Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life | W. David O. Taylor
Taylor, W. David O. Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020. 230 pp. $24.99.
In his book Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life, W. David O. Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, explores the Book of Psalms through a lens of emotional honesty, so Christians can discover a more “transparent, resilient, and fearless life of faith.” Taylor believes that when people open their hearts, becoming intimate and vulnerable before God, devoid of deceit and secrets, is “the only way to be made holy, whole and wholly alive” thus allowing humanity to derive the greatest benefit from the psalms (xxiii).
Taylor launches Open and Unafraid by introducing the reader to the historical background, poetic devices, and content found within the psalms. He explains that through honesty and prayer, the psalms provide a Christological dialogue between God and mankind, as individuals and as a community. The subsequent chapters guide the reader through specific themes in the psalms via assorted narratives, many of which are taken from the author’s personal experiences. Divulging these personal experiences make the reader more connected emotionally to the chapter content. Each chapter concludes with questions for reflection, general exercises, and a closing prayer, all of which revolve around the chapter’s central theme. These aspects are present in every chapter and maintain a cohesive thread throughout the book, while also providing excellent discussion points for church groups.
Athanasius believed that the psalms enabled people to become whole before God and whole in their true selves. The psalms are filled with imagery that stir up “all the emotions we are ever likely to feel (including some we hope we may not), and they lay them, raw and open, in the presence of God” (9). Taylor explores this myriad of human emotion along with definitive topics such as sadness, anger, and joy, encouraging the reader to contemplate that they are “never alone in their sorrows, angers, doubts, joys, thanksgivings, or questions about life and death” (xxi). By confronting and challenging the emotions found within the Psalter, in particular lament or imprecatory psalms, Christians expose their emotional vulnerabilities to God for reformative healing (88). As Taylor states, “The psalms invite us, thus, to stand in the light, to see ourselves truly and to receive the reformative work of God through the formative words of the psalmist, so that we might be rehumanized in Christ” (3). It is through the light of the psalms that the brokenness of man can be revealed and reshaped.
As the author moves through various topics, he focuses on the recurring theme of God’s reformative work through scriptural examples. By referring to Scripture in conjunction with the psalm subjects, Taylor guides the reader to focus firmly on both Jesus and God’s Word, reminding them that the Psalter “embraces the praise of saints and sinners” and that God is the great creator and “the ultimate source of joy” (96–97). Just as God is the beginning and the end, the Psalter mirrors God’s creation by opening with two psalms that reflect the beginning of the book of Genesis and closing with “a vision of the entire cosmos at praise” (175). Psalms are the “heart song of Jesus” and by approaching and praying them with honesty, Christians trust “they will open up a space in our hearts to give and receive the steadfast love of God, from whom no secrets are hidden” (xxv).
Taylor provides fresh and current commentary on twenty-first century events, demonstrating that the psalms are just as relevant to the human condition today as they were when originally written. In his chapters on enemies, justice, and death, he urges Christians to speak honestly about their adversaries and “lament the brokenness” of their own lives, while recognizing that Jesus underscores every decision with the command to love and pray (117). Injustice is not defined by any one parameter, and the psalms detail prayer repeatedly, prayer that is needed today for global events such as the displacement caused by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and the child sex abuse accusations of the Catholic Church (122). The psalms are not passive; “prayer and worship require something of us: doing justice.” Justice is only mediated through Jesus, who is “the Good Shepherd who defends the vulnerable” and is “the perfect justice of God” (127, 130).
Open and Unafraid is an excellent book for those wishing to explore the psalms more stringently and honestly, delving deeper into their emotional content. This book is not intended for light reading but requires readers to be actively engaged at all times. The centrality of Christ in the Book of Psalms causes Christians to examine their hearts more closely. If Jesus is the song leader then His people need to have an honest and open dialogue with Him. The author highlights this dialogical nature of worship, showing how, through this dialogue, the psalms mold and shape hearts, thoughts, and action. Taylor never shies away from discussing the light and dark emotional elements found in the Book of Psalms; in fact he welcomes and embraces them all for discussion. These elements allow humanity to “give voice to the whole anatomy of the soul” (45).
The amount of biblical references that Taylor includes within each chapter can be a little overwhelming, but he succeeds in challenging readers both intellectually and emotionally, guiding them to be candid in their examination of the psalms. The inclusion of the chapter exercises makes Open and Unafraid ideal for use within church groups and ministry training. Seminary students will also find the recommended resource list and chapter notes highly informative.