I was sitting in my office at the church on a rather quiet Friday afternoon. Things weren’t very busy, as many had already left for the day. My phone rang. The receptionist said a woman walked in who was in need of pastoral care. Given my present mix of responsibilities at the church where I serve, pastoral counseling isn’t formally listed on my “job” description. It’s not that I didn’t want to come alongside this person in our body; I just didn’t expect to be the one called upon to provide the care. That being said, those who normally are involved in pastoral care and counseling had departed for the day, so the receptionist asked if I could talk to Irene*.
As I walked out into the lobby to greet Irene, she immediately apologized for being an inconvenience (which, she wasn’t) and began to cry. I invited her into my office where she proceeded to share the news that she had just been let go from her job under rather unjust circumstances. With a flood of questions, doubt, confusion, sadness, and more, she was longing for some manner of help and healing; and she was looking to me for guidance…
The question is, “How does one effectively and accurately, in a timely and sensitive manner, bring the Word of God to bear on the lives of those whom we are given the grace to counsel toward the cross?”
The Psalmist wrote:
“My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!”
Psalm 119:28, ESV
“My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word.”
Psalm 119:81, ESV
The challenge presented for many Christian pastors, counselors, and those in any type of accountability relationship is connecting the Bible to a myriad of life situations, in an interpretively faithful and biblical sound manner, bringing strength to the person facing the difficulty.
CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet (New Growth Press, 2009), by Michael R. Emlet (M.Div., M.D.), is a welcomed and much-needed resource which stands in refreshing contrast to plethora of books spouting self-help, psychological nonsense. In this gospel-centered, accessible resource for pastors, counselors, and laypersons alike, Emlet provides methods and models for meeting life’s most challenging situations with the transforming power of the gospel.
“God speaks to change us,” writes Emlet. Though that truth is widely known, the art of applying the Scriptures in a meaningful way to a particular person’s life often ends up in well-intentioned, but contextually-absent, eisegetically derived principles, with very general applications; possibly serving to meet the moment, but failing to help the person continually move more deeply into gospel realities and experiencing long-term spiritual growth and healing.
CrossTalk aims to help the reader “interpret people as well as Scripture and suggest relevant biblical applications that will benefit those around [them].” Emlet accomplishes this aim by:
- Addressing several common misunderstandings of biblical application
- Reorienting the reader around a redemptive-historical understanding and application of the grand narrative of Scripture, centering on the person and work of Christ
- This approach opens up the entirety of the Bible to the couselor, allowing them to utilize passages (i.e., 1 Chronicles & Haggai 2) potentially un-mined in the past in terms of their gospel-centeredness.
- Instructing the reader in becoming an active listener of the stories of individuals to help counselees move toward a biblical understanding of, and outlook on, their story in light of the gospel.
- Making the reader aware of the indicative-imperative structure of biblical commands, grounding them in the reality of the gospel
- Graciously approaching those we seek to help in the biblical categories of saint, sufferer, and sinner. In every case moving them toward a deeper understanding of the faithful grace of God.
- Including thought provoking discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
- Demonstrating the approach and process in action through two case studies.
Overall, CrossTalk is an invaluable resource in the development of a gospel-centered, grace-saturated, biblically faithful approach to care and counseling. I highly recommend it!
Just in case you were wondering about my counseling appointment…Through the story of Job and the Sermon on the Mount, by God’s grace, I was able to redirect her toward the riches of the gospel and God’s sovereignty; applying aspect of what Emlet describes in the pages of CrossTalk to Irene’s situation. She left encouraged by the reality of the gospel in the life of a believer, and for that I was grateful.
*The name was changed to protect the identity of the individual.