The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the PsalmsWritten by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller Reviewed By Silviu Tatu
Although Timothy Keller is best known as an author of popular-level theology books, his most recognized achievement comes in the realm of apologetics. For his 2008 book, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton), Keller entered the ranks of authors with books on The New York Times top-ten nonfiction bestseller list. In addition, the current devotional book was preceded by similar works such as Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014) and devotional commentaries on Judges, Romans, and Galatians in the God’s Word for You series (Purcellville, VA: Good Book).
As becomes obvious from its title, the book follows the structure of devotional books that offer short daily meditations for each day of the year. Though such a work can sometimes lead to the extremes of superstition or eisegesis, Keller’s approach to daily devotions is less susceptible to feed superstition than divination-like reading of Psalms, since the canonical book is analysed in a verse-by-verse order instead of at random. By grounding the daily prayer in a concise contextual and intertextual study of the passage at hand, Keller avoids the danger of eisegesis that is so alluring to many authors of this genre through using the text as pretext and supporting their message by means of illustrations and anecdotes. Three ways of reading are recommended instead by Keller: prayerful reading of the text, studying the complementary biblical references, meditating on God, self and life (p. xi).
Each day’s material is fitted to one page and includes three sections. First comes an excerpt from the Psalms, taken from the NIV, having on average six verses but no more than thirteen verses. Thus, longer Psalms are divided into two or more days of reading. Due to the one-page limit for each daily entry, psalms are unfortunately not formatted as poetry. Occasionally, the interpretation of some psalms would have benefitted from a division of the text which is more geared to its thematic shifts. Take, for example, Psalm 18. Although scholars differ somewhat when it comes to the proper division of this Davidic poem into its thematic sections, many would agree that Psalm 18 contains a theophany (vv. 7–19), a reflection on his loyalty and innocence before God (vv. 20–30), a reflection on earthly kingship (vv. 31–45), and a conclusion (vv. 46–50). Although the NIV formats Psalm 18 into paragraphs that concur with such a thematic outline, Keller does not follow his translation of choice.
Returning to the book at hand, exposition of each Psalm passage comes next and herein resides Keller’s main contribution. The author offers a synopsis of the selected text in its context and a typological reading, one of the most common interpretations of the psalms in Christianity. By means of intertextuality, Keller allows relevant Old Testament and New Testament texts to inform his interpretation of various utterances in the Psalms (e.g., Pss 8; 69; 77; 95; 105), as well as in other occasional occurrences where adjacent psalms are connected by means of common themes (e.g., Pss 1–2; 20–21; 30–31; 41–42). Keller’s main exegetical support comes from Derek Kidner (Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC 15 [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973]; Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC 16 [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975]) and J. Alec Motyer (“The Psalms,” in The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson, et. al. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994]). His notes are enriched by citing the work of poets like John Newton and George Herbert, as well as the theological reflections of C. S. Lewis (Reflections on the Psalms [San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1964]).
Keller concludes each daily meditation with a prayer that picks up the main theme of the biblical text and clothes it in a contemporary garment. A full array of feelings from the Psalms is given expression, a fact that enables Keller to relate to even a biblically uninitiated readership. This reflects Keller’s effectiveness in communicating truth to those to whom he has wholeheartedly served during his past twenty years of urban ministry.
By its Bible version employed, doctrinal position, and type of warm faith voiced, The Songs of Jesus embodies well the forms and substance of contemporary evangelicalism. Here is found its highest value—presenting the gospel to this generation of people while reflecting thoughtfully on ancient Hebrew poetry. Bringing together the Semitic world that gave birth to the Psalms and contemporary society is a good and noble task to be emulated by other ministers.
Institutul Teologic Penticostal din București
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