Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Riches of the Psalter

We had an excellent evening of discussion last Thursday with a record setting four of us present. We've added one person per month since the start of this academic year, which means that by May we should have 9 participants (we're skipping a December meeting)! I don't know where they'll all come from, however, with so many of you in the States. No matter the final tally, we're growing and the discussion is more and more lively the more people we add.

Seriously though, Andy, Denis, Alister and I spent the whole time trying to get a good handle on the canonical approach to the Psalter. Denis is well-versed in recent Psalms studies and most of the time was spent listening to his clear and convincing proposals. We didn't discuss the Leslie McFall article that I sent out mostly because Denis didn't like it as it was counter to his theories. Alister added insights from the academy, being the most recent of us to have graduated from seminary. Andy and I listened and asked clarification questions, being the least familiar with the canonical approach. It would have been nice to have Jon and Rick with us as they are in-the-know — Jon especially when it comes to the Psalms.

I must admit that my question is still unanswered. Being that the Psalter, as we have it, was ordered after the Psalms were composed (soon or long after does not matter), how exactly are we supposed to apply the results of the canonical approach when we study, teach and preach the Psalms? I'm especially concerned with this for two reasons. Firstly, it seems that Denis' presentation of the canonical approach, McFall's article, which contradicts the canonical approach in a number of ways and the admission that canonical theologians don't all agree with one another leaves us with a certain degree of uncertainty regarding the purpose of the order of the Psalter, as we have it. [Aside: I apologize for my misuse of terminology on Thursday. I made it seem like there was uncertainty about the order of the Psalms. Of course there isn't. The canonical order is the order we have. The uncertainty exists in determining the intent of the complier(s).] If there is such uncertainty, I find it hard to apply the fruits of the approach in my hermeneutics and exposition, especially in light of the fact that we're not even dealing with the Psalms themselves, only their order.

Which leads to my second concern. Denis, and apparently others in the canonical school (if I'm understanding them correctly) seem to propose that we can know very little ("next to nothing") of the historical setting of the individual Psalms, thus making it necessary to focus on each Psalm's place in the Canon to determine how we should study, interpret and preach it. This seems to fly in the face of the authorial intent that we've been placing a high priority on in this blog and that I consider crucial to any legitimate hermeneutic. Now we're talking about compiler intent and I have a much harder time applying my own understanding of the inspiration, inerrancy, clarity and authority of Scripture to a compiler. I'd like to hear a little more on this issue before I could embrace the canonical approach in my own research.

But now to the point. No matter which view one takes, we all come away with true and deep riches from the Psalms that are divinely used to encourage, challenge, rebuke and comfort us. This doesn't mean that we should become relativists as far as the Psalms are concerned. By no means! I think we'd all agree that we should continue to strive for truth and integrity in our Psalms study. But in that striving God is gracious and patient with us simpletons as we humbly try to find the truth that He intends for us, His people.

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