My article entitled 10 Reasons Why You Should Sing the Psalmsreceived a lot of attention and several days later it is still on the front page of The Christian Post. I am grateful for all the e-mails I received from pastors and parishioners alike seeking to benefit from the psalms for their own spiritual edification and the maturation of their own congregation.
In order to provide those resources to a broader audience, I will list many of them here and hope to update them occasionally.
I’d encourage you to visit the Genevan Psalter website. It will provide music and lyrics and a host of links to articles on the Genevan Psalter. This is my favorite Psalter.
You may also wish to visit this site, which will give you some ideas and a general introduction to psalm singing.
Another way to benefit from sung psalms is to simply start listening to psalms on your ipod or computer. For a more contemporary rendition of the Psalms, this CD by Greg Wilbur with Psalms and Hymns published by Ligonier is quite good. Nathan Clark George has done some beautiful versions of the Psalms with guitar accompaniments.
One indispensable selection of psalms put into music is from a dear brother, Jamie Soles ( a CREC elder). Jamie has a wonderful gift of bringing psalms into easy and memorable tunes for children, but I confess I listen to them myself often.A great hymnal to get you started is Psalms for Singing. You can find audio samples on-line. You can also purchase the Cantus Christi,which is a Psalter-Hymnal. The Cantus includes about 75 psalms of the 150 (with several chants). If you would like to hear some of the psalms sung and harmonized, you can purchase this CD. You can also find samples of some of the Psalms on the Cantus Christi:
Finally, for an award-winning website with more information on the Psalms and psalm-singing than you will ever need has been compiled by the saints of Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, AL. called The Psalm Project.
NOTE: If you find any additional resources, please let me know.
Many of us grew up in theological backgrounds where the psalms were known, but not sung. These theological backgrounds are anomalies throughout the history of the Church. E.F. Harrison observed that “Psalmody was a part of the synagogue service that naturally passed over into the life of the church.” Calvin Stapert speaks of the fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm-singing” which he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the psalms in the second half of the fourth century. Hughes Oliphint Old argued that Calvin appealed to the church historians (e.g. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen) as well as the church fathers (e.g. Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom) for the singing of psalms. While the Reformers did not advocate the exclusive singing of Psalms they did express “a partiality for Psalms and hymns drawn from Scripture.” a
The Reformer Martin Luther urged that Psalms be sung by congregations so that “the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music b.“ By the end of the 19th century, however, most hymnals produced had limited psalms to a couple of well-known pieces like Old One-Hundredth. Beyond that, scriptural references had all but disappeared. Terry Johnson summarized the state of psalmlessness:
This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms, as we have seen, have been the dominant form of church song beginning with the Church Fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than 1800 years. c
Though the last hundred years were not psalm-friendly, we have seen in the last 30 years a kind of revival of psalmody in the modern church, especially in the Reformed tradition. New hymnals, like the Cantus Christi, and many others are including old and new psalms ( metrical and chants).
So why should we sing the psalms? Aren’t the 19th century hymns and contemporary songs sufficient to fulfill the worship demands of the modern congregation?
The answer is a resounding no!
There are ten reasons I believe congregations should begin to sing psalms once again:
First, Psalm-singing is an explicit biblical command (Ps. 27:6). The Scriptures encourage us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). To have the word of Christ dwell in you richly means to invest in the rich beauty of the Psalter. How can we sing what we do not know? Is there a better way to internalize the word than to sing it?
Second, Psalm-singing was the ancient practice of the Church and it continued for 1,800 years. We honor our forefathers and our history when we sing their songs.
Third, Calvin observed that the psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here as a mirror.” The psalms are satisfying to the human being. We are homos adorans; worship beings. God is not against emotions, he is against emotionalism. The Psalter is an emotional book. It provides comfort for the people of God at different stages of life. As a minister I have never once walked into a hospital room and been asked to read a text from Leviticus or Romans, but rather every time I have been asked to read a psalm (most often Psalm 23). The psalms reach deep inside our humanity in time of pain.
Fourth, singing the psalms builds our Christian piety. It is nurturing to our souls. It is God’s devotional book; God’s hymnal. Singing the psalms restores the joy of our salvation. Ask me what book of the Bible I would take to a desert island, and I will not hesitate to say “The Psalms.”
Fifth, the psalms are ultimately made for the body. You may sing the psalms on your own, but they reach their culmination when sung together. They are meant to be roared (Ps. 47:1), because they were written by the Lion of Judah. When we sing together we are both being edified and edifying one another. “We sing because in singing we join together in common breath and melody in a manner that no other medium can duplicate…We become an assembly unified in purpose and thought. And by our singing, we hear God’s Word for us, and the world hears it loud and clear.” d
Sixth, we should sing the Psalms because they re-shape us; they re-orient our attention. We are a people constantly being sanctified by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit has specifically inspired 150 psalms for our sanctification. How should we pray? How should we ask? How should we lament? The Psalms helps us to answer these questions, and thus shape us more and more after the image of Christ.
Seventh, by singing the Psalms we are worshiping the Spirit. The Spirit hovers, shapes, re-makes in the Bible. He is the music of God in the world. In an age when the Third Person of the Trinity has become the source of theological confusion, the Psalms keeps us focused on His role and purposes in history.
Eighth, we should sing the Psalms because our current songs are often cheap and shallow. The Psalms are rich and full of substance. If we wonder why the evangelical community is so powerless, one reason for this is its trivialized worship. Modern worship is often a pietistic exercise, which is manifested in poorly constructed and pessimistic theology. But the Psalms teaches us that God is full of mercy and powerful over all His enemies (Ps. 2). The Psalms are political statements. They are direct attacks on those who challenge the supremacy of King Jesus.
Ninth, the Psalms should be sung because our children need them. Our little ones need to know the God they worship in profound ways from their earliest days. We become what we worship, and so our children will become what we sing.
Tenth, you should sing the Psalms because the world needs them. The world does not need a weak Gospel. She sees plenty of it already. She needs to hear a Gospel of a God who delights in praise, who will not allow evil to go unpunished, and who prepares a table for us.
This may all sound daunting and strange. But I’d encourage you to take that first step. What first may appear to be strange may become a wonderful journey into praise and thanksgiving to the God from whom all blessings flow.
For more information on how to sing the psalms, or for resources, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See Terry Johnson’sThe History of Psalm Singing in the Church; I depended heavily on that article for the quotes on this paragraph (back)
Luther, Martin. Tischreden. No. 2545. Quoted in F. Blume et al., Protestant Church Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974 (back)
First, as Pastor Wilson has mentioned, and I concur, we are not to speak out of anger because of this decision. Nevertheless, I confess that there was a certain level of discouragement after I heard of the news.
Secondly, for those of us who are members of the PCA and at the same time agreeing with much that is said in the Federal Vision literature, let us not lose heart. Sometimes decisions such as these serve to awaken us to the real need for careful interaction with our neighbors who find themselves disagreeing with our position.
Thirdly, I have heard from one who attended that the entire process was done very respectfully without any name-calling.
Fourthly, there appeared to have been at least 15-20%1 in disagreement with the decision. This says that there were many who found the decision to be irrational and unfair. Among those were people who disagreed with the general direction of the NPP/FV, but sensed that something less than proper was going on.
Fifthly, in the words of an attendant: “There were some who wanted to spend another year looking at the topic before bringing it to the General Assembly.” Among the dissenting party one pastor mentioned a proposal to postpone the report requiring at least three changes:
1) The need to add at least two voices to the report that find some value in the Federal Vision.2
2) Instead of comparing it only to the Confession, the report should present an exposition of the passages related to the various debates so that the Bible would be the final arbiter in all things.
3) The Assembly should provide tools so that pastors could go back to their congregations and explain the issues involved in the various debates.
In my humble opinion, the GA would have done well to listen to these brothers.
Finally, this decision is said to not be binding on the entire assembly. It is merely a recommendation of the Assembly. While this is true, when a recommendation receives approval from the majority of members in the Assembly it is liable to become an authoritative document in future disputations in these matters. With so many PCA ministers unaware of the issues around the FV/NPP they will now go back to their congregations and perhaps misrepresent the issues or assume that it is a done deal. As some are already aware, if you are a candidate for a pastoral position in some presbyteries and express sympathy towards FV/NPP, you will not have your call confirmed. I do trust our TE’s and RE’s, but I also realize that for some people when the assembly speaks, it has done more than recommend, but settled the issue. I cannot but be pessimistic about this entire endeavor. My prayer is that my brothers in the faith (particularly Pastor Steve Wilkins) remain in PCA as long as possible and continue to defend these important truths of covenant living and covenant worship.3 Though some may feel the immediate urge to leave the PCA for the CREC or another denomination, I urge you to stay in the PCA and fight the good fight until the very end.
This was mentioned since all of those chosen to study the issue had either in print or some way expressed negative sentiments towards the Federal Vision and those who showed sympathy towards N.T. Wright and others [↩ back]
The General impression is that “justification” was the central area of discussion. It would have been much wiser to separate the Federal Vision and the New Perspective in order to avoid confusion. [↩ back]
In this series, which may take many posts, I shall attempt to offer some insights into this report. The report of the study committee is not an official statement of the PCA since it has not been adopted by the general assembly. As it stands, the report reflect only the opinion of the committee. Nevertheless, I have no doubt it will be approved by the General Assembly.
Though I have not read every piece of literature put out on in favor or against the Federal Vision, (I will focus on the Federal Vision and leave other bloggers to contribute to the comments related to the New Perspective) I am compelled to comment since I am a member in the PCA and since this report will bear significance for those of us seeking ordination in the PCA.
Though my thoughts on these issues are generally favorable towards the Federal Vision, I am by no means convinced that my position will remain the same or that it may become more nuanced as the years go by. I must say that I love the Presbyterian Church in America. If my comments seem too harsh at times, I apologize; but make no mistake, my goal is not to perpetuate tumult, but to bring to light ideas that seek to destroy any fair attempt of engagement.
The 34th PCA General Assembly appointed an ad interim committee,
to study the soteriology of the Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies which are causing confusion among our churches. Further, to determine whether these viewpoints and formulations are in conformity with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, whether they are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion, and to present a declaration or statement regarding the issues raised by these viewpoints in light of our Confessional Standards (MGA 34:229-30).
I am already intrigued by the preface. Nothing in the mission of this report seems to seek catholicity. It is pugnacious from the start and it does not hide its intention. The report states that these doctrines are causing confusion among our churches. Certainly, if it is causing confusion, then in no way can the conclusion of this document be positive towards the groups mentioned. One needs to wonder, what is the source of all this confusion? Is it historical naivete or is it the ever present baptistic tendencies in Presbyterianism today? Or is there perhaps some unknown presupposition towards Federal Visionists and others? I raise these questions because in my estimation there is more to this confusion than meets the eye. Federal Visionists have long assumed a strong and robust view of covenant theology. Douglas Wilson has done more for classical Christian education than anyone in the presbyterian church. Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan have done more in the area of developing a high view of worship than any other. My point is we should not be amazed to find out that what drives reports such as these go far beyond the sacramental issues or covenantal nuances; in my estimation there is more involved.
This report serves three purposes:
a) The first one is to determine if these theologies are in conformity to the Westminster Standards.
Comment: What does conformity mean? Is this conformity to the Southern Presbyterian version of the Standards? Is this conformity with the honorable John Murray (with his exceptions)? Is this conformity with the original intention of the divines or how it was interpreted in 1973? This is a difficult assertion to make. Though I do not wish to be subjective about this question, on what basis is a movement compatible or in conformity to the Standards? For instance, I do not take exception with the Confession on the Sabbath, but I do take exception with the idea that young children are not allowed at the table as expressed in the Larger Catechism question 177. So am I in conformity to the Confession here? If I am not, why are those who take exception with the Sabbath section any more in conformity than I? My point is simple: who defines conformity? Has the Reformed church at large, or better yet, has the PCA established how many exceptions are accepted before they can establish someone as not being in conformity with the system of doctrine in the Westminster Standards?
b) The second purpose of this report is to examine if these groups arehostile to or strike at the vitals of religion.
Comment: What are the vitals of religion? Reformed religion? Creedal religion? Orthodox religion? Perhaps they will define what they mean as the document unfolds, but in the very least one may say that this is ambiguous. The problem with posing such language is that if this is a reference to Christian/Catholic religion, then it is absurd to even raise the question.The advocates of Federal Vision are unashamedly Trinitarian. In fact, for some of them (Peter Leithart, James Jordan and John Barach) trinitarian theology is the starting point to biblical theology. It is probably a more worthy pursuit to spy on various PCA churches in the country, and I assure the reader, it is more plausible to find vestiges of Modalism in these churches, than if you were to examine 100 FV advocates. The reason these men can be such thoughtful thinkers is because their starting point is the Trinitarian God and the apostolic creeds. At the early point of this analysis, it is safe to assume that the second purpose of the report has more to do with James Dunn or E.P. Sanders, than it does Douglas Wilson or Rich Lusk. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt.
c) The third purpose is to present a declaration or statement regarding these theologies in light of the Confessional Standards.
Comment: This goes back to the first purpose. What constitutes a truly Confessional standard? Further, what is the purpose of this declaration? Is it to begin the deportation of the 85 Federal Vision churches in the PCA? Is it to tell Joseph Morecraft (I have great respect for Pastor Morecraft; I am simply pointing to the fact that he was the first to condemn these men as heretics; this I thought was very unfortunate) and others that the PCA means business? Or is it succumbing to the pressures of certain elite members in our gloriously young denomination?
I will be posting at a slow pace since I am approaching my final week of exam at seminary…