Monday, June 27, 2011

The ARP Psalter with Bible Songs: An Initial Review

Dramatic ARP Psalter Photo!
Yesterday, I received my copy of the new The ARP Psalter with Bible Songs. Since I had heard the buzz about this new Psalter from Synod, I had been looking forward to receiving a copy. I have been pouring over the pages since yesterday, and thought I would put together a brief initial review. My review is by no means exhaustive, and should be considered as only some "first impressions" of the work.

First, the appearance of the book. The psalter looks and feels well made. It is much thinner than I expected (about 3/4 of an inch; whereas, I was expecting something the size of the Trinity Hymnal which is about 1 1/2" thick). The book is approximately 9 1/2" x 6 1/4". Also, the book is printed on "Bible quality" paper, further contributing to its light weight and thinner profile. Although not "pocket-sized" its smaller dimensions and lighter weight make it more convenient to carry with you on trips. I can see the ease of using this Psalter around a campfire during a Church Family Camp or carrying it to Psalm sing at someone's home. I forsee it being added to my small collection of "must have" books that I carry with me to all church functions (the others being a small Bible and a small edition of the Westminster Standards).

Second, the introductory materials. The Preface, written by Rev. David Vance and Dr. Gabriel Statom is a brief, but powerful defense of singing Psalms. It also gives the reader some information regarding the translation policy for this psalter. The English has been updated, but the translators have tried to remain as literal as possible, even to the point of having the verses not rhyme where rhyming would adversely affect the translation. This, to me, is a very wise decision: I'd rather sing purer Psalms than rhyming Psalms. Following the Preface, there is an article entitled "Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church History of Psalm Singing" by Drs. C. Earl Linderman and Robert J. Cara. The ARP has a wonderful heritage of singing the Psalms and this article highlights some important events in the that history.

Third, the Psalms. Each of the 150 Psalms is here set to music. The ARP Psalter differs from the RPCNA Psalter on which it is based in that the ARP Psalter only has one version of each Psalm or section of Psalm. So, in the RPCNA Psalter, there are 440 songs all based on the 150 Psalms. In the ARP Psalter, we have 296 songs based on the 150 Psalms, plus 56 "Bible Songs". Each Psalm is given a title, and a number, with Psalms which are split into several songs due to length being assigned a letter. For example, Psalm 81 is split into 81A and 81B. Beneath each song number, the actual reference of what is set to music is given. Song 81A is Psalm 81:1-7 and song 81B is Psalm 81:8-16. Under the title of each song, a related Scripture verse is quoted with reference given. Various translations were used for these quotations, which is something I wish had not been done. On the copyright page, copyright information is given for the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version (1984), and the English Standard Version. Although not listed on the copyright page, all the texts quoted on the Bible Songs pages are from the New King James Version. I would have preferred one translation be used throughout for consistency, and I would have preferred that translation be one not based on the Critical Text (King James or New King James would have been my choice). At the bottom of each song, the composer, year of composition, name of tune and meter are listed.

Fourth, the Bible Songs. Before the publication of this new Psalter, the standard hymnal in ARP churches was the 1931 Bible Songs. As a reflection of 80 years of usage and the continued popularity of these Bible Songs, 55 of the most popular songs were included in the new Psalter. The numbering of these Bible Songs begins at number 151 which makes it easy to distinguish between the new Psalter Psalms and the older Bible Songs Psalms.

Fifth, the Indices. There are eight indices at the back of the Psalter: Index of Tunes, Alphabetically; Index of Tunes, Metrically; Index of Composers, Arrangers, and Sources; Index of Familiar Hymn Tunes; Index of Biblical Topics, Alphabetically; Index of Psalm Usage in the New Testament; Index of Bible Song Titles; and Index of First Lines & Phrases, Alphabetically. I have already found the Index of Familiar Tunes to be very useful. Anyone who knows one or two common hymn tunes can, using this index, begin singing the Psalms right away. For example, Psalm 3 is set to the tune of Amazing Grace, Psalms 55A and 115A are set to the tune of O God, Our Help in Ages Past. etc. Further, cross-referencing the Index of Familiar Tunes with the Index of Tunes, Metrically allows one with very little musical training (such as myself) to sing a Psalm set to an unknown tune, but with the same meter as a known tune. This means the number of Psalms one is able to sing is multiplied greatly without having to learn many new tunes. The Index of Biblical Topics will also be useful to the pastor as he attempts to choose Psalms which will help the congregation focus on the message he will bring to them during the worship service.

My concluding thoughts are these: The ARP Psalter with Bible Songs appears to be a very well done edition of the Psalms. Using a combination of familiar and less-familiar tunes will allow the novice Psalm singer to participate in the congregational singing, while allowing room to grow for those more familiar with the Psalms. While I would have picked a different Bible translation to quote from for the Bible verses listed with each Psalm, and while I have found a few typos here and there (which I will be passing on to the publisher), the Psalms themselves appear to have been translated and arranged faithfully. I look forward to using this new Psalter during our worship services at Communion Presbyterian as well as at home.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the enormous debt the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church owes to our brothers in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. The work of translating these Psalms was done by a committee of the RPCNA and was offered to the ARP. The Psalter is also published by Crown & Covenant Publications, which is the Board of Education and Publication of the RPCNA. My heartfelt thanks go out to the RPCNA for their work in this endeavor. I can think of no better way to thank them, than to employ this Psalter in the worship services of our churches, and I encourage you to do so.


  1. How was the popularity of the 55 Bible Songs determined? Survey? If so,who was surveyed?

  2. The secret council of ARP grandmasters met in a damp cavern where all great matters of import for the ARP are determined. The Great Pit of Decision-Making spewed forth the 56 songs to be included in this new book.

    Actually, I have no idea. It just says, "56 favorite selections from Bible Songs" were included, in one of the introductory articles.

  3. Thanks for the kind words--the check is in the mail! As for the 56 favorites, we had two of our committee members, Eleanor Richardson (widow of former coordinator of Synod) and Ruth Jones (wife of Doug) meet with Dr. Earl Linderman and make a draft list of "must haves" and "alternates" to add to balance the pages. We then collected feedback on the selections from Bible Song singing churches in various presbyteries and incorporated feedback during our two-year draft period when every church had a copy. Obviously we've made some glaring omissions, for which we humbly ask your forgiveness. :-)

    Also, although it didn't make it on the copyright page somehow, all the Bible Songs scriptures were selected from the NKJV. The Scripture selections at the top of the RPCNA psalms had been previously selected by their committee.

    And let me say, as the one who did the most work with the RPCNA, that they have been the most gracious, ministry minded, and generous folks you can imagine. They will never get the credit till the last day declares it, but they have put in countless hours on this project in service to the Lord and as a blessing to our Synod. I hope we can work on more joint projects in the future and bless them in return.

    By His Grace,
    David Vance
    Redeemer ARPC, Blacksburg, VA

  4. Thanks for clarifying those points for us, Rev. Vance! And thanks for all the work you and the committee put into this Psalter!

  5. As you know, Elder Stark, we sing at least one Psalm each Sunday -- we are ARP. But I must admit that singing them for the past three years has often led me to comment on the tenor and material of numerous Psalms during my sermons.

    I had a conversation with Rev. Vance about this very point recently regarding wonderful passages such as Psalm 149B, ("O praise the Lord, O sing aloud, a new song to the Lord; Where godly people congregate, Let them His praise accord...") will then turn and advocate, ("O let the lofty praise of God from out their throats be poured; And let them have within their hands a sharp two-edged sword. Upon the nations they shall bring revenge and judgment just; With iron chains their kings and chiefs they'll into bondage thrust.")

    The point is, great care is required to interpret such passages. I know that the contemporary worship culture would NEVER sing of God's judgment, or many of the important topics treated in the Psalms; but for the uninitiated, they could question our convictions as we sing of armed retribution.

    I look forward to a supplement to the Psalter for directing the church on how to properly interpret these passages.

  6. I forgot to ask, but please send me any errors you find--we're doing another printing right away and we want to include your fixes! (send them to

  7. Brothers, I'm currently at the RPCNA synod, preparing to give the report for our E&P Board (I'm the current president). Thanks so much for the great review! I am encouraged by it and trust those who have labored toward this end will also be encouraged. And I heartily second your encouragement to reward the hard work simply by taking it up and singing God's' Word back to Him.