Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms


Zondervan's new Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms couples succinct information with an attractive presentation, creating a highly accessible resource. Accessibility may be the greatest strength and the greatest weakness to this volume. The book gives basic information and insight into each psalm, but does so on a quickly and easily digestible level. Most adept students of the Bible will find their knowledge amplified, but will probably not regularly find new understanding. This makes the volume good for a devotional supplement or for a quick reference beyond a simple study Bible; however, a pared down commentary may be even more beneficial to an apt student.

The format of the book assigns each psalm a page (even 119) and gives brief commentary on Theme, Type, Author, Structure, Special Notes: which includes language issues, cross references, etc. and Reflection, which operates as a short summary or introduction to the psalm. Included is an attractive color scheme and some pleasant (though not always relevant) illustrations.

One of the most useful sections in the book is the front which includes a large number of indices and resources for topical study. These studies should be useful for any number of purposes.

The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms presents basic information and background on each psalm and important concepts for understanding the context of the psalm. It does not include lenses for interpretation or vast segments on application. It does not provide piercing theological explanation or deep word studies. In some cases, a thorough study Bible may do more for explaining the psalm than this resource simply because it doesn't give explanation or reflection for specific verses. Digestibility is a main value in this work. The information is highly introductory and partnered with a format and presentation that gives clarity and makes it highly readable and highly accessible. The entire book could probably be read in a couple hours. This makes it limited as a reference work and probably more suited to a devotional work. The charts and indices in the front are the piece most suited for deeper study and reference. Much is left to be desired, but if you approach the book as a devotional aid or supplement to basic understanding rather than a reference tool it becomes much more useful. I would recommend the volume for those looking for some basic introductions to the psalms that they can absorb quickly or use for devotional study. I would definitely not recommend it to scholars or mature students of the Bible as a reference or study tool, as they will be looking for something either more academically satisfying. I would probably not recommend it as a preaching aid either because it lacks a consistency of interpretation involving the new covenant or the gospel. These are not necessarily weaknesses if you understand the focus of the work as fairly limited: a simple, accessible introduction to each psalm. Within that focus The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms succeeds by majoring on accessibility.

My thanks to Zondervan for providing this complimentary review copy.


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