Preaching Psalms echoes early church
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Singing and preaching the Psalms was an integral part of worship in the early church, Craig Blaising said at the Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sept. 28. Blaising, executive vice president and provost at Southwestern, used examples of patristic sermons on the Psalms to illuminate an exegetical foundation for handling the texts.
Blaising, who has a Ph.D. in patristic studies and recently co-edited “Psalms 1-50” in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, said the early church incorporated the Psalms in their worship as they gathered for prayer, Scripture reading and preaching on the Lord’s Day. Each meeting, the Psalms were interspersed between Old Testament and New Testament Scripture readings, and then someone would preach on one of the texts read. The Psalms were also sung in the early church like they had been sung in Jewish services.
Reading from sermons by early church fathers such as Augustine and Basil of Caesarea, Blaising said, “When we talk about the exegetical foundation of the Psalms, we look at the Psalms, of course, at the micro level and then at the macro level.” He stated that while each Psalm has rich exegetical material, it is also helpful to pull back and see what the entire book is saying.
Blaising also cautioned against trusting critical approaches, such as historical reconstruction, to study the Psalms.
“Not only do you want to avoid the historical reconstructions of biblical criticism, but you also want to avoid the cultic reconstructions of form criticism,” Blaising said. “The commentaries that you pick up, that you’re using as tools, many of them are accessing critical information in the evaluation of the Psalm. The formal analysis of form critics has been helpful sometimes … (but) this is basically reconstructed in the mind of the critic, and it doesn’t have any value in preaching.”
Blaising also encouraged workshop participants to allow the imagery in the text to drive one’s application.
“It oftentimes seems to me,” Blaising said, “that in preaching, we’re so concerned about the contemporary application and whether or not the hearer is staying with us that we go into the contemporary situation and we’re looking for imagery there to relate the content of the Scripture. The Psalms are full of imagery, and what you want to do is work the imagery of the Psalm.”
In his conclusion, Blaising discussed the Psalms’ role in the overarching message of the Bible, particularly in pointing to Christ.
“You want to develop the preaching of the Psalm in its canonical context, and that includes both its historical and theological context,” Blaising said. “The theological context of the Psalm is the theological context, first, of the Old Testament. You work within that theology of the Old Testament, and you’ve got to bring it to the theology of the New (Testament). ”
Other speakers at the one-day preaching workshop dedicated to preaching through the Psalms included Southwestern preaching professors Steven Smith, David Allen and Calvin Pearson. Smith taught on preaching Christ through the Psalms, anchoring his argument on Jesus’ claim in Luke 24:44 that the Psalms speak of Him, and he also gave 20 different approaches to preaching through the Psalms. Allen and Pearson concluded the workshop with expositions on Psalms 1 and 46, respectively.
Audio for the conference can be found at www.swbts.edu/mediaresources