Sometimes we miss what is right in front of us. Sometimes we are distracted by the abstract that we miss the obvious. Sadly this easily happens when we read Scripture. Jerome Creach, in his The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms, has drawn us back to see what’s in front of us, “it might well be concluded that the destiny of the righteous is the primary subject of the Psalms” (p1). When thinking about the Psalms, we often lose sight of the obvious: that it’s a collection of songs about the righteous, their struggles, their hopes, and ultimately, their destiny. This is seen in the introductory Psalm 1. The righteous will stand in the judgment, but the wicked will be like chaff in the wind.
The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms
The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms develops as follows. In Part 1 the character and destiny of the righteous is traced. First, their relationship with God by means of prayers (ch 1); the activity of the righteous, primarily prayers (ch 2); and the reward of the righteous (ch 3). Part 2 demonstrate the role of the righteous influence the shaping of the Psalter. Psalms 1-89 show the suffering of David, the anointed one (ch 4), while Psalms 90-150 encourage faith in Yahweh’s kingship and a future David (ch 5). Part 3 develops three important aspects of the righteous’ hope. First is David, both as an example of the righteous sufferer (ch 6) and a sign post of a future king (ch 7). Next, the glory (ch 8) and hope (ch 9) of Zion is forefront in the mind of the righteous. Finally, God’s instruction (Torah) is a source of protection and security (ch 10).
One is in danger of self-congratulation by adopting the label “righteous”, but Creach believes it is a mistake to conceive of righteousness as moral purity or superiority. True, one can be free of guilt in a given situation (Ps 17:1) but the Psalms do not disagree with Paul (Rom 3:10). In fact, to argue for unrighteousness of all, Paul uses the Psalms “as his main authority!” (p3). Righteousness in the Psalms refers to one who fulfills obligations in relationships. In other words, the righteous are those faithful in a loving relationship with Yahweh their God. Behavior flows from this relationship. Redirecting our focus to the centrality of the righteous in the Psalms will help the church form a “constructive understanding of divine judgment”, “dialogue with people of other faiths who are also concerned with issues of justice”, have “words to address to the consumer-driven society” and provide a resource for “theological reflection on the plight of the poor and oppressed” (p12-13).
There is much to commend in this book. First, it is a concise scholarly yet devotional treatment of this most prominent of the Psalter’s features. Second, the book is clearly laid out, with each theme being developed through exegesis of relevant Psalms. Third, Creach holds to a Davidic hope in the Psalter: “the Psalter creates the expectation of a new David who will stand with the lowly as their defender” (p9).
Most of all, the righteous (their character, hope, and destiny) is proven to be both fundamental to the Psalter and profitable for contemplation. Creach highlights why the Psalms are so beloved: one can find solace in the songs of other faithful believers. Hope for a righteous and future David, security in God’s instruction, and hope for His presence are all deeply resonant issues for the believer today. Through a thematic and comprehensive treatment on these themes, the reader profits from an enhanced wide-lens view of what the Psalter has to say. This is where the book shines most bright.
Ancient Songs for Today
The Psalter has for generations been the prayerbook of God’s righteous. Though grounded in scholarly research of Israel’s ancient songs, The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms is deeply devotional and relevant for building the faith of the church. In fact, Creach puts it well:
“Jesus does not make obsolete what the Psalter says about the righteous and their reliance on David, Zion and torah. On the contrary, the Psalms create the form and foundation of this faith of the church.” (p16).
In other words, the Psalter is ever “for us” today.
The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms is a book from which any believer would benefit. A lover of the Psalms would do well to read this book. It would also serve well as an introductory textbook to the themes of the Psalter. The character, activity and destiny of the righteous remains ever the same. A reminder of who we are, what we do, and for what we long is ever needed, it is so easy to lose sight of that which is most obvious.
Many thanks to Chalice Press for providing a review copy.
Buy The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms
I must confess. I have procrastinated reviewing Delivered from the Elements of the World. It’s not because it is a dull book; far from it. Rather, more than anything I’ve yet reviewed, I am daunted at the prospect of doing justice to this book’s vastness and creativity. Peter Leithart is known to be a singular, provocative and eloquent thinker, and Delivered from the Elements of the World is surely his magnum opus.
Put simply, Delivered from the Elements of the World is Leithart’s attempt to answer how Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the world. That, of course, is an incredibly vast question already, but Leithart uses “world” in a broad manner to include social, economic and political factors. Thus, he’s also asking how a Galilean’s death “[carried] a message of hope for the salvation of human society” (p14). For Leithart, the answer is found in the “elements”, which he understands as “the fundamental physics of every socioreligious, cultural-religious formation [that consist] of practices concerning holiness, purity and sacrifice” (p12). So how does Jesus’ death change the rules of purity and sacrifice inherent to all world religions? Delivered from the Elements of the World is a book on the atonement, but in widescreen.
For Leithart, a successful theory of the atonement must meet the following criteria:
- Historical plausibility. The first-century Jewish context cannot be ignored (sadly, it often has).
- Levitical. Jesus’ death must be congruent with and bring fulfillment to Levitical ritual.
- Evangelical. Atonement theology must arise naturally from within the Gospels.
- Pauline. It must also arise from Paul’s writings.
- Inevitable. Jesus must be the inevitable and natural response to the human condition (Luk 24:26)
- Fruitful. It must also explain the subsequent history of the church and the world, and show how it “worked”.
As an aside, this list reveals the narrowness of most works claiming to be comprehensive treatments of atonement. Though most ignore #5-6, sadly many also ignore #1-3! So often, theological frameworks distort or smother the the Biblical data.
Delivered from the Elements of the World
To achieve Leithart’s criteria, the book develops as follows:
Part 1 consists of five chapters. After the introduction, chapter 2 argues that “elementary principles of the world” refer to the purity laws of any society: “sacred space, purity rules, sacrifice and priesthood thus constitute the foundational reality of religious and social life in the ancient world, both Jewish and Gentile…and it is these that Paul says have now lost their force” (p40-41). Chapter 3 takes a surprising turn into a fictional narrative of an ancient Jew (I won’t spoil his identity) encountering and dialoguing with an Egyptian, Babylonian and Greek about their respective purity laws. Turning an otherwise tedious comparison of religions into a fascinating narrative, Leithart’s concern here is to imagine the all-consuming rulership that “elementary principles of the world” had in all religions. Chapter 4 begins the story in Genesis, where God created an independent people, set apart by their own elementary principles that contain antisarkic (“anti-flesh”) symbolism. It is here that God begins his “saving war against enslaving flesh” (p90). Chapter 5 explains, through a detailed treatment of Levitical law, how being under Torah is being under elementary principles, but of a kind that contain a “parodic, antifleshly pedagogy” (p91). Though an incomplete system “accommodated to the fleshly condition of the human race” (p92) that could not bring one back to Eden, Levitical law instructed Israel to trust in the Lord by rejecting flesh and awaiting the Messiah.
Part 2 has two chapters. Chapter 6 begins to explore how Jesus is the demonstration of God’s righteousness and that he fulfilled and transcended Levitical expectations. In fact, Jesus’ disciples began to live with the Spirit and without the elementary principles, “[t]hrough his Torah-keeping and teaching, Jesus was forming within the flesh of Israel a new Israel that no longer lives [according to the flesh]” (p143). Chapter 7 explores why Jesus had to die, and not simply tell His followers of another way of living. For Leithart, Christ’s death was the pinnacle of flesh’s self-condemnation and penal substitution (as found in the Gospels, no less).
Part 3 also has two chapters. Chapter 8 turns to justification. Here Leithart argues that justification is more than an “outworking of the cross in the lives of individuals or the church” but more fundamentally “a way of naming the event of the cross and resurrection” (p180). In other words, Jesus was the first one to receive justification (1 Tim 3:16) and all future justifications are based upon His. Justification itself is slightly redefined and expanded from being merely a “judgment of God in favor of a sinner” to “[in] itself an act of deliverance” (p181). For example, Jesus was justified in that God judged in His favor by delivering Him from death (Rom 4:25). Therefore, justification is more than a verdict, it’s a verdict that also delivers. Leithart coins the term “deliverdict” to notify this distinction. Chapter 9 develops the previous chapter to examine living free from the law and under the Spirit.
Part 4 concludes the book with four chapters, the first three “offer[ing] sketchy reflections on the theology of mission that flows out of the atonement theology developed in the rest of this book” (p218). Chapter 10 outlines what the “atonement implies about the aims, goals and means of missions” (p218). Missions is more than individual conversion, but an invitation for society to be ‘saved’ from the elementary principles that rule and divide them. Chapter 11 examines current religions through the light of the “elementary principles”, and how Christianity has fundamentally reshaped these religions even if they are not saved. Chapter 12 traces the ways in which the church has lost its witness by returning to living under the elements through divisions. Finally, chapter 13 retraces the entire book in one concluding chapter.
If summarizing this book was difficult (and wordy), how do we evaluate it? I must admit that I am a little in awe of this book. This is not because I find it entirely convincing at every point, but because its fusing of scope and detail is breathtaking. While wading through this, I constantly found myself thinking “why do I read lesser books?” Virtually every page contained at least one breathtaking “aha” or “if that’s true, then ___!” moment. The majority of points of exegetical detail are compelling and fascinating, perhaps most so in the treatment of Leviticus.
Leithart’s wide-lens vision feels traditionally Protestant and yet creative, taking some bold minority views. A few examples. He follows those who hold that “faith in Christ” should be translated “faithfulness of Christ”. Justification should be “deliverdict”. “Works of the Law” are not boundary markers, nor the doing of the law, but what the Law itself does (similar to “works of the flesh”). Insights from the New Perspective and Apocalyptic schools of Pauline theology are adopted. A lot of theology is read into the details of Levitical sacrifices. These ideas are interesting and many compelling, though I wonder if true, why the church was wrong for this long? Some of the ideas are so fresh that they appear untethered from church history.
It must be said that this book was truly enjoyable to read. This is due to the fresh ideas, the way that Leithart pulls together loose threads into a coherent whole, but perhaps mostly due to the fact that he’s an excellent writer. The narrative diversion in chapter 3 was a real highlight of creative scholarly writing. If only more books were this engaging!
As far as meeting his criteria, I believe Leithart has thoroughly succeeded, especially in #2-5. Whether he is right is another matter. I must admit that I am not well-read enough to opine on #6. I found Leithart’s ideas compelling but was less than entirely persuaded. I’ve already run out of space for deeper engagement, but Brad Littlejohn has offered more substantial appraisal and critique of Leithart’s arguments that is worth reading. Leithart has also replied to Littlejohn on his blog here and here.
In Delivered from the Elements of the World, Peter Leithart offers a fresh and creative wide-lens view of the atonement that has in view not simply theology or exegesis, but also history and sociology. It is a wild ride, but is one of those special books that has the potential to truly reshape one’s thinking. One need not be convinced by his entire argument for this work to be helpful in finding homes for those odd puzzle pieces lying untouched. Delivered from the Elements of the World is both a thoroughly exciting work of exegetical theology and a pleasure to read.
Many thanks to IVP for providing a review copy of this book
Leviticus is a difficult book to understand, and quite the challenge for pastors and teachers. One of the difficulties is that it’s impossible to dip one’s toe in and expect any payoff. To truly understand and benefit, one must plunge into the deep end of the Levitical world of sacrifices, rituals, and purity laws. That’s to say, the application is found in the strange and complex details, not apart from them. At the same time, it can become easy to start sinking in the details. What one needs is a sure-handed help to keep one’s head above the water; one that not only understands the details, but is able to simplify them and direct one to what matters most. This is exactly what one finds in the Tyndale (TOTC) Leviticus commentary by Jay Sklar. Sklar is fluent with Leviticus, but also gifted at clarifying the hazy, or bringing close the distant.
In his introduction Sklar notes that “God’s purpose for his people in Leviticus is in many ways a return to his purpose for humanity in creation” (p28). In other words, Leviticus, perhaps surprisingly, is a return to Eden. As to authorship, Moses “was the source and author of much of the book” (p35), but some portions may have had a later editor. Solar also explains important theological foundations to the book, such as covenant, redemption, sin, (im)purity, and atonement. In this latter section Sklar defends the notion that kipper refers to “ransom-puficiation” (p53): it both rescues from wrath (ransom), and cleanses sin and impurity (purification). Solar also tackles the notorious questions of “which laws apply to Christians”, and “how do they apply”, providing several useful categories that deal with the vast majority of instances. Finally, he treats the subject of Jesus’ fulfillment of Leviticus. Throughout this excellent survey, Sklar is a sure-footed and clear guide.
In the commentary proper, each unit is treated in three ways. First, the context is set. Next, there is the commentary on a single verse or, more usually, several linked verses. Finally, Sklar attempts to explain the meaning for OT Israel then and the NT church now. Solar is abundantly talented in making sense of complicated matters without dumbing them down. Aiding this goal is that numerous tables that visually simplify and summarize the details of Levitical law are scattered throughout.
Sklar’s commentary is a delight to read. Those wanting more thorough commentary, detailed engagement with the Hebrew text, literary analysis, or a survey and rebuttal of scholarly opinions will want to go elsewhere. That said, this should not be overlooked by teachers as a “popular level” commentary that has nothing to offer the serious student. As with most of the TOTC volumes (or their NT counterparts), the content is rich and concise. For the reader of Leviticus who wants a clear and short commentary that doesn’t overlook the details, I cannot recommend a better work than Sklar’s Leviticus.
Many thanks to IVP for providing a review copy of this series. I was not required to provide a positive review.
Buy Leviticus (Tyndale)
In this post I will summarize the two presentations on Israel and the church in Progressive Covenantalism (my review). Though I very much appreciated both chapters (and the book as a whole), I want to respond to two shortcomings.
Jason DeRouchie’s chapter “considers some OT roots to new covenant ecclesiology, specifically from the perspective of the language of ‘seed’” (p9). Primarily, DeRouchie focuses on Genesis 17 and passages from Isaiah that indicate Abraham’s seed would not just include physical offspring, but in a later time of fulfillment, the nations would also be adopted. As the nations are spiritually adopted into Abraham’s family, they would not undergo circumcision and the genealogical principle does not apply (contra covenant theology) and since the nations are considered Abraham’s seed, they are equal heirs with Israel of the promise (contra dispensationalism). Isaiah speaks similarly, that the “kings” and “many” (Isa 52:13-15; 53:11-12) will benefit from the Servant’s work and be considered His “offspring” (Isa 53:10). It’s through Christ that the nations are adopted. Thus, Christ’s offspring are Abraham’s offspring (Gal 3:29). This results in a new covenant community of born again members (Isa 54:1, 3), consisting of Jew and Gentile in Christ, who share in the same inheritance (Gal 3:18).
Brent Parker’s chapter takes a slightly different route, one that argues that “the biblical covenants and typological structures converge and climax in Christ” (p44). Therefore, since Christ fulfills Israel’s role and promises, His church (His body) fulfill Israel. Brent’s argument, in other words, explains that “Jesus typologically fulfills OT Israel [and the] church, through Christ, inherits the promises of Israel” (p47).
Both chapters are eloquent and compelling presentations of the Progressive Covenantal viewpoint of Israel and the church that is distinct from both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. However, I see two shortcomings in these chapters.
First, both DeRouchie and Parker affirm the current equality and inheritance with Jew and Gentile in Christ. However, what (if any) significance has national Israel, whether presently and/or eschatologically? What of OT passages such as Ezekiel 37-39 or Zechariah 12-14 that indicate eschatological battle against the nation of Israel in the land of Israel? Are these to be re-read as spiritual attack and apostasy against the church? I’m not sure how the authors fit these pieces in the puzzle.
Second, the question of whether there is any present distinction in the church between Jew and Gentile – not of equality, but identity and role (similar to that of husband and wife) – is also unaddressed. What are PC proponents to make of Paul’s regular distinction between Jew and Gentile in passages such as Rom 15:26-27, Rom 11:13-24, and Rom 1:16? Here are two such texts from Romans:
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
Whether one agrees with DeRouchie and Parker that Paul holds an equality of status and inheritance with Jew and Gentile in Christ, it seems clear that Paul still affirms “Jewish believer” as a category of itself. What of Jews who want to retain their Jewishness and follow the Levitical calendar, for example? What of the Jerusalem church that met in the temple? Paul addresses the issue of Torah-keeping (Rom 14-15), and does not denounce it. Though the PC model lifts up the Gentiles to receive Israel’s promises as fellow-heirs, by indicating no distinct place for Jews within the body of Christ, it ironically appears to require Jewish Christians to become Gentiles. Surprisingly, I see similar from traditional Dispensationalists who hold that only end-times Jews who repent during the 7-year tribulation receive the promises for Israel.
As for the first point, one can see a unity of Jew and Gentile believer in Christ and still maintain prophecies concerning the nation of Israel. Second, DeRouchie’s argument that Abraham inherits the nations without them becoming Israel does not necessarily require that the church is the “new Israel”, though he concludes as much (p27). Rather, doesn’t the promise that Abraham will be the father to many nations indicate that “seed of Abraham” is a larger category than “Israel”? Could the church not consist of true, faithful Jews alongside believing Gentiles; both being equal seed of Abraham, but remaining somewhat distinct? It appears that this would gel with DeRouchie’s presentation though it doesn’t work with Parker’s typological argument.
Both DeRouchie and Parker move the discussion forward on Israel and the church, and their chapters are a welcome replacement to the Progressive Covenantal chapter in the recent B&H book. This viewpoint has much to commend, as it appears to resolve some issues in other systems. However, it overlooks that an ecclesiological role for faithful Jews in Christ and eschatological role for national Israel remains.
Buy Progressive Covenantalism from Amazon
Understanding The New Testament’s use of the Old is a key issue in Biblical interpretation, but is highly enigmatic, resulting in varying approaches all vying for our attention. Some conclude that surprising use of the OT reveals that the NT author had no concern for context. Some insist upon a natural logic connecting the OT and NT contexts, so that the author is applying the text correctly. Others argue for a typological relationship, where the OT text is fulfilled historically but also foreshadows the NT reality. Rikk Watts’ Regent course God’s Faithful Character: The Key to the New Testament’s Use of the Old delves into this thorny topic. Watts thoroughly surveys the factors, examines history of interpretation, interprets numerous texts, and provides a fresh way of looking at the NT use of the OT.
God’s Faithful Character
Watt’s lectures are as follows:
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part I)
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part II)
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part III)
- First Century Interpretation
- When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations
- Conjoining Texts
- Some Striking Divergences
- God’s Exodus Plan Completed
- Purpose of the Parables
- The Law and Faith (Part I)
- The Law and Faith (Part II)
The first four lectures survey the issues and history of interpretation. It is here that topics such as modern scholars, first century and rabbinic interpretation are examined. This sets the stage for what follows. The fifth lecture examines instances where OT texts applied to the nations become applied to the Jews and Jerusalem. A few examples are the Jewish leaders being identified with the nations opposing the Messiah in Ps 2, or a description of Babylon’s destruction being applied to Jerusalem’s by Jesus in His Olivet Discourse. Watts makes the provocative point that in these instances the NT is not so much interpreting the OT text, but rather interpreting their current situation in light of the OT text. Further lectures focus on different aspects of NT use of the OT.
As always, Watts is ever an engaging speaker who can switch from complicated exegesis, to light-hearted humour, to pastoral seriousness in a heartbeat. No matter how difficult the content can become (and it does get quite dense!), Watts never loses sight of the centrality of glorifying Jesus and the goal of personal transformation.
Throughout, two points continued to arise for me. First, for Watts, it’s all about the character of God. Second, Watts regularly and passionately argues, in light of the first point, that theology ought to be done primarily in light of His character. Watts is skeptical towards the usual systematic categories, and finds character as a greater foundation from such to develop theological discussions. This elevates the importance of narrative and finds a central place for it (fitting since narrative makes up most of the Bible!) and leads to personal transformation more naturally, as the focus is on Gods own character.
Although the lectures were very enjoyable and impacting in several ways, I did regularly experience a few setbacks. Mostly, I got lost from time to time. This is because a) the topic is complex, b) Watts regularly referred to slides and handouts, to which I did not have access, and c) Watts occasionally is prone to pursuing rabbit trails. On the latter point, Watts regularly interrupts himself and turns from the topic at hand to tell a story or make a related point, and sometimes completely switches gears to discuss another topic. In each of these instances, particularly the last, it became very hard to follow. That is not to say that these diversions were boring or irrelevant; far from it! Everything Watts had to say was interesting and often impacting, but these detracted from the experience when they disrupted the topic under discussion. Watts often went off the beaten path in his Mark lectures, but I think that because the material was simpler and because it was always easy to know where we were in the book, it was not a problem like it is for this class.
Rikk Watt’s lecture series God’s Faithful Character certainly is an enjoyable and informative listen. It demands repeated listens as Watts packs in a huge amount of content that is transformative. However, the difficulty of the material and his proclivity to get distracted hindered the full experience for me. I certainly would recommend this class for anyone interested in the NT use of the OT, but I would suggest they supplement it with other resources. I hope that Watts writes a book on the topic as he clearly understands his material, and his suggestions were fascinating.
Many thanks to Regent Audio for providing a review copy of this series. I was not required to provide a positive review.
The Psalms are rightfully beloved, but many are unaware of its clear and intentional structure. Or if they are, they have not considered the purpose for its structure. Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford’s Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel, “seeks to provide the reader with a solid introduction to the Hebrew Psalter, one that is informed by an interest in its shape and shaping” (vii). There are many introductions to the Psalms, but a unique feature to this is that it reads the Psalter as a unified, interconnected work.
Introduction to the Psalms
First, deClaisse-Walford introduces the Psalms, with a discussion of their impact and attempting to date the completed Psalter as we have it today. Chapter one exposes the reader to the features Hebrew poetry, such as parallelism, word pairs, chiasmus, inclusio, and acrostic. Chapter two introduces form criticism, that is, the classification of Psalms types or genres such as hymns, laments, royal, creation, wisdom and enthronement psalms. But the Psalter is not arranged by type, so Chapter three turns to examine the actual shape of the Psalter. Individual Psalms make up larger collections, such as the Davidic (Ps 3-41; 51-72; 138-145), the Asaphite (Ps 73-83) and the Songs of Ascents (120-134). The Psalter consists of five Books compiled over time. Chapter four details the history behind the Psalter’s shaping. deClaissé-Walford’s argues that the Psalter as we have it was completed “late in the postexilic period, perhaps as late the first century of the common era” (p47), and was “shaped into five books which narrate a history of ancient Israel” (p56) that reflects the theological worldview of its editors. Chapters five through nine trace deClaissé-Walford’s understanding of the storyline of the Psalter book by book. Book One depicts “the ‘golden age’ of ancient Israel, when a king of God’s choosing reigned in Jerusalem” (p59). Book Two “continues the story of the reign of King David” (p73), but with other characters such as Asaph, the Korahites and Solomon, and concludes as “Solomon ascends the throne of the nation of Israel” (p83). Book Three “reflects events that took place during the period of the divided kingdoms of ancient Israel” (p85). Book Four describes Israel’s time in exile, where they recognized “the ‘grand experiment’ of kingship in Israel has failed” (p101); they need to look not to a future king, but to Yhwh as king. Finally, Book Five “leads the reader/hearer from the despair of exile in Babylon to the celebration of a new life in the land of Israel with God as king and the Torah as the guide for life” (p128). Chapter ten, the final chapter, retraces the five Books asking the question “how did the post exilic community perceive and use the book of Psalms”? (p129). deClaisse-Walford concludes that a major theme is that Yhwh is king.
There are several clear strengths to this work. First, it is clear and concise; essential for introductions. Second, deClaisse-Walford clearly knows her material, drawing from relevant ANE texts and rabbinic material for supporting illustrations. Third, it is relatively unique through being an introduction to reading the Psalter in light of its shaping. Fourth, several side-bars explain a word or concept in fuller detail. These are helpful, though I think they could have been formatted better to aid clarity in reading, as they share the same font as the text body.
There are a few more quibbles. That the Psalms uniquely capture “for the most part, not the words of God to humanity, but the words of humanity to God” (p3) is true in what it affirms but not what it denies. For the Christian, the Psalter is just as God-breathed as any other Biblical book.
More problematic, however is that deClaissé-Walford’s theology of each Book reveals that subjectivity is a real danger in the canonical approach. While some big-picture elements (Book 3/Ps 89 climaxing in exile) ring true, others seem highly speculative. First, it is not at all clear to me that Book One “tell[s] the story of the life of King David” (p72, emphasis mine), nor that it depicts the “golden age” of Israel (p59). Sure, all Psalms in Book One are Davidic, but no clear story is perceived, and the dominance of laments is at odds with it recording a supposed “golden age”. Second, deClaissé-Walford follows Gerald Wilson in denying that Books Four-Five hold a hope for a future Israelite king. This is seen in her downplaying of David in these Books, going so far as to state that he is “absent in Books Three and Four” (p113), despite Ps 86, 101, and 103 all bearing his name. Ps 89 is apparently about “Israel’s broken covenant with David” (p98), when the covenant was clearly between Yhwh and David, and even Ps 89 itself holds forth a hope in Yhwh’s faithfulness despite human disobedience. Besides these points, the presence of Psalm 110 in Book Five should be enough to challenge her thesis. Third, for deClaissé-Walford, the Psalter tells a finished story; that is, Book Five ends with an encouragement to Israel in her postexilic state as “an identifiable entity within the vast Persian empire” (p128), but with no anticipation of the future. This does not fit the content of Book Five, which, assuming the canonical reading, has all twelve tribes in the land (Ps 120-135) ruled by a priest-king (Ps 110). These remain unfulfilled.
As she set out to accomplish, Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford’s Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel is a solid introduction to the Psalms from a perspective that takes its shaping seriously. It is recommended particularly for those interested in such an approach, as long as one recognizes that other conclusions have been reached by using the same approach.
Many thanks to Chalice Press for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.