Wednesday, July 7, 2010

LHP Review: Psalms Edition (Toward Concordia in Christ at Worship)

Hopson, Hal H. The People's Psalter. Fenton, MO: Morning Star Music Publishers, 2008. 301 Pages. Spiral bound. $38.00. 1-800-647-2117 (LH)

Van Harn, Roger E. and Brent A. Strawn. Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. 535 Pages. Paper. $35.00. (LHP)

Witvliet, John D. The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship: A Brief Introduction & Guide to Resources.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. 169 Pages. Paperback. $16.00. (LHP)

Christians can and should recover the use of the psalms at worship. As Liturgy, Hymnody, & Pulpit Quarterly Book Review continues to reflect on the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Model Theological Conference on Worship last January and prepares for a Wyoming District Theological Conference on Worship in June of 2011, I hope that this recovery of the psalms can be part of how we get beyond the so-called "worship wars" with a unified Lutheran theology of worship that can show unison doctrine sung in a variety of harmonious practices. At this point, there is dissonance. Not all practices are faithful to our Lutheran theology. Therefore, I pray that we can move Toward Concordia in Christ at Worship.

Three resources on the psalms are before us.

The second part of Psalms for Preaching and Worship reprints The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship (PPW, 393).  I found this part to be the most helpful of the two parts of the larger 2009 book. For so many (ELCA) Lutherans included in the larger, newer work, I was surprised by the lack of Lutheran recommendations. Sadly, even though this book appeared three years after the introduction of new hymnals for the ELCA and the LCMS, our 1978 and 1982 hymns are still listed (464). I cannot think of a good reason why this section has not been updated and I do not wish to speculate.

Psalms for Preaching and Worship has another section that makes up most of the volume and incorporates the whole into a recent Eerdman's lectionary commentary series. I would be open to reviewing those volumes at a future time, but I was not impressed with this one.

Why? Usually I am disappointed by the overwhelming Calvinist perspective that in one way or another claims that Luther didn't finish the Reformation and Calvin did. I much prefer the productive Reformation discussions of Modern Reformation or The White Horse Inn. There seemed to be more of a balance here due to ELCA authors.

Why in this case? I was truly upset by this volume by the lack of Jesus. No, He wasn't totally missing. Yes, He was mentioned in brief. But no, the Gospel did not predominate here. Yes, the authors of individual signed articles did a decent job of exegeting the Hebrew text, but the largely did so without as much of the New Testament fulfillment in Christ that the Psalms themselves proclaim. Usable? Sure. Adequate? No.

I was further dismayed by the inclusion of pagan art, mostly Egyptian, as "commentary" on the Biblical Psalms. This is "History of Religions School" of thought, where nothing in Judaism or Christianity is original, but all borrowed from else where in a cobbled-together man-made religion. Other notable negative influences include feminist theology, liberation theology, and historical criticism.

If I had to choose between spending $35 for Psalms for Preaching and Worship and $16 for The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship, my choice would be clear. Readers/owners of PPW are not missing the necessary updates to TBPCW should have provided in a revision two years later. Since I have both, I will use PPW on a limited basis until something is produced covering the psalms in Lutheran Service Book (which has 10 more psalms included than the RCL).

In contrast, The People's Psalter is a great resource. And it's not just because I recognized the opened book on the cover, Lutheran Service Book.

My main critique is the use of so many different translations of the psalms. I do understand that music consideration entered into this decision by composer Hal Hopson. Yet, "Happy" in Psalm 1 is simply inadequate for the depth of the Hebrew. "Blessed" would be much better.

"Hopson has created an accessible collection of responsorial psalms for use throughout the church year. Each psalm appointed in the three-year Lectionary is included" (reproduced from publisher's website).

Features include:

• A total of 117 different settings

• Melodies drawn from over 25 countries around the world

• Eloquently simple, easily learned refrains

• Opportunity for creative use of Unison Children's voices and/or Adult choirs and Cantors of all ages

• Variety of accompaniments that are interesting and indigenous to each melody

• Creative use of piano, organ, melody/descanting instrument, handbells, and percussion

• Includes reproducible refrains for congregation and reproducible parts for instrumentalists

• Includes CD with congregational refrains in both PDF and TIFF format
(reproduced from publisher's website)
The People's Psalter shows how to do psalms in worship in a new way, beyond "spoken half verse by half verse" and sung according to LBW/LW/ELW/LSB psalm tones, in addition to refrains like CW and HS98.
The Reformed have had an interesting history with hymns and church music, largely preferring metrical psalms to hymns early on, even after the great example of the chorales of Martin Luther.
Why do I like this collection? It brings a several musical worlds together.

Hopson has rewoven melodies from around the world (including American hymn tunes and Orthodox liturgical music) to give voice to psalm texts in various translations and metrical versions. That is the great idea behind this collection.
Many famous hymn melodies began as tunes for psalm paraphrases. Hopson reuses hymn tunes as psalm melodies. We have come full circle!
I may have preferred a different title for this resource, but The People's Psalter is true to its name in that the people are given something of substance that is durable, singable, and memorable. I especially remember Psalm 4, Psalm 9, Psalm 46 (my favorite in the collection), and Psalm 51 among many others.
Copyright permission is covered for purchasers. The enclosed CD-Rom makes bulletin inserts a snap.
A variety of instrumentation could be employed.
I look forward to more resources like this from MorningStar!
The Psalter is the first hymnal of the Christian Church. And it should return to prominence among Christians of all traditions. LHP QBR will continue to seek out more resources on the Psalms to encourage faithful worship theology and practice Toward Concordia in Christ at Worship.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.