“Trapped” is certainly a fitting word to describe the experience of many men and women. We may feel trapped in addictive habits, bad marriages, illnesses, or various trials. The gospel offers true freedom to all of us, regardless of our prison. In his book Trapped, Andy Farmer does a great job of setting that foundation for his readers. While Trapped is an excellent book on applying the gospel to a variety of struggles, its breadth limits its depth.
The book can essentially be broken down into two parts. The first four chapters represent the theological foundation of the work. In these chapters Farmer sets up the problem (chapters 1-2), and the solution (chapters 3-4). He takes readers on a guided tour of the common types of traps, which he delineates in more detail in the remaining chapters. Farmer addresses the “approval trap,” “the laziness trap,” “the pornography trap,” “the eating disorder trap,” “the substance abuse trap,” “the troubled marriage trap,” and the trap of living between worlds. Having identified the traps he helps readers also to understand their experience of being trapped, and points to the ways in which we adapt to our traps, fail to see them for what they are, and even enjoy them. He wrestles with some of the deep philosophical questions related to freedom and helps readers to understand it in light of Scripture and their relationship with God. Yet, he does not leave readers with the problem, but turns his attention to fully unpack the gospel message. He takes readers all the way back to the Exodus event to help shed light on the redemption of sinners that Christ offers. The rest of the book, then, is a direct application of the gospel to the unique traps he’s mentioned.
The first four foundational chapters are excellent. Farmer does a great job of articulating the freedom that belongs to those who are in Christ. That freedom begins with our freedom from sin and judgment, but it translates into freedom in this life as well. The book shifts gears then to help readers grasp that latter half of that statement: freedom in this life. Each chapter begins by unpacking the particulars of the trap, framed within a Biblical understanding of the issue. Then Farmer demonstrates how the gospel provides a unique solution to that problem. The content in these chapter is good, but basic. Because of the amount of space the author has allotted himself the discussions here can only be introductory. He sets a great theological framework for readers but does not offer much more than that in the way of practical help and progressive counsel. This raises an important question in my mind: who is this book for?
When I think about the various traps addressed in the volume I cannot imagine that this is the resource I want to give to those individuals specified. So, the individual struggling with fear of man is going to be better served by reading Ed Welch’s work on the subject than Farmer’s short chapter. The individual struggling with pornography is going to be better served by working through Brad Hambrick’s workbook on False Love. In each case I think Farmer gives good content about the gospel, but it’s not content that is unique to his work. Other good resources set that same foundation, but the add to it with detailed content about the process of sanctification and mortification of sin. Farmer’s book is short (173 pages), and covers six different topics. There is only so much that he can do in that short space. I liked the book but I struggle to see its usefulness in actual counseling.
That feeling of being trapped is common to us all, and it can be a weighty feeling. This book does a great job of describing that experience and even delineating some of the features unique to specific types of traps. It also does a great job of laying the ground work of gospel transformation. In some ways the fact that Farmer doesn’t take a lot of space to detail a course through each unique struggle can be appreciated. It suggests that he understand the power of the gospel and its relevance for every trap. Yet, the lack of detail is also its shortcoming since it gives us a starting place but nowhere to go after that. Trapped is good, but its attempt to address so many issues limits it effectiveness in counseling.