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Friday, October 11, 2013

"The Psalms" (Andrew Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr.)

TITLE: The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul
AUTHOR: Andrew Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr. (editors)
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (288 pages).

How do we read Psalms? Are they more to be sung or simply read? Can we study them analytically? How do we appreciate the poetic structures in it? In seeing God in the Psalms, is there a way we can discover our identity in God? Eighteen highly esteemed and learned scholars from across the evangelical community across North America and Europe have come together to share of their perspectives about the Psalms and how they can be read, studied, or used in worship. There are four purposes that these contributors want to achieve. First, they want to celebrate the spirit of the Psalms, and how the Psalms continue to impact the Christian community. Second, they want to crystallize the many insights learned through the years. Third, they desire to connect together the "theological, literary, and canonical" themes in Psalms. Fourth, they want to consolidate the material and learning into one book for the use of pastors, teachers, and lay leaders. The essays began out of the Evangelical Theological Society's "Psalms and Hebrew Poetry Consultation" section, which was established back in 2009. As a result nineteen essays are collected and set forth clearly in five parts.

Part One is "Psalm Studies in the Twenty-First Century." Highly revered Old Testament scholar, Dr Bruce Waltke shares his personal perspective on the Psalms that begins with teaching exegesis; progressing into a lectureship on the expositions of the Psalms; a gradual shaping of his thinking by Brevard Childs's canonical approach; as well as the influence of James Kugel, Robert Alter, Gerald Henry Wilson, and Raymond van Leeuwen's work on biblical poetry; and leading to his own commentary about the Psalms; Waltke gives readers a fascinating journey of how the Psalms remain vivid and alive even as he himself was shaped over time. Willem A Vangemeren gives us a literary analysis by summarizing Kugel and Childs's canonical approaches, Robert Alter's dual analogies on poetic appreciation; Aldele Berlin's views on parallelism, and finally arguing that imaginative poetry needs to be read with imagination. C Hassell Bullock's paper on the Psalms and Faith Tradition reminds me that the Psalms do not change. People do. Learning from others more experienced and being open to God teaching us is the essence of learning. He focuses on the area of prayer, sharing about how the Psalms can reflect how we feel even when our personal situations do not exactly fit with biblical times. The key to understanding this is to remember that "life is worship" both personally and corporately.

Part Two touches on the "Psalms of Praise" where Francis Kimmitt looks at Psalm 46 on celebrating God's protection and deliverance; Robert Chisolm showing us how to demythologize the metaphors of the sea toward a celebration of God's creation; and Andrew Schmutzer showing us how Psalm 91 that is steep in multiple metaphors can be used in a New Testament context.

Part Three moves from joys to learning how the Psalms can speak into sorrows and pain. In "Psalms of Lament," Michael Travers explores the psalms that reflect the tensions between guilty sinners and a forgiving God. He suggests that David's confidence in praising God is based solely on God's mercy, and how a Psalm may begin with self but ends with God. Looking at Travers paper, one gets the impression that worship changes us from inside out, where our perspectives shift from personal to community, and from community to God.  Walter C Kaiser looks at the place of lament that also starts with a need and ends with a praise. In a literary analysis, Kaiser us the place of personification; the use of voice; the structure and purpose of acrostics; as well as the theological significance of laments. Hebrew Scholar Allen P Ross examines the "Thou" pronoun in Psalms to help us moderners pray and praise "boldly" just like the Hebrews of old. Daniel Estes looks at the transformation of pain to praise, paying attention to literary shifts and mood progressions in the Lament Psalms. Randall Gauthier looks at Psalm 54 from the perspective of the Septuagint translators, and helps us reflect back on our use of English in our study of the Hebrew Psalms.

Part Four is "Considering the Psalter" which looks at key areas in contemporary Psalms study. Robert Cole examines the first two Psalms on how they introduce the Psalter and that they are both independent and integrated. David Howard Jr looks at the royal motifs and how the wide spectrum of human emotions are captured in the 150 psalms. Michael Snearly focuses on Book V of Psalms with the belief that the book points to a "renewed hope in the royal/David promises."   Tremper Longman concludes this part with a reflection on Ps 150 and what it means for modern readers today.

Part Five is written specifically for communicators such as pastors, preachers, teachers, and leaders who want to share the Psalms. Mark Futato's sermon on Ps 16 and 23 talks about confidence in a cup in a way that our joy and hope in God overflows. David Ridder's sermon on Ps 18 expounds on the longing of the pilgrim for home, to draw near to God through three movements: 1) Longing; 2) Pilgrimage; 3) Dwelling. David Howard preaches on Ps 88 on learning to praise God even in bad times. John Piper's sermon on Ps 117 captures the essence of joy in praise and worship from a mission perspective.

So What?

With such a diversity of the nature of Psalms, it is fitting to have a diversity of contributors across theological persuasions and cultural backgrounds. There are many brilliant summaries of the scholars of old as well as the contributors' own personal spiritual journeys through the psalms. Overall, readers will sense a special reverence every contributor has for the Psalter. They analyze it diligently. They read it fluently through Hebrews, the New Testament references, the Septuagint, as well as the modern English translations. They compare and contrast with the insights of old and bring together the best theological perspectives and scholarship. They also reach out to the layperson through sermons and messages that are understandable in general terms. That said, there are sections in which readers with a grasp of the ancient languages and contexts will benefit more. That said, there are still a lot of pages in the book that will appeal to anyone who loves the Psalms. The most elaborate section to me is the section on Laments. Perhaps, it is because humanly speaking, most people are most spiritually sensitive when they are down and out.

This book is a treasure of all things Psalms. Each chapter is not very long. There are well marked emphasis to help readers understand the structures of each argument. At the same time, the many perspectives summarized by each contributor will leave readers refreshed and encouraged by the diversity of views that will aid the diversity of worship. More importantly, it is a reminder to us that when God speaks, he does not just speak to any one people group. He speaks to all. Psalms is indeed a language for all seasons.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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