Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Write-Up: Songs of a Suffering King

J.V. Fesko.  Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8.  Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014.

J.V. Fesko is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and he is the academic dean at Westminster Seminary California, where he also teaches systematic theology.  In Songs of a Suffering King, Fesko maintains that Jesus Christ is the central figure in Psalms 1-8.

Fesko successfully demonstrates that the New Testament either treats a number of passages in the Psalms as Christ’s words, or applies passages in the Psalms to Christ’s work.  Consequently, Fesko holds that Psalm 1-8 concerns Christ’s faithful obedience to God the Father, Christ’s exaltation, and Christ’s suffering.

At the same time, Fesko believes that some of Psalms 1-8 concern David and his sufferings.  For one, Fesko claims that David was a type or a foreshadowing of Christ.  Second, Fesko thinks that David trusted in God’s promise of a coming Messiah and relied on God’s mercy rather than his own good works to receive God’s approval.

Putting the Psalms in the mouth of Jesus Christ and treating them as Jesus’ words can pose challenges.  What about the passages in which the Psalmist claims that he has sinned, something that Christian Christology says that Jesus did not do?  What about the passages in which the Psalmist appears to wish harm on his enemies?  Does that contradict the attitude of Jesus, who preached love for enemies and asked his Father to forgive those who were putting him to death?

On the other hand, treating the Psalms as the words of David can pose its own challenges to evangelical Christianity.  While Fesko depicts David as one who threw himself on the mercy of God and did not trust in his own inadequate righteousness to earn God’s approval, there are passages in which the Psalmist actually presents himself as righteous and thinks that God rewarded him for that (see Psalm 18:19-26).

I respect Fesko’s project because he is correct to note that the New Testament treats many words of the Psalms as the words of Christ.  I also respect Fesko for the times when he attempted to wrestle with hard questions, such as whether Christ would endorse the desire for retribution in the Psalms, or encourage believers to have that sort of attitude.  Even if some of Fesko’s solutions are a bit muddled, he offers decent practical insights (i.e., one should not pray against specific individuals but should hope for their repentance).

My main problem with Fesko’s book is that he applies some parts of Psalms 1-8 to David, and other parts to Jesus, and I think that is rather arbitrary.  If Fesko wanted to argue that Psalms 1-8 were originally about David but foreshadowed Christ, that would be one thing.  But, even though he goes that route, on some level, he seems to apply some things to David rather than to Christ.  My guess is that this is because he believes that some parts of Psalms 1-8 cannot apply to Christ: Why would Christ need to throw himself on God’s mercy, for example, when Christ has never sinned?  In my opinion, Fesko should have been more explicit in laying out a methodology of what he was applying to David alone, and what he was applying to Christ.

I received this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

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