Book Review: War of Words

Tripp, Paul David. War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Our Communication Struggles. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000. Paperback, 280 pages. $14.99

War of Words CoverPurchase: P&R | WTS ($9.89) | Amazon ($10.19) | CBD ($11.99)

ISBNs: 0875526047 / 9780875526041

Other Formats:

Audio Book (on CD by Resources for Changing Lives) - WTS ($39.96)

DVD Seminar (due August 2008 from New Growth Press) - WTS ($108.76)

Subjects: Interpersonal Communication, Christian Speech

Paul Tripp (M.Div., Philadelphia Theological Seminary; D.Min., Westminster Theological Seminary) is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries; is on the pastoral staff of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia; is a faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF); is a lecturer in biblical counseling at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia; and is a visiting professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“What we’ve got here is … failure to communicate.” So says the prison warden, The Captain, to prisoner Luke in the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke. I’ve never seen the movie, but I’ve often heard the phrase since the quote has entered our cultural lexicon. In his book War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Our Communication Struggles, Paul Tripp seeks to help us understand why we all struggle with failure in our communication.

This book is far more than a self-help book for improving your communication. It goes beyond simply explaining biblical principles of communication and is nothing short of a biblical theology of communication.

Tripp begins by taking us back to the first chapters of Genesis and reminding us that God speaks. God spoke creation into existence. God spoke to Adam and Eve. He has continued to speak throughout human history, revealing Himself, His plan, and His purpose in human words. As the author notes, “The value of every piece of human communication is rooted in the fact that God speaks” (8).

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and one aspect of the imago dei is the ability to speak or communicate with God and with one another. This made them different than all the animals. Unfortunately, God and Adam and Eve were not the only ones with the ability to communicate. Satan possessed that ability as well, and he used words to question God’s Word. Several errors occurred when Satan spoke to Eve. For the first time, the authority of God was challenged, Satan presented an interpretation of life different from God’s, and he spoke something less than the truth. As a result of Satan’s conversation with Eve, she and Adam disobeyed God. When God confronted them, a new first took place: people began speaking against one another and against God. Adam blamed Eve for his sin and blamed God for giving Eve to him (Gen. 3:12).

When sin entered the world, it affected every aspect of our lives, including our communication. The apostle Paul quotes the Psalms in reference to all mankind. “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13-14, ESV). As James reminds us, our tongues have great destructive power (James 3:1-12).

What is the source of the evil that pours forth from our lips? It is our sinful hearts. Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). As Tripp states, “Word problems reveal heart problems” (55). Our words reveal the idols of the heart (Tripp calls them “idol words”), the desires that take the place of God on the throne of our hearts (see James 4:1-4). “What I speak is directly related to what I want. My words are one means I use to get what is important to me” (57).

So how do we solve our communication problems? The answer is that on our own, we cannot. That is why God sent Jesus Christ, the Word, to earth to communicate God’s message of salvation—so we can be changed from the inside out. One of the greatest strengths of this book is its gospel-centeredness; it emphasizes again and again that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to our communication problems. Christ’s death defeated sin and gives us the power through the Holy Spirit to please God with our speech. Here’s how Tripp summarizes these truths:

  • God has a wonderful plan for our words that is far better than any plan we could come up with on our own.
  • Sin has radically altered our agenda for our words, resulting in much hurt, confusion, and chaos.
  • In Christ Jesus we find the grace that provides all we need to speak as God intended us to speak.
  • The Bible plainly and simply teaches us how to get from where we are to where God wants us to be (5).

The solution for our communication problems is to submit to God as King over all areas of our lives, including our communication. Tripp writes, “Only when I submit to the rule of God, who has a perfect plan and is in complete control, will I begin to live and speak as he has purposed … The war of words is, at bottom, a war for sovereignty” (69).

And once we realize and submit to God’s authority in our lives, we understand a new purpose for our speech—to speak as an ambassador for God. We are to speak God’s message on God’s behalf. This truth is stated clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

What does it mean to speak as an ambassador for God?

Speaking as an ambassador means speaking in a way that represents the mission (that is, the will and purposes) of the King. It means asking, Do my words capture what is valuable to the Lord? It also means considering the methods of the King. This means asking, How would the Lord respond to this person in this situation? Here we look to the Lord as our ultimate model of behavior. Our calling is to respond as he responded, to act as he acted, and to speak as he spoke. Finally, speaking as an ambassador requires thinking about the character of the King. Representing the Lord is not only a matter of right goals and right methods, but right attitude as well. Here we ask, As I respond to this person in this situation, am I faithfully representing the character of the King? (111)

The rest of the book details practical ways to begin speaking as an ambassador for God. These ways include biblical principles of repenting for sinful speech, lovingly confronting others by our speech, exercising self-control in our speech, and using our speech to build others up. We must choose, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to use words of truth, love, restraint, grace, and forgiveness.

One helpful feature of this book is the “Getting Personal” section at the end of each chapter. This section includes a set of questions for self-assessment. My only quibble with this book is its length. A counselor might give this book to those struggling with sinful patterns of communication, but its length (245 pages) might discourage some from reading it. It seemed that some of the material overlapped and could have been condensed.

This book is challenging because it convicts the reader of his sinful tendencies in the area of communication. It is encouraging because it gives hope through its gospel-centered approach. Though much of the book is theological in nature, it is practical in that it details steps to please God with our speech. I highly recommend it.

long_greg.jpgGreg Long (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, IA) is the Pastor of Children’s Ministries at Grandview Park Baptist Church in Des Moines, IA. He and his wife, Christy, have two boys, Nathan and Andrew, and one beagle, Sophie. His desire is for his own children and the children of Grandview Park Baptist Church to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” so that He receives “the glory both now and forever” (2 Pet. 3:18). He can be contacted at greglong at grandviewparkbaptist dot org.

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