What does the ancient prophecy of Haggai have to say to a twenty-first century husband who is struggling with internet pornography? What does Jesus’ encounter with a leper in Mark 1 mean for an unmarried physician who has grown weary in her ministry to the under-resourced? There are books on biblical hermeneutics (interpretation), and there are books on biblical counseling. But Dr. Michael Emlet (M.D., M.Div.), a counselor and teacher at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, helpfully brings the two conversations together in his new book, CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet.
Emlet intends his book to be a “resource that helps connect the wisdom of Scripture with the details of our daily lives, a resource that helps us learn how to bridge the gap between then and now” (2). As such, it is neither a comprehensive hermeneutics text, nor is it a full treatment of the issues involved in biblical counseling. Instead, it is a “hybrid” book that seeks a genuine “crosstalk”-both in the sense of bringing the two conversations together and in the sense of focusing on the encouragement found in the gospel (4, 9).
In the opening chapter, Emlet raises the question of how we connect the Bible to life. He notes that Christians typically turn to “ditch passages” rather than “canyon passages” when counseling people from Scripture. In other words, for some biblical passages, the distance between the text and our contemporary experience may seem relatively small, but for others, it may seem unbridgeable. But according to Emlet, the ditch passages may not be as straightforward as we think nor the canyon passages as irrelevant as we imagine. We should be growing in our ability to apply all of Scripture in a way that is faithful to the Bible’s unfolding storyline and in a way that is relevant to contemporary issues.
The book’s remaining chapters follow three main movements. First, Emlet tackles issues related to the biblical storyline (chapters 2-4). In these chapters, Emlet argues that the Bible is not primarily a book of ethical principles, a casebook of moral examples, or even a system of doctrines. Instead, the Bible is a story-the grand story of creation, fall, and redemption-that reaches its climax in Jesus Christ and his gospel. He then teases out several implications of reading the Bible in this fashion.
Next, Emlet turns to questions related to our individual stories and how they relate to the story of Scripture (chapters 5–6). Here Emlet argues that every human being has a story that helps make sense out of his life. Every human being has a worldview by which he answers the foundational questions of life: Where are we? Who are we? What’s wrong? What’s the solution? God’s story confronts our stories by addressing us in three interrelated ways: as saints, sufferers, and sinners. Bridging the gap between our stories and the story of the Bible may not always be easy, but because all of Scripture points to Jesus Christ and his redemptive work, all of Scripture is applicable to us in some way (87). Studying a passage of Scripture involves understanding the passage in its original context, in its broader redemptive-historical context, and then in its applicability to our lives (101).
In CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet, Michael R. Emlet gives you the tools to connect the Bible to your life and to the lives of your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. You will learn to understand people and God s Word in ways that promote gospel-centered, rich conversations that help you and those you know grow in love for God and others. This book will make the whole Bible come alive to you. Instead of platitudes, you can offer a cup of living water to those who are struggling in this broken world.
Finally, Emlet applies his method to two case studies and then offers some concluding words of encouragement (chapters 7–11). Emlet’s case studies were mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review: a man struggling with addiction to internet pornography and a woman struggling with emotional fatigue in her job. Emlet examines each case by asking questions related to the three categories of personal identity: saint, sufferer, and sinner. He then seeks to apply an Old Testament text (Haggai 2:1–9) and a New Testament text (Mark 1:40–45) to their situations, asking questions about original context, broader biblical context, and application.
Emlet’s book has several significant strengths. First, the book skillfully bridges the gap between the sometimes esoteric discipline of hermeneutics and the problems of everyday life and ministry. Those who counsel from Scripture know that a read-two-verses-and-call-me-in-the-morning approach is insufficient, but they may not always know how to interpret and apply God’s Word in specific situations. Emlet’s book goes a long way toward filling a significant need for biblical counselors, namely, a resource that helps Christians to apply Scripture in a way that is faithful to the Bible’s unfolding storyline, centered on Jesus Christ and his work.
Second, Emlet’s book offers some helpful guidelines both for reading Scripture and for “reading” people’s problems. Especially helpful were his “questions to help you understand the person” (as saint, sufferer, and sinner; 94–101) and “questions to help you understand the passage” (original context, larger context of redemptive history, and application; 101–105).
Third, Emlet understands the importance of applying his method to concrete problems and situations. His case studies provide insightful examples of how he would apply the Scriptures to real-life problems. His choice of Haggai 2 may seem odd to those unfamiliar with the Minor Prophets, but using this passage makes the important point that any text of Scripture, when understood in light of Christ, is applicable to our lives.
If Emlet’s book has a weakness it is not in something that he said but in something that he didn’t say, or at least didn’t say with sufficiently clarity. Emelt rightly points to the Christ-centered metanarrative of Scripture, but he doesn’t seem to emphasize sufficiently the wrath-bearing nature of Christ’s atoning work, especially when he is explaining the Bible’s storyline in chapter 3. Emlet focuses on the transformative aspects of Christ’s work-Christ’s rescuing us from our “brokenness and decay” (49)-but he doesn’t always show how this transformation is enabled by and empowered by the objective, penal-substitutionary work of Christ on our behalf. To be fair, he does recognize the priority of the indicative over the imperative (51) and he does mention the penal aspects of Christ’s work (71, 152), but his “gospel-centered” approach would be helped by a clearer explanation of how Christ’s cross satisfied God’s wrath and how this good news empowers our obedience.
In sum, Michael Emlet’s book CrossTalk is an excellent resource for bridging the gap between biblical interpretation and biblical counseling. If we learn to read the biblical story in light of Christ, we will see that the ancient text of Scripture has everything to do with our lives, our sins, and our trials. Yes, even the prophecy of Haggai.