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Paul David Tripp: : What to Know Before You Deconstruct

with Paul David Tripp | October 7, 2022
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Paul David Tripp knows what it’s like to lie awake at night over uncertainties about God. If you've ever questioned your beliefs or what you were taught growing up, you're in good company.


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  • Shelby Abbott

    Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States. Abbott is the author of Jacked and I Am a Tool (To Help with Your Dating Life), Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress and DoubtLess: Because Faith is Hard. He and his wife, Rachael, have two daughters and live in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Paul David Tripp knows what it’s like to lie awake at night over uncertainties about God. If you’ve ever questioned your beliefs or what you were taught growing up, you’re in good company.

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Paul David Tripp: : What to Know Before You Deconstruct

With Paul David Tripp
October 07, 2022
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Season 1, Episode 5: What to Know Before You Deconstruct, Part 1


Guest:             Paul David Tripp

Air Date:        October 8, 2022


Shelby: What's your favorite thing about me?

Paul: My favorite thing about you is that you are absolutely terrified of eating all the things that I love to eat. [Laughter]

Shelby: That's your favorite thing about me?

Paul: Yes; because when I'm with you, and I'm feeling gluttonous, I never feel selfish.

Shelby: Yes; you just eat off my plate whenever you want to, which you have several times.

Paul: I did it yesterday; I reached over my chopsticks and took some beef.

Shelby: That's true.

Well, I mean, I was hoping maybe you would say my love for Jesus or how great of a writer I am; but you went there:—

Paul: Oh, oh, oh, I was going to say—

Shelby: I can steal food.”

Paul: —and I was going to say, “…and your love for Jesus.”

Shelby: Oh, okay. [Laughter] Good, good, good. Thanks for tacking that on there at the end; it seemed very authentic.

Paul: Yes, it was.

Shelby: Somewhat anxious—always authentic—this is Real Life Loading… I’m your host, Shelby Abbott. And our desire with this podcast is to help guide you toward the life-changing power of Jesus for relationships in a constantly-shifting culture. We're called Real Life Loading, dot, dot, dot. And those three dots at the end of our title are really significant. The dots kind of describe being in process—we haven't arrived—we're very much in a state of loading. It's my job to be a trusted friend, to come alongside you and help you walk closely with God in the humor and hardship of life.

Today, I'm talking with a guy, who I would call one of the greatest influences in my life. I've been friends with Paul David Tripp since 2015, when he spoke at a student conference I was emceeing in Baltimore, Maryland. We hit it off, both on stage and behind the scenes. And at the end of the conference, he said, “You live close to Philly; right?” And I was like, “Yes.” And he said, “We should get together.” And I was like, “Okay.” We grabbed breakfast the next week in the city.

And basically, we've been meeting pretty much every month for the last seven years. He's, in many ways, been my mentor; but he's also just a really good friend. He's got a great sense of humor, a deep passion for the gospel, an epic mustache—seriously, Google® him and you'll see—and a slick eye for style when it comes to fashion; I love that about him. Paul has written over 30 books, including the best-selling daily devotional called New Morning Mercies.

Today, in Part 1 of my conversation with him, we're going to talk about: the worst spiritual advice he was ever given; deconstructing his faith; properly understanding and interpreting the Bible; why self-focus is such a destructive force; and the two questions that haunt every human being—you know, light stuff. Get ready for a masterclass from the man himself in my conversation with Paul David Tripp.



Shelby: Alright; so you've been in ministry for a long time. You've been a believer for decades now. What's the worst piece of spiritual advice that you've ever been given?

Paul: Well, this term wasn't used several years ago, but: “The only way to keep from being trolled is just to live privately. Don't open up to people in your life; don't be transparent. Be careful where you share your opinions. The most secure way of living is to live a very private life; because if you don't, people will hurt you and people will hurt your ministry.”

Shelby: Wow; so how have you found that that was bad advice?

Paul: Well, I'm not the first one to have thought of this; but if you read somewhere between Genesis and Revelation, you will conclude that the Bible is entirely relational. [Laughter] It begins—I mean, we're confronted, first, with relationship with God—but soon, it's relationship between Adam and Eve, human beings. You just can't escape that we were created as social beings, vertically and horizontally, and that you can't have healthy spirituality that lives outside of those relationships as well; so it's horrible advice.

In fact, that kind of privatized individualism—I call it me-istic living—never works; it never produces anything good. And so here's a person/an older person, who is trying to help me; he gives me the worst advice ever. Now, I know where that advice came from—it didn't come from God's Word—it came out of being hurt. It is true that we live in a broken world—and if you're transparent and vulnerable, you'll be hurt—but if you're going to live to avoid hurt, you're going to live a sad life.

Shelby: Yes; well that actually leads me quite well into my next question, which, as I think about young people, who could be listening to this—how they could learn specifically from you and your wisdom—"If you could take all the wisdom you have in your life right now, and transport it into your 21-year-old self, what do you think you would do differently during your younger years?”

Paul: Well, I think that the thing, that is now the bedrock of everything I do/everything I write is the deep-abiding belief that: “God is good in every way and all of the time.” That has been the tracks that I try to run on in my personal life/that I try to run on in ministry.

I think, in the earlier days of ministry, I surely did believe in God; I surely did believe in His Word. But I think I more held it up for question or inspection: “What if this fails me?” What I've come to realize is: “If, in any way, me—Paul Tripp is debating the wisdom of God; or if I'm questioning His faithfulness, His wisdom, His love—I'm, in some way, although I may not be doing this intentionally or consciously, saying that there's a possibility that Paul Tripp is smarter than God. That I could possibly arrive at a more trustworthy view of: myself, view of life, view of others, view of circumstances, view of meaning and purpose—you just fill in the blank—than what God has revealed to me in His Word.

I can tell you the moment, where I'm reading through the Psalms—I'm still pretty young at that point—and jumps off the page this phrase: “All of the ways of the Lord are right and true.” It was like one of those moments, where it was [echo sounding]: “All, all, all, all of the way, way, way, ways of the Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord are right, right, right, right, right”—[Laughter]

Shelby: —over a loudspeaker in a stadium.

Paul: —"and true, true, true, true, true, true, true, true.” It just slayed me; it was an emotional moment for me.

I thought, “Will I build my life on these words; or will I live my life, wanting a relationship with God, some way wanting to follow Him, but not sure if that statement is actually true?” I've come to understand and to experience that the only place of stability, surety, contentment for me is to believe that: “All the ways of the Lord are right and true.”

That was one of those amazing moments where something you've read—how many times?—all of a sudden, just—

Shelby: —comes alive in a new way.

Paul: Oh, “comes alive” is not enough of a description of what happened at the moment. It was absolutely trajectory-setting for me.

Can I give you the background to the struggle that led up to that being thunderous?

Shelby: Please do.

Paul David I was raised in a Christian home; but I'm very attracted by what was then called the countercultural moment, the questioning of the institutions of Western culture and the decisions government was making; and they he had to wear certain things at certain times. And just the whole thing—there was something about: “It's okay to question those things,”—it was very attractive to me. I was involved with big anti-war protests—I mean, just all of that stuff—and I grew my hair halfway down my back and had a big four-inch beard. I mean, it was the whole thing. [Laughter] I think there were horrible corruptions and abuses that had never, ever been questioned; because you didn't question the ruling institutions of the day. I was really attracted to that.

But the problem was: the philosophy of that moment was: “Question everything. Don't leave anything unquestioned.” I'm in this quandary now: “Can I question everything and still hold onto my faith?” And so I know, in that thunderous moment, God was rescuing me—not saying I can't question, because questions are a way of expressing faith; because if you want to know something more fully/you want to know something more deeply, you ask questions about it—so God wasn't removing questions from me.

The issue was: “What are you going to build your life on?—a set of endless questions—or a belief that: “All of the ways of the Lord are right and true.” That's why it was such a big deal for me.

Shelby: Yes, that's important, too, because I think in—especially with young people, in the age of like skepticism of what has gone before them; and then, the era of deconstruction—and wanting to ask that, which deconstruction means something totally different now to totally different people. But I mean—like kind of just breaking apart the faith, and asking questions for the sake of asking questions—I've found that people revel more in the questions than they will in the answers. They don't ever bite down on something solid; they just kind of keep their mouth open, all the time, with questions. And then, you starve that way.


Paul: Can I talk about the other side of deconstruction?

Shelby: Yes, please do.

Paul: I think there's a way that I should always be deconstructing my faith, but here's what I mean by that.

Shelby: Yes; unpack that.

Paul: I think that I ought to always be humble enough to revisit my system of belief to see if there are personal and cultural corruptions in there—if things have been pulled into my faith that are more American culture than Christianity, or more personal preference than Christianity, or more political than Christianity—I should be humble enough to say, “I have to look for what I need to ferret out of this system of belief I'm doing.” I think that's a very positive, humble, God-honoring form of deconstruction.

I don't say this edifice of faith is untouchable. The reason I don't is I never come to my system of faith empty, because I'm an interpreter; I always drag things in there with me. This is true of my reading of Scripture; I always drag ways of thinking, and desires, and experiences into my reading of Scripture. And so corruptions can get in there, artifacts of other philosophies, and other ways of thinking get in there. I have to be willing to look at those and say, “Aha, that doesn't actually fit. That is actually in the way of what I say I believe and the way I say I should live.” And so, in that way, I think there's a form of deconstruction that's humble; and positive; and in ways, should never stop.

Shelby: Right. What’s the weeding-out process then? If you're coming to Scripture with perspectives that may not be in line with what we would call Orthodox view of Scripture, how can a young person look at that and go, “Well, what's the determining factors then between my own opinions and what's actually true?”

Paul: So a proper interpretation of a passage of God's Word—the only proper interpretation—is that my understanding of that passage is the same as what it was in the mind of the author. So let me give you an example; this is very simple. If you say: “I had a ball this week,” you could be talking about a round bouncy object; you could be talking about a good time; or you could be talking about a formal dance.

If I want to understand you, I can't say, “Well, I'm going to require that it means this…” I have to then ask the question: “What experience was Shelby trying to communicate to me when he spoke those words?”

Shelby: Good.

Paul: So how do I get there?

  • Well, I look at the larger context.
  • I look at how mature people, in the body of Christ, have gone before me and understood those passages.
  • I ask somebody that I respect, who I know is a bit of a scholar of Scripture.

All those things are God's gifts to me, so I can walk away from my interpretation of the passage, knowing that it hasn't been corrupted by my experience; but I've arrived at a meaning that was the same in the mind of the author when the words were written.

Shelby: Yes, that's good. And that's like/the funny thing is that's really just Communication 101: you want whatever's in your mind to be as equal, as possible, in the person that you're communicating with.

Paul: Absolutely; so the context is really significant. That's a really helpful thing to understand.

[Three Dots…]

Shelby: And now, it’s time for “Three dots…three thoughts” on Real Life Load… We’ll get back to my time with Paul in just a second, but this is where I share three simple ideas that could potentially change your life—they probably won’t—but they could.

Thought 1: “The next time you're bored, type ‘Amish shed move’ into YouTube and watch one of the videos that pops up.” You think, you know what teamwork is? You have no idea what teamwork is until you see 200 Amish men move a massive building from one spot to another, using only their bodies as the mode of transportation. It's stinking amazing.

Thought 2: “Back when I did standup comedy, I used to have a series of jokes about proudly being gluten-free free, and trying to cram as much gluten into my diet as possible. Then I got a blood test and was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. [Laughter] So the joke’s on me,”—I guess; I don't know—but it's forced me into the gluten-free food world. I've found that there's never been a better time to be gluten-free because so many good options exist out there.

And one such option is my favorite gluten-free frozen pizza. And you can get it like almost anywhere; I get mine at Target®. Ready?—it's the Freschetta® Gluten-Free Pepperoni Pizza. I seriously don't feel like I'm missing anything when I have it. You just have to cook it right—450 degree oven for exactly 12 minutes. Set a timer on your phone—[kissing sound]—chef's kiss; it's perfection.

Thought 3: “A good way to help you in your prayer life is using the ACTS prayer method. You go through the acronym, ACTS—A-C-T-S—as a way to structure your prayer time, and you do it in that order:

  • So start with “A”—Adoration—adore and praise God for who He is and what He's done.
  • Then it's “C”—Confession—confess any sin in your life and know that it's covered by the sacrifice of Jesus that He made for you on the cross.
  • “T” is Thanksgiving—thank God for all the blessings in your life and how you've seen Him work and move in ways that can only be credited to God's grace.
  • And finally, it's “S”—Supplication—this is basically just asking God for specific or general things You'd like to see Him provide in your life.

Now, I always have a tendency to jump straight to asking God for certain things first and neglect: adoring, confessing, and thanking. But this helpful little method really reorients my heart in prayer. Try it out and see if it helps you, too: A-C-T-S:

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanksgiving
  • and Supplication.

This has been “Three dots…three thoughts” on Real Life Loading… Now, back to my conversation with Paul Tripp and why the biggest problem in your life may not be what you expect it to be.


Shelby: When I first met you, which was back in 2015, I was starting to read some of the stuff that you'd written. You were speaking at a conference that I was emceeing; that's how we got to know one another. You said, in something that you had written: “Grace has the power to do what nothing else can do; and that is to rescue you from you; and in so doing, restore you to what you were created to be.” That's, basically, saying: “In many ways, we are our own biggest problem.”

That, combined with the talk that you gave, where you were, basically, going through these mental scenarios of what someone thinks when they're acting in a way that's counter to the will of God, thinking: “I want you to do this...” “I want you to serve me this way…” “I want you to act this way...” “I want everyone to conform to me when I'm driving my car,” “I want…” “I want…” “I want…” “I want…” “I want…” And then, you start repeating “I want…” over and over, to the point that everyone in the room—there's a bit of a laughter that kind of rose in the room amongst, you know, the 1500 college students who were there—and then, it gets awkward; because you don't stop saying, “I want...” [Laughter]

After the awkwardness—so we move from laughter to awkwardness—to conviction. I was like, “I feel convicted right now; because if I'm honest, this is me all the time.” “Why?”—so here's my question—“Why is the element of self-focus such a destructive force?”

Paul: We're now going to talk about another one of these thunderous spiritual moments for me, for which I'm enormously grateful. I was asked to speak from 2 Corinthians 5. I want to make sure I understood the whole context so I'm—you know, just the stuff we've just been talking about—and I came across this passage that says, essentially,—

2 Corinthians 5:15—that: “Jesus came so those who live would no longer live for themselves.” I went back and read: “Jesus came so those who live would no longer live for themselves,” —read it three or four times—and I thought, “Jesus came, lived, and died, and rose again to rescue me from me.”

I began to think, “[Apostle] Paul, the writer, is saying that the DNA of sin is selfishness. What sin does is reduce my field of concern down to my wants, my needs, my feelings. Sin sticks me in the middle of my little universe and makes everything about me.”

I thought, “That's me. That's my spiritual struggle:

  • because I'm always upset because schedules don’t work the way I want them to work;
  • or the thing I wanted to eat in the refrigerator isn’t there;
  • or I don't get my way;
  • or—the list goes on.”

And it hit me that, if you take the whole sweep of the biblical story, it's very clear that I was designed/created to live for something vastly bigger than me. I was created actually to live—finding my joy, in the purpose and the glory of my Creator—that was meant to be normal human functioning. Individualistic self-focus is dysfunctional, and it never produces good fruit; it never results in contentment.

Listen, if you are in the center of your world—every experience for you is about how you feel about it; about how it affects you—you won't be happy, because you'll always find a reason to complain; you'll always find things, not as good as they could have been. It's a sad, exhausting, dysfunctional way of living. God wants me, in His love, not only to serve Him—He wants that, and He has a right to demand that—but He wants me to know true joy, true contentment, true happiness, true fulfillment; and it's never found in living for myself.

Paul is saying there's something quite radical that Jesus, didn't just come to rescue me from external evil, but from the evil that's inside of me. The fact that I want life to do my bidding—I want people in my life, not so much because I love them—but because they make me happy. It's good for young people to hear this: it's a reason there's so much early dysfunction in marriage; because in courtship, often, I'm shopping for somebody, who will make me happy. I don't realize that.

I get excited about that person—not so much that I love them, warts, and weaknesses, and all—but I love that they make me happy. And then I marry them; I wake up in the morning—and this person has robin's nest hair and zoo breath—[Laughter]—and we're fighting about the garbage; and all of a sudden,—

Shelby: —“I’m not happy anymore.”

Paul: —“I'm not happy anymore,”—because that agenda for a relationship never works. No one can pull that off for me.

It's one of those places, where the Bible defines the core of the spiritual struggle. The core is: “I put myself in my heart”—that means in my thoughts and desires—"where only God is supposed to be.” And what you have to say is: “Everybody does that.” That's not some of us; that's all of us.

Shelby: And what you've taught me, too, is—not only recognizing that—but coming to a point of recognizing that is a gift of grace: it's a gift of grace to finally have your eyes opened to the reality that: “I'm my own biggest problem.”

Paul: So when God lays that on me—opens my eyes to how selfish I am—

Shelby: —yes, it stings.

Paul: He's not beating me up though, and He's not disgusted by me, and He's not going to make fun of me. In fact, He's not going to condemn me and walk away; He's loving me. He's saying, “Paul, I want you to know the beautiful life that you will know if you abandon your obsession with yourself.” Is there sacrifice involved?—sure, there is; but they're beautiful sacrifices, because they produce wonderful things in my heart and life.

Shelby: That's really good, especially in a culture, where we're constantly told to look inside ourselves to believe who we could be the best version of ourselves—because that's really the true you—is finding that true you inside. The problem is: I don't know what I'm going to be from moment to moment. And then the Bible tells me that, in the heart of who I am, is sinfulness. “Where am I going to actually find that ‘identity’ that I could lean on, that's always going to be rigid for me to lean on?” It's just never going to be there.

Paul: —not in 95 selfies, in the same location, looking for the perfect one—I mean, you'll walk away; and what are you left with? You're left with:

  • you know you get mad at points, where you shouldn't;
  • you know you're addicted to something you shouldn't be addicted to;
  • you know you're, at times, petty with people when you shouldn't be;
  • and all the appearance of something else, that you're trying to convince yourself of, when you walk away.

It doesn't work; because you're left with just the broken person that you are. It's exhausting to try to escape your own brokenness, Shelby; it's exhausting. And that's why people numb themselves with whatever is available—it could be electronic, or it could be substances, or it could be busyness or could be successes—because they're scared to death to face the brokenness that's inside of them. And I want to say: “Face that—face that brokenness—because there's Someone, who loves you, who won't walk away because you're broken.

Shelby: The brokenness that we come, face to face, with is something that we and other people always want to run away from. But the gospel tells us that we can come, face to face, with that brokenness and still be loved—not condemned—loved because that's what the cross of Christ means. It's that beautiful juxtaposition of God's naming evil—what is evil—but also, loving us in ways that we never would've dreamed. That's what the cross is.

Paul: Yes; let me speak to that too. Isn't it true?—that there are two questions that haunt every human being?

  • First question is: “Will somebody love me?” “Will I be loved?”—everybody cries out for that.
  • But the second question is even more terrifying: “Once they know me, will they still love me?”

In Romans 8, you get this big huge crescendo. It's like the music’s really blaring now and the drums are rolling; and it says that: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” What is being said there is a resounding “Yes,” to both questions: “There's Somebody, who will love you with the best love ever; and He won't stop loving you because He knows you.”

That, Shelby—I'm not young anymore—but that still gets me up in the morning.

Shelby: You know, one of the things I love about Paul Tripp is that he helps me love Jesus more. He points me in the right direction, toward the goodness of the gospel. And I hope he's done that for you today too.

This is only Part 1. Paul and I will continue our conversation, next time, in Part 2. I hope you'll join us for that when it drops.

If this time today with Paul Tripp was helpful for you, I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend; and wherever you get your podcasts, it can really advance what we're doing with Real Life Loading… if you'd rate and review us. It's absurdly easy to find us on our social channels; just search Real Life Loading… or look for our links in the show notes.

I want to thank my producers, Josh Batson, who by the way, is also gluten-free and Bruce Goff, which he's not gluten-free at all. I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time on Real Life Loading…

Real Life Loading… is a production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® ministry.

Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.

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