Book Review: How to Read the Psalms

How to Read the Psalms (How to Read Series)

 

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy read, short (<200 pages)

Summary

The book is what the title says, a guide to reading the Psalms. The book is broken into three parts – The Psalms Then and Now (chapters 1-5), The Art of the Psalms (6-8), and a Melody of Psalms (9-11). The chapters are The Genres of the Psalms; The Origin, Development and Use of the Psalms, The Psalms: The Heart of the Old Testament; A Christian Reading of the Psalms; The Psalms: Mirror of the Soul; Old Testament Poetry; Understanding Parallelism; Imagery in the Psalms; Psalm 98; Psalm 69; Psalm 30. Part three (the last three chapters) is essentially a mini commentary on these three Psalms, in which Longman shows the aspects of the Psalms that he has covered in this book. There is also an intro and epilog, as well as an answer key to the exercises and a guide to commentaries, which is quite helpful. 

My Thoughts

The Psalms is probably my favorite book in the Bible, and Longman is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars/authors, so this is a pretty straight forward must read for me. The book is short and cheap to begin with, but it is over 30 years old now, so you can find copies for a few dollars. Buy the ones with a harp playing shepard on the front, it is the older one. They have since repackaged the book with a weird eyeball on the front. 

The best part of the book is probably Part 2, where he goes through Old Testament poetry. This disconnect between ancient Hebrew poetry and the modern western conception of poetry is probably what keeps most people from diving into the Psalms as much as they should. It is not only one of the longest books in the Bible, but it is the most quoted in the New Testament. All kinds of prayer and reading plans for centuries have called for an immersion in Psalms. It is an important book, and I think a large subset of Christians (low church/baptist/non-denom people like me) really miss the value of the Psalms. 

Longman spend Part 1 of the book arguing for the value of the Psalms, especially how they have been used historically. I would have liked him to go a little deeper into the genres chapter, but the Psalms are notoriously hard to categorize (and some fit many or all categories). His short exegesis of the three selected Psalms is also helpful in understanding the different genres and poetic structures.

Overall, if you want to start reading the Psalms regularly or already are, but are struggling to understand parts, this is a great, short book that will give you a broad overview into some of the confusing aspects. The book itself is actually short the Psalms, so well worth it. His commentary guide at the end is also helpful (though slightly dated) in diving even deeper; but if are wanting to get into a better understanding of how to read the Psalms, this book is a must read. 

Book Review: Confronting Old Testament Controversies

Cover Art

Confronting Old Testament Controversies

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Moderate difficulty (good knowledge of OT and history, but written for popular audience), medium length (about 300 pages)

Summary
The content of the book is straight from the title, reviewing controversial passages from the Old Testament. Longman is an Old Testament scholar, so there is much of his own research and writing on his view, but he interacts with at least 2-3 opposing views/books on each subject.

The lay out of the book is the introduction (un-paginated, but y’all need to read it) then the four controversies (Creation & Evolution, History, Divine Violence, Sexuality) and then an epilogue (he titles ‘Final Word’). Each chapter is broken into three or four subsections with a conclusion at the end and an excurses or two along the way. The other chapters are probably clear, but ‘History’ refers to the Exodus and the Conquests.

My Thoughts
The only real critique I have is probably an issue for the publisher, the subtitle list Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence which neither matches the order of the chapters, nor is it in alphabetical order. Not sure why they chose they order they did, and maybe it doesn’t bother anyone else, but here we are.

I think books like this will only become more important as we move further in our post-Christian world (at least in the West). The subtitle of Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So… really explains our situation: ‘Why defending Scripture has left us unable to read it’. This was the way I learned about the Bible in high school, and I hear much of this way of thinking form people today. This is especially true for the first two chapters (Creation & Evolution, and History). People want to rush to defend it in a modern way against modern critiques and ignore what the point was (and still is) from a theological perspective when it was written thousands of years ago. I should note if you like Enns, Longman was his professor at one point and interacts with his book in this book.

I believe strongly that everyone should have this book for the first two chapters alone. I fear one reason we argue the way we do about Genesis and early books is it is just simpler. We don’t want to reason, or read, or understand something beyond the basics, most ‘literal’ understanding. This book would do well to challenge both people ‘for & against’ some of the readings of the early books of the Bible.

The Divine Violence section was maybe the weakest, but I think it is still an important one. Some of the most basic attacks from New Atheists are based on things like the so called genocide and cosmic child abuse. While this isn’t as strong as other sections, it is well worth interacting with, if for no other reason than learning more of the other side. Similarly, there probably isn’t much new for most people about Sexuality. The Bible is pretty clear, and most arguments against this perspective come down to personal preference (E.g. I think it is fine if they love each other, who cares?, etc.) However, this section does give some good verses as well as the whole picture throughout the Bible. Maybe more interesting than that, it also puts the spotlight back on us and challenge the fact of polygamy in the Bible, which was fairly challenging.

As I mentioned above, this really is a must read for anyone who wants to take the Bible seriously. If we care about the Bible and want to understand it (and views against it), we need to interact more with controversies and other hard aspects that challenge our understanding or reading of the Bible.

 

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: How to Read Genesis

How to Read Genesis by Tremper Longman, III

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy, short

Summary
This book is exactly what the title says it is a guidebook to understanding and reading Genesis. Longman explains what the book (Genesis) is, who wrote it, whom it was written to as well as its place among other ancient literature. He breaks down the structure of the book into three parts: primeval history, which is verses 1-11; patriarchal narratives, 12-36; and Joseph’s story, 37-50. He then wraps up with notes on how we as Christians should read it, paying particular attention to our view after the cross. That is, with our knowledge of Christ, looking back at the Genesis story and reading it looking at how it points to Christ.

Longman does not take a view of young earth nor does he give much attention to evolution. This makes sense in that it is not an exposition of Genesis, but rather a guide to reading it.

My Thoughts
This should be the starting point for anyone curious about anything in Genesis 1-11 – age of the earth, historical Adam, the flood, giants, people living hundreds of years, even evolution. A broad understanding of what Genesis is and is supposed to be will help you to understand these issues, even those he doesn’t delve too much into.

For those that aren’t as concerned with these issues, it is still a very important book in helping you understand literature that nearly defies genre or categorization. Genesis is literally the foundation of the Bible. Far too many people are quick to either throw the book out or bury their heads in the sand and just say ‘its literal’.

Every Christian should read this book to help them grow in understanding and knowledge of the Word.