A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by G. T. Tran
Summary of Content
In his book, Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners, Michael R. Emlet lays out a biblical model of how to love people well. This model is necessary because we all struggle to love others just as they struggle to love us (4). But the good news, as Emlet states, is that “Scripture gives us a kind of trellis—a basic structure—on which love can flower in person-specific ways” (4).
In Part 1 of the book (chaps. 1-3), the author proposes three categories for understanding who believers are: saints, sufferers, and sinners (5). Although unbelievers are not saints, they share the experiences of suffering and sin just like believers (8-9). In general, Emlet suggests that saints need confirmation of their identity, sufferers need comfort amidst their affliction, and sinners need a challenge to their sin (8). Of course, Jesus is the ultimate Saint, Sufferer, and “Sinner”—the sinless One being made sin for us (chap. 3). Thus, believers are “saints, sufferers, and sinners in union with our Savior” (12). Importantly, they are saints who suffer and sin (26). As Emlet explains, “Ongoing struggle with suffering or with sin must be understood in this basic context of our new identity as children of the living God” (26).
Parts 2-4 (chaps. 4-24) explore the categories of saints, sufferers, and sinners respectively. For each category, Emlet also 1) provides a biblical example of how God loves saints, sufferers, sinners, 2) identifies ministries priorities for loving them, 3) gives examples in informal as well as formal counseling, and 4) notes some barriers to loving them well.
The book concludes with Part 5 (chaps. 25-27) where Emlet encourages a balanced approach where all three experiences are taken into account (chap. 25). He writes, “Keeping these three categories in view guards us from absolutizing any one aspect of our lives, which leads to oversimplification and distortion. And they keep us from being imbalanced as we minister to others” (182). In fact, chap. 26 notes several consequences when our approach is imbalanced. The last chapter (chap. 27) reminds us of the future hope wherein one day, we will be saints who no longer suffer and sin (183)!
Although it is not the primary focus of the book, Emlet occasionally touches on the issue of counseling unbelievers (e.g., 8-11, 48-50, 125-26, 152-56).
Evaluation of Content
The book is noteworthy for at least three reasons. First, it contains a wealth of personal anecdotes and case studies which greatly help concretizing Emlet’s concepts. In other words, he shows readers how to move from orthodoxy to orthopraxy (see esp. chaps. 6-8, 14-16, 21-23). Through these scenarios, we learn not only what to counsel but also how to counsel well.
Second, Emlet models his counsels from Scripture. This is evident in the fact that the sections on “counseling examples” directly follow the sections on “biblical examples.” For instance, when talking about loving others as sufferers, Emlet first examines the biblical example of how God relates to the suffering church in Smyrna (chaps. 13-14). Then, in chaps. 15-16, he shows how that biblical example shapes other counseling examples. This aspect of the book is commendable because it champions the sufficiency of Scripture in everyday life, that Scripture indeed equips believers for all good works, including the work of counseling (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17).
Third, the chapters addressing barriers to loving each other well are personally convicting (chaps. 9, 17, 24). For example, Emlet points out one reason we fail to love our fellow sinner is due to our self-righteousness and a judgmental spirit (161). Other reasons include the fear of man (162) or personal shame and guilt (163). These heart-probing reflections remind us that as instruments in God’s hand, we must remain humble and compassionate when helping others.
Overall, Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners is a helpful book that will enrich the church. Pastors who desire to shepherd their flock well would benefit from reading this book. For that reason, I highly recommend it!
G. T. Tran