Paul David Tripp. Sex & Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 224 pp. $22.99.
Does the quest for sex and money lead to insanity? Paul Tripp thinks so. After all, if insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” then certainly chasing sex and money over and over again—while getting the same, disappointing results—meets the letter of the definition.
As many of us know, relentlessly pursuing satisfaction via sex or money is destined for dissatisfaction. Afterward, our tanks aren’t full, but empty. We feel stranded. Tripp, president of Paul Tripp Ministries and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas, summarizes this reality: “We’re in trouble because, in two profoundly important places in life, what the human community tends to look at as normal isn’t normal at all. It’s a web of descending degrees of madness” (21).
Throughout Sex and Money, Tripp is straightforward in providing the solution to our self-wrought dilemma: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over and over again, he exhorts the reader to find lasting contentment there. “We need rescue,” he writes, “and because we need rescue, we need a rescuer. . . . That rescuer is the Lord Jesus Christ” (21-22).
Over the next 200 pages we take a journey encountering the realities Christians face as inhabitants of a sin-sick world. Tripp rightly argues sex and money profoundly shape our view of glory, worship, and submission. and, as such, they can easily mar how we view God. Ultimately, this question must be answered: Are we finding fulfillment in our selfish pursuit—and perhaps our successful attainment—of sex and money, or are we finding fulfillment in God?
Flipping the Focus
Sex and Money sets out to subvert the reader’s unbiblical paradigms, doing so in at least two ways. First, it confronts them with real-life scenarios. Stories emerge from the vantage point of various gender, age, and life situations. They provide haunting details such that we’re gripped by the evil that comes from worshiping sex and money. As each story is told, readers cannot help but feel pained by how society seems to have lost control.
Second, Sex and Money flips our focus from a vague and faceless “society” to our selves. There is temptation, upon closing the book, to sit back and mourn for all the sex and money fiends in our churches and families. But honest readers must count themselves among that number. Tripp himself confesses as much: “It is with sadness that I have written the last several pages, not because I don’t love the wisdom of God’s truth but because of how it exposes the sin, weakness, and failure of my own heart. I wish I could say that I am free of the struggles I have described, but I am not” (180). Such an admission makes the world feels simultaneously small and comforting as we’re reminded that everyone struggles with sin.
Sex and Money challenges and compels readers to ask tough questions about how they think about money and what they’re doing when it comes to sex and purity. Even as I wrote this review, I was pained by how tight a hold money—or stuff—has on my 4-year-old daughter’s heart. She craves yet another Disney princess dress. Why do they keep making movies? I want to ask myself. Don’t they know that means more dresses? But I shouldn’t blame Disney. My sweet daughter—oblivious and harmless—is simply learning to dance to the tune of this world.
From Head to Heart
Each chapter in Sex and Money permits Tripp to do what he does best: exploratory surgery on the heart. He illumines sex’s role in helping us understand four principles of worship: mastery, eternity, unity, and ownership. He helps us see sex in light of relationship and community, while exhorting us to walk within the boundaries God has given. He diagnoses the cause of our financial sinfulness as ingratitude, need, and discontent, while avoiding a simplistic demonization of money altogether. He delves into the fundamental issue of what our hearts treasure, claiming our love of money is largely driven by discontentment in a fallen world that worships itself rather than its Creator.
Ultimately, Sex and Money succeeds because it redirects our gaze to the sin inside. Given our propensity to blame our sex and money problems on others, it’s important to realize the problem is more often within than without. We want to cry out, But, if we didn’t live in an immodest culture . . . if our media weren’t so pervasively sexual . . . if we both didn’t have to work to maintain our lifestyle . . . if there wasn’t a new Disney princess movie . . . the list goes on and on. Tripp, however, makes the apt point that our dilemma has never been fundamentally external. It begins internally—sin-sick hearts living in a sin-sick world. “Changes in our personal worlds of sex and money don’t begin with cultural analysis; they begin with personal confession,” he observes. “Change begins in one place: with confession that is heart deep” (52).
At the same time, we would do well to also remember the enemy who desires to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan is waging war for our hearts. This is one area where Sex and Money needed a more thoroughgoing treatment. What significance does the Devil play in this sex and money insanity? I wish Tripp had scratched the surface on this subject, and I’m sure he’d have helpful things to say.
Because of the book’s unswerving focus on the gospel, however, an answer to this question isn’t hard to find. While Satan’s present wiles occasionally succeed, and while his hold on us through sex and money can feel suffocating and unrelenting, it is temporary. Christ’s hold on us through grace is eternal, steadfast, and truly unrelenting. We are, as the hymn puts it, “unpluckable”—forever kept in his nail-pierced hands.
Joey Cochran served as the high school pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for four years before transitioning to serve as the resource pastor at a future church plant in Chicago. He is a graduate of Dallas Seminary. Joey blogs regularly at JTCochran.com. You can follow him on Twitter.