The Penitential Psalms Today: A Journey with Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143
Mark J. Whiting
Grove Books, 2022, £3.95. ISBN 978-1-788-27223-0
For all seeking to explore the ways in which the penitential psalms might be resource for the contemporary church, this booklet is a timely and welcome addition to the Grove biblical collection. The opening chapter notes how these seven psalms were classified and introduces their importance in different strands of the Church through history. The brief exploration of their varied use in Christian worship and personal devotion invites the reader to consider the role these psalms might play in both today. Later chapters highlight key aspects of each psalm, grouping them according to some related characteristics, and offer helpful suggestions for reflection and discussion. These buttress the booklet’s potential to be used to shape a Lenten Bible Study or sermon series.
An entire chapter is devoted to Psalm 51 as the ‘ultimate’ penitential psalm; it is this chapter that highlights an area of particular interest to homileticians and preachers. Whiting invites the reader to consider afresh ‘the public role for confession and testimony’, noting the ‘didactic trajectory’ of the penitential psalms and the missed opportunities for others to learn from our experiences when sin and confession remains hidden (pp. 14-15). Whilst this is an area which ought to be handled with care, ensuring that one draws on the existing wisdom in the extant literature about appropriate self-disclosure, preachers are reminded again that the ‘how’ of God’s communication here is through the personal voice of the penitent. Whiting observes that the penitential psalms ‘provide the vocabulary of a serious faith that is concerned with spiritual and physical health, what it means to live well before God, and the recognition that relationship with God enables living life to the full’ (p. 23). This strikes me as something worthy of careful consideration by us as preachers.
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