Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr., ed. The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013. 288 pp. $26.99.
The Psalms are probably the most read and most cherished section of Scripture. They contain, as the title of this new book from Moody Publishers suggests, “language for all seasons of the soul.” Whether one’s soul is bursting forth in praise or languishing in the depths of lament, in the Psalms we find inspired and beautiful language expressing what our souls long to cry out – to our own souls and to our God.”The Psalms are expressive of the whole gamut of human emotions and reveal the creative gifts of human, inspired authors” (46). They are “replete with the spiritually transcendent and the mundanely common matters of human existence” (51).
Perhaps because of its accessibility and its nature as poetry and prayer, it is all too easy to study the Psalter poorly or not study it at all, employing these Scriptures solely as devotional material and not dedicating to them the rigor of study and exegesis that we devote to the rest of Holy Writ. Therefore, this collection of essays is a great resource for both the pastor and informed layman as an aid in study of the Psalms. This book includes all the papers presented in the first three years of the “Psalms and Hebrew Poetry Consultation” (now ‘Section’) of the Evangelical Theological Society, which was formed in 2009. Four sermons preached to local congregations round out the volume.
The book’s purpose is fourfold (pp. 15-16):
- to celebrate the enormous impact the Psalter has had and continues to have in Christian faith;
- to highlight the insights and work of present-day scholars who have studied the Psalms and understand both its tradition and current trends.
- to weave together some primary theological, literary, and canonical themes of the Psalter; and
- to offer a book that both trained pastors and professors of the Psalms can use as a tool.
The first section provides general essays giving historical and interpretive orientation to the study of the Psalms. Bruce Waltke begins by sharing his personal journey in Psalms study. He then briefly interacts with biblical theology, arguing that Scripture’s central doctrine is the in-breaking of the kingdom of God; as such, the Psalms are the “faithful voice of the people of God in response to his saving history…More specifically, we hear the voice of Israel in corporate solidarity – that is to say, in a covenant relationship – with their king who expresses their common voice of praise and petition. As such the historical king and Israel are a type of Christ and his church” (27). Restricting his reflections on future study to the second temple period, Waltke asserts that future study should include more research on the editing and interpretation of the Psalter during there second-temple period.
Willem Vangemeren provides a survey of major contributions to the study of the Psalms, highlighting the work of James Kugel and Brevard Childs. He suggests areas for future scholarship in the Psalms based on questions raised by Childs’s treatment of the Psalms, then highlights a few voices critical of the canonical approach. Next he gives attention to a few recent contributions to Psalms study and suggests prospects in the reading and study of the Psalms. Finally, Vangemeren gives several reasons why he advocates imaginative interpretation, or a synoptic vision (a la Kevin Vanhoozer), and goes on to expound upon it.
C. Hassell Bullock highlights some lessons he has learned from the Psalms about prayer. “More than any other book in the Bible, the Psalms teach us how to pray. They are the OT macrocosm of the Lord’s prayer. Said another way, they are the OT answer to the request, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ ” (51). Bullock goes on to address issue of whether it was for private/individual devotion versus corporate worship, and posits that future study will likely focus on the role of the Psalms in musical worship and engagement with the “nuts and bolts” of poetry, e.g. metaphor.
With the survey of the land of Psalms studies in the twenty-first century completed, Part 2 covers issues related to the Psalms of praise and Part 3 covers Psalms of lament. Part 4 looks at the Psalter as a book, investigating key areas of contemporary Psalms study in regards to the literary and thematic shape of the Psalter. Finally, Part 5 presents edited versions of four contemporary sermons on selected Psalms.
This is an academic book, as it is a collection of papers presented at ETS (save for the last four chapters), a professional and academic society. As such, many of the essays are rather technical and may be difficult to be fully appreciated by those without formal theological training and proficiency in Hebrew. This is not to say that laymen cannot enjoy and benefit from the book; but it is written at an academic level and is primarily geared toward pastors and students and graduates of Bible college and seminary. I really appreciate that the editors chose to end the collection of academic papers with four sermons. Biblical and theological studies should be in service of the church, not confined within the ivory towers of academia. Ending the book in this way is a marvelous demonstration and affirmation of this truth. This book is an excellent resource for Psalms study that should have a place on the shelf of every serious student of the Bible, whether pastor/academic or layperson.
*Many thanks to R.S. and Moody Publishers for sending me a free copy to review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review, and the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.