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Chad Richard Bresson - Preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant

Chad Richard Bresson - Preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant

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Thoughts on preaching Psalms in a new covenant context
Thoughts on preaching Psalms in a new covenant context

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Chad Richard Bresson on May 03, 2012
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Title: Preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant - 1Text: Psalm 69
Title: Preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant
Text: The Psalms, especially Psalm 69
Speaker: Chad Richard Bresson
Most of us are familiar with the pocket testaments that have been handed out by the millions atschools all over the United States. Mention “pocket testament” and for many of us, we can stillenvision the Gideons workers and their boxes showing up at school and the buzz of gettingsomething for free. For some of us, the pocket testament from the Gideons was the first timewe owned our own Bible. Being a good church kid who was taught to recite the books of theBible at an early age, the pocket testament was a bit of curiosity for me. I always found itcurious that the Psalms (and sometimes Proverbs) was added to the end of the New Testament.This practice dates back to at least 1557. John Knox and other Protestant scholars who had themeans fled England under the rule of Bloody Mary, the Catholic monarch who made lifedifficult for those Englishmen trying to follow in the reforming footsteps of John Calvin andMartin Luther. The English Protestants, with the help of Knox and Calvin, began work on anEnglish translation that was not tied to the throne. Their project is what we now know as theGeneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was completed and published in 1560. But before thetranslation was published, three years prior, the Geneva New Testament had been publishedalong with a copy of the Psalms attached. This was no doubt because the English church usedthe Psalms in its worship and would benefit from having the Psalms released early in theGeneva project. In fact, in some cases, the Psalters were printed separately specifically for usein corporate worship.The modern habit of adding Psalms to the New Testament was cemented in English literaturewith the arrival of the pocket Testaments that were first distributed to Union and Confederatesoldiers in the Civil War. Again, use of the Psalter in worship was most likely a factor. Butwith the advent of the Civil War, the Psalms also provided salve for the wounded soldier. ThePsalms took on a devotional dimension in a profound way.This practice of placing the Psalms as an appendix (as Geerhardus Vos calls it
1
) served tohighlight the devotional nature of the Psalms. The serene pastures of green and the cool, stillwaters of refreshment have been understood to provide comfort in times of difficulty andhardship. The pietistic quiet time with God in the solace of one's private space is thought to notbe complete without a meditation from the Psalter. The pocket New Testaments took on anoticeable devotional tenor, almost exclusively so. And one wonders if the New Testamentitself didn't suffer from the privatization of Psalms for the devotional hour.This isn't to say that many of the Psalms are not borne of the individual soul's delight in theCovenanting God and his revealed Word. But Vos points out an often missed element that isresident in the pocket testament. The adjacency of the Psalms to Revelation's Apocalypse, aphenomenon more acutely felt during times of great upheaval, accentuates the Psalter'seschatological character. Not only would this have been true during the American Civil war, itwas true years later in “the War to End all Wars.” Writing in the wake of World War 1, Vossays,
1
(Vos, 1920)
Introduction
 
Title: Preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant - 2Text: Psalm 69
The storm-ridden landscape of the Apocalypse has little enough in common with thegreen pastures and still waters of which the Psalmist sings...It requires something morestrenuous than the even tenor of our devotional life to shake us out of this habit and forceus to take a look at the Psalter's second face...It has happened more than once in thehistory of the Church, that some great conflict has carried the use of the Psalms out fromthe prayer-closet into the open places of a tumultuous world. We...who are just emergingfrom a time of great world-upheaval, have perhaps discovered, that the Psalter adapteditself to still other situations than we were accustomed to imagine. We have also foundthat voices from the Psalter accompanied us, when forced into the open to face the world-tempest, and that they sprang to our lips on occasions when otherwise we should have hadto remain dumb in the presence of God's judgments. This experience sufficiently provesthat there is material in the Psalms which it requires the large impact of history to bring toour consciousness in its full significance. It goes without saying that what can be prayedand sung now
in theatro mundi
(or “the stage of human history”) was never meant forexclusive use in the oratory of the pious soul.
2
 If we have missed the accidental significance of the Psalms set in immediate proximity toJohn's Apocalypse, it would seemingly obligate us to observe that the Psalms are inherentlyeschatological. Because the Psalms are casting Israel's vision toward its climatic and gloriousend in both grand and stark language, the Psalms find their greatest meaning in the Messiah of its meter and its greatest expression in the New Covenant of its strophe. It is the purpose of thispresentation to show that if we have not accounted for the New Covenant in our preaching of the Psalms, we have missed the intention of the Psalmists themselves and ultimately the truemeaning of the Psalms to which we turn for comfort.
Contemporary Preaching of the Psalms
When was the last time you or I heard a sermon from the Psalms that was informed by thiseschatological character of the Psalms? When was the last time you or I heard a sermon fromthe Psalms in which the ultimate subject of the Psalm being preached was Israel’s comingmessiah and the expected deliverance he brings? When was the last time that you heard asermon preached in which the New Covenant was presented as that Psalm’s end point? Otherthan Psalm 2 or Psalm 22?Why does it seem that we tend to miss the forward-and-upward looking trajectory of thePsalms? Why do our sermons on the Psalms typically sound as if they have not moved from theOld Covenant to the New? The dearth of preaching the Psalms in a manner that is in keepingwith their eschatological features is due to a number of things, which I will mention onlybriefly here before making some points about preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant.In fact, the purpose of the first part of my presentation is to lead us in calling to mind some of the interpretational and preaching principles in preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant.
Presentation
1.
 
Contemporary problems preaching Psalms2.
 
Hermeneutics and homiletics of Psalms sermoncraft in the New Covenant3.
 
Model – Psalm 69
2
(Vos, 1920)
 
Title: Preaching the Psalms in the New Covenant - 3Text: Psalm 69
My first task will be to point out some of the contemporary problems in our preaching of thePsalms. And then my next task in Part 1 of this presentation is to look at the hermeneuticsinvolved in the sermoncraft surrounding the Psalms. In Part 2 of this presentation, I willattempt to model what we have discussed in preaching Psalm 69. I also pray that ourconsideration of Psalm 69 will be a fitting conclusion to our time together this week.
5 contemporary problems regarding preaching from the Psalter 
I have listed seven, very brief reasons that we tend to miss the New Covenant significance inour preaching of the Psalms. These are all interrelated, so as I listed these it occurred to me thatsome might find these things arbitrary. But I want to put these in front of us as I thought aboutthem and maybe these will be of help to us as we consider preaching from the Psalter in light of New Covenant Theology.
Devotional material
The
first reason
we (evangelicals) don’t tend to take the New Covenant into account when wepreach the Psalms is one we’ve already mentioned. Too often the Psalms are simply understoodand subsequently preached as devotional material. This isn’t to say that the Psalms are notdevotional. The Psalms are intensely personal. We empathize with the real life grit that givesrise to both lament and praise. The Psalms are indeed “messages of hope and comfort”
3
for theNew Covenant community. But when we simply leave it at that, we miss the upward andforward view of the Psalms. We miss the Psalms’ bigger message.
Individualism
The
second reason
is that we often preach the Psalms with the individual at the center of ourinterpretation. Again, this isn’t to say that the Psalms do not speak to the plight of theindividual in a world gone wrong. But I think we are not often aware in our preaching of thePsalms, and indeed the Old Testament, how much our rugged American individualism iscoloring both our exegesis and our preaching.Again, the Psalms are deeply personal. One cannot approach the Psalms, especially the Psalmsof Lament, without feeling a sense of kinship with the author and his plight. Many of thePsalms are written in the first person, and many of those Psalms are “the prayers of a person introuble.”
4
Geerhardus Vos is correct when he says, “Subjective responsiveness is the specificquality of these songs.”
5
 But sermons from the Psalms today too often fail to go beyond the personal plight of theauthor, as if the personal crisis of the psalmist is an end to itself. Carl Bosma notes that the"biographical-psychological approach to the Psalms…concentrates its attention on the uniqueexperience of the individual authors".
6
That approach dominates the homiletical landscape.
3
(Larondelle, 1983), p. 1
4
(Mays, 1991)
5
(Vos, 1920); the larger quote in Vos’ “The Eschatology of the Psalter” is this: "The deeper fundamental characterof the Psalter consists in this that it voices the subjective response to the objective doings of God for and amonghis people. Subjective responsiveness is the specific quality of these songs. As prophecy is objective, being theaddress of Jehovah to Israel in word and act, so the Psalter is subjective, being the answer of Israel to that divinespeech."
6
(Bosma, 2008)

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