The prolific writer, churchman, and biblical scholar N.T. Wright is out with a new book, and yes, it is titled The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. And in an interview about his new title, Wright was asked a number of questions. Here are two (you may read the entire interview at Christianity Today here):
1. Why would anyone need to make a “case for the Psalms”?
Over my lifetime, I have watched churches that used to sing the Psalms in their weekly worship cease to do so and often substitute modern worship songs. There is nothing wrong with modern worship songs. But I have seen the Psalms get a little neglected, then ignored altogether. At the same time, many churches that retain the Psalms use them in a way that fails to do justice to their richness and depth.
2. Why is this fading significance so problematic?
The Psalter is the prayer book Jesus made his own. We can see in the Gospels and in the early church that Jesus and his first followers were soaked in the Psalms, using them to express how they understood what God was doing. For us to distance ourselves from the Psalms inevitably means distancing ourselves from Jesus.
The Psalms contain unique poetry expressing the biblical faith in God as Creator, Redeemer, judge, lover, friend, adversary—the whole lot. There is nothing like them. The Psalms go right to the depths of the human emotions—they don’t just skate along the top. They explore what the great promises of God mean and what we do when those promises do not seem to be coming true.
Having prayed through and meditated twice on the Psalms already this year, I do appreciate where N.T. Wright is coming from.
Yes, something should be said for the fact that Jesus, his disciples, and the early church prayed and sang the Psalms.
And yes, it is true that the praying and the singing of the Psalms is neglected by a great deal of evangelical Christians. But there are other Christian traditions who have been praying and singing the Psalms. The Eastern Orthodox comes to mind, as well as Wright’s own Anglican Communion.
In his The Psalter Reclaimed, Gordon Wenham makes some of the same arguments that Wright is now making (see my review here).
Now if Wright wants us to take his message seriously and read his latest book, there are other ways to do it than saying, “For us to distance ourselves from the Psalms inevitably means distancing ourselves from Jesus.”
Yes, Jesus made the Psalter his prayer book, and yes, he and his disciples were soaked in them, but the Psalter is not Jesus, nor is the Psalter the Gospels or the rest of the Bible.
But I’m all for the use of the Psalms for their richness and depth.