David Taylor on the Psalms at #fantastical

Here is my final note post from David Crowder’s Fantastical Church Music Conference in Waco, TX, last week. This is from a break-out session with David Taylor entitled, “Singing the Ever-Renewing But Not Necessarily Straightforward New Song.” David is a PhD candidate at Duke and the author of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts.

“It may indeed be said that the purpose of the Psalms is to turn the soul into a sort of burning bush.” – Stanley Jaki, Praying the Psalms

“I Know the Lord’s My Shepherd” – contemporary rendering of Psalm 23 to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” – unfitting

What does it mean to ‘be fitting’ with the text, music, congregational singing and setting

How do we think about the “fittingness” of new songs for congregational worship?

Three distinct meanings in the Psalter for the phrase “new song” with examples from current song writers

Criteria for selection of ‘new songs’ that are fitting:

  • Could my home church do this song?
  • Could the average person sing this (they might need to be taught it)?

Phrase “new song” found in the Psalter:

  • 33:3
  • 40:3
  • 96:1
  • 98:1
  • 144:9
  • 149:1

Meaning #1: A ‘new song’ is a freshly composed song.

  • Psalm 33:3 – composed recently
  • Matthew Henry: “sing with new affections, which make the song new…” – sing it ‘freshly’
  • What does this have to do with song-writers? – Is the song:

o   Artistically sound (aesthetically coherent)?

o   Historically minded (recalling what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do)?

o   Contextually grounded (paying attention to the people who will be singing it)?

  • Example: Matt Redman, “Gloria”

Meaning #2: A ‘new song’ is sung differently in a place of disorientation or new orientation

  • Phrasing from Walter Brueggeman: ‘life is well’ (orientation) to ‘life is not well’ (disorientation) to ‘life is well again’ (reorientation)
  • Psalms of lament
  • Psalm 40:3
  • How do we write songs that mirror the movements through whole Psalms, not just a verse or two
  • New song points us toward God’s goodness (new grace) from personal experience (disorientation)
  • The new song refers to the possibility of experiencing God in a new way or experiencing the God I did not know could be this way
  • Example: Sandra McCracken, “In Feast or Fallow” – ‘whatever comes, we shall endure’

Meaning #3: A new song is an eschatologically new song.

  • “The object, I think, of the Psalmist, is to encourage them to expect the full and complete deliverance…” – John Calvin (referencing Psalm 149)
  • Singing a new song that beckons from the future – see what lies ahead in the future
  • Psalm 149 – written in exile; points to the restoration to come
  • They are singing themselves into what is to come
  • Example: “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” adaptation by Wen Reagan; communion hymn that points toward the ultimate banquet

Because our songs play such a substantial part in our worship, we need to be attentive to what we are saying.

What will our songs teach the church to become?

St. Augustine: “The ever-renewing new song”

Response to Rob Bell: “I appreciate the challenge…to push ourselves to come up with fresh potent metaphors…what I might take issue with him about is that the blood-guilt image should be done away with…these things must remain alive”

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