150 Questions about the Psalter (Review)

150 Questions about the Psalter“God gave his church the musical gift of the Psalter,” writes Bradley Johnston at the beginning of his little book 150 Questions about the Psalter (107 pp., Crown & Covenant, 2015). Formatted as a psalm-singing catechism of sorts, Johnston’s book teaches readers to love the Book of Psalms as a gift from God and to learn to shape their devotions and worship by it.

After an opening section entitled “Introducing the Psalter,” the book proceeds through six other divisions: “Christ in the Psalter,” “The Arrangement of the Psalter,” “The Content of the Psalter,” “Meditating on the Psalter,” “Singing the Psalter,” and “The Majesty of the Psalter.” Each division answers a variety of questions about the psalms: What is a metrical psalter? Should we regard the Psalter as merely a hymnal for the Old Testament? How do we learn to see Jesus Christ in the Psalter? Why should we sing the Psalms?

While Johnston’s answers to these questions are overall quite simple and straightforward, 150 Questions also includes almost 100 endnotes with fuller explanations and references to other resources on psalm-singing. Interspersed throughout the text are selected stanzas from a modern metrical psalter, The Book of Psalms for Worship. Several appendices in the back of 150 Questions trace the life of David through the Psalter, the patterns of the imprecatory psalms, an index of psalm references in the New Testament, and much more. It’s a readable, satisfying, and even fun introduction to the riches God has given his Church in the Book of Psalms.

Realizing that its author belongs to a denomination that sings only psalms in corporate worship, I feared that 150 Questions would immediately estrange readers from other church traditions by pointedly condemning hymns and other extra-biblical songs. Refreshingly, my fears were unfounded. Johnston chooses to argue for psalms rather than against hymns, making this “psalter catechism” a helpful and attractive resource for readers from a wide variety of worship styles. At the same time, reading a book so saturated with the riches of the Psalter left me painfully aware of the deficiencies of much of the church’s other music—which is probably a good thing.

My only quibble with 150 Questions is that some parts of it are very formal in tone, reminiscent of the style of the Westminster Catechisms. While this allows Johnston to provide succinct, precise definitions for the attributes of the Psalter, I tend to think a warmer, slightly more conversational tone would help the book’s winsomeness, especially for newcomers to the practice of psalm-singing. Overall, this is a minor blemish and should not deter the serious reader.

If Christians are not careful, psalm-singing, like any other tradition, can quickly become a source of pride and even idol-worship. It’s possible to read 150 Questions as nothing more than a militant defense of one denomination’s historical distinctive. But that’s not the point. Read with a humble, biblically-informed perspective, Johnston’s little book will help believers in every walk of life love the Book of Psalms more.

–MRK

(Per FCC rules, I need to note that I was sent a complimentary review copy of this book, and I was not required to write a positive review.)

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3 Responses to “150 Questions about the Psalter (Review)”


  1. 1 Kathy B August 5, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Michael – I agree with what you said. As someone who was grafted into the reformed faith as an adult, it is easy to discourage newcomers — those whom are still learning. There is a learning curve in regard to understanding the reformed faith — esp. after living in the theological nothingness of the evangelical wasteland. I’ve also seen some of the idolatry in regard to psalm only singing, as you mentioned. Thankfully, it is not strong in our particular region. Psalm singing is obviously important — so it is better to develop a love of it through nurturing, rather than an aversion to it because of how this topic is communicated.

    • 2 Michael Kearney August 6, 2015 at 8:01 am

      I couldn’t agree with you more! I’m encouraged to see that even denominations that have practiced exclusive psalmody since their founding, like the RPCNA, are beginning to offer more resources geared towards newcomers to psalm-singing!

  2. 3 Jeri Tanner August 15, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    I’m delighted to hear of this, and will take a look at it now! I agree with your and with Kathy B’s concern expressed. I have been sharing recently with some friends the joys and riches of finding Christ and his voice in the Psalms, with the hope that someday it will help in desiring to sing them. Thanks for all your writing on this.


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