Triperspectivalism in the Psalms

Tim Brister —  October 10, 2012 — 4 Comments

While working through the Psalms devotionally, I began to see a triperspectival pattern (to no one’s surprise) worth mentioning. A great example of this would be Psalm 71.

The psalmist begins with an emphasis on the Lord being his refuge. Starting with his present circumstance and situation, he  describes the difficulties surrounding him and how the nearness of the Lord (his refuge, rock, fortress, etc.) governs how he responds and operates in such circumstances. Though the circumstances are big, serious, and grave, the psalmist kept going back to God as the King of his life and declaring He is bigger, stronger, and nearer.

The second focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s righteousness. In his situation, he pleads for God to respond on the basis of his righteousness (“in your righteousness deliver me and rescue me”). In summary form, the righteousness of God describes God’s unique character and sovereign work (“your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”). When the psalmist remembers and declares the character and work of the Lord, it becomes normative and defines his life.

The third focus of the psalmist is the Lord’s redemption. Having seen and heard of the Lord’s righteous character and ways (righteousness), he longs to experience that in the ongoing redemptive work of the Lord in his life. He writes, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long…”. When you experience redemption from the Lord, you cannot but respond with shouts of joy and songs of praise.

Together then, the Christian experience is learning to find hope and trust in God who is our refuge (situational), remembering the righteousness of God to experience renewal and revival (normative), and joyfully singing, praising, and telling of God’s redemptive work in your life (existential). The psalmist begins with his situation and says, because Christ is King, my circumstances does not have to rule his life. Jesus does. Knowing the temptation to default to unbelief where God becomes functionally non-existent in his life, the psalmist remembers the character and work of God.  Because God reveals Himself through His Word, the true Prophet, we can orient our lives around the revelation of who God is and what He has done. Finally, the redemption of God brought through Christ the High Priest, not only can we know of the ways of God, we can experience it ourselves through the redemption He brings. Those who have entered into the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus are wrecked to a life of praising, shouting, and telling of all that God is for you in His Son Jesus. So, the flow looks like this:

Who God is » God’s self-revelation (righteousness) » normative
(prophet who defines our lives)
What God has done » God’s saving work (redemption) » existential
(priest who redeems our lives)
Why that matters » God’s presence and promises (refuge) » situational
(king who rules our lives)

I am not trying to impose a philosophical or epistemological construct over the text of Scripture; rather, I am simply trying to draw out what is there with a Christocentric hermeneutic in both form and substance. At least for me, it has helped me see Jesus and rejoice in the God who is altogether righteous, whose redemption makes my heart sing, and whose presence causes me to trust and hope no matter the situation.

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  • Hey Tim, thanks for your work brother! I appreciate how you’re using the triperspectival framework to center on Christ. I’d be interested in seeing how you see this framework integrating with a more historical covenantal hermeneutic. Are they different? Complimentary? The same? Is one adequate by itself?

    • Tom:

      That’s a good question and one that I’m probably not the most competent to answer. Usually when I discover places where triperspectivalism surface in Scripture, it is through extended meditation on a passage, usually macroscopically. My hermeneutical basis is grounded in divine inspiration and high view of Scripture as God’s thoughts to us on a microscopic (words) and macroscopic (structures) level. Not sure if that makes sense.

      For example, when I read the Psalms in general, I see the diachronic themes of God being a refuge for his people, God displaying his character, and God working redemption and salvation to his people. So refuge, righteousness, and redemption are interwoven in Scripture’s hymnbook, and as in the case of Psalm 71, shows why our lives should be characterized by trust/hope (refuge), revival/renewal (righteousness), and joy/praise (redemption). Psalm 71, then, in a sense is paradigmatic for the Psalms in general, and this threefold pattern/structure is Christocentric.

      In our everyday situation, Christ is to rule our lives (Christ our King). In Psalm 71, the situations he faced were very difficult, and usually the greater the circumstances, the greater the temptation to have the circumstances rule our lives than God. So the psalmist reminds himself that God’s nearness and presence is far greater than the circumstance, and as a result, God rules in that moment.

      In our everyday behavior, we can turn to works-righteousness and focus on our performance. In Psalm 71, the psalmist looks away from himself to who God is and what He has done for him, and as a result anticipates greater renewal and revival in his life. So instead of moralism and religion become normative, God’s prophetic Word (Bible) and revelation of Himself defines his identity and behavior.

      I could go on, but the point is that my explanation of the triperspectival pattern flows from exegetical considerations, structural observations, and Christocentric revelations in the text. I am not working from a historical covenantal hermeneutic largely because I don’t know exactly what that is (showing my ignorance here).

      I hope that helps a little.

  • Thanks Tim!

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