CrossTalk Review

May 20, 2011

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Relating Truth to Life

Michael Emlet’s CrossTalk offers one of the most robust approaches yet to the biblical counseling process of relating the scriptural narrative to a person’s life story. Its Christ-centered, comprehensive, and compassionate approach powerfully and practically equips readers for the personal ministry of the Word.

The publishers aptly promote CrossTalk with the phrase, “An antidote to ‘take two verses and call me in the morning.’” For far too long, some segments of current pastoral ministry and modern biblical counseling have practiced the idea that there is a simplistic one-verse, one-problem, one-solution method to every counseling and relationship issue.

Michael Emlet’s training as a family physician and as a seminary professor seamlessly equips him to teach a much more robust approach to changing lives with Christ’s changeless truth. In CrossTalk, he investigates the intersection of biblical truth and people’s lives by exploring how we understand people biblically and how we use the Bible in biblical counseling. 

Speaking the Truth in Love

We have many books about how to interpret the Bible, but few address the topic of how to relate truth to life—how to connect Scripture to struggles. Or, if they do, they focus on the pulpit ministry of the Word—preaching and teaching, and not on the personal ministry of the Word—biblical counseling, one another spiritual friendship, and personal spiritual direction.

Emlet teaches us how to look at life experiences through biblical lenses. His focus is on the person and the passage, on how to read the Bible and how to “read” people biblically. You might say that he understands that hybrid Christians run on truth and love. CrossTalk promotes a gospel-centered, personally relevant use of Scripture in personal ministry. “It describes a way to use the Scriptures to help people to grow to love God and others more fully in the midst of their complex daily lives” (p. 4).

The Story of Suffering and Sin

CrossTalk also counters another all-too-frequent error in modern biblical ministry—dealing with sin but minimizing issues of suffering caused by sin. Historically, the church has always helped hardened (sinning) and hurting (suffering) people. Soul care through sustaining and healing has always related God’s hope to suffering people, while spiritual direction has always related Christ’s grace to people’s besetting sins. Emlet wisely continues this biblical, historical practice of Christ-centered, comprehensive, and compassionate biblical counseling.

Emlet connects the Bible to life—all of life in all its complexity. He does so by focusing on the “story”—the story of Scripture and the stories of people’s lives. CrossTalk equips readers to make meaningful connections between the two. 

Connecting the Bible to Life

While emphasizing the connection between truth and life, Emlet refuses to make the process simplistic. He begins by explaining the nature of the Bible—what it is not and what it is. He correctly summarizes the Bible as a CFR Narrative—the story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption with a Christ-centered focused of helping people to become Christ-like.

With this foundational understanding in place, Emlet begins to establish implications for reading and using the Bible. Rather than imagining that personal ministry involves finding the “right passage” for the “right problem” for the “right person,” truly biblical ministry thinks theologically about relationality.

  • Creation: Who are we? What makes us tick? (People)
  • Fall: What went wrong? Why is the world such a mess? (Problems)
  • Redemption: What’s the remedy? How do people change? (Solutions)

Biblical counseling is more than looking for one verse for one problem. It is more than looking for theological categories to relate to life issues. It is exploring how a person’s dominant story (approach to life) intersects with God’s Christ-centered Creation – Fall – Redemption story, so that people respond to suffering and sin in such a way that Christ is glorified as they become more Christ-like.

Connecting the Stories

In simplistic biblical counseling, we connect the dots. We connect a problem to a passage or a principle.

In robust, rich, relational biblical counseling, we connect the stories. We connect a person and his/her dominant life story of suffering and sin to God’s redemptive meta-story of grace.

Emlet first offers some general principles for applying his approach to personal ministry. These seem a tad brief while at the same time being a tad technical—not as full of “real and raw life” as the preceding buildup. However, Emlet subsequently takes an in-depth look at this model, thus breathing life into the skeletal outline. He offers insightful questions for saints, sufferers, sinners, and Scripture, which serve as foundations for relating truth to life.

Even more helpfully, CrossTalk introduces Tom’s story and Natalie’s story. Emlet teaches readers how to read the person, how to connect the person to the Old Testament narrative, and how to connect the person to the New Testament narrative.

We “read” a saint’s story by looking for marks of grace. Where is the person living true to his identity as a child of God?

We read a sufferer’s story by pondering what circumstances impact his or her struggles. Here Emlet looks predominantly at “level one suffering”—what is happening to the sufferer, and less at “level two suffering”—what is happening in the sufferer. An in-depth look at such internal suffering could have added more richness to this overall valuable approach.

We also read the story of sinning by probing what desires (relational), thoughts (rational), emotions (emotional), and actions (volitional) are out of line with kingdom values and therefore compete with the biblical story. Here Emlet models a thoroughly comprehensive approach to spiritual direction through reconciling and guiding.

Perhaps the most powerful and practical chapters are the two (chapters 9 and 10) in which Emlet demonstrates how to use an Old Testament and a New Testament passage with Tom and with Natalie. Talk about rich! The dialogues of applying scriptural narratives to life narratives are worth the proverbial price of the book. And, quite importantly, Emlet emphasizes that once we understand the grand biblical narrative and the person’s dominant life narrative, there are a host of potentially applicable intersecting passages. He offers samplers to whet our appetite and to model what it looks like in “real life.”

While the purpose of CrossTalk is not to focus on the “relational element” in biblical counseling (no one book can cover everything), Emlet’s approach is clearly relational. He emphasizes that ongoing relationship is the context for personal ministry and that multiple conversations over time provide a natural framework to relate the biblical story to a person’s dominant life story. Growth happens in community.

A Watershed Book

CrossTalk is one of those watershed books. It has the potential to help move the modern biblical counseling movement into the next generation. Its dynamic incorporation of truth and life in the context of scriptural and life narratives is a rare blend. Everyone interesting in understanding where life and Scripture meet should read and apply CrossTalk.

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