In this last article I want to suggest a possible conversation with Joel that takes seriously (1) an approach to Scripture as an unfolding redemptive story that centers on Jesus Christ and (2) an approach to Joel that takes into account his experience as a saint, sufferer, and sinner. I want to revisit a text I mentioned in the first article—1 Cor. 6:18—but use it in a multifaceted way. What might a snippet of conversation look like?
In the last article I introduced the ministry situation of a youth group member—let’s call him Joel—who has begun to date and have sex with an unbeliever. And I advocated for an approach to the Bible that is sensitive to its nature as an unfolding story of God’s redemption centering on Jesus Christ. But how we read Scripture is only one side of the ministry equation. To apply the Bible to our contemporary lives we need to “read” (understand) people wisely as well. Here we follow the Bible’s lead because in it God speaks His redemptive word to his people as saints, sufferers, and sinners.
You’ve just learned that a male member of your youth group has starting dating a non-Christian girl and they’ve had sex on at least one occasion. He had made a profession of faith as a young child and lived, until recently, as a faith-filled disciple of Christ. How will you minister to this student? What notes do you want to strike as you bring the truth of the gospel to bear on his life? How you move toward him depends on at least two things—your general approach to Scripture and your general approach to people. These two overarching aspects will shape the way you specifically minister to this teen. It’s important to be self-reflective about the ways we think about the Bible and about people if we are to be wise, compassionate, and gospel-centered in personal ministry. Let’s look at possible approaches to Scripture in this first article.
Now that most everyone has left the room, we can have an intimate chat.
We have an ambivalent relationship with theology. Among its cons: it divides the church, and it can be academic and abstract, which is akin to boring, impersonal and irrelevant. These are, indeed, nasty cons. Its pros: well, life is theological.
Everyone who believes that God exists would like “a personal encounter with God.” We want that back-and-forth, knowing-and-being-known, emotional liveliness that is the fruit of a growing relationship. No one who follows Jesus harbors dreams of emotional and experiential dryness. Instead, bring on that promised abundant life (John 10:10).
She wasn’t angry; she was more matter-of-fact. She wasn’t asking God if the other shoe would drop, she was asking when, and she had good reason to ask. Her life had been one loss after another, and she was confident that each loss meant that God was whacking her for getting out of line. God, she was persuaded, was picky.
With so much of life being untidy and imperfect, I appreciate an epilogue that brings a satisfying completeness to a complicated story. I’ll even settle for a couple of lines at the end of a movie: Jack’s fortunes were restored, his good name was cleared, and he lived to see many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which sounds peculiarly like a great Old Testament epilogue. Yes, the end of Job is a winner, but, as we might expect, everything is better once Jesus comes. The epilogue to John’s gospel is the best ever.
A Remedy for “Take Two Verses and Call Me in the Morning”
Mike Emlet knows that Christians struggle with real life problems—and he believes the Bible offers divine wisdom for life’s challenges. But he discovered that effectively applying ancient Scripture to modern life is challenging, sometimes resulting in simplistic prescriptions, which resemble “Take two verses and call me in the morning.” So, Mike wrote the new book CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet to give Christians the tools to bridge the gap between the Bible and the everyday struggles of contemporary life. He provides not only specific guidelines for using Scripture in ministry, but also illustrates how it might look, by providing case studies of Scripture effectively applied to life struggles.
Read the Introduction and Chapter 1 (PDF) and watch a video (below) of author Mike Emlet talking about CrossTalk.