Monday, December 9, 2019


CrossTalk, Michael R. Emlet

I read this book as part of one of my CCEF courses and I am very glad I did. Emlet has brought together in a skilled and nuanced way several key factors in biblical interpretation and application:

  1. The ability to read a text in its redemptive-historical framework, understanding it’s literary genre, initial purpose and initial readers.
  2. The way to interpret that passage in light of Jesus work of saving grace.
  3. How to then apply that passage today in ways that both do justice to the original purpose of the text, and also make it ‘living and active’ for today reader.

Up front he is clear about his purpose:
“Consider this book a hybrid of sorts, a resource to help you understand both people and the bible thoroughly. This book gives attention to interpreting the biblical text and interpreting the person.”
His goal is to deal with what he terms “microethics”: “how we use Scripture to meaningfully intersect with a particular person’s life as we minister to him or her.”

This book is aimed at anyone who wants to make these two aspects work well together. I felt that he summed up my own experience from a strong bible learning tradition in a nutshell: “If you’re like me, you have probably received more instruction on how to study the Bible than you have on how to practically use it in your life and ministry.”
“This book should help you interpret people as well as Scripture and suggest relevant biblical applications that will benefit those around you. This should be true whether you are involved in a formal teaching or discipling ministry, in professional counseling, or in impromptu discussions at the local cafĂ©.”
The early chapters address how to read the bible and spend the time ensuring that you understand the passage as it was written. What is also crucial is to read it in a historical-salvation framework:
“Knowing how the story ends, we ask, “What difference does the death and resurrection of Jesus make for how I understand this passage?” The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the climax of redemption initiated in the Old Testament and the sure foundation for the life of the newly formed church.”
Later chapters look more at understanding people, for as Emlet says:
“To apply Scripture to our contemporary lives, we also need to understand people.… I want to give some overarching categories for understanding and approaching people.”
Using the ideas of Walsh and Middleton he says there are four basic worldview questions we can ask of people:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Who are we?
  3. What’s wrong? 
  4. What’s the remedy?

Another way forward is to approach people as saints, sufferers and sinners. Each person has aspects of all three, and being balanced in our understanding of their faithfulness, struggles and temptations enables us to be more nuanced in our counsel:
“God’s redemptive words confirm our identity as the chosen people of God, console and comfort his afflicted people, and confront the ways we turn away from his character and redemptive work.”
Emlet then turns to combining our understanding of the bible with our understanding of people.
“Reading the Bible without reading the person is a recipe for irrelevance in ministry. Reading the person without reading the Bible is a recipe for ministry lacking the life-changing power of the Spirit working through his Word…Rather, the goal of reading Scripture and reading people together is so that we can help others increasingly reflect the character and kingdom priorities of Jesus Christ.”
He starts with some overarching principles, and then uses extended examples of two different people to assist with his explanations, showing how he would counsel them from a passage in the Old Testament and the New, neither of which would have been passages most people would first turn to.

If you want to get the most of this book, you will have to do some work alongside it. Emlet has put a lot of thought into how to guide the reader along the process of learning, and so the explanations, exercises and questions at the end of every chapter will assist greatly for those that invest the time.

Many people I know already take this approach seriously, that is, reading the bible in the context it is in, the finding the larger context in the frame of biblical history and how it relates to Christ, and then bringing it to appropriate application for today. I am part of a church tradition that highly values this method in preaching, bible study and personal counselling. I do this myself in these areas. But I was reminded and challenged again of how important it is to do this well. By well, I mean accurately: actually getting to the heart of what the bible passage meant for those readers, how it is fulfilled in Christ and what that means now. But, I also mean, how we talk to people about the bible in ways that are natural, encouraging and challenging. How we really bring God’s word to bear appropriately in people’s lives today.

So, this is a very helpful book that takes seriously the claim that the bible contains everything we need for life and salvation. By encouraging the reader to take the bible very seriously and properly use it in a redemptive-historical way, Emlet paves the way for those who minister the word to do so in ways that are accurate, sensitive, and truly founded on Christ and his gospel.

No comments: