Introduction to ’CrossTalk’ by Michael Emlet

Rick sat in his chair, his eyes downcast. Despite a renewed commitment to Christ that was demonstrated in months of patient, self-sacrificial living at home, his wife of twenty-two years had decided to file for divorce. He looked up, furrowed his brow, and said, “What good was all this work to end up like this? I know God is up to something, but it feels like my efforts were in vain.” Max, his good friend and Bible study leader, responded, “Rick, I hardly know what to say. I know that this is deeply hurtful and disappointing to you.” He sat in silence for a few moments then quietly said, “Your grief reminds me of the words of the Lord’s servant in Isaiah 49:4: ‘But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”’” Rick looked up. “That really does describe how I feel. I know I need to take to heart the second part of that verse, but it’s hard to have that perspective right now.” For the next two hours Rick and Max talked about dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams, framing Rick’s experience through a biblical lens. Ultimately they talked about Jesus, the true Servant of the Lord, who had every earthly reason to take Isaiah’s lament upon his lips as he hung on the cross. Yet Jesus remained faithful, confident that he would be vindicated by his Father and that his reward lay with his God (Heb. 12:2; 1 Pet. 2:23). Although many more late-night discussions would occur, Rick left that evening more confident that the words of the Servant could become his own. Who wouldn’t want the privilege of using Scripture to help someone in trouble, as Max did? How does that happen? 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. The fact is, there are many books about how to interpret the Bible, but most of these are heavy on the side of theory, not application, which is the spiritual task of connecting Scripture with life. These resources help us study the grammatical and literary details of a passage, do research into the original historical setting and audience, and draw some conclusions about what the passage might have meant to the original hearers/readers. All of this is valuable—in fact, it’s absolutely essential. But the equally important step of relating that study to the messy complexity of life in the here and now is given relatively little attention, even in very good books on biblical interpretation. Too often, we remain people who are all messed up with no place to go! Resources that focus more fully on the challenge of application tend to concentrate on public ministry such as preaching or teaching or on broader questions of ethics in the life of the church. But if we are asking how the Bible addresses the complexities of our personal lives (or another’s life), there are fewer places to turn. Of course, there is great overlap between using the Bible “macro-ethically” (e.g., applying its teaching to broader issues like divorce, urban blight, and homosexuality) and “micro-ethically” (e.g., learning to minister on a personal level to a friend struggling with the loss of a job or wrestling with anger). Broader issues always filter down to the level of personal decisions and actions, and personal issues always have a broader social context. The common concern is how the Bible should function ethically in our lives, whether one-on-one in personal ministry or in a larger church and cultural setting. In either case, we need 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. And now for a true confession: I wrote this book because I need this resource! As a biblical counselor who also trains other counselors, my daily challenge is to bring the good news of God’s redemption to my counselees’ lives—and to help others do the same. Questions (often from my students) frequently arise: “Why did you choose that passage?” “Why didn’t you open your Bible that session?” “Why did you address that particular theme in this person’s life?” “How could you be more gospel-centered with this brother?” “How do you build biblical hope for change in this sister?” These questions have prodded me to write about the process of connecting life and Scripture. When we hit a personal “wall” in counseling or pastoral ministry, it provokes a more proactive, thoughtful approach to both people and the Bible. “How can I better understand this person biblically?” “I thought that Scripture was relevant; why didn’t it connect with him?” “Why is this person ‘stuck’?” “What biblical truth might help her grow?” All these questions from the trenches led me to investigate the intersection of biblical truth and peoples’ lives—what is commonly referred to as “application.” The Focus of This Book It might help you to know up front what this book will and will not cover. This book is not a comprehensive approach to biblical interpretation. It will not address in detail the interpretive process, but it will build on many of the concepts laid out in books that do. So, for example, I will not cover (in depth, at least) the guidelines for examining a passage in its original context, what biblical scholars call “grammatical-historical exegesis.” I will mention several solid resources on biblical interpretation that can help if you have not received formal training in biblical interpretation. Similarly, I won’t address how the varied literature types (genres) of the Bible—such as narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, gospel, and epistle—impact the way you interpret and use Scripture. Nor will I discuss the philosophical intricacies of where the meaning of a text comes from. Secondly, this book is not a comprehensive approach to discipleship, counseling, or pastoral care. It does provide a biblical “take” on people that I believe is foundational for personal ministry, but if you are looking for a book-length treatment on the nature of people and how to help them, this book probably will not address all your questions. Lastly, this book is not a survey of the major ethical challenges that confront the church today. I won’t be discussing how to use the Bible to address issues such as homosexuality, global warming, women in ministry, and poverty, to name a few. No doubt, the way I propose that we understand the Bible, understand people, and understand the link between the two will im-pact our approach to “macro-ethical” issues. But my main focus is “micro-ethics”—how we use Scripture to meaningfully intersect with a particular person’s life as we minister to him or her. Consider this book a hybrid of sorts, a resource to help you understand both people and the Bible more thoroughly. This book gives attention to interpreting the biblical text and inter-preting the person. Both skills are necessary if you are to minister in a way that correctly “handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Both are necessary for effective ministry. To sum it up, this book can help you read the Bible and “read” people in a way that promotes gospel-centered, personally relevant use of Scripture in ministry to others. It describes a way to use the Scriptures to help people grow to love God and others more fully in the midst of their complex daily lives. This Book’s for You! What kind of reader do I envision you to be? I’m hoping you are someone actively engaged in personal ministry—counselor, pastor, discipler, spiritual mentor, small-group leader, campus ministry worker, youth leader, crisis pregnancy worker, or intentional friend. I’m also hoping that you’re someone who, like me, has wrestled with how to connect God’s Word to the lives of people around you (and sometimes failed!). I hope you desire to see how two worlds fruitfully meet head-on: the unfolding story of God’s redemption and the complex tapestries of peoples’ struggles, sufferings, sin, triumphs, and joys. If you are primarily involved in a more “public” ministry of the Word such as preaching and teaching, I believe the book will sharpen your approach to Scripture and to people. It’s true that preaching and teaching tend to be more “proclamatory” in nature, whereas “private” ministry of the Word, which occurs one-on-one or in the context of small groups, tends to be more “dialogical” or conversational in nature. But whatever the sphere or scope of your work with others, I believe you will find help to grow in ministry wisdom. Here’s the bottom line: this book is for anyone who takes the “one another” passages of the Bible seriously and is eager to use the richness of Scripture to minister wisely to the people God has placed in his or her sphere of influence. It is for anyone who has been captured by Paul’s vision for God’s people, namely, “that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12–13). How Firm a Foundation As we start exploring this topic, let’s affirm two foundational truths about the Bible. These truths will support the weight of what follows in the rest of this book. First, the Bible is God’s “breathed-out” word, according to 2 Timothy 3:16a. Second Peter 1:20–21 notes, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Because the Bible is God’s truthful word and not the flight of human fancy, it has authority (applicational weight) for God’s people. It is, as Paul goes on to say, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16b). Peter puts it this way: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:3–4). Peter connects the knowledge of God, the Word (promises) of God, and our participation in God’s nature or character. Both apostles would affirm that the Bible is a divinely authored means of God’s grace to grow us into the likeness of Christ. God speaks to change us. Second, God in his wisdom used human authors to bring his words to his people. The Bible did not drop out of the sky as a completed document, nor were the writers of Scripture mindless drones who merely took dictation from God. Rather, in some mysterious divine-human collaboration, the human writers of Scripture wrote words that were truly their own, yet simultaneously the exact words that God the Holy Spirit intended, specifically tailored for God’s people living within a certain historical and cultural moment. Jeannine Brown connects these two aspects of Scripture by describing the Bible as “culturally located divine discourse.” Keeping this balance reminds us that (1) God revealed himself progressively in history through the Bible’s human authors and (2) the Bible, because God is the ultimate author, remains authoritative for his people throughout all time. The Story of God and the Stories of People From what I have just said, it is clear that God’s Word is meant to inform and transform God’s people. How God’s redemptive message does that is the focus of this book. But for now, realize that the Bible proclaims one comprehensive true story of God’s relationship with people. It moves from creation to the fall of humanity into sin, suffering, and death, to redemption — ultimately accomplished through Jesus — and finally, to a vision of God’s kingdom, complete at Jesus’ second coming. It is the story of God creating a people to rule the world on his behalf, for their good and his glory. It is a story of their rebellion against God’s wise design. But it is also a tale of God rescuing his people from their sin and misery, and the climax of that narrative comes in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Everything in the Old Testament looks forward to this climax and everything in the New Testament looks back to it and/or works out its implications for the lives of God’s people. Of course, the New Testament also looks forward to Jesus’ second coming. This is what the gospel is all about: the good news that God entered history as the man Jesus to bring about the redemption of a people and a world bound in sin and suffering. But not “generic” redemption. Not “generic” sin and suffering. This good news reaches God’s people in the trenches of life and is tailored to the particularities of life. Any attempts at ministering God’s Word that do not fundamentally connect the good news of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, with the details, themes, and plotlines of people’s lives will miss the mark (or land off the target altogether!). Hence, it is appropriate to call the approach of this book “redemptive-historical” or “gospel-centered” application. It is an approach that takes the narrative (storied) nature of the Bible seriously in order to make wise connections with the narratives of our lives. Understanding both the Story of God and the stories of the people we serve is necessary to help others embrace the transformation the Bible envisions for God’s people. The Goals of This Book What specific goals do I have in mind for this book? What do I hope to see happen in your life as a result of reading it? The first goal has to do with your own relationship with God. The apostle John wrote, “these [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). That life does not begin in some future place following death. It starts right here, right now, as God brings restoration into the midst of a broken creation (2 Cor. 5:17). God intends our lives to reflect the life of Christ as we encounter him through his Word (2 Pet. 1:4). So, one goal for this book is that your life would be increasingly shaped and transformed by the sweeping story of Scripture. As Eugene Peterson says, “If Holy Scripture is to be something other than mere gossip about God, it must be internalized.” A temptation in ministry is to think that just because we prepared for a Bible study, a sermon, or a discipleship appoint-ment (or wrote a book like this!), we are deeply engaging with the God of the universe. But that’s not necessarily true. It’s easy in ministry to live more as a “pipe” than a “reservoir.” That is, it’s easy to live merely as a conduit to others of the transforming truths of God’s Word, rather than as a changed and transformed reservoir who overflows with lived-out gospel truth. You wouldn’t imagine cooking meal after meal for your family without sitting down to enjoy that nourishment yourself, would you? To paraphrase James 1:22, let’s not merely be hearers or speakers or counselors of the Word but doers, first and foremost. A second goal relates to your relationships with others. If you want to speak helpfully to a struggling brother or sister, this book should increase your ability to listen, ask thoughtful questions, and use biblical categories for interpreting their experiences. Perhaps you have been in a situation where someone asked for your input on a matter. But when you tried to bring biblical truth to the table, it felt as though you were changing the subject (at least from the other person’s perspective)! 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 café. A third goal relates to your attitude toward the Bible and the way you use it in ministry. As you grow to appreciate the unified story line of the Bible as well as the uniqueness of individual books and passages, I hope that your Bible will “grow” in size. That is, I hope you will see the wonder and beauty of the gospel in whatever Old or New Testament passage you are reading. This should encourage you to dive into portions of the Bible you previously neglected. It should motivate you to explore the way these passages relate to Jesus Christ—and how they relate to your own situations in life and ministry. Put simply, the overall goal of this book is to help you live a biblically rich, Christ-centered life in community with fellow believers. It will equip you to make more sense of the details of the Bible and the details of people’s lives. It will equip you to see how the diverse writings of Scripture have a cohesive, kingdom-centered thrust. And it will help you discern life patterns, themes, and plotlines that underlie the details of people’s experiences. Ultimately, it should equip you to more carefully read the story of the Bible and the diverse stories of the people you know and to make meaningful connections between the two. The title CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet captures several of these ideas in overlapping ways. First, CrossTalk highlights the interpersonal aspect of ministry and carries the idea of redemptive dialogue occurring between two or more people. Second, the title emphasizes the centrality of the gospel. It highlights personal ministry that points to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ —his life, death on the cross, resurrection, ascension, and future return. Finally, CrossTalk focuses our attention on the intersection of two kinds of “speech” — the story of Scripture and the stories of people’s lives. This is the place of application. This is CrossTalk in action. CrossTalk is written by Michael R. Emlet, available Nov. 2009 from New Growth Press (www.NewGrowthPress.com)

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