FamilyLife Today® Podcast

What the Bible Is and Isn’t

with Michael Emlet | September 30, 2010
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How much of the Scriptures are really applicable to your life? Today Christian counselor Michael Emlet prods us to dig deeper into the Scriptures for daily wisdom and guidance, and not to see the Bible as merely a book of do’s and don’ts.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • How much of the Scriptures are really applicable to your life? Today Christian counselor Michael Emlet prods us to dig deeper into the Scriptures for daily wisdom and guidance, and not to see the Bible as merely a book of do’s and don’ts.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

How much of the Scriptures are really applicable to your life?

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What the Bible Is and Isn’t

With Michael Emlet
September 30, 2010
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Bob:  There is a big difference between living your life in accordance with biblical principles and living your life in a vital relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Here is Michael Emlet.

Michael Emlet:  Unless you have that broad storyline of redemption in Jesus Christ you can follow principles and commands and miss God.  When you think of the Bible as a story of God’s redemption don’t be satisfied with an outline if you will, no matter how good of an outline when you have the full story before you to read and savor and live out of.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey.  And I'm Bob Lepine. Today we will learn how understanding the full story of the Bible can change the way you read your Bible, the way you understand it and the way you apply it to your own life and use it to help others. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You know if you are sitting down with folks to try to help them with whatever they are struggling with, if you are smart you are going to think there is a source I need to take them to.  The source would be the scriptures, right?

Dennis:  Right.

Bob:  But I think sometimes when we take folks to the scriptures as the source for help we forget that the scriptures it's not just an encyclopedia where you go and you look up in the concordance for the issue that you are dealing with and then turn to that passage.  You really have to understand it in a deeper context than that.

Dennis:  Well and that there is really a big reason in fact three big reasons why the Bible was written.  I am grateful for our guest on today’s broadcast Michael Emlet who has written a book called CrossTalk because he really talks about this very issue, Bob, about giving people advice and applying the Bible.  Applying the truth of the Bible for yourself and also using the Bible for getting to know God.  Michael welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Michael Emlet:  Thank you for having me.

Dennis:  Michael is a counselor, in fact Bob, his bio just kind of exhaust me.

Bob:  We do not have for his bio.

Michael Emlet:  The program would be over by the time --

Dennis: He is a counselor, teacher, author, husband of one, father of two.  He lives near Philly.

Michael Emlet:  You left out medical doctor.

Dennis:  I was getting ready to hit that.  How many years of education have you had?  Now, I know in some sense for always, going to school and learning but how many years of formal education have you ever counted up all the years?

Michael Emlet:  I think I would be depressed if I counted it up. 

Bob:  Maybe the question is how much debt are you still paying off for –

Michael Emlet:  That’s done fortunately.

Dennis:  Well and the reason I say that he was a family physician before he went to seminary.  I am sure there are many of you around the country.  I only know of two others. 

One of them lives here in Little Rock who is a personal friend of mine who was a doctor and then went to Dallas Theological Seminary for four years. The other is a Dr. Cutrer who teaches at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  So you do have some good company. 

Michael Emlet:  I’m in good company.  Thank you.

Dennis:  This book though, back to Bob’s point, is really written to help people in ministry, moms and dads, husbands and wives, singles know how to look at the book, the Bible, and what it means to them.

Bob:  I have to tell you as I got a copy of your book I thought back to when I first became a Christian.  I remember coming across a concordance and I thought this is wonderful.  Any subject that I want to look at what the Bible has to say about it I can find the word, I can look at every verse that deals with that and I can get a pretty exhaustive biblical look at a particular subject just by using a concordance.  Now what's wrong with that?

Michael Emlet:  Well I think it's a great starting point.  I think that it's appropriate to go to places and scripture that talk about specific things, specific problems.  But one of my burdens is to try to broaden and deepen our approach to scripture so that we are not just staying at the level of a concordancing approach.

Bob:  You are saying we need to be doing this as a part of our helping ourselves and helping others.  We have to have a broader context than just a handful of verses that deal with a particular subject.

Michael Emlet:  Absolutely whether it's in our own personal devotional times or we are in ministry to others we want to be front to back in the scriptures.

Dennis:  As I was coming out of your book I thought what passage of the Bible would I go to to introduce Michael to our audience about what he is trying to do in this book?  I reflected back on John Chapter 20:30-31.  Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 

There really is a tip off there as to why the Bible was written.  Now, this passage here is speaking of the book of John but it's what the Bible is all about.  Explain to our listeners the goal of your book CrossTalk.

Michael Emlet:  Sure, I think the main goal ultimately is that readers would grow and love for God and love for others, that’s the main ultimate goal any time we study scripture.  But ultimately I also want us to be able to see Jesus Christ preeminently as we study the scriptures so that we are growing in a depth relationship with him and helping others to do the same and not simply staying at a level of principles and other things that we might get from the scriptures.

Dennis:  That’s one thing you said in your book that I really like.  You challenge us to go to the Bible to get to know who God is.  That’s back to John 20:31 it's saying “these things were written so that you might believe and that by believing you would have life. You would know the son the God.  You would experience him.”

Bob:  But I think there are a lot of people who are intimidated.  I mean the Bible is a pretty big book and you sit on to try to read it and you go some of this is confusing and it's hard to understand and it's a lot easier to turn to proverbs and find the verse where you go well that make sense, I will try to live that way.  How does the average person take the approach to scripture that you are talking about?  If you are talking front to back up and down it feels kind of like you got to go to seminary to get there.

Michael Emlet:  Well and that’s definitely not the case.  I think it is a process that happens over time.  So it’s an accumulative process by which we grow in our ability to read the scriptures front to back and grow in a depth and with understanding of scriptures.  So it’s not overnight.  It doesn’t take specialized training.  I think it takes a willingness to dig and to prayerfully ask God to help us see what's there and understand it in the context of all of scripture.

Bob:  So let me put you at the table with somebody who has been a believer for a couple of years, they have been reading the Bible.  They love the lord and you are trying to take him from where they are in that kind of an isolated passage by passage approach.  If you are going to get them started on the track that you are talking about what kind of a process would you take them through?

Dennis:  Well, I want you to use an illustration here they use in the book and that’s about the canyon and the ditch because that really illustrates the answer to what Bob is asking of you here.

Michael Emlet:  Sure.  I think I would ask that person do you find it easy or hard to apply the scriptures to your life?   I think most people will say well it depends.  Some verses, some passages seem to leap off the page and right into my life.  It seems very fresh and contemporary whereas there are other passages that I think what in the world does this have to do with my life or the people in my life?

Bob:  Give me an example of a ditch passage.

Michael Emlet:  A ditch passage would be Philippians 4: 6-7 for anxiety.  Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your request to God.  Why I call that a ditch passage is because it feels like the distance to go between when that passage was written and my life now it's a short distance.  I can identify with being anxious.  I can identify with a need to go to God for help with that.  That would be a ditch passage.

Bob:  Ephesians 4 “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ sake has forgiven you,” that’s a ditch passage right?

Michael Emlet:  Absolutely.

Bob:  So what's a canyon passage?

Michael Emlet:  Canyon passage.  I have just finished reading the book of Joshua.  There is a lot of canyon passages in the book of Joshua.  Meaning, as I am reading the distribution and allotment of the land to the tribes of Israel it's easy to think what difference should that make in my life?  How does that apply to my life?  That’s a canyon passage and even a portion of the book.

Dennis:  I was in the canyon not too long reading the Bible.  I have been in the book of Isaiah for several weeks.  I was reading through that and I was going that God asked Isaiah to walk around naked for three years.  Now how does that apply?


Michael Emlet:  That’s when you don’t want to have one to one quick application.

Dennis:  It didn’t take long in reading and going deeper into the canyon as you might say to realize that what God is saying is you are going to have shame as a nation.  I am going to illustrate how shameful it's going to be with this prophet.  I am glad God doesn’t give commands like that today but he did illustrate that he wanted the nation of Israel to repent or he was going to bring incredible shame into their lives. 

I think that’s a great illustration what you are talking about.  You read it and you go.  What's with that?  But you study it and you begin to find that you know what there is a bigger context here.

Michael Emlet:  That’s exactly right.  I think so often we read something and our initial response is because there is not an immediate connection we tend to gloss over it.  I think the longer we sit with a passage and when we ask questions like how would the original audience have understood this?  What was going on at that time that they might benefit from this word of God?  That starts to set us on a journey for understanding how it's relevant to us.

Dennis:  There is a section in your book CrossTalk where you talk about what the Bible is not.  I found this really helpful because I think we can reduce the Bible to any one of these.  But you say the Bible is primarily not and then you list a number of things. 

Share those with our audience because I think we can get into a ditch ourselves and into a rut around this and really miss the big picture like we are talking about of what God’s doing on planet earth.

Michael Emlet:  Sure.  I think one of the things the Bible is not primarily is a book of rules or commands.  Certainly commands, prohibitions are prominent throughout scripture and it's important.  Scripture is to be a norm for our lives.  So we pay attention to those things.  But that’s not principally what the Bible is. 

In fact huge chunks of scripture are more descriptive rather than prescriptive.  They don’t tell you to do anything.  So if we stay at that level of dos and don’ts, we are missing that God is pursuing his people and He is going to redeem them.

Dennis:  And so we don’t get letters here from our listeners.  Again, listen to the construction of the sentence.  He is saying the Bible is primarily not a bunch of dos and don’ts.  You are not saying that The Ten Commandments aren’t a list of dos and don’ts because they are.

Michael Emlet:  Absolutely.

Dennis:  But they call us to a bigger picture for instance the first four talking about our relationship with God and how we relate to him.

Michael Emlet:  That’s absolutely right.  None of these things that I talk about that the Bible is not ultimately have to be seen in the context of that bigger picture.  So when you think of the Bible as a story of God’s redemption, then the commands make sense. Then principles make sense.  Then looking at characters in the Bible and whether we should emulate them or not make sense.  Then it makes sense to distill some of the teaching of scripture into doctrine.  But unless you have that broad story line of redemption in Jesus Christ, you can be completely non-relational.  You can follow principles and commands and miss God, absolutely.

Bob:  So it's not a rule book.  It's also not primarily a book of wisdom.  Is that one of the things that's on your list?

Michael Emlet:  Yes, it’s not primarily a book of principles basically.  Timeless principles for living that no matter where we are in scripture, we can derive a principle and then bring it into our present day context.  Again, it's not inappropriate to say how does this apply?  What should I take away from this for my present day life but it's more than principles.

Bob:  So if I said to you, I just quoted Ephesians 4 a few minutes ago, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another; isn’t that a timeless principle that I can apply to my life?

Michael Emlet:  It’s not timeless in the sense that it was given by Paul at a particular point in history for God’s people.  Now we are part of that same story by virtue of being united with Christ in redemption.  So, in that sense, it becomes part of the way we ought to live as well.  But I wouldn’t call it a timeless principle.  It actually comes at a particular point in time.  I would rather say it's a timely principle.  It is for today as well.

Bob:  When you call it timeless, you kind of unhook it from the historical context in which it came, right?

Michael Emlet:  Exactly.  You are not paying attention to the fact that God works concretely in history with His people.

Dennis:  You also are going to shake up some people with your next one.  You said the Bible is primarily not a book of doctrine.  Now again, I want our listeners to hear, they don’t have to write this.  We are not saying that the Bible doesn’t have doctrine and doesn’t teach the great doctrines of the church.  You are just saying primarily the big picture of how we relate to God and how he’s loved us and wants to redeem us and call us to the cross of Christ that’s the big story.  Don’t miss the big story of being redeemed by God and relating to Him in the midst of gleaning principles, wisdom and doctrine.

Michael Emlet:  Exactly.  In other words don’t be satisfied with an outline if you will no matter how good of an outline when you have the full story before you to read and savor and live out of.

Bob:  Okay Michael.  You know this is FamilyLife Today.  I mean we talk about marriage and family and how all of that works together and we have got some ditches that we go to pretty regularly because there are passages that deal with marriage and family. 

If you are talking with a young married couple and they are thinking okay I understand what you are saying but I want to know how what you are saying applies to how I read my Bible and then apply it in my marriage relationship.  Should I even be trying to apply it in my marriage relationship or should I just be worried about my relationship with God?

Michael Emlet:  It's a both/and.  Wherever I am in scripture I am asking those kinds of questions.  How does this shape my thinking, my emotions, my actions as I relate to God and as I relate to the people who are close to me?  I mean this is Jesus saying how do you boil it down?  To the two great commandments, love God, love your neighbor.  So it's always both.

Bob:  So what’s a non-marriage passage that maybe you have been in recently where you read it and you thought boy that applies to my marriage and I hadn’t even really thought about that in the context of my marriage.  Can you think of anything?

Michael Emlet:  Well most recently I have been reading in Judges and so I am in the early chapters where you start to see this cycle of disobedience happening and the Israelites crying out and then God sending a redeemer, a judge who’s raised up to help them.  That has nothing to do with marriage obviously. 

And yet, one of the things that it says to me as it relates to marriage is am I seeking God?  Am I crying out to Him for daily deliverance?  Or will I chose to go my own way?  It will have huge relational implications for my family if I do that.

Bob:  Israel became spiritually complacent which led them to these times when they were attacked from the outside and God had to raise up a judge.  That can happen in our marriages, can’t it?

Michael Emlet:  It can happen in our marriage and in our family.  I mean one of the connecting points for me was how am I spiritually shepherding my children?  Am I raising up, is God using me to raise up a new generation who continues to know God or who has forgotten who God is?

Dennis:  Well Michael as I was getting into your book and what it's about, I have to confess that I was going now wait a second.  I like the principles.  I like to teach the principles.  I like to jump over ditches and I get a lot of great principles out of the Bible.

Bob:  In fact I can read you the e-mail that I got from Dennis that said he might be saying some things in here that I might disagree with. 

Dennis:  Yes.  And yet the longer I pull back to it the more I want to affirm what your big idea is of what you are doing here.  That is that the Bible was not written to make us intelligent sinners.  It was written to explain who God is, explain His love for us, how He is pursuing us, in fact how He became a man, a God man.  And how He went to the cross and paid for my sins and rose from the dead after three days and how Jesus Christ ended up being seated at the right hand of the father and today bids us to come to Him. 

The Bible is a story of redemption.  It is a call away from self to God to allow him to be our master.  I wasn’t so mad at you.


After I started thinking this through because what you are trying to do is really jar us out of habits we can get into of going to the scripture to find a nugget.   And you miss the God who made the gold

Michael Emlet:  Absolutely.

Dennis:  And that’s what I would want our listeners to hear.

Bob:  Well and I think anybody who reads Michael’s book is going to read the Bible differently after they have read Michael’s book.  I think it's the right kind of course correction for all of us because we can have a tendency to want to dive right into application, right into what does this say to me.  We first have to stop and say what’s God trying to communicate broadly and not just about my specific issue but what’s the big picture and your book really pulls us back to that. 

The book is called CrossTalk and we have it in our FamilyLife Today resource center.  You can go online at to request a copy.  Again it's or call 1800FLTODAY, 1800 358 6329.  That’s 1800-F as in “Family,” L as in “Life” and then the word “Today” and ask about getting a copy of Michael Emlet’s book CrossTalk. 

And let me also mention here that we have recently added to our website a whole collection of articles from Michael and others who work as a part of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.  We have teamed up to address some of the life issues that are tough to deal with things like addictions and attention deficit disorder and depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and eating disorders.  These are the kinds of issues that are now being addressed on our website at with help from our friends at the CCEF.  So let me encourage you to go and check that out and bookmark it as a resource as you talk to friends who are experiencing challenges in these kinds of areas. 

You know a big part of what we are committed to here at Family Life is to seeing your home, your marriage and your family become a spiritually strong marriage and family.  Our goal is to see every home become a godly home.  A while back I sat down with Dennis and talked about the key elements of growing a spiritually strong family and that conversation became a 4 CD series that we would like to make available to you this month if you can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. 

We are listeners supported, all of the cost for production and syndication of this program are covered by folks like you who donate from time to time or those of you who are legacy partners who make a monthly donation to help support the ministry.  We appreciate that financial support and again if you are able to help this month with the donation of any amount.  Feel free to ask for the CD series on growing a spiritually strong family. 

If you make your donation online at, type the word “STRONG” into the keycode box that you find on the online donation form or call 1800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329 and make your donation over the phone.  Ask for the CD series on growing a spiritually strong family and we are happy to send that out to you. 

Let me just say we really do appreciate your financial support.  It means a lot to us and we just want to say thanks for standing with us. 

We want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we are going to continue looking at how having an understanding of the big picture of the Bible will help you have a better understanding of all of the chapters and stories and verses that you come across as you read through the scriptures.  We will talk more about that tomorrow, hope you can be with us.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey.  I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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