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Book Reviews > Old Testament > Encountering God in the Psalms

Gene C. Fant, Jr.
Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of English at Union University.

Encountering God in the Psalms
Travers, Michael
Details: 2003, Kregel, Amazon.comISBN: 082543842X
Posted: February 17, 2004

As a professor of literature, I stand in amazement at how wonderfully well-written the Bible is. As a lay theologian, I attribute this transcendent quality to the inspiration of the Scriptures, for certainly the Creator of a world as beautiful and complex as ours should also be expected to inspire writings that are equally beautiful and complex.

Michael Travers (Ph.D., Michigan State) provides us with a wonderful book to illustrate this merger of the literary with the theological. Encountering God in the Psalms (Kregel 2003) works from a very insightful premise: if we are to hold a high view of scriptural inspiration, we should believe that God inspired not only the words of the scriptures, but the literary genres as well. As Travers writes, "We do a disservice to the inspiration of the Scripture if we do not read the books of the Bible according to their genre" (p. 58).

Literary genres provide a short-hand that allows readers to find levels of meaning that may not be obvious at first blush. For instance, poetry allows a compression of language, where a few words can pack a universe of secondary meanings into a brief space. Travers believes that an examination of genre criticism is a primary consideration for an accurate interpretation of a passage. With a basic understanding of genre conventions, we are able to "avoid misinterpreting what the writer intended to say" (p. 46).

Perhaps the greatest service Travers provides is his exaltation of integrity in scriptural interpretation. Much contemporary teaching and preaching ignores exegetical principles; sound exegesis, however, is not about finding verses to support the speaker's idea, but rather approaching the verses and finding therein God's idea for the speakers message to God's people. By considering the structure and conventions of each psalm, Travers provides a conduit for keeping exegesis on task. He encourages us to become "active readers" (p. 37), so that we can avoid slipping into lazy interpretive habits.

Ultimately, Travers believes that the Psalms confront us with a choice: "we either accept Gods self-disclosure by faith, or we reject him" (p. 286). The Psalms are a large part of God's revelation of himself to his people, and as his people, we should ponder the complexities that we may find within the Psalms' various poetic forms.

For readers who are new to literary analysis, Travers provides frequent reviews of the material under discussion. He is careful to avoid presuming any prior knowledge of literary terminology. Additionally, each chapter ends with a tidy summary, allowing readers to clarify their understanding of each section's main points. A particularly helpful appendix provides an extensive list of the major attributes of God as explored in the Psalms. This appendix contains ample material for a series of sermons or lessons on this important book of the Bible.

For advanced students of scriptural interpretation, there is not a tremendous amount of earth-shattering, new insight; the book's value for such readers is a reminder of the hermeneutical importance of maintaining the contextual integrity of scriptural passages. Travers, however, provides all readers with fresh views of well-known nuggets of understanding, arranging them into a mosaic that reveals a glimpse of the glory and the majesty of God himself.

Gene C. Fant, Jr., is associate professor and chair of the English department at Union University.