In their latest books, leading theologian and bestselling author N.T. Wright and Abilene Christian University Old Testament professor Glenn Pemberton urge churches to return the Psalms to their once central place, but for different reasons. Wright explores the transformational power of the Psalms while Pemberton unpacks the role of the Psalms in dealing with grief and healing.
Although both authors are scholars, these two books present profound thought and practical help in language easily read by the common person.
N. T. Wright. The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential . New York: Harper Collins, 2013. 213 pages. $22.99.In “The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential,” Wright laments that too often the Psalms are either not used or are “reduced to a few verses to be recited as ‘filler’ between other parts” of the worship service.
However, he contends, the Psalms are “the great hymn book at the heart of the Bible … the daily lifeblood of Christians … from the earliest times,” and “central in the life and teachings of Jesus.”
For these reasons, the Psalms possess transforming power, when read properly. This does not mean mere occasional reading of our favorite Psalms. Rather, transformation comes through “consistent reading and praying of all the Psalms as a rhythm of life,” Wright contends.
The meat of this book then explores an array of Psalms, paying special attention to ways they shaped the thinking of Jesus and the early church, and how they can transform us today, as well.
The final chapter, “My Life With The Psalms,” is filled with Wright’s warm personal stories of God’s transforming power manifesting itself to him during various encounters with the Psalms.
This book can help one see the Psalms and the world — and even one’s self — in a new light, bringing richer fabric and more durable substance to one’s faith.
Glenn Pemberton. After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again. Abilene, Texas: Abilene Christian University Press, 2013. 199 pages. $17.99.The Psalms have also strengthened the faith of Pemberton, author of the 2012 book “Hurting With God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms.” In this follow-up, “After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again,” he argues that all the Psalms — not just the bright, upbeat ones — offer the central and most healthy way to process devastating grief and prolonged suffering.
To draw the reader in, Pemberton imagines conversations with Job, Abraham and Naomi after their own lament. Did Job’s restored good fortune suddenly end his lament for his children who were killed? After Abraham’s incomprehensible willingness to slaughter Isaac, “how did he defend himself — and his God — to his wife and his son?”
And how did things go with Naomi and God after her name became ‘Bitterness?’ No matter how loyal Ruth was, surely she could not replace a dead husband and be “better than seven sons,” as women tell her in Ruth 4:15.
Life was never the same after Job, Abraham and Naomi’s time of lament. Pemberton hauntingly observes, “Wherever lament may lead, it leaves us with stories of pain and scars (and) with much to work out with our God.”
Pemberton himself bears these scars. He saw his house burn to the ground. He endured a divorce after 16 years of marriage. Much like Job, even Pemberton’s own body has not remained untouched. A nerve disease has saddled him with excruciating, relentless pain, which has persisted for years, with no end in sight. And now, life in a wheelchair narrows his career.
However, this book is not about Pemberton’s suffering. Rather, it is thoughtful help from a veteran sufferer, who walks with us through prolonged suffering and deep lament, using the Psalms as his guide. In the main body of the book, he illustrates vividly how different types of Psalms help us process various stages of lament.
I do not pretend to know what life is like for Pemberton. But my own journey through lung cancer gives me at least a small taste of persistent suffering, and this book brings me enormous help.
Each of these two volumes makes their own significant contribution. But when read together, they offer a rare gold mine of helpful guidance to those who suffer — and wise counsel to those who serve them.
Lynn Anderson is a former minister among Churches of Christ and founder and retired President of Hope Network Ministries. He also is the author of books including “Talking Back to God: Speaking Your Heart to God Through the Psalms.”