Here’s an excerpt from Kenneth Langley, How to Preach the Psalms (Dallas: Fontes Press, 2021), p. 20:

… most of us intuitively bring this genre sensitivity to our reading of Scripture. We do not read Proverbs the same way we read the Decalogue. We do not expect narrators to argue like the book of Hebrews, or Hebrews to tell a story like Ruth. We do not interpret apocalyptic the way we do Acts, or read psalms the way we read parables. When we encounter the words, “you shall not,” or “the kingdom of God is like,” or “the word of the Lord came to me,” or “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,” we recognize cues that what follows is to be read as legal material, parable, oracle, and epistle. And it’s a good thing, too. We could never understand what God says in the Bible unless we had learned to read different kinds of literature differently. Genre-sensitivity is an essential part of reading competence.

Unfortunately, we do not always preach Scripture the way we read Scripture. The genre-sensitivity with which we approach the varied forms of biblical literature is shelved when we craft sermons on those forms. We make the sophomoric mistake of thinking that when you paraphrase a poem you have said the same thing in different words. What we read in the study is, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” What we say in the pulpit is, “God can be counted on to provide for his people.” And we do not realize that the sermon has not said what the text says. The affective, imaginative, and aesthetic appeal of the original line is forgotten, down the hall in our study.

What has probably happened is that we have learned to preach just one genre of sermon. We have grown comfortable with a preaching form that works well with, say, epistolary material, and then tried to make that form work for every genre of Scripture. Sermons on proverbs sound like sermons on Philippians; sermons on psalms sound like sermons on Luke. Every week it’s three main points, or problem/solution, or perhaps even a narrative structure—a welcome alternative to the older propositional preaching, but one which can all too easily become a new rut. Sunday after Sunday we cram parables and proverbs, laments and lyrics into our homiletical grinders and out comes something that tastes just like last week’s sausage. Preachers will never do justice to the psalms until we put to rest the notion that a single sermon form will fit the varied forms of biblical literature.

One thought on “On preaching the Psalms

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