Most recently I have been listening to sermons by Mike Gunn, pastor at Harambee church in the Seattle area and previously a co-founding elder of Mars Hill. Mike's sermons were actually the most helpful for me to listen to in the last few months and it has been a bittersweet experience. It has been exceptionally sweet in that Mike has approached the Psalms in a way that has helped me appreciate them as scripture that is useful for instruction, encouragement, and correction. His preaching helped elucidate the passage in Ps 51 I mentioned was a point of struggle for me. He also did a great job differentiating beween Elohim and Yahweh in interpreting the significance of Psalm 19 as a description of general and particular revelation of the nature of the one true God.
It was just a bit bitter and not just sweet, though, because it forcefully reminded me how pathetic Mars Hill has been in the last decade in not going through the psalms at all and in its leadership feeling free to rebuke the congregation for failing to sing well to the Lord without attempting to make any teaching that might have helped remedy that particular issue. If you're going to complain about your flock not singing to the Lord and never provide any teaching to help rectify that it redounds back to you, which is too bad.
On the other hand, it is good that Tim Smith and not Driscoll preached at least two sermons from the Psalms because Driscoll has no gift for poetic imagination. If Mars Hill will grow in its appreciation and use of the Psalms it will be because other leaders at Mars Hill make up for Driscoll's decade-long weakness in that branch of biblical literature. Not that anyone is asking for my advice but my suggestion would be that Mike Gunn's sermons are a reminder of the reality that the body of Christ is manifold in its members and where Driscoll and Mars Hill have been pathetic and anemic on the Psalms there are other churches in Seattle that are very, very strong in preaching and teaching from the Psalms and I have been blessed to hear such teaching.
I find it encouraging that Tim Smith admitted from the pulpit he had the same dismissive attitude about David's teen-age girl-seeming heart that I did. It helps me to realize that there was no chance that Mars Hill teaching on the Psalms would have been in any way useful to me in attempting to reform my own understanding of the biblical genre. I have had to go out on my own and take up resources in my own search. This has been good as in the end there is no substitute for your own quest to follow Christ. I had become lazy and thought that Mars Hill teaching would or should cover some things. This doesn't mean Mars Hill as a whole has not utterly failed with respect to teaching from the Psalms up until Tim Smith's two sermons, just that as I wrote earlier, a church may not be responsible for a problem while doing nothing to help it just as a pastor's wife who lets herself go isn't responsible for her husband's sexual immorality but she has not helped the situation any. Mars Hill may, by extension of Driscoll's analogy, be the lazy dumpy pastor's housewife who let herself become some blimp. :) Of course you're supposed to love the wife you have NOW not just the wife in the wedding picture but that's another topic and one I don't particularly care about just now.
No, my concern of late has been to reform my understanding of the Psalms, to appreciate them as expressions of legitimate emotions people feel in their struggles with God. The very psalms I found myself most skeptical about and simply unbelieving about are the psalms I have come to most appreciate, the laments. Sure, I could agree with Tim Smith that a lot of the laments are self-centered laments but we're sinners. Tim is right to note that the preferred Mars Hill approach to someone going through what David went through would be to say stop your whining, grow a pain, man up, and just plow forward. David doesn't do that. He whines ... and whines ... and whines ... and goes off interminably about how God has forsaken the covenant and broken His promises and forgotten Him. Wow, David would have been kicked out of Mars Hill years ago for bitching so much about how tough his life was. Couldn't he see everything that happened to him was a result of his not being man enough to admit to his sin? Actually, yeah, but Absalom was still doing terrible stuff.
Now my path to changing my perspective about the Psalms is still very much a process but alongside the consideration of the Psalms I have, if you have read this blog for a year or so (as if!) you will see that I have also spent a huge amount of time considering the history of Israel as instruction to God's people. To make a very uncomfortable point I have come to see my own failure to appreciate the Psalms as symptomatic of and synergistically reinforced by the failures of my church community over the last eight years. In other words my failure, having served on a ministry that answered questions on behalf of pastors at a church whose name you need not guess, demonstrated that I myself exemplified the failure of the leaders to address an entire genre of biblical literature just as that failure on their part also failed to correct my own weakness in the genre.
This isn't a case of either it's all my fault and doesn't reflect on Driscoll and the others or that it's all their fault. No, guilt and praise are shared in God's people. God praises the leaders and led alike and chastizes them alike for the same kinds of failures. So my failure to appreciate the Psalms reflected poorly on Mars Hill just as Mars Hill's total failure to teach from the psalms for a decade reflected poorly on me. It is this aspect about guilt and responsiblity that I see so few people for or against Mars Hill recognizing, which is why I have obviously spent such a monumental amount of time considering just that. The man with the speck in his eye and the man with the beam in his eye are both still unable to see.
It is popular to say that you must remove the beam from your eye so that you can help the man with the speck but many of us are more likely to justify ourselves or our party by saying, "Yeah, I have a speck in my eye but I don't have a beam." Jesus' rebuke to us is the same, you cannot see as you should and need to have your sight restored. Jesus isn't establish a relative sense of righteousness in the plank and speck even when people apply it that way. It is popular to say that something is a plank/speck issue without realizing that to frame it as a plank/speck issue you are admitting that you, too, hvae blinkered vision and cannot see as you ought. How many Christians who invoke that saying to tell someone else they are wrong consider that implication of the invocation?
At a church where the lead preaching pastor said he doesn't understand grace I'm less and less surprised Mars Hill was unable to help me come to an appreciation of the Psalms. Given the often truncated definition of what is truly masculine promoted most of all by Driscoll and to a lesser degree by others a man with the emotional highs and lows of David simply doesn't preach at Mars Hill. It's alo poetry of an ancient and obviously foreign type. Mars Hill is a church great at propositional truth statements and immensely weak in poetry. No surprise. Driscoll spent a lot of time seeing wifely strip teases and holy blow jobs in Song of Songs. He's not the poetic type which is why his sermons on poetry can be weak while his preaching on epistles and wisdom literature can be incredible. For his sake the Gospel of Luke, with its songs and narratives the defy reduction to sapiential bullet points, can't come soon enough. I'm going to risk saying something that will greatly annoy people and say that Driscoll should have stopped being a chicken and gone into Luke four years ago instead of 1 Corinthians. A church that is all about Jesus should get back to Jesus. 1 & 2 Peter is a step in the right direction, though.
I have been grateful for Mike Gunn's sermons on the Psalms, very grateful. They have reminded me of the kind of preaching Driscoll stopped doing a couple of years ago, possibly after getting a few book deals. If he comes back to being a pastor instead of a denominational leader who writes books from home and then goes on tours telling people how to plant churches like he did when all he has is a gift from Christ that may not be replicated ... well, it may be a bit much to hope for that.
I am glad Tim Smith preached from the Psalms. I am also glad that he admitted he had to change his attitude about the Psalms. If one of the pastors at Mars Hill, the worship pastor no less, admits he had a wrong attitude about the Psalms and his attitude was literally the same basic problem I had then it is helpful to me. It helps me to realize that I need to keep moving forward drawing on help from the resources God gives me that, in this case, have come from almost everywhere except Mars Hill. As the old folk saying has it, in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Mars Hill has been blind to the Psalms and so have I been blind to them. So if pastors and teachers outside Mars Hill have one eye to bear on the subject then I listen to their teaching.
It sounds like the kind of overstatement I often disliked in the Psalms but I have continually struggled to recognize that something rudimentary called emotions play a giant part in life. I distrusted the Psalms because they invite us to read them and to take up those emotions as our own, to share in them or to let the Psalms correct us. I was so eager to only read that which revealed the voice of God I had no desire to acknowledge the voice of man and yet in the Psalms that paradox must be borne in mind at all times. Perhaps this is a failure evangelicalism and fundamentalism have had in America for generations. This has to be the inerrant word of God and everything it says is divinely inspired and true and exactly what that means in the Psalms can be explained later because we have another epistle to get through. :)
Having read Noll's book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis I have come to a renewed appreciation of how reductionist thinking and simplification have gotten American evangelicals into plenty of trouble. Some of my friends and associates have said that a big culprit in this is Calvinism, which drains the faith of all of its mystery. I don't think that Calvinism is necessarily the problem as certain kinds of Calvinists who are not content to articulate what the mysteries of the faith are but are dead set on ensuring that everyone can and must talk about the mysteries in the same way while avoiding any kind of creedal language (Piper? Driscoll? Maybe). A Calvinist like Stott or Wright (yes, he considers himself a Calvinist) don't have these problems because they're Anglican.
Now because I am a composer one of the ways I have decided to work out a continuing reappraisal and reformation of my thoughts and feelings on the Psalms, the renewal of my mind about them more or less, is to compose settings of the Psalms I can sing when I'm home. I have so far managed to set 1, 19, 100, 116 (in paraphrase), 133, and 137 to music. Composing settings for the text requires me to consider the emotional and theological content of the psalm. Composing also requires my heart and mind alike to meditate on the nature of the psalm before and as and after I have set a text to music. In order to adequately paraphrase a text I have to dig into it and understand it before I work on the music. Things like structure and the flow of ideas become paramount.
The discovery I made during my setting of Psalm 19 was that as I looked at the Psalm it became intuitively clear that the first half of the text dealt with general revelation through the creation, while the second half dealt with special revelation of God's name and character through the Torah. As a Christian I see this distinction as extending to the Word and my setting of Psalm 19 reflected that by replacing "Law" with "Word" because as I understand the scriptures they point to Christ, who is the Word. As I do not know Hebrew I did not realize that the Elohim/Yahweh distinction carries through the text of Psalm 19 yet as I set the psalm I began to discover that reflecting on it and setting it to music I had instinctively made the distinction as a Christian that Christians would see in the different designations for God in the psalm. God was nice to me and I made a lucky guess. :)
This is a long path and will last the rest of my life. There is a sense in which reconciling myself to the wild emotional swings of the Psalmists is a reconciliation I must make with my own emotional life, something I have often preferred to live at quite a remove from. Having been in a church culture that has had the man-up mentality I also realize that it has been easy to take a disdainful approach to emotional considerations and to alternate that with an obsessive preoccupation with them because there has not really been much of a balance on those issues.
This leads me to consider that I am symptomatic of and a consequence of problems in the community I have been part of. It is too easy for us as individual Christians to look to the group and impugn them for failure without considering how our own sin is representative of the sins of the community whether in deed or heart. It is this that I am most convicted of considering the eight or nine years I have spent with a particular church, having seen its highs and lows, having seen its strengths and weaknesses. And this applies to the group as well.
It can be easy to look at an individual and decide that he or she has sinned in a way that reveals their wicked heart without considering how the community condones or approves of or encourages particular weaknesses. We do not live in a society that really grasps shame or guilt. Guilt is the opportunity for a confession through a book deal and shame is an opportunity to be on a reality TV show. I don't mean to say like others that we have a culture of victimhood, that is too easy. No, I am saying that we are rarely awareof the synergistic effect of our sin with the sins of others.
Particularly as I have been at Mars Hill close to a decade I can see how former members might blame the community without recognizing their part in it just as I myself could easily suppose there is a culpability to the group that I am somehow exempted from. Yet it can go the other way, too, and that there are things a group or individual are responsible for that the other is not directly responsible for. The Psalms provide an opportunity for the confession of and the identification of individual as well as collective guilt and are written in such a way that both elements of confession of sin are prominent.
There is an element about the psalms pertaining to enemies that I might want to set up another post about.