What the Psalter Should Teach Us about the Songs We Sing
How can we foster a culture of theological depth in our churches? It must begin with the faithful exposition of God’s Word. If our people aren’t regularly being fed from the Word of God, then there’s little hope for theological depth.
But God has given us others tools to facilitate our growth when we gather on Sunday mornings. One tool in particular stands out: singing. Little else brings together the heart, the soul, and the mind in one event. All this raises a question: what kinds of songs best foster a culture of theological depth? To answer this question, we don’t need to look any farther than the Psalter, God’s hymnbook.
CONSIDER GOD’S HYMNBOOK
The collection of 150 psalms which we call the Psalter is widely recognized to be the hymnal for the ancient people of God. Some present-day denominations still use it at their exclusive hymnal. I can understand why: it’s teeming with a variety of subjects and situations. It moves us from mountaintops to miry pits; our hearts and souls are laid bare as we read. At the same time, the Psalter also challenges our minds. After all, when read through a Christological lens, this book teaches all the major doctrines of the Christian faith.
Through the Psalter, we learn about the doctrine of revelation (Pss 1, 12, 19, 119, etc.) and theology proper (10, 11, 14, 23, 33, etc.). We learn Christology (2, 22, 40, 110, etc.), pneumatology (51, 104, etc.), soteriology (1, 22, 103, 145, etc.), anthropology (8, 14, 16, 27, etc.), and hamartiology (14, 51, 53, etc.). And that’s just the beginning.
APPLY GOD’S HYMNBOOK
What does this tell us about the importance of our singing on Sunday mornings?
Space won’t allow us to see a full sample of the songs that are available to us, but are we choosing songs that teach the glories of the doctrine of revelation (“Ancient Words” by Lynn DeShazo)? We could sing songs that give praise to theology proper (“Holy, Holy, Holy” by Reginald Heber) or to Christology (“In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend). And is it possible to sing any other song that so magisterially portrays the doctrine of soteriology than “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley?
Similarly, we should choose songs that run the gamut of emotions. When we’re enjoying the blessings of our Lord, we can sing hymns like “O for a Thousand Tongues” (also by Wesley). But through times of sorrow, we can sing “Be Still My Soul” (Kathrina von Schlegel)—and through times of doubt, there’s “He Will Hold Me Fast” (Ada Habershon).
Pastors need to be aware of the formidable tool that God has given us to teach his people—namely, the power of music and song. Our people may quickly forget the finer details of our sermons, but they will be humming the melody of that song long into their Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Consequently, we should carefully pick songs that not only support the theme of the preaching text on any given Sunday, but also teach God’s people the glories of the doctrines contained all throughout his Word.
In other words, though our songs aren’t inspired like the Psalter’s, they can be just as theologically vast and emotionally diverse.