Dr. Ryken’s address this morning, “The Psalms as Lyric Poems for Private Worship,” was wonderful. He essentially argued that to appreciate and benefit from the Psalms we need to appreciate them as poetry (appropriate for National Poetry Month!). He accurately noted how our approach today is so often to try to flatten out the imagery simply to get the “idea” in the psalm, failing to appreciate that God sovereignly chose to give us this revelation in poetic, image-laden language. If we are going to appreciate the Psalms (I would add, either personally or for preaching to others) we must experience the evocative imagery they contain.
Dr. Ryken made the point that poetry is not simply a delivery system for an idea but a way of thinking. Further, he stated (in words reminiscent of John Witvliet’s address) that “the poet [psalmist] is our representative, saying what we want said, only better. Citing Milton, Wordsworth, and Shelley, he showed that it has been commonly understood that one of the functions of poetry is to train our affections, our feelings. Milton said poetry is to “set the affections in right tune.” How desperately we need this! In a day when we tend either to be ruled by untrained affections or to seek to ignore the affective realm altogether, this is a particularly good word. God expects feeling! And he has given us a tool to train us to feel properly.
I encourage you to listen to the audio when it is available. As soon as it is available the link will be posted on the Psalms Project site.