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“Read, Pray, Sing” in Latest Issue of Midwestern Journal of Theology

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My essay “Read, Pray, Sing: The Psalms as an Entryway to the Scriptures” has just been published in the latest issue of the Midwestern Journal of Theology. This is a print version of a lecture I have given at a conference at Union University and at a conference at Oklahoma Baptist University.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share this more broadly that our churches (Baptists in particular but other evangelicals as well) should change our practice in a specific way. Or, more precisely, I am arguing that we should regain a practice that was part of our tradition at one point but has been lost along the way.

I am arguing two basic points. First, the Psalms are intended to serve as a summary of the whole Bible, specifically a summary that is to be prayed and sung. The Psalms are a tutor for us that will teach us to read the Bible well, and by singing and praying them we are enabled to internalize the Scripture more effectively.

Second, the Scriptures by command and example call us not only to read the Psalms but also to sing and pray them. In Baptist circles, if people have heard of Psalm singing, they regard it as a preference of some people. But the Scriptures command us to sing Psalms (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19) and the Scriptures are filled with examples of people praying them.

I also draw on historical examples to show that these ideas have been common in the history of the church.

Giving the alarming rate of biblical illiteracy in the church and our general weakness in prayer, can we afford to neglect this divinely ordained resource? I would love to stir up discussion among church leaders on this topic.

2 Comments

  1. Ray says:

    Hey Chuck,
    Thanks for the response and sorry for my delay in following up. I completely agree that there is a place for other types of worship texts beyond the psalms. I make a point in the article of stating that I am not arguing for using ONLY the Psalms.
    And I agree that the Psalms can be sung in various styles of music as they have been across the ages and are even now. I have heard them sung with well known hymn tunes, in more complex choir pieces, and in more contemporary settings.
    My point is that across many of our churches they are used rarely if ever and in that we are missing a great resource (as well as a divine command).

    One point where I’ll push back- the Psalms are less bound to a specific historical context than the rest of Scripture. They were gathered to serve as a songbook for God’s people. Thus they demonstrate various emotions and responses that we will all need along the way. It is true that when we gather on a Sunday I may not feel like lament when a lament song is sung. But that is an issue no matter what we sing- our people will be all over the map on any given Sunday in terms of how they are feeling. That is one reason why we must think of our corporate worship as not only expressive (helping to say what I feel and think at the moment) but also formative (teaching me how to feel and respond to God when certain times come).
    We have nothing to lose, and much to gain, from thinking about how we can incorporate more of the psalms into our worship, corporate and private.

  2. chuck maxwell says:

    Not sure where you wanted this discussion to take place, but here’s a response!
    While I think it is certainly hard to argue against either of your points Ray. All of the Psalms, whether in the 150 or in other parts of scripture, tell us something of the character of God that we can pray and sing to Him about. As much in our time alone with God as in corporate gatherings. And we should use them more for sure. I find the raw emotions expressed in them to make the writer and the lyrics very relevant to me. However, the difficulty is often found in merging the cultural contexts of the Psalms and our contemporary worship, or the worship context of the Psalm writers and the worship context of the various seasons of the church in history. Like scripture itself, many of them are written about a specific time or event in the life of the writer that may or may not apply to our day or voice. So some “artistic license” may need to be taken, within biblical limits of course, to make it relevant for our purposes today. I think this applies as well to the musical style or expression that we may use to sing them. Obviously the ancient style was different, but it was a style for them. (Maybe David made a harp and lyre chart for “The Deer of the Dawn.”) Should we only use a select few styles to sing them? Like a chant or a familiar hymn tune? I think not. Like King David, Asaph and Korah likely had musical preferences, those styles were contemporary at one time because of the culture in which they were used.
    As a songwriter, some of which I intend as useful for congregational worship, it is important to make our melodies and phrasing as accessible and participatory as possible. And musically reflective of the content and intent of the lyrics. Of course that’s what makes a hymn and other styles of music we sing along with work! The musical principles behind that still work today. Which should allow us even more fresh expressions of the ancient truths found in Psalms, and all of scripture. In fact, the Psalms not only give us lyrics to pray and sing, they give us instructions or ways of expressing our praise and prayer that we should pay attention to as well. Shout to the Lord, clap your hands, play your instrument…loud even! Or be silent or cry out in lament or repentance.
    One more comment…The references in Col.3 and Eph.5 also mention hymns and spiritual songs as results of the indwelling Word and Spirit of God. So there is also a place it seems for other types of worship music along with the psalms when we gather.

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