Book Review: The Case for the Psalms
Title: The Case for the Psalms
Author: N. T. Wright (Unofficial)
NT Wright: Amazon Page
Publisher: Harper Collins; HarperOne
Page Count: 200
There are many preachers and theologians I admire to the point of buying anything they write and listening to anything they preach. Among them are Eugene Peterson, D.A. Carson, Frederick Buechner, David Wells, Tim Keller, and Eddie Vedder. I am, however, especially fond of N.T. Wright.
When I was in Bible college and especially after I started preaching in the church, there were always aspects of the Bible that bothered me: things didn't make chronological sense, this verse seemed to contradict that verse, and so on. Then one day I finally figured out that N.T. Wright was not the same person as H.N. Wright and I started reading. And I haven't stopped. His theology simply makes sense to me of all those verses I couldn't reconcile with one another and all those contradictory things are no longer contradictory. And while I still have several volumes I need to read, I have read a great deal of Wright's work and listened to countles lectures/sermons he has preached.
When I was given an amazon.com gift card for a Christmas gift, I knew some new N.T. Wright would soon be in my hands. The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential was the first volume I read (currently I'm reading How God Became King and after that will be Scripture and the Authority of God.)
The Case for the Psalms is a small volume–an aspect that sort of bothered me–but it is a Wright's call for the church to return to the Hebrews Psalter. I agree. I think there is not enough use of the Psalms in the worship (except for a rather shallow use) or in the church in general. Jesus taught us the value–a terrible word–of the Psalms when he uttered in prayer Psalm 22 while was being crucified. Why don't we pray the Psalms in the church? Maybe we are afraid of the language of the psalmists who pray prayers about God destroying enemies and bashing the heads of babies against rocks. Maybe the Psalms are too personal for us in the West.
How does a Christian, not least a modern Christian who values our developed Western democracy, pray these lines? (44)
There is a reason the Psalms use this language–and worse–in prayer to God. It validates our experience, it confirms our pathos, and justifies our wailing, gut-wrenching pleas to God: is there anything we can say to God that is offensive when offered in the context of prayer?
That is why this book is not so much an invitation to study the Psalms–though that, too, is an immensely worthwhile exercise–but to pray and live the Psalms. (22)
The Psalms seem to think not, and if we do not have words of our own to express our deepest anger, grief, pain, or joy we have the Psalms. What better place can we go to find words to offer back to God?
Another important aspect of Wright's thoughts is that the Psalms are more than mere words on paper. The Psalms are transformative–when practiced continuously, carefully, and predictably, the Psalms change us:
And the Psalms are there to enable people not only to become aware of this possible change but actually to help bring it about. (158)
It is a matter for all of us to take seriously. I have begun this very thing: reading 5 Psalms per day, in order, throughout the day instead of all at one sitting.
Finally, as with everything Wright puts on paper or into the air, the Psalms are about showing us Jesus:
Here is the challenge for those who take the New Testament seriously: trying singing those Psalms christologically, thinking of Jesus as their ultimate fulfillment. See how they sound, what they do, hwere they take you. (110)
The book fits nicely with Wright's theology of God becoming king. In fact, it is an invitation for the reader of the Psalms, the pray-er of the Psalms, the singer of the Psalms to get in sync with God in space, time, and matter. The Psalms teach us how to 'offer ourselves as living sacrifices' (Romans 12). The Psalms teach us to number our days.
The aspect of this book that I enjoyed the most was the last chapter where Wright makes a connection between the Psalms and his life. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his life and the things that have shaped him. Yet what I found is that he always tied his life to Scripture. Wright lets down the curtain for a minute or two and allows us to see his humanity–that side of him that has been shaped by Scripture, not just the side of him who has made understanding Scripture his life.
I actualy found myself doing this just yesterday when we found ourselves 'trapped' in the house due to frighteningly cold temperatures and a power outage. I had been reading through Psalms 8 through 12 during the day and shortly after the power went out, I found myself reading Psalm 11: "In the Lord I can take refuge" (v 1). It was cold. It was getting colder. The house was empty because my wife and sons had gone to warm houses. It was dark. Yet 'in the Lord I could take refuge.' It was a lot of comfort during a short period of physical discomfort ot hear those words at just the right time.
It made me wonder how many times I had missed hearing God's voice in other difficult, disastrous, or discomfitting times.
Only a couple of things bothered me about the book itself. One, I wish the book had been larger and longer. I read it in a day and wish it had taken me two. It felt rushed. Two, I wish the section dividers had been more than a mere double-space. Some headings would have made the text flow and connect better.
I rate this book 5/5 stars simply because if it did nothing else, it gave me the courage to start reading the Psalms all over again. And to pray them too. Which means I have started learning how to talk to the Father again.