Sex & Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies

9781433536496For a while now, I’ve been a big fan of Paul Tripp’s books. Back in the fall I was able to read through his Dangerous Calling. Though I didn’t do a formal review, I did offer some extended thoughts on the book here and here. It is a book I think every pastor or potential pastor should read.

After having the opportunity to read Tripp’s latest, Sex & Money, I would say it qualifies for that list of books as well (which might make a future post, who knows). The target audience is much wider, but judging from recent pastoral failings here in Orlando, it is a book much needed by pastors. If you’re not a pastor, don’t let that stop you from picking up this book. Dangerous Calling was written espeically for pastors. This book is written espeically for people who live in a sex and money obsessed culture.

Tripp begins with a chapter explaining just how crazy our money-sex obsessed culture is. You hope his vignettes of disaster are made up for publication, but deep down you know that they are all probably true. After laying these paragraph long stories of money-sex insanity, Tripp explains briefly what the root problem is. We have a glory orientation and are addicted to looking for it in all the wrong places. Or as he puts it, “this side of eternity really is one big, unceasing glory battle.” (24)

Thankfully Tripp is not writing a purely descriptive book. Though he continues to explain our problem in chapters 2 and 3, it is all building up to chapter 4 where he points readers to the true nature of pleasure, which I think is worth quoting in full:

It is not an overstatement of a distant theological platitude to say that pleasure and its birth are in the mind of God. Legitimate pleasure of any type is God’s creation, and our ability to recognize and enjoy pleasure is the result of his design. There is no better place to see this and to trace its implications than to go back to the beginning, to the garden of Eden. I want to introduce you to the Eden hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. You and I don’t live life based on the facts of our existence but on our unique and personal interpretation of the facts. Here’s how it works for our topic: if God created pleasure, then pleasure is not the problem. The problem comes when we understand pleasure in the wrong way and then involve ourselves in pleasure in ways that are the direct result of the wrong interpretation we have made. (56)

This is a key in all of Tripp’s books (the importance of how we interpret our life), but it is really central when it comes to how we understand sex and money. In both cases, as Tripp shows through his book, we are looking for ultimate pleasure in the wrong places and therefore we devolve into the sex-money crazed insanity that our culture perpetuates. Because those things can never truly satisfy, we are constantly looking for the next “glory-fix” through our pursuits and never quite attain it.

Having set this context, Tripp spends chapters 5-8 specifically focused on offering a correct, God-centered interpretation of sex and our lives as sexual beings. In short, since sex is about worship (chapter  6), relationship (chapter 7), and obedience (chapter 8) then it can’t just be about us. But the problem for many of us is that we try to do just that: make it all about us and our wants. Tripp carefully and pastorally tries to show readers a much better way.

Chapter 9 is a transition chapter, and then chapters 10-14 are focused on applying this same reinterpretation to our money problems. Playing a bit on a Josh Harris book title, Tripp points out that money is not the problem, love is. We spend money on what we love and so our poor spending habits reflect disordered loves. If we truly want to move forward, we need a heart change and a love re-orientation.

Conclusion

Like I hinted at in the beginning, this is a book for everyone. I think we could all use a re-orientation when it comes to what we love and where we seek ultimate pleasure. Tripp does a masterful job of providing pointed and persuasive biblical counsel on this issue. He is a great writer and is probably one of the best authors of practical theology books writing right now. Maybe that’s my own subjective assessment since Tripp has been so influential in both my and Ali’s life. But, I think anyone who has read of any of his other books will see the pastoral wisdom infused in them, and this book is no different.

Book Details

Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of The Church

9781581346619

When I was in seminary, we used Bruce Demarest’s The Cross and Salvation as our textbook in soteriology. That was my introduction to the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series, and I liked it so much I picked up another volume, To Know and Love God, which proved very useful for theological method.

When I was reading through Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology about 18 months ago, I noticed in a footnote that he had a forthcoming book on the church in the series, and from then I eagerly awaited its publication (because I’m nerdy like that). I was able to get a review copy of it, and so here we are.

Overview

The intention of the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series is “to address all areas of evangelical theology with a special emphasis on key issues in each area” and “to incorporate insights from Scripture, historical theology, philosophy, etc., in order to produce an up-to-date work in systematic theology.” (17) Most of the writers are thoroughly evangelical in their theology and from a broadly Reformed perspective. The series aims to be “understandable to the beginner in theology as well as to the academic theologian,” so the authors take care “to define whatever technical terms they use.” (17)

With that in mind, Gregg Allison is offering a textbook on ecclesiology which is evangelical and broadly Reformed. Allison teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, so it’s a Reformed baptist perspective. He is an elder at Sojourn Community Church, and if you’re familiar with that church/church planting network, that means this is an ecclesiology from a Reformed Baptist perspective that is in favor of multi-site churches (which he provides a defense for at the end of chapter 9).

The book itself is split into 7 parts:

  • Foundational Issues
  • The Biblical Vision – Characteristics of The Church
  • The Vision Actualized – The Growth of The Church
  • The Government of The Church
  • The Ordinances of The Church
  • The Ministries of The Church
  • Conclusion

The opening two chapters cover first, a general introduction to the study of the doctrine of the church, and second the basis of the church in the new covenant. Allison explains his method, and makes a good case that this is an important doctrine. Just as a side note, it is a doctrine that one of my profs at Dallas said was perhaps the most vital doctrine for the contemporary evangelical church to recover. We tend to either overlook or simply ignore studying ecclesiology, and Allison’s book aims to fix that issue.

The second part of the book turns to the characteristics of the church, or we could say the marks of a true church. Allison splits his marks into those related to the origin and orientation of the church (chapter 3) and those regarding the gathering and sending of the church (chapter 4). The resulting list is as follows:

  • Doxological (3)
  • Logocentric (3)
  • Pneumadynamic (3)
  • Covenantal (4)
  • Confessional (4)
  • Missional (4)
  • Spatio-temporal/Eschatological (4)

By “doxological,” Allison highlights the orientation of the church towards worship. By “logocentric,” Allison means the church is both Jesus centered and Scripture centered. “Pneumadynamic” fills out the trio of adjectives from chapter 3 and refers to the Spirit’s animating presence within the gathered body of believers. When it comes to chapter 4, I think you probably get the gist of what the first three adjectives mean (covenantal, confessional, missional) but spatio-temporal/eschatology might be a bit opaque. By it, Allison means that the church is an assembled historical reality (spatio-temporal) that has a future looking hope that affects how it functions in the here and now (eschatological).

With the vision in place, Allison continues on the growth of the church. His first chapter is on the purity and unity of the church. Here Allison draws a clear line between true and false churches, but allows for flexibility within true churches for them to be more or less pure in the faithfulness to the biblical vision. Chapter 6 finishes out this section with a discussion of the nature and significance of church discipline.

This provides a good segue to part 4 which concerns the government of the church. Allison begins with the offices of the church (chapter 7), before looking at the different types of church government (chapter 8). It is at this point that I think denominational concerns start to play a more significant role. Up to here, I think most denominations would agree with Allison’s articulation of the biblical vision for what the church is. But, starting with discussion of the offices, and then moving to government, we get into territory where Allison must start presenting and assessing different view points and come down on a specific position.

When it comes to church government, Allison presents three models: episcopalianism, presbyterianism, and congregationalism. For each, Allison gives a description, biblical and theological support, and misapprehensions and misgivings. In the following chapter (9), Allison presents his own model, which draws lessons from episcopalianism and presbyterianism, and integrates them into a semi-congregational model. The result is a plural-elder-led congregational model that sustains strong connections to other such churches. It is within this context that Allison provides his excursus on multi-site churches, arguing in favor of them.

This brings the reader to part 5, which has a chapter on baptism (10) and communion (11). Allison argues in favor for a believer’s baptist position in 10, but not without giving a sustained consideration to the arguments for paedobaptism. He also provides a brief history of the development of baptismal theology and practice. When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, Allison offers a similar treatment; first covering the historical development and then the five principal views. He finishes with his own perspective and theology of the Supper.

The final two sections are a chapter each. First, Allison surveys the ministries of the local church through the perspective of the spiritual gifts. His principle ministries or activities are as follows:

  • The Church Worships the Triune God
  • The Church Proclaims the Word of God
  • The Church Engages Non-Christians With the Gospel
  • The Church Disciples Its Members
  • The Church Cares for People
  • The Church is for and against the World

The final point is to underscore that the church is to be in the world but not of it. While Allison doesn’t offer a full-blown discussion of the relationship between church and culture, he does touch on it with this last point. The book is then brought to a conclusion with a final section and chapter.

Conclusion

Overall, I found Allison’s book to be very helpful. It is a strong contribution to the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series, and a well grounded work on ecclesiology that is sensitive to current practice and historical precedence. For a doctrine that is somewhat neglected, and in some cases very contentious, Allison’s work provides an accessible textbook for beginning to intermediate study. Reformed Baptists will find Allison’s work most helpful, but other evangelicals of different denominations should also benefit from Allison’s even-handed discussion. His arguments for multi-site church, as well as his treatment of baptism are worthy of critical interaction. If you are a pastor or church planter, this book definitely belongs on your shelf, and even if you’re not, it’s a great addition to a growing theological library!

Book Details

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Nothing Is Impossible With God

9781936768684

I was initially hesitant to take part in this blog tour for Nothing Is Impossible With God. Not because I lack enthusiasm for most New Growth Press releases, but rather I wasn’t sure if I’d really connect with the book. Consider the description:

No one likes to feel weak. Just thinking about our inadequate resources can fill us with fear and hopelessness. But Rose Marie Miller has a different perspective. For her, true weakness is a gift born out of a deep sense of need, it drives us to Christ and unleashes all the redeeming energy of God’s grace in our lives and others.

Rose Marie Miller, a living example of God’s power in weakness, weaves together biblical insights and personal experience and shares a new, gospel-driven way of living where the way up is down, the weak become strong, and the dead receive life. God, for whom nothing is impossible, uses weak people to change the world—and that includes you!

On first glace, this seemed like it was geared toward women readers, and my wife should be the one reading it. Thinking about it a little more, I decided I wanted to go ahead and join the tour and give it a read. After working through it though, I still think my wife should read it, but I definitely benefited from it as well.

Overview

The general layout of Nothing Is Impossible With God involves five parts:

  • Rediscovering the Gospel (3 chapters on Miller’s testimony and spiritual formation)
  • Facing Loss, Finding Life (4 chapters on the spiritual and physical journey Miller was taken on following her husband’s death)
  • Learning to Pray (8 chapters on how Miller’s prayer life was grown through her new stage in life)
  • God of The Impossible (4 chapters on a how 4 women in the Bible confronted the impossible)
  • The Ongoing Story (4 chapters connecting Miller’s experience of power through weakness)

I resonated most with the chapters on learning to pray. It is definitely an area I need to grow in, and reading Miller’s journey in her prayer life gave me much to think about. In this section, Miller guides us through the biblical entryway into prayer (the Lord’s Prayer) and then onward to Paul’s teaching on prayer in Romans 8, as well as offering a chapter just on the various prayers in his letters. We learn about prayer as a spiritual battle, and Miller even gives insights into praying the Psalms. She concludes with a chapter on learning to pray like a child, praying prayers that are full of simplicity and confidence in our heavenly Father. It is definitely a part of the book, I’ll be revisiting sooner rather than later.

If you’re a guy reading this, you might think you could just skip over the section that deals with the stories of four women. I think women may resonate more with the stories, but the stories of Eve (who believed an impossible lie), Sarah (who believed an impossible promise), Hannah (who prayed an impossible prayer), and Mary (who was given an impossible task) are in the Bible for men and women, and Miller’s presentation of their stories gives much food for thought. Her perspective and accumulated wisdom on these stories will add value to all readers.

Conclusion

The book is very autobiographical and full of personal anecdotes. Several of the chapters are based on talks that the author has given and so they have the polish of many years of refinement. Given that, this book is an easy read, but it should definitely be a slow read. Not because the material is hard to grasp, rather I think the temptation would be to just breeze through it because the author’s voice and stories help the book flow so smoothly. However, because of the depth of wisdom that Miller presents on learning to depend on God in the midst of weakness, as well as her stellar chapters on prayer (that will have immediate applications for just about everyone!), you’ll want to read it in short bursts. It helps that the chapters themselves are rather short and to the point, so it may even make a good devotional for many people to spread out over the better part of a month.

I’m really looking forward to my wife reading it, and then talking through some of the material with her. Though I do think women will resonate overall more with this book, it is definitely not “chick lit” but is a book that imparts wisdom that the entire body of Christ can benefit from!

So, just like last week, I’ve got 2 copies to giveaway! You can fill in the form here below, and you’ll be entered to win 1 of the 2 available copies. Winners will be contacted through email after the giveaway ends.

Book Details

[You’re reading this review of Nothing Is Impossible With God: Reflections on Weakness, Faith, and Power because I’m taking part in a blog tour put on by New Growth Press and was provided with an advance PDF!]

Imagery In The Psalms

Psalm 23 has been particularly cherished in Jewish and Christian spirituality, though it is most associated with funerals. Its preciousness derives in part from its lyricism and metaphor. One cannot tie down any aspect of some concrete situation that its author had in mind. Everything is imagery. The consequence is that readers can directly access the psalm through their own experience of (e.g.) lack, provision, darkness, fear, and trouble. This may be especially easy for people who (e.g.) have experience of shepherding or dark canyons, but it is also quite possible for people who have no such experience, because the metaphors themselves have a capacity to transcend cultural and experiential gaps.

– John Goldingay, Psalms Vol. 1: 1-41 (BCOTWP), 42-43

Plea Prayers In The Psalms

The balance between protest or expression of pain, and plea or request, is the reverse of that which characterizes Christian prayer. Christians are reticent about telling God things that God presumably knows, though they are then oddly unrestrained about itemizing what God should do even though they recognize that God could work this out. Prayer psalms suggest that the aim of prayer is to get God to decide to take action rather than persisting in inaction, and the object of expressing pain and protest is to achieve that. They imply that if God can be provoked to act, God can be left to work out precisely what to do. Thus pleas characteristically express themselves in three rather general terms that correspond to the three directions of the protest. They urge God to listen instead of ignoring or abandoning, to deliver the suppliant, and to act against the people who are causing the suppliant trouble, in order to put right a world that is out of kilter.

– John Goldingay, Psalms Vol. 1: 1-41 (BCOTWP), 62

Worship As Identity Formation

When you sing your praise, lament, and gratitude, you are not only—nor even principally—expressing your feelings or aspirations or beliefs. No, you are reconfiguring yourself as one who praises, one who laments, and one who is grateful, and at the same time making more intimate (more full of kisses and embraces and caresses and delight) your relation to the Lord to whom you sing. Even a theological commentary on the Song must resing it, even if against the will of its commentator; all the more for a true resinging on the part of a devoted reader. – Paul Griffiths, Song of Songs (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), Kindle Loc. 1348.

Charity and Its Fruits: Review and Reading Plan

9781433529702If it’s alright with you, I’m going to deviate from my review script just a tad on this one. Since I know you’re probably curious, this is for a couple of reasons. First, unlike most of the books I review, this one isn’t technically new. Rather, it’s a new edition of Jonathan Edwards’ classic Charity and Its Fruits: Living in The Light of God’s Love. The book has been around for a while and since I don’t intend to offer a critical interaction with Edwards’ thought in the book, I need to take a different tack. Instead, I’m going to review this particular edition of the book.

The second way I’m deviating from the script is by offering a read-a-long schedule for anyone who wants to make their way through the book this fall. As I was getting into Charity and Its Fruits, I decided it would be a great introduction to Jonathan Edwards for the guys in the Marturo Collective, and perhaps as they read, they could pass insights along to friends who will probably not get around to reading Edwards.

Why This Edition?

Thanks to Kyle Strobel, Charity and Its Fruits has received an upgrade that greatly improves readability. I’m not even gonna beat around the bush: I think this is now the best entry way into Jonathan Edwards for the average Christian reader.

There are certainly other introductions to Edwards that help orient the uninitiated, but I think this is the best edition of one of Edwards’ works that will introduce one not just to his thought, but to his actual writings. In this updated edition, Strobel goes through and cleans up Edwards’ internal outlining style, and also defines some of his more outdated terminology. The introduction also orients readers to Edwards life and thought before giving a more detailed overview of this particular work of Edwards which is comprised of 15 sermons on 1 Corinthians 13. You can actually read that introduction for yourself by clicking here if you’d like.

Beyond the introduction though, Strobel offers readers a nice clean text with numerous side bars filled with either insightful connections to other parts of Edwards’ writings or quotes from Edwards himself. The result is an edition of Charity and Its Fruits that both introduces you to Edwards through perhaps his most famous sermon series, but also situates the material in the context of his overall body of work. Because of that, I think this is not only the best edition to have of Charity and Its Fruits itself, but is where someone who has never read anything by Jonathan Edwards should start their reading journey.

Reading Schedule

If that’s you, and you’d like to read-a-long with us this fall, here’s how we’re going to do it:

  • Sept. 3-7 Introduction (so get the book, or click the link above!)
  • Sept. 10-14 Sermon 1 (each sermon is about 20 pages of reading)
  • Sept. 17-21 Sermon 2
  • Sept. 24-28 Sermon 3
  • Oct. 1-5 Sermon 4
  • Oct. 8-12 Sermon 5
  • Oct. 15-19 Sermon 6
  • Oct. 22-26 Sermon 7
  • Oct. 29-Nov.2 Sermon 8
  • Nov. 5-9 Sermon 9
  • Nov. 12-16 Sermon 10
  • Nov. 19-23 Sermon 11
  • Nov. 26-30 Sermon 12
  • Dec. 3-7 Sermon 13
  • Dec. 10-14 Sermon 14
  • Dec. 17-21 Sermon 15
  • Dec. 24-28 Conclusion

For an investment of about 20 pages a week, you could read this book by Edwards by the end of the year. If you’re looking for something that will spark your joy in God and stir your heart for Christ, this is a great book to read. It is simultaneously intense theology and practical insights. Or, I could just say, it’s a pretty typical book by Jonathan Edwards.

Final Thoughts

Prior to going to seminary, I hadn’t read anything by Jonathan Edwards. By only introduction to him was through footnotes in John Piper books. But, since seminary is time in your life when it becomes normal to hang out for long hours with old dead white guys, I made my way into some of Edwards writings, particularly his thoughts on the Trinity. It had such an impact on me that I chose to do a further independent study in Edwards’ as well as John Owen’s trinitarian thought.

Most recently, I’ve been reminded of the importance of the Trinity not just for confessional belief, but for our joy as well. I’ll have more to say about when it comes to October’s book giveaway, but in the meantime, I’d just like to encourage you to dip into Edwards writing if you haven’t before. And if you do, I think this new edition of Charity and Its Fruits from Crossway is the place to start. Edwards is often not even close to easy to work your way through, but as John Piper has been fond of saying, “Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. Digging is hard, but you just might find diamonds.” Edwards meditations on 1 Corinthians 13 is sure to yield many diamonds for your further study and delight.

Book Details

[You’re reading this review of Charity and Its Fruits because I asked Crossway for a review copy and they said yes!]

A Commentary on the Psalms Volume 1

51kmK3tDjkL._SS500_On Wednesday, I had a review of Psalms as Torah, looking at how it encourages deeper meditations on the Psalter. Yesterday, I offered a review of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which is the first commentary I’ve reviewed on here. Today’s post is somewhat of a cross between the two and we’ll look at Allen P. Ross’ first installment of a three volume commentary on the Psalms.

Ross (along with Bruce Waltke) was kind of the godfather of Hebrew at Dallas. His introductory Hebrew textbook was standard fare in most 1st and 2nd semester Hebrew classes (mine being the exception since I took classes with Brian Webster) and his commentary on Genesis a required textbook in second semester preaching. That being said, I might be somewhat biased in my praise for this book. But, you could just look at it from the standpoint that I was exegetically trained to produce biblical commentary in the same way Ross does. Though not on the same caliber as Ross, my third semester Hebrew exegetical paper on Psalm 11 is formatted very similar to his chapter on the same Psalm in this commentary. All that to say: this is the kind of commentary I think of when I think of a commentary on the biblical text.

Overview

Being the first of a multi-volume commentary, this is where all the introductory matters are presented. After the preface, Ross has chapters on:

  • The value of the Psalms
  • The various versions of the Psalms
  • How to understand the titles and headings of the Psalms
  • How the Psalms have been historically interpreted
  • A brief primer on biblical poetry
  • The literary forms of the Psalms
  • How the Psalms have been used in worship
  • The underlying theology within the Psalms
  • A short guide to expositing the Psalms

Only after covering all those bases does Ross move into expositing each individual Psalm. These opening chapters on their own would make an excellent introduction the Psalter. What is somewhat unusual to include is the last chapter noted above. In it, Ross more or less details his own exegetical method. He includes these steps:

  • Preliminary observations of the text
  • Resolution of critical matters
  • The study of words
  • Grammatical and syntactical analysis
  • Analysis of the poetics
  • Exegetical synthesis
  • The theology of the passage
  • Application

Under the synthesis section, there are these subpoints:

  • Form the exegetical outline (summarize verses line by line, group the summaries, summarize the groups)
  • Write an exegetical summary
  • Develop an expository outline
  • Write the expository idea

Space doesn’t permit explaining how all of this works, but the point is that not only is this Ross’ method for his own his commentary, but this is basically what you’re taught at Dallas Seminary. In third semester Hebrew, you learn everything up to “application” and in the preaching classes, you focus in detail on the sub points under “exegetical analysis” as well as “application.” What Ross does here in the commentary is what the average Th.M student at Dallas does in prepping for a sermon (though now a days the sermon will not sound like reading from a commentary, thankfully). The end result is that Ross’ commentary not only excels at expositing the Psalms, but he does a pretty good job of imparting his method as well. This work will then serve the reader who wants to not only read what Ross has to say about a particular Psalm, but who also wants to become a better interpreter of the Psalms in the process.

When it comes to the exposition of individual Psalms, each chapter is around 15-20 pages and all follow this general outline:

Introduction

Here, Ross begins with his translation of the text. He notes any significant textual variants both in the Hebrew manuscripts as well as the LXX (Greek Septuagint version). He then moves to the composition and the context of the specific psalm, before providing exegetical analysis. The analysis presents his exegetical summary statement of the psalm and the exegetical outline.

Commentary in Expository Form

Using the outline from the previous section, Ross then provides more meticulous comment on each subsection. Those who know Hebrew will benefit from his parenthetical inclusion of Hebrew words under discussion, but those who don’t will still be able to easily follow along.

Message and Application

Each chapter then concludes with another summary of the message of the psalm (not a repeat of the previous exegetical summary) and a few possible applications. The applications are general enough to give a motivation for action, but not too general to leave you wondering “now what?”

This format continues on from Psalm 1 to Psalm 41, completing the first volume in Ross’ series and the first book within the Psalter (which has a total of 5, just like the Pentateuch). I would imagine the next volume covers books 2 and 3 (Psalms 42-89) and the final volume books 4 and 5 (90-150). Without having the extensive introductory matters to cover in the next two volumes, Ross will have plenty of space to cover more of  the individual Psalms.

Conclusion

Overall, this is an excellent start to a commentary series on the Psalms, I will look forward to next two volumes, whenever they might be published. As my wife and I continue to read through the Psalms each month, I will keep coming back to Ross’ work here to explore and deepen my understanding of the text. His work is clear and extremely well organized, providing enough scholarly and pastoral insight to suit both the average reader and the pastor preparing for a sermon.

  • Author: Allen P. Ross
  • Title: A Commentary on The Psalms Volume 1, Psalm 1-41
  • PublisherKregel Academic (February 29, 2012)
  • Series: Kregel Exegetical Library
  • Hardcover: 928pgs
  • Reading Level: Bible School/General Reader
  • Audience Appeal: Prophets looking for a commentary with kingly organization and priestly application
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Kregel)

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Psalms As Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically

9780801031687Psalms as Torah is the most recent book published in the Studies in Theological Interpretation series. I’m gradually trying to collect all of them, and am only 1 short at this point, though this is only my 2nd to review (here’s the first). So far though, this is my favorite one and it has pushed me to start reading the Psalms on a monthly cycle. Historically speaking, this kind of sustained attention to the Psalms is hardly radical. In many ways, someone in my position could not legitimately call themselves a “master of theology” if they were not also a “master of the psalms.” With that in mind, this book helped me realize I needed to make some changes.

Overview/Analysis

Gordon Wenham is writing something of a sequel to his previous work, Story as Torah, this time focusing on the “ethic taught in the liturgy of the Old Testament, the Psalter” (1). Wenham points out that the songs we sing “both implicitly and explicitly” teach theology and ethics (3). With this in mind, he wants to investigate the theology and ethics taught in the Psalter since “they must give an important window into Old Testament theology and ethics” (5). His book serves then as “an attempt to begin to deal with a blind spot in current biblical and theological thinking” (7).

The first chapter details various Jewish and Christian approaches to the Psalms. Rather than focus on “critical debates about the date of the psalms of the historical reliability of the narrative accounts of Old Testament worship,” Wenham is concerned to “simply record what the canonical texts say about the use of the psalms in Old Testament times” (11). Essentially, this opening chapter gives a broad overview of the history of the usage of the Psalter and concludes with our modern state where “songs with catchy tunes have tended to displace the psalms, which not so easy to sing” (25).

Optimistic that this is just a “blip” in the history of the usage of the Psalter, Wenham presses on to unpack their traditional function. Chapter 2 digs into critical approaches to the Psalter and settles on using a canonical approach to interpreting them, which “builds on the insights of earlier form-critical studies of the psalms” (40). At this point, the stage is set for Wenham to begin examining the ethical and theological functions of the Psalter.

Chapter 3 opens with a short history of how sacred texts were used in the ancient Near East. He notes that the Psalter fits into the category of an anthology, and drawing attention to the work of Paul Griffiths, points out that “religious anthologies are meant to be memorized” (49). In the age of the printing (and now digital) press, it is sometimes lost on us why you would memorize something you could just easily have on your shelf. But in a time when manuscripts were hard to come by, important things were memorized, not just read and shelved. With respect to the Psalter, it was often memorized, particularly by people in my position in the church. As Wenham concludes, “the written text’s main purpose was to ensure that the work was correctly memorized by those who would later recite it or sing it to the people” (56). It would appear then I have my work cut out for me!

Chapter 4 examines how prayed ethics makes unique claims on the speaker. Drawing on speech-act theory, Wenham points out that “using this categorization of speech acts…one could say that praying the psalms involves the worshiper in many commissive speech acts: the psalms as prayers are really a series of vows” (67). While there are “no major attempts to use speech act theory to illuminate the ethics of the psalms,” this chapter is definitely a step in the right direction. In praying the psalms, the worshiper is committing himself to God in both behavior and attitude.

Chapters 5-7 turn the focus to how “law” functions in the Psalter and constitute the heart of the book. Chapter 5 suggests the Psalter itself is framed by “law” and much of the material within it is focused on the law as the supreme revelation from God. Chapter 6 then presents a fascinating survey of the Decalogue’s role in the Psalter. Wenham shows the various places each command from the Ten Commandments shows up and is meditated on within the Psalter. While not an exhaustive survey, it illustrates well the point that the Ten Commandments are “at the heart” of the ethical thought in the Psalter. Finally in chapter 7, Wenham provides an overview of the Psalms’ use of pentateuchal narratives. In doing so, the Psalter draws out that “the national tendency to sin and the disasters that ensue,” as well as “the long suffering mercy of God, whose steadfast love endures forever” (137). In this way, the Psalter provides a commentary on the history of the Old Testament that Wenham sees justifying Martin Luther’s assessment of the Psalter as a “mini-Bible.”

Chapter 8 goes into a little more detail about how the Psalter treats various vices and virtues in addition to the law. Here, special focus is placed on the role of the wicked and the righteous in the Psalter. Chapter 9 turns to the role of prayers for divine intervention in the Psalter and deals with how we are to appropriate imprecatory psalms in our current cultural context. Wenham makes the important point that while the psalmist will pray for judgment on his enemies, there is no hint that he will be the one to carry it out. Rather than looking at these psalms as expressing desires for vengeance and destruction, they can be seen as expressions of dependence on God to execute justice and trusting that He will do what is right. Finally in chapter 10, Wenham draws connections between the ethics taught in the Psalter and what we find in the New Testament. His conclusion is that the Psalter “had a strong influence on the New Testament writers, especially in the formulation of their ethic” (202).

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I found this book extremely insightful and immediately practical. It basically changed my approach to devotional reading to be more “Psalm-centric,” and after reading through the Psalter over the course of last month separately, my wife and I are reading through the Psalms daily together this month. I’ve been particular guilty of neglecting the Psalms, but Wenham’s book has shown me the importance the Psalms have in the Christian life and inspired me to study them more diligently. I would hope if you pick up a copy of this book it would do much the same for you. Though some of the other books in this series can be rather technical in nature, this book is well suited in style, and for the most part in content, for the average reader. It would make a great study for a small group or a church staff, and hopefully many people will do just that!

Book Details

  • Author: Gordon J. Wenham
  • Title: Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically
  • PublisherBaker Academic (February 1, 2012)
  • SeriesStudies in Theological Interpretation
  • Paperback: 233pgs
  • Reading Level: Bible School
  • Audience Appeal: Prophets interested in the priestly dimension of the Psalms
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Baker Academic)