Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Prayer Book for Christians

Are we all back home and settled in yet? If so, what did you think about the conference? And would you help me share the conference with those who were unable to attend? Please post your comments. Let's start with the first plenary, Dr. Dean Wenthe's "The Psalter: A Prayer Book for Christians."

Dr. Wenthe, President of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, reminded us that psalms are not abstract, but "embedded in the great drama and narrative of the Bible." For us to read the psalms correctly, then, we must see them as "a complete narrative, and understand them as part of the Torah." This story leads us into sacred space (Eden, Mountains of the Lord), sacred time (feast days), and sacred persononel (priests, Levites), and sared media (altar, tabernacle, temple).

Using some classic artwork to illustrate his points, Wente then went through the "grand narrative" of Scripture, illustrating the unity of salvation history as "reunion and renewal" with God, as the art brought our Christ in the Old Testament, particularly with images of Moses an David as types of Christ. One lighthearted moment here was when he showed David dancing and praising before the Ark. He pointed out that the artist included David's wife evidently chastising him for his excess from the balcony, and joked that "she must have been LCMS!"

He also included some artistic depictions of New Testament scenes, to reinforce the connections between the testaments. He included Mary addressing Simeon, showing that Christ was "The glory of thy people Israel" and also Albrecht Dürer's famous "Jesus Among the Doctors," whom Wenthe called "the theological faculty of Jerusalem!" Christ is the fulfillment of all that unfolded in the First Testament, and the psalms are the prayer book of all who inherit the New Covenant in their baptisms.

Continuing with his theme that "The psalms resist abstraction," He went on to point out that if they are not sung and prayed out of an understanding of salvation history, they do not reach the heart, the mind, the soul. He suggested that we would be well-served today if we were to recover the language of our church fathers and view the psalms as the "living voice of Jesus". Viewing them in this way presents the gracious character of God, to be seen rightly, that we may behold the goodness and graciousness of God in the OT. This would be so helpful in our day and age, when so many view the OT has purely "Law."

Yes, he said,"the Gospel is everywhere in the OT, because God is everywhere in the OT." He comes to us in gracious means, just as His gracious presence came to His people via the Tabernacle. Did you know that there are 15 chapters on this? He appealed to the musicians of the church to remembe rthat the Glory of the Lord filled the temple for the goodness of the people - for their salvation. Even the preface to the Decalogue highlights this. THIS thinking about the psalms & the OT helps us see God through the proper hermeneutic of Law & Gospel - not Sovereignty of God. We are able then to see the Torah story as "breathtakingly good and beautiful." Such an understanding should underscore our approach as worship leaders to praying and singing the psalms.

Finally, Wenthe brought things even closer to home by pointing out that the psalms overturn the false teachings of the cosmology of the ancient world. Similarly, they overturns the false teachings of the modern university which sees the world merely as a grand accident, rather than as a wise and wonderful creation. Psalms "get God right" and so they help us to "get God right." They bring us into reality and help us to see things as they ARE.

What are your thoughts? Does your congregation understand the reality of the Psalms? Is it your custom to allow the Biblical reality of the Psalter to shape and inform your prayer and praise? May we always uphold the beautiful vision of God the Psalms reveal to us, that we may praise Him for His goodness, through the mighty and righteous deeds He has done for us through His Son.

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