Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms, Geoffrey W. Grogan. United Kingdom: Christian Focus Publications, repr. 2009. Hardback, 290 pp. ISBN: 9781857926422. [Reviewed by Rev. Angus Stewart.]

Profound insights into the Book of Psalms have been provided in pithy statements by the two greatest Reformers. Luther averred that the Psalms are “a Bible in miniature” (157). Referring to their spiritual analysis of and power over us, Calvin called the Psalms “an anatomy of the soul.”

Geoffrey Grogan, a British evangelical who died in 2011, also loved and was excited by the Psalms (9), declaring this book “an inexhaustible, inspired resource for the Christian church in every age” and especially in our own day (10). Between his “Theological Introduction” (11-25) and “Practical Conclusion” (275-283), Grogan arranges his twenty-five chapters on the Book of Psalms under four heads: “Its General Features” (including its authors, form, and poetry); “Its Great Themes” (including God’s creating, ruling, speaking to, meeting with, protecting, blessing, and refining His people); “Its Grand Design” (including its structure and message); and “Its Glorious Fulfilment” (in Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, in His sufferings and vindication, according to the New Testament). There is much that is of use here, not only to all believers but also to Reformed pastors. For example, the book is useful in choosing appropriate Psalms to reinforce and elucidate the sermon in the church’s public worship.

Sadly, Grogan sees God’s covenant as “probably based on the suzerainty treaty model common in the ancient Near East” (130). He frequently interacts with higher critics and higher critical methods and ideas. However, Grogan is refreshingly conservative and orthodox on most points. He accepts the indications of authorship in the Psalm superscriptions or headings (e.g., ch. 2). He identifies the “flood” in Psalm 29:10 as the historic flood in the days of Noah in Genesis (90). His most critical remarks are those against Prosperity Theology (10, 213, 244, 248).

Prayer, Praise and Prophecy contains sane and helpful material on hermeneutics (i.e., Bible interpretation). A verse should be understood in its context. Who is the human penman? What was the situation (if any) in the Psalm heading? How does it fit with Old Testament history and theology and with New Testament fulfillment? What is the teaching of the particular Psalm? Is it one of a Psalm pair (e.g., Ps. 15; 24)? Is it in a group of Psalms (e.g., Ps. 93-100; 113-118; 120-134; 146-150)? In which of the five “books” of Psalms does it appear?

Grogan’s treatment of this last issue—the structure of the Book of Psalms—I found to be the most helpful and provocative in his book. The author, building on the work of others and especially more recent scholarship, seeks to identify unifying ideas within each of the five “books” in the Psalms (Ps. 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150) and traces development through books 1-5 (ch. 15-22). Psalms 1 and 2 are presented as “a double introduction” to the Psalter (ch. 16) and Psalms 146-150 are “the climax of the whole Book of Psalms” (239-241). Though the whole Book contains adoration of Jehovah, this note sounds more and more as the Psalter progresses, concluding with “the final psalm,” Psalm 150, which “is perhaps the purest expression of sheer praise that even the Old Testament contains” (247).

The author proposes that “the message of the Psalter can be seen in its essence in [Psalm] 73” (245). He writes,

It is increasingly recognized that [Psalm] 73 is of great importance in the structure of the Psalter. It has in fact been well suggested that it virtually sums up the message, not only of the whole Book of Psalms but of the whole Old Testament, and so becomes a kind of Old Testament theology in microcosm (211-212).

The British evangelical rightly sees Psalm 73 as opposing Prosperity Theology (213). We would go further: Psalm 73 is against all forms of common grace. Quite something if this Psalm is the “essence” of the Psalter and even the “Old Testament theology in microcosm”!

In his concluding chapter, Grogan asks a key question: How should we use the Psalms? He speaks, in turn, of their importance for Christian understanding, experience, worship, preaching, and personal devotion, before stating in summary that the Psalms are a book for “prayer, praise and reflection” and concluding with a reference to the book’s “canonical purpose” (275-283).

Undoubtedly there is much that is helpful in this. All of the 66 inspired books of the Bible are “profitable [1] for doctrine, [2] for reproof, [3] for correction, [4] for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16). Within this framework, certain biblical books are especially important for theology (e.g., Romans), wisdom (e.g., Proverbs), etc. The Psalms are valuable for all the things that Grogan lists in the previous paragraph.

But there is especially one thing to which the British evangelical fails to do justice: the singing of the Psalms! Alone of the 66 biblical books, the Psalms are not only to be preached, read, and meditated upon but also sung. This is evident in the book’s title, headings, content, and use (e.g., I Chron. 25; II Chron. 20:21; Ps. 95:1-2; Matt. 26:30; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; James 5:13). This is the unique canonical significance of the Bible’s longest book.

In the Psalms, as Tertullian said, David “sings to us about Christ, and through him Christ sings about himself” (249, n. 2). We should especially use and enjoy the rich doctrine and devotion of the Psalms in this holy covenant conversation in song, both individually and corporately. Of all the scriptural canon, God has appointed the Book of Psalms to be sung, so that their theology might live in our hearts as both “an anatomy of the soul” and “a Bible in miniature.”