Michael Lefebvre’s Singing the Songs of Jesus: Revisiting the Psalms is a solid, remarkably in-depth defense of Psalm-singing. He roots the study in an examination of the organization of the Levitical choir in Chronicles, and the king’s role as the lay liturgical leader “under whose hand” the Levites led the sacrifice of praise. From this he argues that the son of David, the king of the new Israel, also leads the service of musical worship. In singing the Psalms, we are not only singing the songs Jesus sang. We are singing with Jesus: “We need praises led by Jesus, which is what the Psalms provide” (54). Singing the Psalms makes the church a “choir led by a great soloist” (65).
Besides that, the multiple voices in the Psalms turn worship into a conversation of praise: “The king is at the center, mediating our praise But sometimes, the king speaks to the people in the Psalms. Sometimes, the king leads the people in addressing God. Sometimes, the people sing to the king, or to God about the king, or to one another before the king. The psalms are full of changing voices singing ‘praising conversations” with the covenanted king at the center” (65).
He also makes the important point that singing the Psalms reorients our prayer. If we sing the Psalms expecting to “declare praise” in the manner of contemporary praise songs, we are “hammering with a set of screws.” The Psalms require a different kind of ‘heart motion’ as we sing them – meditation rather than declaration” (98). Imprecatory Psalms also reorient our praise by tuning our hearts to hope for god’s judgment. He gives some moving examples of how relevant imprecations are outside the Western church that no longer sees the need for them (130).
Lefebvre’s is an RPCNA minister, but one doesn’t have to follow all his conclusions concerning the Psalms to find this an edifying contribution to liturgical theology, and a welcome aid to reformation, which comes, as he argues, “within the context of a recovery of biblical worship” (148).