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The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential Hardcover – September 3, 2013
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Prolific New Testament scholar Wright fears that the contemporary praise-song is crowding out the ancient Hebrew prayer-songs that have traditionally informed Christian liturgy and personal devotion. The Psalms constituted Jesus’ and his followers’ hymnal, he reminds us, and then proceeds in three chapters to argue their merits for those who read, recite, and sing them regularly. Such use of the Psalms allows the worshipper to appreciate and dwell in God’s time—where past and future meet in the present; in God’s space, here called Jerusalem and the Temple, both of which Christianity came to see as the whole world and the human heart; and in the midst of God’s good matter, the physical Creation. Wright advances his explanation of the Psalms’ special efficacies through generous quotations, and he uses a final chapter to tell some stories of particular psalms’ effects on his spiritual development. He also writes a context for what he quotes that is almost as graceful, if not as stunningly beautiful, as the Psalms themselves. --Ray Olson
“A characteristic blend of learning, personal insight and spiritual perception. This book will be of enormous help to Christians who want to know how to make fuller use of one of the greatest scriptural resources for prayer.” (Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury)
“Prayer is an act of rebellion. In this incisive and fresh look at the Book of the Psalms, N. T. Wright invites us to enter an alternative worldview that the Psalms embody. Let this book lead you to the Psalms—but beware, it’s the wardrobe door into a new world order.” (Scot McKnight, author of The King Jesus Gospel)
“In The Case for the Psalms, Tom Wright invites readers to enter the biblical world of praise and prayer and be transformed by it. With characteristic clarity, vividness, and depth, Wright’s book will not only encourage you to read the Psalms, but to live them.” (Peter Enns, author of The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins)
“N. T. Wright urges both believers and church communities to revive the practice of praying, singing, living and ‘breathing’ psalms in everyday life…Helpful for pastors or any Christian seeking a new perspective on the Psalms.” (Bible Study Magazine)
“All our greatest treasures have a way of getting lost--then rediscovered. I can think of few greater treasures than the great songbook of the songs. I can think of no one better suited to explaining why and how they are to be treasured than N. T. Wright.” (John Ortberg, author of Who Is This Man?)
“Wright… knows the Bible about as well as he knows his name, and on this go plumbs the Psalms. The author’s reflections are pastoral, urging the reader to understand and then pray and sing the Psalms.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Wright finds both personal and ecclesiastical possibilities in the Psalms . . . mining poems for their meaning, seeking context, and searching for resonances in other locations . . . both informed and affecting.” (Library Journal)
“[N.T. Wright] writes a context for what he quotes that is almost as graceful, if not as stunningly beautiful, as the Psalms themselves.” (Booklist)
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This book is not so much a technical treatise of its main theological components (though that is reflected on). Nor is it an indepth examination of the groupings of the Psalms, or even a detailed exegesis of many or even a few of the Psalms. Instead, this book is NT Wright's personal exploration and explanation of the power and depth of life lived and breathed within the life of the Psalms, as a center of devotional life.
As per usual, Wright centers his readers in the context of who and what we are.
God created humans in the beginning to be his vice rulers over the world.1
From there, the author launches into a swift but careful journey through not only how the Psalms are important to us but why- pointing to the rich heritage that the Jews, and later the early Christians, had with the Psalms as their foundation for devotion and liturgy. Not just that, but he convincingly explains the personal connection of Christ with the Psalms, not just as a forerunning text prophetically announcing Jesus, but as a seminal text which Jesus lived and breathed:
This means, of course, that the Psalms were the hymnbook that Jesus and his first followers would have known by heart.2
All the while, Wright is not trying to place technical proof for later study in the professional minister's teaching war-chest. Rather, he is outlining the real reason that the Psalms are so unique in their vocation as the sub text of the Christian life- because they are so profoundly human. As Wright puts it:
The Psalter forms the great epic poem of the creator and covenant God who will at the last visit and redeem his people and, with them, his whole creation.3
The book is arranged in sections primarily answering how the use of the Psalms explore and invite the reader into the reality of God's kingdom. It is a reality which infuses us with the wholly right kind of Christian "worldview", not expressed in or as politics and dogma, but as the time, space and matter through which God, the world, and human beings encounter each other. These three concepts of God's time, God's space and God's matter are at the heart of Wright's exploration of the Psalms.
And if that were all the book contained, it would be well worth your time and investment. But there is something more personal for Wright here. The last two sections of the book (which, at just a couple hundred pages, is much shorter than almost all of his other works) contain a personal testimony and appeal to the church to consider the Psalms as their own life-transforming songbook and poetry.
As a worship leader, writer, Christian, husband, father and leader I have recently found a deeper longing for spiritual formation through the ancient texts of the Psalms. This last year, our own local church has had a program of reading (twice) through the Psalms for us to do as a community as well. Along with this practice and reading this book, I have found a new depth of closeness with God. It isn't something mystical, really. Just a profound knowing that the story that I am in is part of the broader story- my struggles, joys, pains, hopes and loss are understood and shared, not just by the God whom I worship but by the history of humanity trying to find Him in every day lives.
This is another excellent book by NT Wright. It is easily his most personal and passionate work. If you are worship leader, this should be your #1 next book to read. But any person at any place in life could really benefit from this book. And then, follow its prescription- read the Psalms. Daily. Regularly. After Simply Christian, this is my favorite book from NT Wright. Excellent.
Review by Kim Gentes
Wright, N. T. (2013-09-03). The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential (Kindle Location 576). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Ibid. (page 11)
Ibid. (page 33)