Recommended Resources on the Psalms, Part 4 (Timothy Raymond)
The Psalms! What an amazing universe of rich theological, devotional, practical, doxological, and Christological material to explore. The entire length and breadth of salvation history and human experience is recounted and described, sometimes in ecstasy, sometimes in gut-wrenching detail, in this marvelous inspired hymnal. I tend to think that if a pastor were to devote his entire ministry to preaching and teaching nothing but the Psalms, he’d never exhaust this infinite goldmine of God’s Word.
Thankfully there is a treasure of wonderful, conservative evangelical scholarship on the Psalms in existence. In this brief miniseries I began by recommending some excellent videos and MP3s on the Psalms, all available online for free. Then I directed our readers to my favorite commentaries for preachers on the Psalms. Most recently, I mused on my four favorite academic commentaries on the Psalter. In this, my final post in this miniseries, I intend to give you my quick thoughts and reflections on six books relevant to the Psalms. Like my previous posts, I’m imagining this as something you might print off and file away to refer back to when you are teaching or preaching the Psalter.
How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman – This well-known book is helpful but very basic. It’d be ideal to give to someone with very little familiarity with the Psalms or how to study the Bible. If you had an intro to Old Testament poetry class in college or seminary, not much of this book will be new. It covers all the basics including types of Psalms, parallelism, figures of speech, and how the Psalms point us to Christ. Unfortunately, the book was written before the paradigm-changing advances in canonical criticism and that’s obvious (e.g., Longman doesn’t view the Psalm titles as inspired). But still, it’s a good intro especially for laymen.
The Psalter Reclaimed by Gordon Wenham – This is a truly outstanding book, possibly the best biblical studies book I’ve read in the last five years. Wenham is an uber-scholar but is able to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. He includes insights I’ve never heard before on topics such as the memorization of the Psalms, singing the Psalms, the appropriateness of the imprecatory Psalms, and on how the Psalms shape our ethics. This one will definitely make you want to read and sing the Psalms more, especially in corporate worship. Also check out his remarkably similar but somewhat more academic book, Psalms as Torah.
The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential, by N.T. Wright – For full-disclosure, this is the very first complete book by Wright I’ve read. And in a nutshell, I was massively disappointed. I’ve always heard that Wright was a near-intoxicating biblical scholar. “Sure, he’s confused when it comes to justification, but he’s so eloquent and so right about so much else.” If that’s true, this book on the Psalms is not his best showing. While the book is certainly eloquent, I found it weird and laborious with a somewhat depressed and depressing tone throughout. It’s not really a book about the Psalms but more about how the Psalms fit into Wright’s distinctive biblical-theological worldview (i.e., God breaking into the cosmos to restore justice through King Jesus). While Wright says some helpful things, especially on the use of the Psalms in the local church, as a whole I regretted reading this one and wish I had my $17.52 back from Amazon. It wasn’t terrible but definitely not a very productive use of time.
The Messianic Hope: Is theHebrew Bible Really Messianic? (NAC Studies in Bible & Theology), by Michael Rydelnik – This book obviously isn’t about the Psalms per se, but includes so much which is relevant to preaching and teaching the Psalms I thought it worth mentioning. As the subtitle suggests, it’s a study of the concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament and much of that study is devoted to the Psalms (in fact, over 10% of the book is dedicated to exegeting Psalm 110 alone). Concisely, Rydelnik’s thesis is that the Old Testament is thoroughly Messianic and at the core of that Messianic hope is the Psalms. This is one of the best books I’ve read thus far this year.
Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms by Geoffrey Grogan – The content of this book is truly outstanding. No other book I’ve encountered does a better job summarizing the vast theology and teaching of the Psalms, and reflecting the themes and portions in which the Psalms present it, than this one. Fortunately, the author assumes a very high evangelical view of Scripture and consistently makes legitimate Christological and devotional connections. The book is easy to understand and enjoyable to read and Grogan has a very winsome, likable way about him. Every pastor or serious Sunday school teacher teaching the Psalms should work through this one. My only criticism pertains to the format and presentation. Sadly, there are copious typos and weird formatting inconsistencies throughout. Yet don’t let these scare you away from a truly remarkable book.
Stirred by a Noble Theme: The Book of Psalms in the Life of the Church, edited by Andrew G. Shead – A compilation of academic papers delivered at the 2012 Moore College School of Theology annual colloquium, this one is definitely worth tracking down and reading, even if you have to have it shipped from overseas (it’s not published in the US). The authors explore a wide spectrum of Psalms scholarship, considering topics such as reading the Psalms as one coherent storyline, deriving Christian doctrine from the Psalms, the challenges of translating Hebrew songs into contemporary English, the imprecatory Psalms, social justice in the Psalms, and missions in the Psalms. While not always easy to read, and with some of the minor points I profoundly disagreed, the entire volume was thought-provoking and extremely helpful. I highly recommend it.
I close again by inviting your participation. If you’ve got questions on these or other books relevant to the Psalms, or if there are titles you’d recommend, leave them in the comments below and we’ll have a conversation.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.