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Doxologies from the Psalms

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How many doxologies can you sing?

I say “doxologies” because the category is far broader than the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” that usually comes to mind. “Doxology” is derived from the Greek words doxa (“glory”) and logia (“saying”); thus, a doxology is simply a “saying of glory” or a statement of praise, often in poetic form. In much of English hymnody, this statement of praise appears at the end of a hymn and references the three persons of the Trinity. Even the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” was originally the last stanza to a much longer hymn by Thomas Ken.

So while “the Doxology” does fit the trinitarian form commonly associated with hymn doxologies, so do these last stanzas of other hymns. Both are from the blue Psalter Hymnal—do you recognize them?

To the great One in Three
Eternal praises be
Hence evermore.
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore.

All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

Although references to the Trinity have become commonplace in sung doxologies, it’s not necessary for these references to be explicitly present. Think, for instance, of the last stanza of “By the Sea of Crystal” (#469). Thus, a doxology can be adequately described as any succinct yet powerful statement of praise to God, often occurring at the end of an element of worship.

Given the topic of this blog, you can probably imagine where this particular conversation is headed. If we’re looking for succinct yet powerful statements of praise to God, how can we neglect the divinely-inspired riches given to us in the Book of Psalms? In fact, I must confess that for the hundreds of times I’ve heard “The Doxology” sung at the end of worship, the number of times I’ve heard a psalm setting in that position is relatively small.

As it turns out, the Book of Psalms contains its own internal doxologies that divide the five subsections of the Psalter: Psalms 41:13, 72:19-20, 89:52, and 106:48. Most of these simply urge the people to “Bless the LORD!” and are followed by an “Amen.” In addition, one thinks of the five psalms that close the Psalter, each of which begin and end with “Hallelujah” or “Praise the LORD!” The blue Psalter Hymnal’s topical index lists some of these passages under the “Doxologies” heading: #73 stanza 6; #135 stanza 4 (and #488, from the same passage); #171 stanza 8; #211 stanza 23; and #309-310. But it would be foolish to limit our repertoire of psalm-based doxologies to these passages. To whet your appetite, here are four other Psalter Hymnal psalm settings that (though paraphrased) would be excellent choices for a doxology at the end of worship.

36, “The ends of all the earth shall hear” (Psalm 22)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

Psalm 22 opens as one of the most poignant laments of the Psalter, foreshadowing Christ’s suffering on the cross. But the latter half of this psalm opens up into an exultant declaration of praise, with references to the generations that will come to fear the Lord because of the mighty things he has done. The author of Hebrews interpreted this psalm as being sung by Jesus himself (“He is not ashamed to call them brothers,” Hebrews 2:11), and one can’t help but think of how suitable it is for Christians, those who have been purchased by Christ’s blood, to join in singing Jesus’ own statement of praise. This doxology would be especially suitable after a presentation from a visiting missionary (“The ends of all the earth shall hear”) or after celebrating the Lord’s supper.

The Lord’s unfailing righteousness
All generations shall confess,
From age to age shall men be taught
What wondrous works the Lord has wrought.

All earth to Him her homage brings,
The Lord of lords, the King of kings.

105, “O God, Be Merciful to Me” (Psalm 57)

Because of its strong themes of lament, Psalm 57 may seem like an unusual choice for a doxology. David cries out for God to be merciful to him amidst the “storms of destruction” and enemies that long to devour him. Yet in the middle of these pressing dangers he breaks out twice in a passionate exclamation of praise: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (vv. 5, 11). The last stanza of the Psalter Hymnal’s setting would be a fitting and sensitive doxology even after a worship service filled with confession and lament.

Yea, I will early wake and sing,
A thankful hymn to Thee will bring,
For unto heaven Thy mercies rise,
The truth is lofty as the skies.
Be Thou, O God, exalted high,
Yea, far above the starry sky,
And let Thy glory be displayed
O’er all the earth Thy hands have made.

284, “Give Thanks to God, for Good Is He” (Psalm 136)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

Psalm 136 is notable because each of its twenty-six verses concludes with the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever.” This magnificent poem surveys how the Lord’s covenant love was displayed to Israel throughout redemptive history, and how he continues to “remember us in our low estate” today (v. 23). Although it is a fairly free paraphrase, the last stanza of the Psalter Hymnal’s setting of Psalm 136 nicely sums up the doxological thrust of this psalm:

He helped us in our deepest woes,
His grace abideth ever;
He ransomed us from all our foes,
His mercy faileth never.
Each creature’s need He doth supply,
His grace abideth ever;
Give thanks to God, enthroned on high,
Whose mercy faileth never.

303, “O Sing Ye Hallelujah” (Psalm 147)

You may recognize Psalm 147 as one of the Psalter’s concluding statements of praise (Psalms 146-150). As far as singing goes, however, Psalm 147 probably has one of the lesser-known text and tune combinations in the blue Psalter Hymnal. This psalm is a marvelous exposition of the Lord’s power in providing for his people. He fills them with the finest of the wheat (v. 14), but he also does something far better: he gives his statutes to Israel (v. 19), something no other nation has enjoyed. For us who have been grafted into the true Israel, the last stanza of this psalm setting reminds us what a privilege it is to be called into the presence of God himself for worship. (If a more familiar tune is needed, try LANCASHIRE, #364.)

His statutes and His judgments
He makes His people know;
To them as to no others
His grace He loves to show;
For matchless grace and mercy
Your grateful praises bring;
To Him give thanks forever,
And Hallelujah sing.

What are your favorite psalm doxologies? Share them in the comments below!

–MRK

Solace (Review)

My friends at Crown & Covenant are aware of one of every niche blogger’s Achilles’ heels: free review copies. Over the past two years they’ve sent me several books and CDs to feature on URC Psalmody, and I’m always more than happy to do so. The only problem is that they’re the only publishing company that currently offers me this incentive, which means my reviews are not as well-balanced as they could be! Nonetheless, since I may be waiting a long time for Reformation Heritage or P&R to add their contributions, I’ll happily continue to review C&C resources.

Solace: Selections from the Book of Psalms for WorshipOver the past several years Crown & Covenant has published a series of albums with simple recordings of psalms from The Book of Psalms for Worship. Currently twelve such albums exist (if my count is correct), and more are expected to appear in the coming months. The most recent is Solace, a collection of twenty psalm settings that focus on the Lord as a source of protection and strength in times of trouble. Utilizing multi-track recording technology, Solace was produced by three members of a very musical Reformed Presbyterian family in California who recorded over their own voices to create the auditory illusion of a small choir.

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know this family a little bit and can attest to their love for psalm-singing, as well as their skill in doing it. Recording twenty psalm settings at professional quality for commercial distribution is no easy task! And overall, this is a recording worthy of the long heritage of psalm-singing that Reformed and Presbyterian churches have enjoyed.

The primary use I would have in mind for this album would be a reference recording. That is, I would go to Solace mostly to find out how an unfamiliar tune goes or to explore possible tempi, arrangements, etc. Because most of the arrangements are very simple, Solace would be especially helpful for those seeking familiarity with The Book of Psalms for Worship or a cappella psalm-singing in general. But the recording quality is generally good enough that the album could make for enjoyable listening music as well, particularly in the area of personal devotions. Again, the simple singing style makes it almost impossible not to meditate on the words as they are sung.

Some aspects of Solace are not as aesthetically pleasing as they could be. The multi-track recording can sound too manipulated at times, especially the female vocals. And, to return to one of my typical complaints about many kinds of psalm-singing, I would love to hear a little more variety in the pacing and dynamics of some of the psalms. In general, I always prefer real-time recordings like those of the Syracuse RP Church, also in this series, which are excellent.

Still, Solace and this series in general set a high standard for psalm-singing albums of all kinds. The closest comparison I can make to a series from the CRC/URC tradition would be Dordt College’s Be Thou Exalted, LORD! series from the 1980’s. As we look ahead to the publication of a new Psalter Hymnal, the OPC and URC’s talented musicians and singers ought to give careful thought to producing a similar set of recordings. Singing the psalms does not need to be beautiful in order to be worshipful, but it certainly deserves our best effort!

–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.)

Our Five-Year Review

1976 Psalter Hymnal

A happy New Year to all! Though it’s hard to believe, this new year also marks URC Psalmody’s fifth anniversary—our first post was on December 30, 2011. And while I don’t want to engage in the obsessive navel-gazing that entraps too many bloggers, I do want to take a moment to thank you all for your continued readership.

From the very beginning, URC Psalmody’s primary purpose has been discussion, and thanks to the lively and regular interaction of our readers, that goal has been accomplished. Although it is difficult to verify just how many site hits are from real human readers, WordPress tells me URC Psalmody received visits from more than 86 countries in 2016, with about 10,000 views coming from the United States and 2,600 coming from Canada. And in the last five years we’ve received more than 750 comments, which—again—are where most of the real action occurs. So thanks to all of you who take time to read and share your thoughts. You’ve kept this blog alive!

I also want to thank the contributors who have stepped up at various times to offer articles, devotionals, and other materials on the psalms. Rev. Jim Oord (Community URC, Schererville, IN) contributed more than thirty posts while studying at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, many of which are still among our most viewed articles. Thanks, Jim! More recently, Rev. Nick Smith of the United Reformed Church of Nampa, ID, and Rev. Peter Holtvlüwer of the Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church in Tintern, Ontario, have also offered some thoughts for publication here, and I hope to invite more contributors in the future as well.

Personally, I can say I’ve learned a lot from blogging on the psalms. I’ve gained a broader perspective on the landscape of Reformed worship and established stronger connections to the church through the conversations here. My own opinions have been shaped, refined, and sometimes outright changed as well, to the point where I’m embarrassed to return to some of URC Psalmody’s early posts. But this means that your comments have sharpened and deepened my faith and my love for the psalms—so thank you!

More broadly, the past five years have witnessed a rise in enthusiasm for psalm-singing across many Reformed and Presbyterian churches. We’ve seen the recent release of great books on psalmody like Beeke and Selvaggio’s Sing a New Song and LeFebvre’s Singing the Songs of Jesus, in addition to books that integrate the study of psalms into other worthy topics, like David Murray’s Jesus on Every Page. It also seems that more churches are hosting conferences on Reformed worship; I’ve enjoyed opportunities to lead classes on psalm-singing for URC, OPC, and RPCNA audiences, and I know that others far more qualified than myself are participating in similar seminars. And the news about the forthcoming Trinity Psalter Hymnal is fueling renewed interest in why our churches sing the psalms to begin with. I don’t think URC Psalmody spawned the wave of fresh enthusiasm for psalm-singing, but we are more than happy to ride it!

And, as I write this on the eve of my final semester at Geneva College, I can’t help but express my deepest appreciation for that institution and its surrounding community, which for so many years has encouraged students to integrate the psalms into their walk with Christ individually and together. Because of Geneva’s weekly chapel services, there are psalms whose texts and melodies will probably be implanted in my mind for the rest of my life.

URC Psalmody has never had a stated mission other than to foster discussion, but if we did it would be summarized in these three words: Sing more psalms! We realize that worship is a topic about which Christians care deeply, yet also a topic about which sinful people like us are very, very unqualified to speak. As a result, our goal is to point above the flaws and foibles of earthly worship to the ultimate goal: that of drawing near to God and becoming more like his Son. I hope this blog will continue to be a place where we can humbly converse, courteously argue, curiously investigate, and earnestly pursue that vision.

–MRK

Psalm 132: A Lamp for My Anointed

christmassidebarThe following is a guest post from Rev. Peter Holtvlüwer of the Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church in Tintern, Ontario. Rev. Holtvlüwer graciously offered to share this meditation on “Christmas in the Psalms,” which originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Clarion magazine and is reprinted with permission. Enjoy!

A Lamp for My Anointed

(Christmas in the Psalms)

Did you know that we can sing about Christmas from the Psalms? Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth and we usually turn to the Gospels to read about it. But the Savior’s birth was something the saints of the Old Testament eagerly waited for. The inspired writers anticipated it, hoped for it and often wrote of it. In the Psalms they sang of it too. Their words help to fill in the picture of who the Christ child is and what he came for. Take a stroll with me through Psalm 132 and see for yourself!

A Prayer for the Anointed

A look at the whole shows that the psalm has two basic parts: a prayer to the Lord (vv. 1-10) and the Lord’s response (vv. 11-18).  The unknown author is deeply concerned about the king of Israel as he starts out in v. 1, “Remember, O Lord, in David’s favor, all the hardships he endured.” Why is he so concerned for the king? As an Israelite, he knew that his personal fortunes and that of the nation were tied up in the success of the king. If the king was blessed and thrived, the people would be blessed and thrive.

Clearly, something is amiss with the king and that has the psalmist worried. The prayer for God to “remember” means much more than “bring to mind.” It’s a call for the Lord to intervene, to act on the king’s behalf. The king needs help. That comes out again in v. 10, “For the sake of your servant David, do not turn away the face of your anointed one.”

All kings in Israel were anointed with God’s holy oil into their office. It was God’s way of signaling to everyone that this particular man was chosen by the Lord to rule over his covenant people. The anointed one would rule, judge and protect the Lord’s people in the Lord’s Name, seeking to do them good. Only now it seems as if the Lord is no longer paying attention to the anointed one. The anointed king is struggling, and the nation struggles with him. It may even be that the anointed is under threat, and the people are alarmed.

The Anointed’s Determination

Whatever the specific crisis, the poet urges the Lord to remember what David had done in his service and make a move now to rescue the kingship. What could touch God’s heart more than David’s zealous oath to build, “a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (v. 5)? We know from other Scriptures that this desire pleased the Lord (II Chronicles 6:8). David, the first anointed one who truly was “after God’s own heart,” greatly desired that God would have a permanent home among his people and was moved when the ark was “rediscovered” in the “fields of Jaar” (v. 6). He even leapt and danced with joy when the Lord allowed him to bring the ark of his presence into Zion (II Samuel 6). The author recalls the pious determination of David to ask that the Lord give help to the current anointed king, one of David’s sons.

King & Temple

The twin concerns of the inspired poet are the anointed one and the Lord’s dwelling place, the king and the temple. The king is in trouble which means the temple is under threat too. If the anointed one cannot defend Zion, there is no security for the temple. Destroy the anointed and you’ve destroyed God’s dwelling place. But protect the anointed, and you protect the Lord’s home among His people. At stake here is the heart and soul of life in the covenant: in the temple is where God met with His people and through the sacrifices on the altar offered them the forgiveness of their sins, peace and fellowship with Himself!

The Anointed of Christmas

It’s in the Lord’s answer that we start to see the connection to Christmas. The first thing the Lord does in v.11 is to remind the poet of his own oath to David. David had sworn an oath to Yahweh (v. 2), but Yahweh had sworn a better and grander oath, “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne.” The Lord reassures his people that he had in no way forgotten his promise, much less abandoned his people.

But why, then, was the king in trouble? Why the great concern for the future of the king, temple and Israel? Because those sons of David had not kept the Lord’s testimonies! The whole history of David’s line shows anointed one after anointed one going astray from the covenant, chasing other gods and often ruling harshly over God’s people. According to the terms of the covenant, the Lord warned and punished these kings and the nation which followed their lead, but still no son of David could be found to be that faithful anointed one!

None, that is, until the special Anointed whom the Lord sent at what we call “Christmas!” David’s line showed itself incapable of faithfulness, which God knew would happen, and so in v. 17 he promised to do it himself, “There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.” This is the announcement of the birth of Christ! In fact, the very word “anointed” is identical in Greek to the word “Christ” – Jesus, son of Joseph, son of David, is the Anointed of the Lord promised in Psalm 132!

Jesus the “Horn to Sprout”

The angel Gabriel announces Jesus’ connection to David and the kingship when he says to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Just like the Lord promised in Psalm 132:12, there will no end to this Anointed’s kingdom for he will not fail to obey all the terms of God’s covenant!

He will be a “horn to sprout for David” says v. 17. That’s a metaphor for royal power. Bulls were common animals in Israel – big, powerful beasts. And the strength of the bull was seen in his horn(s). Even today, a charging bull is a hundred times more feared if he has horns than if he has none. So the horn came to symbolize power, strength, ability to overcome enemies – all things the king of God’s people needed! And on Christmas, the long-awaited horn sprouted and today he reigns with all the power of Almighty God from heaven, gathering and protecting his people and subduing his enemies under his feet! (I Corinthians 15:24-25). This horn lives to guard and guide also your life!

Jesus the “Lamp” to Shine

The Holy Spirit uses another metaphor to describe the coming one: he will be a “lamp for my anointed” (v. 17). Since this is in parallel with “a horn to sprout for David,” the Lord is promising to provide for David not only a “horn” but also a “lamp.” David himself was called the “lamp of Israel” (2 Sam 22:29) and years after his death, in the time of unfaithful anointed ones, we read “Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem” (1 Kings 15:4).

The king of God’s people was described as a lamp for David, meaning two things: he would continue the dynasty of David (its light would not flicker out) and at the same time he would be a light for the people. A king who ruled well, who obeyed God’s law and led the people in faithfulness was like a brightly lit lamp, leading the way, showing people the pathway of peace and prosperity. For many centuries, though, the lamp of David’s line was very dim or even not shining at all – until Jesus was born! What does John say of him in the opening of his Gospel? “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” (John 1:4-5).

Jesus himself later declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). This lamp shines with the good news that all who believe in him will be forgiven their sins. As king, Jesus shines forth the clear teaching of His Father that there is forgiveness and life for all who put their trust in him! He is the Word and as he explains and imprints his Word on our hearts by his Spirit, our way is lighted up before us! In his light, we see how we should walk and serve in gratitude for the Father’s salvation. All this began with the birth of Christ, the lamp of David!

Yahweh’s Dwelling Place

There’s one more Christmas truth embedded in Psalm 132. The kingship of David’s line is forever fixed in the person of Jesus but so is the very dwelling place or temple of the Lord! Verse 13 says, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place; ‘This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.’” God had chosen to dwell in Zion’s temple, behind the curtain, with the sacrifices bridging the gap between the holy God and his sinful people. But that temple was destroyed. True, it was rebuilt, but no longer was the ark inside of it. And the people were not free to go behind the curtain. It was an imperfect symbol of God’s presence among His people.

This, too, radically changed at the birth of Jesus! Do you remember what the angel said of his name? “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means: God with us)” (Matt 1:23) God with us! In the very person of Jesus is not merely a man to sit on David’s throne but he is God Himself! The very name Jesus means, “Yahweh saves.” Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh and with his birth he has made his permanent dwelling place in the human race, among the people he loves! His disciples could go right up to him in person to listen, to converse, to worship and fellowship – and one day we will do the same!

King Immanuel

At Christmas, the Lord fulfills the promises and expectations of Psalm 132. David’s desire to have God dwell among his people is realized in the child called “God with us.” And the people’s desire to have the anointed one protected and equipped by the Lord to forever rule them as loving king is also achieved in the Christ child. Who would have thought that the Anointed One would also be the very temple of God? Who could have predicted that the everlasting king of God’s people would be none other than Yahweh in the flesh?

Jesus Christ is the powerful horn against whom no enemy can stand and under whom we are invincibly protected. He is also the bright lamp who shows us the way of life by his Word and Spirit. Son of David, Son of God. He is your God and your King – rejoice in Him! A blessed Christmas to you from Psalm 132!

–Rev. Peter Holtvlüwer

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Let the Reader Understand (Review)

This fall I had the privilege of taking an independent-study course on the Psalms with Geneva College’s Old Testament professor Dr. Byron Curtis. My first reading assignment was Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton’s Let the Reader Understand (P&R, 2002). This helpful book defined the categories for some of the interpretive problems that arise when considering the Psalms or any other book of Scripture. The review below is a course paper I wrote to summarize the book and connect it to the study of the Psalms.

prpbooks2fimages2fcovers2fmd2f9780875525167One of the most persistent problems in biblical hermeneutics, at least from a layman’s perspective, is positing that a problem exists. Many Christians are content to consider the question of scriptural interpretation only in regard to particularly difficult books such as Daniel or Revelation, while leaving the more “obvious” passages of the Bible to the interpretation that comes most naturally, whether obtained from private study, homiletic application, or current Christian literature. Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton begin their book Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Pub. Co., 2002) by establishing the central problem of hermeneutics: “Does the Bible teach something in particular, or is the meaning of a text simply ‘what I get out of it’?” (p. 1). How can we be sure our interpretation is accurate? How can we affirm with certainty what God’s revealed will for us is? “If we regard the Bible as the fountainhead of our faith, it is crucial that we resolve this problem. If we are to obey God, we must first understand what he said. If we are to believe, there must be something there for us to believe” (p. 2).

McCartney and Clayton begin with a study of presuppositions, which immediately challenges schools of “higher criticism” of the Bible. The most basic of the Bible’s presuppositions is “that submission to the God who speaks in his Word is the first step in understanding him” (p. 9). This is true not just because of sin, which darkens our perception of the ways of God, but simply because of our finite capacity of understanding. The fact that this Word is expressed in ordinary human language denies us access (for now) to a comprehensive, absolute knowledge of God. Yet the Scriptures do indeed contain all that is necessary for life and godliness, and the authors make the case that the ambiguity of human language is the Bible’s asset rather than its deficiency: “[I]f language were totally unambiguous, precise, and exhaustive, then words about God would be sufficiently inadequate to make them idolatrous. The flexibility of the elements of language is what enables sentences to be perfectly, though not exhaustively, true” (p. 20). The Bible’s nature as both the inspired Word of God and a book in ordinary human language should drive us to place ourselves under its authority while also exercising every effort to understand its true meaning.

Central to McCartney and Clayton’s presentation of hermeneutics is the role of the Holy Spirit, who “convicts and assures us of the truthfulness and trustworthiness [of the Bible] as we find it in Scripture” (p. 74). Not only did the Holy Spirit inspire the original authors of the text, he also continues to illumine the hearts of believers as they seek to understand the will of God. While there is “an accomplished, objective, definitive, and unrepeatable dimension,” through the Spirit “the Word is also applied continuously to individuals, who subjectively experience it coming alive to them, meeting their needs in special situations” (p. 75). Reinforcing the authors’ earlier presupposition about ultimate submission to the Word of God, interpreters of the Bible must recognize that it is only the Holy Spirit who can confront us with the divine authority of its texts.

From this starting point, the authors proceed to explain the history of biblical interpretation through the church, beginning with the early interpretations of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and continuing through the influence of Derrida’s poststructuralism in contemporary scholarship. McCartney and Clayton then introduce the grammatical-historical method, which places the words and phrases of Scripture into a linguistic and cultural framework in order to reveal the authors’ original meaning. Building on this foundation, the authors introduce four principles to derive a present meaning from grammatical-historical analysis: the meaning must be organically related to the human author’s meaning; the meaning must be consistent with the total revelation in the Bible; the meaning must point to God’s redemption; and the interpretation must remain subject to the Holy Spirit’s directing of the church (pp. 173, 174). Putting these principles into practice, McCartney and Clayton outline a plan for studying God’s Word: preparing spiritually, consulting multiple Bible translations, considering discourses rather than just words and sentences, and discovering the historical and cultural background of the text. In closing, Let the Reader Understand discusses the various literary genres within the Bible and suggests how proper exegesis should shape Christian worship and witness.

What distinguishes Let the Reader Understand from many contemporary works on biblical exegesis, both popular and scholarly, is the humility with which it approaches the Word of God. The author’s statement that “genuine understanding occurs to the degree that our basic presuppositions and operating assumptions are in line with those of the Bible” (p. 289) roots hermeneutics in a realization of the authority of the Word of God, not an arrogant demand for the Bible to prove its worth. Related to this perspective is an acknowledgment of both the perspicuity (clarity or simplicity) of Scripture and its unfathomable depths. A solid exegesis of many Bible passages can begin with a very simple, literal interpretation, which accumulates significance in the “hermeneutical spiral” of contextual and historical analysis (p. 40). In this way, Let the Reader Understand encourages careful study of the Scriptures while undermining critical scholarship’s claims to self-sufficiency.

Let the Reader Understand is a uniquely valuable introduction to hermeneutics, deftly explaining difficult philosophical concepts and navigating complex interpretive arguments while remaining readable. One of the book’s notable features its extensive crossover to questions of philosophy and communication, some of which seem unrelated at first to Biblical interpretation. For example, Chapter 4 delves into the ideas of F. de Saussure, C. Levi-Strauss, and J. Derrida, while Appendix A provides a ten-page discussion of the question “Where is meaning?” However, such conversations are key to appreciating the rest of the book—not only because of their relevance to communication studies, but because they interact with the philosophies that have consciously or unconsciously shaped much of the debate over biblical interpretation in recent years.

This review would be incomplete without mentioning the special value of Let the Reader Understand for a study of the Book of Psalms. Although it may not be debated as hotly as prophetic or apocalyptic literature, the genre of biblical poetry can present significant problems of interpretation for the thoughtful Christian. While popular views of the Psalms may treat them as collections of inspirational sayings for a faith-based life, the organization of this collection (Why five books? How are the Psalms laid out?) and their historical nature as the songbook of ancient Israel challenge us to reconsider this common perception. The Psalms have often fallen victim to hermeneutical crimes like quoting Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” without recognizing the object of this command (the warring nations on earth) or the context of the surrounding Psalm. In addition, the difficult themes of lament and imprecation throughout the Book of Psalms present a challenge to any modern reader. How are Christians to understand vindictive statements such as “May they be…like a stillborn child that never sees the sun” (Psalm 58:8 NIV) or “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow” (Psalm 109:8)?

Let the Reader Understand offers a way toward greater understanding of the Psalms by affirming their divine inspiration, not just their historical or cultural value. The authors describe several modern theories of interpretation such as the autonomous text theory, the reader-response theory, and the sociolinguistic-community theory (p. 24). Yet all of these drain the psalms of the spiritual value that makes them much more than interesting artifacts of ancient Israel. Studying how the Psalms are referenced by New Testament authors, recognizing the redemptive-historical context of these songs of the saints, and understanding the genre of poetry are a few of the applications that can be made from this book to a study of the Psalms, each of which will yield rich rewards in individual or corporate hermeneutical efforts.

Of course, to return to the central message of Let the Reader Understand, the most important factor in understanding the Book of Psalms is the recognition that these songs, like the rest of Scripture, point to the salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. McCartney and Clayton quote the church father Irenaeus in regard to the New Testament fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: “And therefore when the Law is read by Jews at the present time, it is like a myth; for they do not have the explanation of everything, which is the coming of the Son of God as man. But when it is read by Christians, it is a treasure, hidden in the field but revealed by the cross of Christ” (qtd. p. 85). Without the aid of the Holy Spirit, the Book of Psalms will be just another record of the worship practices of an ancient nation. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, this collection of songs will inspire us with newfound praise when we discover in them “the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (I Peter 1:11).

–MRK


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