From Christianity’s beginnings the psalms have played a major role in the expression of worship. Despite their formal role in many liturgical traditions and the thousands of contemporary songs built on their texts and images, many Christians today no longer seem to appreciate the Psalter’s significance nor its dominance in worship. Speaking of using the psalms in worship often meets with only “tepid enthusiasm.”
Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, offers this short work for nonspecialists as a fresh introduction to the rich history and significance of the Psalter. First, he surveys the role of the psalms in Christian worship. Second, he discusses in some detail the hermeneutics for understanding individual psalms and offers suggestions for (re)incorporating psalms into corporate worship in creative ways. Annotated bibliographies of related works, academic and practical, accompany each discussion in each subsection in addition to a well-organized summary bibliography at the end. Two appendixes offer suggestions for classroom use and worship renewal. The discussion is spiced throughout with quotations from many Christians, from Athanasius to Bono, on the value of the psalms.
Specialists may find some discussions oversimplified. For example, when discussing metrical psalmody, Witvliet notes but does not maintain the distinction between the more technical use in which the translator merely recasts a psalm’s lines in poetic form drawn from the new language and those lyricists who have sought to create a more interpretive paraphrase informed by other texts (e.g., Watts). But in the broad sweep of Witvliet’s well-written discussion, any such shortcomings can be easily forgiven. Whether one picks up the book from an interest in Hebrew exegesis or a desire for more creative contemporary worship, this short book will serve the reader well.
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