The Soundtrack of the Bible: How the Psalms Do Apologetics

HE Psalms are a microcosm of the Bible. They are the soundtrack of Scripture. The five books of the Psalms are organized to tell the story of God and man. These “holy songs,” as Jonathan Edwards described them, are “nothing else but the expressions and breathings of devout and holy affections.”[1]

The Psalms speak our language. They describe the longing for the holy in the midst of the unholy. In these one hundred and fifty songs we find every human experience. These are the sorts of themes often referenced in cultural and literary apologetics. The apologist is able to show how the Bible explains what it feels like to be human, in a manner far superior to alternative worldviews. C.S. Lewis often appealed to the explanatory power of the gospel as an apologetic, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[2]

The Psalms do not sugarcoat what authentic faith looks like in a cursed cosmos. Consider the biblical depiction of suffering. Between one-third to one-half of the Psalms are songs of lament, songs of suffering. But these inspired songs also speak of hope. In “Israel’s hymn book” we find an apt description of what it means to be human while living in a fallen world and yearning for our coming King.

The Psalms speak of a kingly deliverer who will suffer, but in the end gain victory over the enemies of God and offer salvation to the people of God. Though the primary goal of the Psalms is the glory of God, these songs also provide an apologetic function of outlining Israel’s history, explaining the human experience, and providing prophetic details regarding the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah King. In this way the Bible provides not only an example, but even a methodology for literary and cultural apologetics.

The New Testament authors regularly use the Psalms to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah predicted in the sacred songs the nation of Israel had been sining throughout its history. In explaining his divine mission, Jesus often pointed back to the Psalms; Some of his last words on the cross are directly from Psalm 22. Brian Morely makes this point in his book Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches, “The New Testament reflects important apologetic themes found in the Old. For example, Christ clearly and repeatedly appeals to prophecy to show that he represents the true God.”[3]

[1]    Barshinger, David P. Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms: A Redemptive-historical Vision of Scripture. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, 1.
[2]   See C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” in They Asked for a Paper. London: Geoffrey Bless, 1962, 165.
[3]    Morely., 31.
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