Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: CrossTalk

Where Life & Scripture Meet
by Michael R. Emlet
ⓒ2009, New Growth Press
179 pages

I ordered this book last week and placed it on my "to read" pile. For whatever reason, I continued to be intrigued by the book and decided to read Introduction as a preview. Two days later, I set the book down, having completed it. (If you had the time to devote to one sitting, the book could easily be read in an afternoon.)

Application has long been an issue that plagues me. In my early years of ministry, I believe I highly overemphasized application...turning the Bible into a "how to" manual. My ministry was rather pragmatic; do this and life will go better for you. Since that time, my understanding of Scripture and ministry has grown. The Bible is far less about me and much more about Christ. However, I also believe the pendulum may have swung too far the other way. If I teach or minister a text and completely avoid application am I really "equipping" the body?

In short, application is a lot like money. I wish I didn't have to think about either one and that they just naturally would appear for me and for others. Neither should be obsessed over, but it is necessary to consider both. Just as I would not be serving my family if I completely neglected issues involving our finances, I can neglect the sheep if I never consider application. (Praise God the preacher does not have to be a finished project, but is to continually progress. see: 1 Timothy 4:15. Very thankful for a church that graciously shows patience when my "progress" seems slow. )

Crossing Ditches--Emlet describes that there are times in ministry where the issue in a person's life, or the text of a passage make application rather easy. For example, if a person struggles with anxiety, there are a number of passages that appear easy to apply to the person's life. It's easier because anxiety is a life issue that is clearly addressed in Scripture. It is also easier because many of these texts give practical application within their context.

Spanning Canyons--There are also issues and passages which are not as easy to apply. Some passages seem so removed from our current context that application feels like a real reach. Furthermore, there are a complexity of issues we fact today that are not directly spoken of in Scripture. Yes, we know and trust that Scripture engages each of these issues, but at times we're not sure how.

While "ditch" passages and issues are easier to gravitate toward, we can find our ministries increasingly shallow if this is the only place we minister. First, we will be quite limited in what issues we can address. Second, our ministry may lack some of the depth to truly engage heart issues. Emlet suggests that if we simply live in the "ditch areas" our Bible becomes increasingly thin.

The Beauty--The beauty of this book, however, is that Emlet is a strong proponent of the redemptive-historical approach (what I have before called the Jesus Hermeneutic). While the purpose this book was to assist a minister in application, Emlet does not want the reader to provide application outside of the redemptive work of Christ. Emlet explains it much better than I previously have, providing a helpful list of what the Bible is primarily not before he addresses what the Bible is.

Life-to-Text and Text-to-Life--Many times, in counseling or topical preaching we are drawn to a text as we hear the person's life situation. We develop a bit of an arsenal of verses to engage life issues. While having a familiarity of Scriptural topics is essential, simply going to your "pet passages" may cause your ministry to lack some effectiveness. Sometimes, just as sequential exposition works from Text to life, a counselor can do the same with his counselee. Through digging deeply into a passage, while always keeping our eyes on the history of redemption, we may be surprised how the passage truly can speak to the issues of the heart in a person's life. We should truly be seeking to do both in the lives of our listeners.

Saint, Sufferer, & Sinner--Perhaps the most impacting portion of the book for me, Emlet explains how we can look at each passage in light of these perspectives. Since each of these words describe the status of the believer, we could ask, "What does this passage have to say to me as a saint/sufferer/sinner?" (Yes, I am aware that Scripture does not describe the believer as a sinner, however, it clear affirms that we are still "sin-committers." If you prefer, you could change "sinner" to "sin-committer," though I find that cumbersome.) Keeping our eyes fixed on our Savior as we study the Text, we can ask: How does the Text confirm the Saint? How does the Text comfort the sufferer? How does the Text convict the sinner? Clearly, every passage does not equally speak to the different statuses, just as each person may not find themselves equally expressing these truths. However, viewing the person and Text in light of these perspectives can allow the counselor to discern whether the person needs comforted, confirmed or convicted.

Conclusion--This book is not just beneficial for a pastor or counselor. If you teach, lead a LifeGroup, or even seek to give Biblical advice via the phone or in the check out aisle, you will find this book beneficial. More importantly, if you seek to be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer--without turning the Bible into a moralistic rule guide--you will find this book beneficial to your walk.

It's a quick and fairly easy read...but a really good, challenging and rewarding read as well.