Here in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Calvinism is enjoying an incredible burst in popularity. The ubiquity of names like John Piper, Derek Thomas, and Kevin DeYoung demonstrate that, for now at least, it is cool among Christians to be “young, restless, and Reformed.” Along with this surge of interest in the orthodox Reformed faith, there has been renewed enthusiasm for many of its key elements: the “five points” of Calvinism, the creeds and confessions, the traditions of historic worship—and, not least of all, psalm-singing.
I’ve been exploring the nooks and crannies of cyberspace for psalm-related articles and discussions since 2011, before I even started URC Psalmody. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking in the right places, but back then these resources seemed pitifully few and far between. Now, almost two years later, there is almost an overabundance of articles, forums, blogs, and websites devoted to psalm-singing.
On the one hand, I’m greatly excited and inspired by this burst of enthusiasm; after all, I was the creator of one of those blogs. Yet I can’t help but also fear that a hidden danger lies in such abundant activity. Psalmody is becoming, or has the potential to become, more than just a healthy Biblical practice: it is becoming a fad.
It’s nigh impossible to measure the tone and context of the Reformed world online, but I’m troubled to see psalm-singing sometimes worn as a badge of merit, even separated from the holistic system of Biblical, Reformed worship. I say this with extreme caution lest I make sweeping and unfounded generalizations, and I believe this phenomenon is the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, may it be in the forefront of our minds that we are psalm-singers because we follow Christ—never the other way around.
Another evidence of psalmody’s increasing faddishness is the extremes to which some of its advocates are pushing it. Not only am I finding arguments for the simple practice of psalm-singing; lately I’ve been coming across more and more writers who will settle for nothing less than a particular strain of psalm-singing in worship, arguing (or at least strongly implying) that it is more authentic, even more Biblical, than the rest. Whether that strain is medieval chant, the Psalms of David in Metre, or even our own Psalter Hymnal, the consequences of such a view can be very dangerous to the health of the Church. Again, I hesitate to say this, because any collection of psalms set to music has its own distinct advantages as well as disadvantages—and of course there is room for personal favorites. Yet we must never forget that psalm settings, like Bible translations, have all passed through the hands of sinful men, and our arguments ought to be shaped accordingly.
I must mention that URC Psalmody is no more immune to these phenomena than any other blog. As I compose articles on psalm-singing, church history, and denominational practices, I continually need to be reminded that the Lord needs none of our praises (Ps. 50), that our best deeds are still stained by sin (Is. 64:6), and that the only acceptable worship to God is that which arises out of humble gratitude for his salvation (Ps. 116). Only with this foundation will our discussions about the particulars of worship be profitable.
Such discussions can indeed be appropriate and edifying, since we are called to grow up into spiritual maturity. At the same time, however, I submit to you that the worship we offer our heavenly Father should be childlike in its simplicity and sincerity—not childish, but childlike. How might that perspective change the way we interact in worship-related conversations with our brothers and sisters in the Lord?
I’d like to close this humble call to reflection with a recording that puts a smile on my face every time I watch it: a group of third-graders belting out Psalm 118. May these words of grateful praise echo from our own hearts!
O praise the Lord, for He is good;
Let all in heaven above
And all His saints on earth proclaim
His everlasting love.
In my distress I called on God;
In grace He answered me,
Removed my bonds, enlarged my place,
From trouble set me free.
The Lord with me, I will not fear
Though human might oppose;
The Lord my Helper, I shall be
Triumphant o’er my foes.
No trust in men, or kings of men,
Can confidence afford,
But they are strong, and sure their trust,
Whose hope is in the Lord.
Salvation’s joyful song is heard
Where’er the righteous dwell;
For them God’s hand is strong to save
And doeth all things well.
I shall not die, but live and tell
The wonders of the Lord;
He has not given my soul to death,
But chastened and restored.