The Message of Psalms 1-72 and The Message of Psalms 73-150 (BST) by M Wilcox (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001)
The Bible Speaks Today series has been very influential in helping Christians (not just evangelicals) to understand Scripture better. We should be grateful to IVP for continuing to expand the series and for attempting to fill the gaps still left in its Old Testament expositions. These recent additions to the BST series are designed to be read like a novel. Strangely, it would be difficult to use these books as commentaries because the author expects us to remember details from ten or twenty pages ago (which could be several Psalms back). So, for instance, if one did not read the “exposition” of Psalm 30, one would not understand everything that is said in the exposition of Psalm 31 (the reference to the Vierzehnheiligen, for instance). There are, however, some excellent illustrations and usefully clear explanations contained here.
As “novels” these volumes can be quite stimulating, and are certainly not dull or lifeless. Indeed, there are some excellent insights in both the text and footnotes. There are also quite a few anachronistic allusions and illustrations which may leave the younger reader baffled. One also needs to be au fait with the French, German, and Latin phrases peppering the text (for whom, one wonders, is Augustine’s Latin given on page 111 of volume 1?) and be happy with obscure references to the Book of Common Prayer, Dante, Longfellow, and Herbert. One would also need to share Wilcock’s taste for old hymnody, which is oft cited, but will not be appreciated by youngsters like me who cannot either recall the words sung by the author in his youth or find them in a modern hymnbook.
Wilcock says he intended to mine the riches of Luther and Calvin and Spurgeon but unfortunately “life is too short” (volume 1, page 11). It is a shame that we hear more of modern scholars such as Goulder and Brueggemann, as one suspects that the influence of the classic commentators may have been more beneficial. That is not to say there is not a great deal of interesting and stimulating speculation here; there certainly is. There is also some profitable utilisation of trendy literary scholarship on “the book of Psalms as a whole.”
As a whole, however, this contribution to the Bible Speaks Today series is quite uneven and of inconsistent quality. The “List of Related Hymns” at the beginning of volume 1 is incomplete (in a less than systematic search, I found at least four hymns mentioned in the expositions which are not listed). Sermons based on these expositions alone would probably be more like random and (perhaps) inspiring jottings or homilies than sustained, applied expositions of the text. It would also be helpful to have the text of the Psalms included in the books – very few “novels” require constant reference to another volume! For an excellent up-to-date introduction to Psalms, read Grogan’s Prayer, Praise, and Prophecy. After that, I personally will be going straight to Calvin and Spurgeon for help with the text, although I may just glance at the BST briefly, if inspiration is very slow in coming.
This review was first published in Churchman 119.1 (2005).