I spent part of last week back with the Boys from Brazil, speaking on Reformation worship and spirituality in its Anglican and Puritan variations. The highlight of the week was being able to denounce from the lectern the audience member who was wearing a Chelsea shirt -- a gesture calculated as an insult to the guest lecturer, I have no doubt -- closely followed by the opportunity to debate the communication of properties with the very thoughtful and learned Lutheran theologian, Carl Beckwith.
It also provided a classic example of Misinformation Technology. Returning to my hotel room late on Friday night, having declined the opportunity to round off the day with a chocolate pizza (yes, such oxymorons do exist), I found a friendly email from Pastor Kent Butterfield, warning me of a Facebook storm which was brewing. Apparently someone was claiming on said medium that I had declared earlier that day that Christ was not in the psalms.
Now, my active internet presence is restricted almost entirely to this webpage. No Facebook. No twitter. I did do Linkedin for about a week, but when the first three people who wanted to "link" me were among those who had tried to relieve me of the annoyance of having gainful employment at Westminster, I terminated the account as being somewhat beyond the rational categories I possess for processing "links" in daily life. Then last year somebody contacted me to tell me that he had rubbished me on his blog. Well, it was good of him to tell me; but as I believe in freedom of speech and do not on the whole read blogs, I did not find the news either philosophically or personally offensive. In short, for me social media is watching old episodes of Taggart and Rebus on Youtube with the present Mrs T. So I typically find a Facebook storm about as personally worrying as a real storm in the southern Atlantic. But to hit me on the psalms.....ooh, that hurts. That hurts indeed.
Who steals my internet connection steals trash....But he that filches from me my good psalms robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.
Truth be told, I had delivered two lectures which emphasised the absolute centrality of psalm singing to Reformation worship and indeed to biblical worship. I am not sure how that became a denial of Christ in the psalms. Sure -- everyone wants in on the psalm game these days, with N T Wright being only the latest to jump on the bandwagon for the psalter in worship; but I was doing it when it was a sign of lunatic irrelevance, something akin to thinking one was Napoleon, one up the scale of social acceptability from granny bashing, and not the hip hallmark of missional attractionality or whatever the latest meaningless jargon is. To engage in a Pauline style boast, I was making the point that we need to sing psalms long before male grooming products and skinny jeans became mission statements. Indeed, I am fairly confident that I started arguing for such so long ago that at that time I could myself wear skinny jeans without fear of serious personal injury. It is also why we generally have a 50% psalm to hymn ratio at my church. Not impressive to an exclusive psalmodist, I know, but not a bad percentage for one who is not persuaded of the EP position.
In short, while I would make sure that I preached on certain psalms before the congregation sang them (137 being the most obvious example), I still believe -- as I have done for two and a half decades -- that psalms are vital to Christian worship. They give voice to a range of emotions, many of which are neglected by traditions of hymnody and praise songs; they focus on God, or on man in relation to God; we can be fully confident that they express that which God wishes to be expressed; and above all they contain Christ. Yes, they really do.
As a postscript, do pray for Kent and Rosaria Butterfield. The latter will be speaking at USF this week. Pray for safety, for courage in the face of opposition and for opportunities to speak the truth in love. You can read more about the event and get a taste of the likely opposition here.