A Man Taps Out a Psalm or Two

I grew up in a church that took the psalms seriously. We used a combined hymnal and psalter and each Sunday sang liberally from both halves. It was a great concern of the church leadership that the congregation become familiar with the entire book of Psalms, but it was slow going. Teaching anything to a church takes a while. Teaching them to sing is a years-long process.

As Alastair Roberts says in the video below, Christians need a fuller and less abbreviated relationship with the psalms, since the psalms, sung in their entirety, teach us how to navigate the peaks and valleys of life.

It’s a grand idea, but how does it work in practice? How does a music minister go about teaching the entirety of Psalm 68 to a congregation? A repetitive, metrical version would be easy to learn, but wouldn’t communicate the various sections of the psalm. A through-composed version, which includes the whole psalm in a more or less literal translation, is tougher to learn and almost impossible for a large congregation to sing well. How about good old chanting? Rare indeed is the 21st-century parishioner who doesn’t need a significant amount of coaching to handle a chant.

The question is how to translate Alastair’s (very good) theological point into an actionable plan for pastors and musicians. Answering that question – or, at least, approaching an answer – is one of the reasons I decided to start a yearly music colloquium called Psalm Tap. (Big props to Jarrod Richey for getting this off the ground.) Psalm Tap is where pastors, musicians, and interested laypeople will discuss the nuts and bolts of teaching and composing church music, with a particular focus on the psalms.

Psalm-singing will be a big focus at the colloquium, but other topics are on the table, such as whether we should use books or bulletins for music, what kinds of instruments are appropriate in worship, and how a church can pay for their high aesthetic vision. I anticipate strong opinions and good fun.

The colloquium is free. If you’re in Louisiana in late June, please join us.

UPDATE: Thanks to some health issues, I won’t be attending the colloquium this year. But don’t let that stop you from going. ‘Twill be a grand old time regardless.

A Man Pursues Holiness

I have just finished reading J. C. Ryle’s fat book Holiness. Ryle’s style is a shade pompous for my taste, but he does pack a lot of richness in these pages. Here are a few quotes that leapt out at me.

A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing.

I wish to be as broad as the Bible, neither less nor more.

On sin:

Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day.

The more real grace men have in their hearts, the deeper is their sense of sin.

On death & resurrection:

Nothing, I am convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin, and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects.

Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.

Death works no change. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be if we are strangers to holiness now?

Nothing, surely, is so likely to prepare us for that heaven where Christ’s personal presence will be all, and that glory where we shall meet Christ face to face, as to realize communion with Christ, as an actual living person here on earth. There is all the difference in the world between an idea and a person.

Of all the things that will surprise us in the resurrection morning, this I believe will surprise us most: that we did not love Christ more before we died.