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New Horizons

Presentation of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal

Alan D. Strange

The Trinity Psalter Hymnal is hereby presented to the church to aid her in fulfilling the mandate of Psalm 150:6: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created and sustains all things, and who is, from first to last, the one who grants eternal salvation. All praise, honor, and glory be rendered unto our great and gracious God for all that he is and has done, particularly for the Father bringing his own from death to life by the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in and by the power of the Holy Spirit, through all the appointed means. And singing his praise forms no small part of that worship that we render to him in the appointed means of Word, sacraments, and prayer.

In the liturgy and worship of the church in the last century and more, especially in North American evangelicalism, hymns have eclipsed psalms. Actually, in many communions, hymns themselves have given way to ubiquitous Scripture songs and choruses.

This comparatively recent loss of psalm-singing is quite remarkable, especially in Reformed and Presbyterian churches, whose liturgies historically consisted either mostly or exclusively of psalms. We intend for the Trinity Psalter Hymnal to assist in the recovery of psalm-singing for all those churches. At the same time, by the publication of the TPH, we want to foster a recovery of first-rate hymnody.

Music for Worship

Music, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines, in part, as “one of the fine arts which is concerned with the combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and the experience of emotion,” is one of the greatest gifts that God ever gave us. It is especially suited to the expression of those sentiments that pertain to all the parts of the soul. We can understand why one of the ancient church fathers said “Qui bene cantat bis orat” (“he who sings well prays twice”). Not only are the words of our psalms and hymns prayers (at least quite often, and they are always the outpouring of the soul to God), but music itself is a sort of prayer, giving expression to the emotions which accompany our prayers (joy, sadness, grief, etc.), so that singing becomes something that speech by itself never could be.

We offer this volume, then, to the church, containing not only settings of all 150 psalms (more than one setting for some psalms—278 altogether) but also 458 of what we deem to be the best hymns, old and new, of the Christian church.

We believe that Christ is present in all the Word and certainly in the psalms, even the imprecatory psalms. In those, our Lord Jesus Christ in his own person, particularly at the cross, receives God’s wrath against us for our sin and, in and by the gospel, makes many former enemies to be friends. (In this way, his enemies are vanquished even as Israel often pleaded for their defeat.) We also sing hymns that explicitly mention the Lord Jesus Christ and speak of his glorious person and finished work.

Developing the TPH

Perhaps it would be good at this point to step back and reflect on where this all began. The Presbytery of Ohio brought an overture to the Seventy-third (2006) General Assembly requesting the production of a psalter hymnal. That Assembly tasked the Committee on Christian Education “to seek to develop a Psalter-Hymnal by 2011 (our 75th anniversary)—which includes musical settings of all 150 Psalms, in their entirety, with as much accuracy and as little archaic language and confusing syntax as possible—for use in our congregations.”

Immediately following the 2006 Assembly, the CCE erected a special committee of its membership to direct the work: Alan Strange, chairman; Darryl Hart; Danny Olinger; and Stephen Pribble.

The special committee erected two subcommittees that would do the bulk of the work in these early years of the project, the primary being the Composition Subcommittee (CS). It ultimately had in its membership the present and past CCE general secretaries (Danny Olinger and Larry Wilson), the pastor whose church furnished the working document for the psalter (Peter Wallace, pastor of Michiana Covenant PCA in Granger, Indiana), our Hebraist (Bryan Estelle), musicologist (Timothy Shafer), music editor (Lou Ann Shafer), a PCA brother (Terry Johnson of IPC in Savannah, Georgia), and two special committee members (Stephen Pribble and Alan Strange, chairman). Dr. Dale Grotenhuis (URCNA) also served as a musical consultant to the CS.

The CCE reported to the Seventy-fifth (2008) General Assembly that it had determined to develop the TPH through its special committee and that the CCE had committed $200,000 of its own funds to this project. No objections were raised, and the CCE proceeded full-steam ahead.

The subcommittee then began the actual initial task of putting together the TPH. From the Trinity Hymnal and other sources, we made a number of initial hymn selections. Sensing, however, that the heavy-lifting would be on the psalter, we shortly thereafter plunged into that section. Using Michiana Covenant PCA’s project as a default, we began working systematically through the psalms, with fresh translations provided by our Hebraist, a variety of options provided by our musicologist, and the music editor working to check inflections, suggest new harmonizations, and make a host of editorial suggestions. We spent much time working through the psalms, seeking to achieve a congruent affect between music and text and adopting a fairly detailed set of principles to guide us in this project.

Joining Forces with the URCNA

Following the Seventy-seventh (2010) General Assembly, the unexpected happened. Contact with the URCNA Songbook Committee led to a discussion with them of sharing the fruits of each other’s labors and entering into a working arrangement. The CCE recommended to the Seventy-eighth (2011) General Assembly that it approve the two committees working together and that it extend an official invitation to the next URCNA Synod to work together with the OPC to produce “a Psalter Hymnal for use in a wide range of confessional Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.”

The Assembly took these historic steps and a new day in Reformed and Presbyterian ecumenicity dawned as the URCNA Synod in 2012 gladly accepted the invitation and the two bodies began the hard yet sweet labor that led to the TPH. My colleague Derrick Vander Meulen, coeditor and my counterpart on the URCNA side, will speak in a bit about the members of his committee and the progress to recent times that has witnessed the erection of a Joint Venture Board, consisting of three each from the OPC and the URCNA, responsible for the publication and ongoing maintenance of the TPH.

Subsequent assemblies and synods approved the psalter and then the hymnal, requesting and receiving significant input from both churches (and beyond, in a few cases), particularly by posting on the web all the psalms and hymns for inspection by our respective churches and members.

Finally, in 2016, both bodies gave overwhelming final approval for the production of the TPH. Much work remained in terms of securing copyrights and further editing, layout, and other production and printing concerns. From December 2017 through February 2018 we ran a special prepublication offer, working with our outstanding distributor, Great Commission Publications of Atlanta. We had hoped to sell 15,000 copies. We sold over 30,000 copies (and more since).

We thank all of you for this great partnership that has already made this project such a success and a testament to the oneness that we enjoy in our Lord Jesus Christ, in answer to his prayer in John 17 for unity as he faced Calvary. We present the Trinity Psalter Hymnal for the edification of the people of God and the glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ. All praise be to our blessed triune God!

The author is coeditor of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. This presentation, given to the Eighty-fifth General Assembly on June 12, 2018, has been edited and condensed for print publication. New Horizons, August–September 2018.

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