Listening In

A Multicultural Reading of the Psalms

By Stephen Breck Reid Published
Paperback ISBN: 9780687011940 $23.99 Buy
Stephen Breck Reid maintains that every reader of the biblical text views it through the lens of other contexts. That is to say, communal narratives, cultural myths and stories, and the reader's own experiences, influence what we bring to, and take away from, Scripture. Focusing on the Psalms--specifically what the Psalter has to say about what it means to be human--Reid demonstrates that many inadequate and harmful assumptions about the text, especially those drawn from the dominant culture, can be offset by readings from African American and Latino perspectives. Thus Reid draws on recent historical, critical, literary, and rhetorical scholarship of the Psalter, combined with an imaginative reading of African American, Latino, and other non-dominant cultural materials, to provide a compelling glimpse of a multicultural reading of Scripture.


In this book Reid has focused attention on 42 psalms that he has arranged in three groups, all of which deal with what he calls the 'self.' As he puts it, "this book...proclaims that the understandings of the self one encounters in the Psalter reveal a theological anthropology, one in which the doctrine of God is essential to the task of understanding what humanity is" (p.103). Though he is in conversation with recent historical, critical, literary and rhetorical study of the psalms, the primary concern is to move beyond this academic focus into an imaginative reading of African American, Latino and Asian American materials. The strength of the book is the reflection on the works of such authors as Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima), S. Cisneros (The House on Mango Street), D. Hopkins and G. Cummings (Cut Loose Your Stammering Tongue), T. Morrison (Beloved and the Bluest Eye), A. Walker (In Love and Trouble), and R. Wright (Native Son). The book also includes numerous references to shorter articles of note and personal vignettes throughout, which add color and depth.
Focusing on what specific psalms have to say about what it means to be human, Reid turns to African American, Latino and Asian American cultural sources. For example, he challenges the idea that what is wrong in our society is the result of the "mob at the gate" with a reading of certain psalms of lament in light of the musical tradition of the blues, arguing that the absence of justice and the absence of God cannot be separated. To those who insist that our peoblems are the result of 'rot at the top' in our social and political institutions, Reid reminds us of the dominant motif of the sovereignty of God in the psalms and the fundamental summons to morality on the part of God's people past and present.
The chapter on "The Conflictual Self" is essentially a reflection on 16 laments that the author has arranged under four categories: those dealing with "Enemies" (Psalms 3, 12, 30, 31, 103, 143, and 55), the "Wicked" (Psalms 12,26,28,141), "Prayers of Persecution" (Psalms 64), and "Psalms of Sickness" (Psalms 6, 35, 41, 86). The second chapter, "The Authoritative Self," also takes up 16 psalms including the so-called "YHWHmlk Psalms" (Psalms 93-99) and selected "Royal Psalms" arranged under the headings of "The Vulnerable King" (Psalms 20, 21, 144, 89:38-52), "The Authoritative and Faithful King" (Psalm 127). "The Just King" (Psalm 72, 89, 101), and "The Elected King" (Psalm 2, 110). Chapter 3, "The Contextual Self," focuses on selected "Korahite Songs of Zion" (Psalms 46, 48, 84, 87) and "Asaphite Psalms" (Psalms 76, 73, 83, 75, 78, 81).
The organization of the discussion of the psalms selected is not always clear. A section titles "Prayers of Persecution" (pp. 21-23) includes only Psalm 64. An "Asaphite Zion Song" is included under the general heading of "Korahite Songs of Zion." The sections on '"Asaphite Psalms" actually deal with only six of the 11 psalms in that collection. The attempt to include a section on "Listening In to the Early Church" in its use of these psalms is commendable but not developed in sufficient depth particularly in chapters 2 and 3.
There is carelessness in references to the five books of the Psalter. Once Book 4 is cited when it is actually Book 5 the author is discussing (p.18); and the reference to "Books 1 and 2 of the psalter" (p.62) should read Books 2 and 3. Ivan Engnell is twice cited as Ian Engnell (pp.55 and 106); and the heading "Psalm 89: 38-52" (p. 58) should read "Psalm 89".
--Duane L. Christensen
William Carey International University, Pasadena, CA
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Dec 99 Issue

About the Author

Stephen Breck Reid

Professor of Christian Scriptures, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, TX, starting in the fall of 2008.

2005: Stephen Breck Reid was at Bethany Theological Seminary, Richmond, IN

2001 STEPHEN B. REID was Professor of Old Testament, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas.