Tuesday, April 5, 2011

R. Scott Clark on the New Psalter Hymnals for the URC

R. Scott Clark mentions some interesting issues regarding the upcoming new Psalter Hymnals for use in the URC congregations. Apparently there is the suggestion that the new Psalters will use gender-neutral language in place of strict literal Biblical language.  Keeping in mind that RSC is for a capella, psalms and inspired hymns only, a position I'm in no way convinced of, the issue of editing the psalms for gender neutrality is a serious one. We're not singing Fanny Crosby, we're singing the Word of God.  Our psalms should conform to the most literal yet metrical language they can.

Again, this may just be a question of the RPW gone wild, for if God says "all men" in a verse specifically addressing nations, we know that he includes women in that. If the Scriptural text is ambiguous as to the gender, we should be also, but if Scripture specifically addresses "men", we should honor God's Word and do likewise.  Part of this is a question of how one translates the languages of Scripture.

I've not done the research, and while I'm concerned that there may be a sense of KJV-Only fundamentalism in the argument, some of the cited examples are troubling. 

One of the principle guidelines of the committee states: “When Scripture is set to music, the words must remain faithful to the inspired text.”1 This principle has been violated in a song from the Psalm section of the PH now put into the hymn section of the HP. This song is #150 in the PH: “Let children hear the mighty deeds Which God performed of old, Which in our younger years we saw And which our fathers told.” It is based on Psalm 78. Psalm 78:3 is God’s word; it is translated “our fathers have told us” in the NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV. The original Hebrew noun is “ab”, masculine gender. However, HP# 223 defies this very clear reference to the masculine so that “fathers” becomes “parents.” This violation of God’s Word is also evident in HP# 69. - "URCNA Hymnbook Proposal: Gender-neutral Language?", by Sheila Ypma, The Outlook, March 2011
 The basic gist here is that the text of Psalm 78 reads:
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
   incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
   I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3things that we have heard and known,
   that our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
   but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
   and the wonders that he has done.  (ESV)
The point of the text is not a generic "our parents" but specifically points to our fathers generally meaning the patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, etc.  While the concept does include the father of individual believers, since it was the men who were responsible for the education of children, the Psalm goes on to specifically mention Jacob commanding the fathers to tell the children to set their hope in God.  In this case fathers is gender exclusive while children is not.  The text of the Psalter should follow this pattern.

That said, we use the blue hymnal currently in our church and it's clearly old and many are falling apart. The language of the Confessions in them is different than that used by Westminster on their website and in their recent app. I tried to answer a HC question this past Lord's Day evening and was out of step with the others who were using the blue psalter, this is a different issue though.

Our church could just order new ones but we've been told the new and improved one is coming. We've seen copies of the new Sovereign Grace (Stuart Townend) tunes in our bulletin, I'm not sure if those will be in the new Psalter hymnal or not, and while they're good... they're not great when played on a pipe organ.

So let me offer an easy solution to this. The URCNA should move ahead with the new psalters and get rid of the CRC ones but before doing that they should conform the psalters as much as possible to the ESV or NKJV in use in a majority of URC churches. The Psalms will be familiar to the singers and conform likewise to the text. 

Then , let's agree on one version of the confessions and put them in there, publishing that version online and elsewhere.

Finally, let's do away completely with the light-blue songbooks... ;-)

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