expressions and vocal exaggerations. While such dynamics in teaching is certainly the method and style of teaching that God has gifted me with, God has convicted me through A Quest For More that I have lived in the little kingdom of self. It may have seemed to those listening to my words that Christ is at the center and focus of what I teach, and even as the content of what I teach is gospel-centered, I know that God is not happy with me. He is not wowed by my dramatics, and he is not wowed by my pretty words. God desires that he be the center and focus of all that I teach, and that my methods and content should be God-glorying and directed towards him. Big kingdom living means that God should not just be an aside, but that he should be the end and entirety for which I teach and lead.
3) Life in Death
God has convicted me that I have not lived the big kingdom that requires my death and brings me life, and that I have lived a little kingdom that seems to promise life but is only bringing me death.Even though I am a born-again believer of Jesus Christ, and even as I have trusted in God as the giver of every good and perfect gift, I have succumb to the temptation of Christian materialism and seminarian satisfaction. Being ???born??? into a Christian family, I have been dealt a good hand of cards in which I have never felt what it truly be in need, and my parents have been so kind as to provide for me when I do not have: tuition, books, food, clothing, shelter. I do not think for a moment that they have spoiled me, but in a minute and hidden way, I have taken advantage of their kindness and have not been disciplined to labor for the things that I need.I praise the Lord that he is reminding me of such danger on this side of eternity. The ease of easily fulfilling my material needs and wants is something that is more detrimental to my spiritual health than helpful. I need a kingdom perspective in which material possessions are nothing but rubbish, a mindset that sees materialism as something that will atrophy my soul and end only in death.Through the eyes of Tripp???s book here, I see that my “Christian materialism” is in many ways idolatry. I have made a hobby out of collecting Bibles: calfskin editions of God???s word. While it may not be sin to buy numerous copies of the Holy Bible, it is certainly materialistic of me to enjoy the thing of the Bibles instead of the word in the Bibles. I have found pleasure in the leather cover, the Smyth-sewn binding, and India paper of the Bible instead of the history, poetry, narrative, epistles and apocalypse that is found in the text of the Scriptures within. My heart has neared bibliolatry, but thanks to A Quest For More, I see that God is calling me to pursue a pleasure in the words of Christ. I need to read the words of the Spirit more, instead of just touching the material of the Book. Only in this way may I die to the priority of self and of hobby. Only in this manner may I die to the pursuit of my own life and pleasure.Having now spent a whole year studying at Southern Seminary, I have learned a great deal about theology, Greek and the New Testament. However, I see that I have succumb to the sin of seminarian satisfaction in the pursuit of ministry preparation. From buying and reading numerous books for all the classes I have taken, I have consequently taken for granted the gift of books. Looking at my relatively small library of theological and biblical literature, I have in my own little way created an idol out of books ??? collecting them and building a library from them. While it is a good and edifying thing in and of itself to be building a library of books about God and his word, it can easily become an idol if and when I treasure the books themselves more than the redemptive message and saving narrative behind them. I need to read the text of the books more, instead of just touching the materials of the books. Only through the word of Christ may I die to the pursuit of my own dreams, hopes and ambitions.