John Piper and Walter Brueggemann on the Psalms

This morning I showed a couple of clips on the Psalms to the Missional Introduction to the Old Testament class here at Redcliffe. John Piper and Walter Brueggemann would disagree about a lot of things but, each in their own way, they both highlight in these clips the compelling and necessary richness of the Psalter for our own experience of life together with God in a world of pain.


The Lord is my Blackberry – contextualising metaphors in the Psalms

As part of our Psalms course at Redcliffe we were looking at Psalms of trust and lament today. One of the preparation tasks was to rewrite Psalm 23 using contemporary imagery. This is a really hard thing to do as metaphors are so vibrant, complex and loaded. What would be a contemporary way of expressing all that the psalmist wanted to convey when he said, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’? In a pure sense it can’t be done; no other term will employ the same language organism of emphasis, downplaying, and evocation.

Still, at least if we try we might dig deeper into what the psalmist was trying to get across. Metaphors get to the guts of the matter in a way that connects with the hearer-in-the-know in a way that ‘mere’ description cannot do (and by the way, try to describe something without using any metaphors – it’s harder than you would think!).

Here is what 2nd year degree student Emma-Louise brought this morning (she kindly gave me permission to use it here):

The Lord is my Blackberry, I lack nothing,
He makes me listen to easy listening music,
He helps me communicate with family,
and read my daily Bible…

 
Metaphors arrest us and sometimes shock us. They place alongside each other things that normally have no business being seen together. After the initial surprise, they force us to resolve the tension that has been lodged in our minds: ‘how can A be like B’? They open us up to imagine old, precious truths in fresh ways.

Is this a new metaphor for the digital generation? What do you think?

Praying the Psalms

The Day is Yours by Ian StackhouseHave you tried praying through the whole Psalter in a month? In our Missional Texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11 class we spent some time discussing this ancient practice of the people of God, and are trying to practice it through the week as well.

As a catalyst for discussion we read a chapter from Ian Stackhouse’s The Day is Yours: Slow Spirituality in a Fast-Moving World (Paternoster, 2008), which was also reproduced, with permission, in the June 2010 issue of Encounters Mission Journal: Praying the Psalms

Here are some quotes I found particularly helpful:

The journey from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150 is the original odyssey: from the safety of a world where the righteous flourish and the wicked perish,  [5] to a world where the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, [6] and all the way through to a world where, whatever our experience of life, however unjust life has been, all ends in praise. [7] To pray the Psalms over a month is to embrace the whole gamut of human experience.

Waking up to whatever five psalms are before me is like waking up to greet old friends. I have been here before. I have heard these words already. Their familiarity is a comfort to my soul, and a relief from having to find the right words.

As Peterson continues: ‘Liturgy pulls us out of the tiresome business of looking after ourselves and into the exhilarating enterprise of seeing and participating in what God is doing.’

That we don’t identify with the particular mood of the psalm for that day, as is often the case, is not a problem according to this tradition of praying. Prayer is not in the first instance about my feelings anyway. I may identify with it, I may not. It doesn’t matter. The point of liturgy, as Heschel reportedly said to his congregation on one occasion, was not to express what they felt; rather it was to learn what the liturgy expressed.

In a strange and paradoxical way, this liturgical rhythm of prayer, far from supressing the emotions, in fact liberates them. As Kathleen Norris remarks… ‘To your surprise you find that the Psalms do not deny your feelings, but allow you to reflect on them, right in front of God and everyone.’

‘God behaves in the Psalms in ways that he is not allowed to behave in systematic theology.’ [11] Our emotions are allowed to run wild. For those of us reared in the language of sentimental niceness on the one hand, and theological correctness on the other, the Psalms tutor us in a language that is far more daring. Without betraying the core ofIsrael’s faith, the Psalms say it straight.

It is no surprise to me, therefore, that people instinctively turn to the Psalms when they are suffering. How many times have I been aware as a pastor of how critical the Psalms have become for someone going through treatment for a cancer, another facing a bereavement, another off work with stress, still another waiting for an unfaithful spouse to return? Each one of them testifies to the relevance of these ancient words; for what the Psalms do is transfer us from the flatness, ishonesty and inadequacy of so much of our modern speech and into the ancient and extreme world of praise and lament, with all the ambiguity that living at the extreme implies.

When I pray the Psalms the whole company of saints is there with me: those who have gone before and those who are going now. Furthermore, even if I don’t feel what the Psalmist is going through, you can bet that someone else in the community of faith is. Even if I wake up joyful, for a change, and can’t hack why the Psalmist is so downcast – ‘why are so you downcast, I my soul?’ [16] – the simple act of praying the Psalm reminds me that I am part of a community in which at any one time there are people grieving even as I am rejoicing. Conversely, while I am grieving, there are others who are rejoicing. Praying the Psalms tutors us in this community awareness.

Sometimes when I am praying a psalm a face will appear; someone for whom this Psalm describes actual experience. Other times the words of the Psalm sound for all the world like the latest news bulletin from Kosovo, or theCongo, and so, in a strange way, the ancient liturgy helps me to be more up-to-date than I would otherwise be. Precisely because the world hasn’t changed much, and human experience is awful a lot of the time, praying the Psalms, far from representing a retreat into private interiority, is an advance onto the concourse of life.

Reading Psalm 139 at the graveside of a person who died by suicide convinced me long ago that what the church needs in its public ministry, not to mention its public worship, is the gravitas of these ancient prayers: prayers where the words are weighty enough to hold us, cavernous enough for us to hide in.

Mission and the Psalms – liturgy is not play acting

Israel and the Nations by James Chukwuma OkoyeI’ve been thinking ahead to a module on Redcliffe’s Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts degree programme called, ‘Missional Texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11’. Here is a nice quote from Okoye found in his wonderful book, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament. It is part of a chapter on Psalm 96:

The psalmist calls on Israel and the nations to be united in the worship of the one God, Yahweh. The gentiles may be restricted only to the “courts,” that is, the courtyards of the temple, which are open to non-Jews, yet the “wall of separation” has begun to crumble, if not in fact, surely in the religious imagination.

The praise and worship of the nations, which the prophets predicted of the eschatological future, are transferred to the present in our psalm (Gunkel and Begrich 1998, 25).

The coming of Yahweh is, first of all, liturgical: the royal glory and power of Yahweh are made manifest to the worshipers, who accordingly prostrate in obedient submission to their King. The very assembly of praise enacts the reign of God, for the assembly thereby recognizes itself as servants coming into the presence of their lord to acknowledge Yahweh’s rule and to declare the dealty to Yahweh (Mays 1994a, 64). As Walter Brueggemann affirms, “liturgy is not play acting, but is the evocation of an alternative reality that comes into play in the very moment of the liturgy” (1984, 144). The alternative reality is that of a society that has been made right under God – true worship leads to true society. Liturgy is the beginning of the dismantling of the old order of injustice and faithlessness (ibid., 146). Insofar as Israel and the families of nations participate in the worship of Yahweh they are sharing in the dismantling of the old order and the emergence of the new order under Yawheh.

But the coming of Yahweh is at the same time eschatological. Cultic gatherings at the temple anticipate the gathering of the nations and peoples of the earth to the shrine of Israel’s God, who is over the nations (Willis 1997, 302). The eschatological promise is that all the earth will also enjoy the just effects of the rule of Yahweh.

In a subtle manner, Psalm 96 merges the praise of “all the earth” and that of Israel. The Israelite who makes such an “oratorical outreach” (Marlowe 1998, 451) is being invited to pull down the wall of separation that continued to keep apart fellow worshipers of Yahweh. (pp.106-107)

If you’d like to look into the Psalms and mission in more depth, have a look at issue 33 of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal, which was on the theme of The Psalms and Mission.

Psalms and the missional formation of the Church

A Light to the Nations by Michael GoheenI’m really enjoying Michael Goheen’s book,  A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story. Here’s a nice quote on the relationship between the Psalms and the formation of the people of God, and how this relates to our engagement in God’s mission:

We get a glimpse of the richness of Israel’s worship when we read Israel’s temple hymnbook – the psalms, which prompt the people to thanksgiving, wisdom, commitment, repentance, joy, and obedience. The psalms nourish faithfulness in all its dimensions, so that Israel might be an attractive display people. Israel’s worship and liturgy also creates an alternative worldview to that of its pagan neighbors, opening up a very different way of seeing and living in the world. It offers an unclouded vision of the world in which the one true God, Israel’s God, is creator of all things, ruler of nature and history, and merciful savior. Rodney Clapp captures this perspective on worship in the title of his chapter on the church’s worship: “Welcome to the real world.” In the midst of the land, before the nations, Israel’s worship celebrates the one true God and his mighty deeds in history. What Paul Jones says about the church is certainly first true of Israel: “Inasmuch as the Church is anchored in the gracious acts of God, corporate worship sustains and transmits Christian identity formation.” And so in these ways Israel’s identity and self-understanding, its role and calling in the midst of the nations, are constantly celebrated and nourished by its liturgy. (pp.57-58)

One question that arises for me is, ‘In what ways are we celebrating and nourishing our role and calling in the midst of the nations?’

What do you think?

PS. If you are interested in the relationship between the Psalter and the mission of God, have a look at the June 2010 issue of Encounters Mission Journal, which was on the theme of The Psalms and Mission. It features the following articles:

  • Editorial:  The Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission.
    (Tim Davy, 761 words, pdf 54 KB)
  • Article 1:  The Nations in the Psalms.
    (Prof Gordon Wenham, 5513 words, pdf 65 KB)
  • Article 2:  The Nations in the Psalms and the Psalms in the Nations – a response.
    (Tim Davy, 912 words, pdf 51 KB)
  • Article 3:  Psalms 1-2 as an Introduction to Reading the Psalms Missionally.
    (Dr Brian Russell, 2083 words, pdf 51 KB)
  • Article 4:  Reflections on the Nations in the Psalms.
    (Eddie Arthur, 485 words, pdf 23 KB)
  • Article 5:  The Nations in Isaiah 40-55.
    (Rev Dr David Spriggs, 1218 words, pdf 37 KB)
  • Article 6:  Missionary Attrition and the Psalms of Lament.
    (Name withheld, 1041 words, pdf 41 KB)
  • Article 7:  A Missional Reading of Psalm 47.
    (Tony Hughes, 1664 words, pdf 48 KB)
  • Article 8:  Praying the Psalms.
    (Rev Dr Ian Stackhouse, 2598 words, pdf 59 KB)

 

  • Book Review 1:  Transformation after Lausanne: Radical Evangelical Mission in Global-local Perspective.
    (by Al Tizon; Regnum Books)
  • Book Review 2:  Understanding and Using the Bible.
    (edited by Christopher J.H. Wright and Jonathan Lamb; SPCK)

 

Joy, thankfulness, psalms and mission

What motivates your participation in the mission of God? It seems to me there are various things that might focus our minds on being and sharing the good news of Jesus: obedience (Matt. 28:18-20) is one; love and conviction are others (2 Cor. 5:14-15). But what about joy and thankfulness?

I was speaking at Hillview Evangelical Church in Gloucester on Sunday on Psalm 100. Such a great Psalm:

A psalm. For giving thanks.
 1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
 2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
       come before him with joyful songs.
 3 Know that the LORD is God.
       It is he who made us, and we are his [a] ; [Or and not we ourselves]
       we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
       and his courts with praise;
       give thanks to him and praise his name.
 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
       his faithfulness continues through all generations. (NIV)

The preceeding psalms have been full of the assertion and celebration of God’s kingship, packed with praise and joy but also with an eye on the nations and all creation (see Ps. 96:3-4, 10-13; 97:1; 98:1-9).

Perhaps thankfulness motivates us in two ways:

1. We reckon with who God is and what he has done and is doing, in contrast with who we are and what we deserve. And so we want to share this message of hope with others.

2. We get caught up in a vision of the nations (100:1 ‘all the earth’) also rejoicing in the works of the Lord and this inspires us to be part of God’s purposes for seeing that multiculural thankful and worshipping community come about.

What practical steps can we take to cultivate a ‘missional thankfulness’?

Marcus Honeysett on joy, mission and the Psalms

Marcus Honeysett of Living Leadership has a post on his blog on Joy in Missions.

Reflecting on the Psalms, he says that

The purpose of proclamation is to draw a worshipping people. And it is done by worshipping people. We don’t merely proclaim him among the nations, we praise him among the nations. We extol him and publicly exult in him. We find words and phrases that express our admiration, our adoration, our wonder and amazement. Like people stop open-mouthed in front of the Grand Canyon, when they finally find some words it is usually to turn to a friend and say “wow – just look at it!” That’s what we are doing for sake of the nations of the world.

This is a very helpful angle to consider. I’ve been thinking a lot about mission and the Psalms recently: we had the Psalms community day last term and I’m putting together our multilingual Psalms scroll (more on this when it’s done!); I’m preaching three times on the Psalms over the next few weeks; we have Gordon Wenham giving the annual lecture in Bible and Mission on the nations in the Psalms on 12 May; there is a student at Redcliffe doing a very interesting dissertation on a missional aspect of the Psalms; and the June 2010 issue of Encounters will be on mission and the Psalms.

I love the Psalms!

2010 Redcliffe lecture in Bible and Mission – Gordon Wenham on the Psalms

Prof Gordon WenhamI’m pleased to announce that this year’s Redcliffe Lecture in Bible and Mission will be on Wed 12 May and delivered by Prof Gordon Wenham who will be speaking on the theme of ‘The Nations in the Psalms’.

As you will see from the blurb below from Redcliffe’s website, the evening will also incorporate the public launch of the Centre. Similar to last year’s lecture by Chris Wright, the event will form the basis of a Bible and Mission issue of Encounters Mission journal, which will be out in early June.

Watch this space for updates. Here are the details so far:

Redcliffe Lecture in Bible and Mission:

The Nations in the Psalms

With Prof Gordon Wenham, Tutor in Old Testament at Trinity College, Bristol

Wednesday 12 May 2010
7.00pm to 9.00pm

In partnership with Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The 2010 lecture in Bible and Mission will be delivered by world-renowned biblical scholar Prof Gordon Wenham on the topic ‘The Nations in the Psalms’.

Even on a superfical reading of the Psalms, we come across a diversity of ideas regarding ‘the nations’:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? (2:1, ESV)
let the nations be judged before you! (9:19)
God reigns over the nations (47:8)
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy (67:4)
Declare his glory among the nations (96:3)
Praise the LORD, all nations! (117:1)

How then are we to understand the complex relationships between Israel, the nations and God? And what insights for mission might we gain from these and other texts in the Psalms?

After Prof Wenham’s lecture a ‘missional response’ will be offered by Tim Davy, lecturer in Biblical Studies and Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission.

Launch of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission

The evening will also incorporate the public launch of an exciting new Redcliffe initiative. The Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission aims to serve the Church by engaging in research, teaching, writing and speaking on mission in the Bible, and the Bible in mission thinking, practice and training. Its goal is to encourage Christians to reflect on mission biblically and the Bible missionally.

Prof Gordon Wenham is tutor in Old Testament at Trinity College, Bristol. Prior to this he was Professor of Old Testament at the University of Gloucestershire. He has held teaching positions or served as visiting lecturer at a range of institutions around the world. He is the author of numerous publications and combines scholarly excellence with clarity and accessibility. His main research interests are the Pentateuch, the Bible and Ethics, and the Psalms.

Book now
The lecture is free but pre-booking is required. To book your place, contact events@redcliffe.org.

Ian Stackhouse on the Psalms

In his excellent The Day is Yours: Slow Spirituality in a Fast-Moving World (Paternoster, 2008) Ian Stackhouse illustrates something of the wonder and power of the Psalms. In a short chapter on Praying the Psalms he comments:

Before the world gets its teeth into us, the Psalms do their own work of slowing us down, getting us to see ‘heaven in ordinarie’. Instead of bringing God into our world, the Psalms invite us into their world: a world of salvation, grace, trust, thanksgiving, lament, and praise…

When I pray the Psalms the whole company of saints is there with me: those who have gone before and those who are going now. Furthermore, even if I don’t feel what the Psalmist is going through, you can bet that someone else in the community of faith is. Even if I wake up joyful, for a change, and can’t hack why the Psalmist is so downcast – ‘why are so you downcast, I my soul?’ – the simple act of praying the Psalm reminds me that I am part of a community in which at any one time there are people grieving even as I am rejoicing. Conversely, while I am grieving, there are others who are rejoicing. Praying the Psalms tutors us in this community awareness.

Sometimes when I am praying a psalm a face will appear; someone for whom this Psalm describes actual experience. Other times the words of the Psalm sound for all the world like the latest news bulletin from Kosovo, or the Congo, and so, in a strange way, the ancient liturgy helps me to be more up-to-date than I would otherwise be. Precisely because the world hasn’t changed much, and human experience is awful a lot of the time, praying the Psalms, far from representing a retreat into private interiority, is an advance onto the concourse of life. (p.95)

You can my review of the whole book here: The Day is Yours review

Human trafficking and mission

A practical question for those engaging in Bible and Mission: How do we relate verses like the following with the MTV Exit video below? Check out Stop the Traffik as well.

Deuteronomy 10:17-18
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (ESV)

Psalm 68:5-6
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
   is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
   he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
   but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. (ESV)

Job 31:16-23
“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
   or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
or have eaten my morsel alone,
   and the fatherless has not eaten of it
(for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
   and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow,
if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
   or the needy without covering,
if his body has not blessed me,
   and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
   because I saw my help in the gate,
then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
   and let my arm be broken from its socket.
For I was in terror of calamity from God,
   and I could not have faced his majesty. (ESV)

(If you are having trouble viewing the embedded video, click here to see the video)