Paul David Tripp is one of few authors who, in my opinion, can write a high quantity of works that are all high quality. I have thoroughly enjoyed every book of Tripp’s that I have read. When I saw that he wrote a book on how Christians should act and react in our current culture, I knew it would be worth reading. In his book, Reactivity: How the Gospel Transforms Our Actions and Reactions, Tripp sets a very practical and edifying example for Christians to follow in our engagement with the culture around us.
The book begins with Tripp examining our culture. He defines it as a “culture of reactivity,” where highly critical, disrespectful, hair-trigger reactions are commonplace and respectful discourse is more and more of a rarity. But, as Tripp notes, this temptation to react negatively is not new; it is simply more prominent and normalized in our modern culture. It is from this basis that Tripp gives his plea for Christians in our culture, writing, “We cannot, we must not, normalize a reactivity culture that is more of a culture of harm than a culture of grace” (Tripp 21). From here, Tripp details what a culture of grace that fights back against a culture of reactivity looks like. His main biblical focus is Eph. 4:29, which begins, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths.” Tripp spends much of the rest of the book examining themes from the “biblical worldview that lies underneath the call to wholesome communication, whether face-to-face or screen-to-screen” (Tripp 45). These themes include grace (ch. 4), a proper Christian identity (ch. 5), a desire to glorify God rather than ourselves (ch. 6), living with an eternal perspective (ch. 7), and a selfless mindset (ch. 8). Tripp explores each of these themes and provides practical examples on how following these biblical ideals can lead to the solution to our culture of reactivity.
The book’s biggest strength is Tripp’s clear, precise writing style on a very relevant topic. As he does in most of his books, Tripp asks probing questions throughout each chapter that allows for self-reflection during reading. Rather than just presenting information, Tripp invites each reader to examine his or her own heart and address any deficiencies in this area throughout the book. Another strength is how Tripp addresses issues on both the political and theological right and left. As the divide between right and left continues to grow in our culture, both sides can make improvements in how they communicate with and react to each other. The book is very balanced in its critique of the culture, being fair as it addresses issues on both sides of the political and theological aisles. One example of this comes as Tripp is writing on the importance of seeking God’s glory over our own, when he writes, “Many of us seem obsessed with glory, but it’s not the glory of God. No, we’re filled with a sense of glory of our theological knowledge, our biblical literacy, our political conservatism, our social action, the success of our ministries, the number of our followers, who we hang with, the prominence of our tribe, and the power of our ability to communicate” (Tripp 82). Tripp writes in a convicting, but grace-filled way that models the culture of grace that he promotes throughout the book.
The only real weakness of this book is how much it focuses on screen-to-screen communication. After reading the first two chapters, I wondered if it would be applicable to my life, since it mainly focuses on communication and reactions through social media. Since I am not very active on social media, I wasn’t sure if it would be worth reading. Thankfully, after reading the next few chapters, it becomes more general and explored the biblical themes that apply to all forms of communication. I certainly understand why Tripp chose to focus more on communication through social media because that is where most of the inflammatory reactions take place in our modern culture, but offering more examples on how to initiate constructive face-to-face conversations in our culture that chooses to communicate more through screens would have been helpful.
Overall, I would recommend this book as a very timely read on an important issue. I would especially recommend it for those who are active on social media or those who are seeking to have more constructive conversations in general.
Sam Hitchcock (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) serves as the Director of Spiritual Formation at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond, OK.