What is Christian Literacy?

refers to the ability to use a language - to know what words means, to be able to use grammar, sentence structure, to be able to converse in that language is to be literate.

Religious literacy
means having the ability to understand and speak about our faith intelligently. It’s the ability to communicate the basic tenets of our religion.

I'm very grateful to B.U. Professor Stephen Prothero for his excellent book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't." This book, along with my desire to teach the faith, served as the inspiration for this effort.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Psalms - Israel's Prayer Book and Ours

The Book of Psalms is found in the middle of our Bibles. The book is comprised of 150 prayers, which were sung in worship by the ancient Israelites. Reading them is like attending a "school of prayer" where we learn about praise & passion, honesty and adoration.

“It is impossible to think of any human circumstances which do not find expression in this book. It is intensely human. The deepest thing is that it is a collection of songs in which human experiences are brought into the presence of God. They show how man feels and thinks and speaks and acts when he is conscious of God.”
                                           -  Campbell Morgan

The psalms were written over a span of 900 years. Ps. 90 is said to be "A Psalm of Moses" (1400s BC). Ps. 137 was written during the Babylonian Captivity (500s BC).

The Psalms are a beautiful example of Hebrew poetry. Here are some characteristics of such poetry:
            No rhyme or regular meter
            Passionate & emotional -Psalm 10, 22,
            Vivid & Concrete Images - Shepherd, Rock, Fortress
            Simile & Metaphors - God is like . . .
            Repetition & Refrains - Psalm 42 & 46
            Parallelism - the echo adds to the first statement. Ps. 19
            Symmetry - same # of lines in each stanza, Ps. 33 & 41

There are many different types of Psalms:             
           Praise & Thanksgiving          Laments (the largest category, more than 60!)
Songs of Trust                    Confession                             
Wisdom/Teaching Psalms    Sacred History/ Holy History Psalms                   
Individual Prayers & Prayers for the Community       Songs of Zion/Royal Psalms

What to look for when reading the Psalms:

  1. Take note of the introductory words for author & context.
  1. Don’t worry about the words that are notations for the musicians!  Ex. "Selah" – 71 x
  1. “Listen” for rhythms, parallelism and refrains.
  1. Be careful not to make a doctrine out of an emotional prayer. The psalms often reveal theology, but they do not set out to teach it.
5. Watch for the shift in tone, from struggle to praise.

“Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”
                                                                                   - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Extra Credit:

One of the wonderful literary features of the psalms is parallelism. It's where a statement is made and then it's restated in a slightly different way, amplifying the original statement. Psalm 19 is a fine example of parallelism.

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; 
The decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; 
The commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; 
The ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; 
Sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
                           - Ps. 19:1-2, 7-11

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