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Entries in Wenham (1)

Tuesday
Aug192014

Reclaiming the Psalter

I am reading Gordon Wenham's book Reclaiming the Psalter. Wenham's purpose for the book is his belief that the Psalms are neglected.

Wenham refers to speech-act theory as a tool to read and understand the Psalms. This linguistic theory examines how words perpetuate acts such as promising, warning, or making vows. The words themselves commit the speaker to certain acts. For example, "Praise the Lord!" is a speech act whereby I demonstrate not only a call for others to praise God, but I also reveal an attitude I have toward the Lord. My words are a commitment to a certain belief about God: that he is worthy to be praised. 

I have found this principle quite fascinating. Wenham uses this approach specifically to demonstrate the value of singing or reciting aloud the Psalms:

To sum up, singing or praying the psalms is a performative, typically a commissive act; saying these solemn words to God alters one's relationship in a way that mere listening does not.

I thought about this principle in relation to some of the modern choruses we may sing. Occasionally (too often, in my opinion) we sing songs with a lot of the word "you" in them without any specific mention of who the "you" is. I sang one recently which with the exception of the words "your cross," could be a love song a man or woman could sing. If words contain commisive attributes, should not the words of our praise songs be good words? 

There are good modern songs, but there are proportionally more bad ones. The Psalms could provide some aspiring musician with a wealth of inspiration. We need to spend more time reading and teaching them.

There are musicians who write songs based on the Psalms. One of my favourites is Sons of Korah. You should check them out. Their song based on Psalm 91, is one of my favourites.