I have really appreciated walking through the psalms with John Bell as my guide. Steeped in knowledge and compassion this book will inspire your life of prayer. It has mine.
Developed as he travelled around the world speaking to congregations and at conferences, this luminous book on texts Jesus knew and quoted is the fruit of a lifetime's engagement with the Psalms. As a broadcaster and writer, John is loved for being entirely genuine and, in the words of Archbishop Justin Welby, `his cogent and penetrating contributions reach an audience well beyond the churches'.
Here John explores the psalms as they impinge on daily life, drawing on stories and personal testimonies in order to help readers grieve, or rejoice, or draw encouragement from this most extraordinary and fascinating collection of sacred poems and songs.
There is a delightful page at the start of this book in which John Bell explains what it is and what it is not. It is not a book for experts, nor a commentary, nor a devotional manual. It is one for the general reader, exploring the relevance of the psalms for today and making suggestions about their use.
It is not a long book. There are 17 chapters in 147 pages and then a further few pages with superb questions for study groups to discuss. Although the suggestion is not made, these will also be helpful for individual use.
So, John Bell does not write at length. However, although his writing is uncomplicated, it is also full of deep insights and wisdom. On page after page there are sentences which open up new lines of thought about all the riches to be found in the psalms.
Each chapter explores a different aspect of the Book of Psalms. The first is their Perennial Popularity. Other chapters are about a Vocabulary for Pain and Carefully Avoided Snapshots. The latter explores the different images of God, some feminine, used by the psalmists. Difficulties are not avoided and there is a thoughtful chapter on Psalm 137 which ends with a verse about seizing babies and dashing them against a rock. John Bell begins this chapter with a humorous story from his own experience and, from time to time, he makes other references to his personal life journey.
Living with the Psalms will encourage readers to do just that. It is obvious that John Bell has been doing this for many years and that they are a vital part of his Christian worship and daily discipleship. Many who are seeking to grow in these ways will surely be blessed by this book and find that it is one to which they will want to return again and again.
Preachers who want to speak on the psalms will find rich material here. Perhaps, like this reviewer, they will find themselves asking the question: ‘Is it because the psalms are such an important wellspring in John’s daily life that his reflections and teaching about them are so compelling?’
Preach magazine book review by Henry Whyte, an active retired vicar enjoying time with family, golf and writing, thankful for ongoing opportunities to preach and to minister.
AUTHOR: The Revd Dr John L. Bell is a member of the Iona Community, an ordained minister and a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 4's 'Thought for the Day'. Over many years, he has consistently been one of the biggest draws at the Greenbelt Festival, and his work as a teacher and speaker takes him frequently into Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America. In 2018 he received from Justin Welby The Thomas Cranmer Award for Worship, for his outstanding Christian witness, through hymn-writing, broadcasting and social action.