Review: Andrew J. Schmutzer & David M. Howard Jr.’s The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul

I’m planning on spending a lot of time in the Psalms this year so I’ve been looking for books that will help me get the most from my reading. The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul was the perfect book at the perfect time.

You will find the journey through this forest dense. It’s not your entry level reading, but there’s so much beauty to behold. It’s worth the steady toil. Also, the chapters get gradually less technical. The last part gathers sermons on particular Psalms and so readability increases there.

The Psalms starts with big picture concerns. Three chapters discuss scholarship and studies on the Psalms and set the ground work for the methods and interpretation applied later. You might be tempted to skip over these chapters if you’re not used to thicker reading, but they are important for understanding the concepts in later chapters. I appreciate the focus on the transcendence of the Psalms in this section (beyond the individual and corporate settings), the push back against Western individualism, and the encouragement to re-approach the faith tradition of our forefathers for understanding the Psalms (the church today, for instance, doesn’t quite know what to do with lament, whereas traditions of the past were able to grasp and incorporate this into their everyday faith and liturgy).

The second and third parts forage for nourishment in the Psalms of praise and lament. For pastors who are looking to preach from the Psalms, these sections are where theory meets application and everyday life. You could live in these chapters for weeks. Our churches today seem comfortable in the Psalms of praise. We have an abundance of good praise songs--some of which directly pull from the Psalms of praise--but as stated earlier we are woefully confused when we approach laments. A few observations from the book about lament. First, lament is not the same thing as confession of sin. Lament and confession often travel together, but lament is more of a sorrow and grieving over sin. Second, lament and praise are often paired. Michael E. Travers quotes C. S. Lewis calling this pairing ““severe delight’” (125). Confession and lament can feel severe, but restored fellowship with God is a delight so we praise. Third, laments are complaints against God to God. This shouldn’t be confused with grumbling like we see in Exodus. That was complaints about God but not to Him. One God encourages and other He judges. Last, laments force the believer to fall back on the promises of God (144). We see this time and time again in the Psalter’s laments. You have this intense lament then a rehearsal of God’s promises thereafter.

The fourth part looks at the Psalms as a whole. This section is concerned with the overall content, arrangement, and thematic unfolding. I enjoyed the first chapter in this section by Robert Cole. In it he argues that Psalms 1 & 2 are an introduction. He also demonstrates that the righteous man in Psalms 1 is revealed as the Messianic King in Psalms 2. As a whole, this fourth part provides new eyes for reading through the Psalms. All the authors did a great job focusing on the Messianic themes and structures in the Psalms. An excellent section for those looking to preach the Psalms with Jesus Christ as the center. The final section is filled with sermons and deals with communicating all the information provided previously in a way that engages. These are sermons that focus on Jesus Christ and Christians lamenting to God. I found these sermons as chapters a refreshing way to end an arduous journey.

For those who love the Psalms and also sense that there’s an authentic spirituality found in them that’s missing today, The Psalms provides a fresh and helpful way to read this biblical poetry. A way which turns our attention back to the corporate nature of Christian living. A way which turns our eyes to Jesus Christ and allows us to get a sense of the tension these early Christians experienced living before the advent of Messiah. A way which allows us to lament honestly to our God about the suffering we experience in the here and now.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”