Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do, by Paul David Tripp. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. 198 pp. $14.27.
“No matter how hard I try, I just cannot seem to get it right!” Many people hear this phrase in common, everyday life. If one were to quickly discern the issue and was also a believer, he or she would be able to deduce that this person is trying to earn his or her righteousness. However, there is another issue at play: placing their awe, hopes, and trust in themselves. In his book, Awe, best-selling author Paul Tripp contends that all humanity is wired to be in awe of God alone. Placing awe in anything or anyone but Him will ultimately lead to failure, dissatisfaction, confusion, and inevitable destruction.
Tripp informs his readers that humanity was specifically designed by God to be in awe of Him alone. The Creator God specifically designs all desires, thoughts, words, tastes, and actions. When man tries to replace God with other means that serve to remind him of the Creator, he will become frustrated, confused, angry, disappointed, and blinded because he has placed his hope in something that cannot withstand the weight of worship. Tripp brings a refreshing view that one who finds his identity in the world finds worry and short-lived satisfaction; however, when one finds his identity in Christ alone, he will find hope, peace, and joy.
Tripp supports his thesis by presenting examples of how humanity is amazed in the world today: the thrill of catching the biggest fish, the astonishment of a flawless performance, starting a business, and seeing a film in IMAX 3-D (13-16). He argues that it is not wrong for human beings to want to be amazed because they were designed to be amazed. The problem is human beings are far too easily entertained; when they place their ultimate hope of being amazed in the means, the things that are designed to remind man of the glorious God, they will find themselves disappointed because they have transgressed against the Creator. Tripp uses the Fall and the story of Cain and Abel as examples of awe gone wrong. Eve, seeking to have the knowledge of God and getting what she was forbidden to have, ate the fruit of the garden out of pride and lustful desire for the unknown. Tripp says, “We want godlike recognition, godlike control, godlike power, and godlike centrality” (28). As Adam and Eve sought to be like God and govern their own choices, so does man in his treadmill search of amazement in the world when it can only be found in God. The principle that Tripp wishes his readers to grasp from the tragic historical account of Cain and Abel is, “awe of God is very quickly replaced by awe of self” (29). Cain sought his own good and killed his brother because his offering was favored over his own. Tripp calls this misplacement of awe “awe-wrongedness (AWN)” (26). This sickness can cause ministers to shift their purpose from proclaiming God’s name among the nations to agendas being completed (44). The process of replacing the end to where the awe is directed will lead to self-centeredness, horizontal addiction, and disappointment.
Tripp asserts that what he calls horizontal addiction will lead to amnesia of vertical awe. In the realm of horizontal addiction, the creature replaces the Creator in regard to what is worshiped. Take food, for example: when the taste, smell, and texture serve to remind man of a good God who gave us the biology to sense all of these, it could become the focus of everything for man. He also addresses one concept that affects how man views everything from ministry to parenting to the workplace: worldview. Tripp references Isaiah 40 to show how that particular passage so adequately presents the sovereignty of God. Tripp brings this to a level of understanding with topics of parenting and work for the general layperson. He places awe into the big picture of parenting and work by directing his readers towards the great chief end of man: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
The strength of Tripp’s argument lies in the chapter on worldview (131–44). He presents two types of worldviews: “Two-Drawer” and “Here’s Your God.” The “Two-Drawer” worldview has two drawers. The first drawer, “real life,” has everything that man encounters on a daily basis, and this is the drawer that dominates his life (135). The other drawer, the “spiritual” drawer, has everything to do with God and the spiritual life (135). Tripp argues however, that this worldview is contrary to Isaiah 40, which illustrates God as one who cannot be isolated in a small drawer. In fact, Isaiah 40 is what he calls “worldview literature” or the “Here’s Your God” worldview (136). Tripp’s treatment of this passage reveals why God is the ultimate glorious end where every relationship and circumstance must be brought under the lens of His inspired Word. Looking at the world through an Isaiah 40 lens, he or she will see that everything was created by God and for God. Those without this worldview will experience disappointment, confusion, selfishness, and anger. Having an understanding of this worldview provides strength because this worldview draws from the inerrant Word of God. Tripp supports his argument by using the universal concept of parenting. He recounts experiences of parents who come to him confused and broken because they hate their relationships with their children. He goes on to explain that he believes it is because their worldview is to produce “good” children. However, Tripp addresses that the problem is that children are born with an idea of autonomy and self-sufficiency (161). While Tripp does say that the law is important to establish in the home, he also addresses the heart, which is blinded by sin and self (162–64). Tripp says that the role of the parent is to do everything they can “to put the glory of God and His grace before our children so that the awe of God would rule over their hearts” (163). The comfort gained from this quotation is that God has already done this through creation. Parents must direct the children’s discovery and awe to God and pray for the salvation of their souls (163).
The weakness in Awe is Tripp’s address towards “awe-fickle” hearts (70). He states, “Only when we admit that we have awe-fickle hearts will we begin to reach out for and cling to the forgiving, transforming, rescuing, and delivering grace of Jesus” (70). This seems to be a hazy version of confession and repentance. Tripp’s argument would be clearer and more concise if he clearly stated that sinners must confess and repent of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Awe is a refreshing call to refocus awe towards the Creator and is applicable for the worship team, layperson, parent, coworker, or unbeliever who has “awe-wrongedness.” This a great book to read in the context of a small group, worship team, or leadership team.
Benjamin T. Bickley
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary