James H. Waltner. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2006. 833 pages.
The most recent release from the Believers Church Commentary series reflects the pastoral identity of its author. With sensitivity to the pastoral needs of a congregation, James H. Waltner, a lifelong pastor and Mennonite Church leader, has written a commentary that will enrich congregational life as it informs the library of pastors, Bible study aficionados among the people of God, and Bible teachers.
The first strength one encounters in Waltner’s commentary is the introduction. The section on theological themes alerts readers to the theological insight they will meet throughout the commentary. Ideas for the study of a psalm are concise, complete, and helpful—with or without the commentary. The section “Using the Psalms” also anticipates what follows with suggestions for individual and corporate worship.
The essays are another rich resource. Particularly helpful for the teacher are several essays that develop the genres of the psalm. The psalms themselves are listed according to genre in the appendices. Waltner’s word studies of such key theological concepts as holiness, justice, righteousness, sin, and steadfast love are succinct yet complete.
As one reads the commentary of the individual psalms, one appreciates several features. Both the “Preview” and “The Text in the Biblical Context and Life of the Church” reflect the author’s attention to intertextuality, to what Waltner calls a canonical reading of the text as he makes connections within the Psalter, the Hebrew Bible, and the whole Christian Scripture. The Preview section also identifies genre, scholarly dating, and an introduction to the theological theme of the psalm. The explanatory notes, while necessarily brief, reflect important references to other scholars, suggesting insights that have been further developed elsewhere. In addition to its attention to intertextuality, the section on biblical context and the life of the church also typically offers valuable theological reflection as well as helpful notes on the liturgical place of the psalm. Anabaptist readers especially will appreciate occasional references to the radical reformation as well as discipleship, community, and peacemaking.
While the commentary offers valuable theological and exegetical insights which will assist the preacher, it does not give primary attention to the problem of preaching the psalms. Given Waltner’s experience with the Psalter, this reader would have appreciated insights into the special challenges of preaching the psalms as well as specific suggestions within the commentary sections. Also, given the economy of space demanded of a commentary on a biblical book with 150 chapters, it is curious that the editors chose to repeat the outline of psalms on 26 pages.
The commentary is pastoral, reflective, smart, scholarly, and canonical. It reflects a lifetime of loving use of the psalm as well as familiarity with recent scholarly insights. Waltner’s Psalms is recommended for the pastor, counselor, and interested student.