Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/25/2012 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. Devotional jazz on King David's fifty-first psalm, a balm for the sin-sick soul.
We tend to like our university or college textbooks and systematic theology volumes neatly packaged and carefully laid out according to topic. We tend to like Bibles featuring concordances and "What to read when..." sections at the back. But the Bible isn't laid out topically and real life isn't straightforward either. Psalm 51, as Paul David Tripp memorably describes it, is the beautiful result of "a tawdry and disgusting story, one you wouldn't read if it were a paperback at your local bookstore." In Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, Tripp gives the themes of Psalm 51 breathing room to allow its high and low points to sink deeply into the mind, soul, and spirit of the reader.
Tripp, well known for the stand-by Biblical Counseling manuals Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands and How People Change (with Tim Lane), offers up something almost completely new in Whiter Than Snow and its 2009 companion volume from Crossway Books, A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble. "Almost" because those who have read Tripp's other books will have seen glimpses of the writing we experience in Whiter Than Snow. Tripp is as much a poet in these pages as he is a theologian. In the preface he introduces the approach and format of this book as "jazz" based on the "sheet music" of Psalm 51:
While endeavouring to stay inside God's key signature and time signature, I have attempted to introduce to you creative, practical, everyday-life riffs on the themes that make up the music of grace in this wonderful psalm...So, what you have in your hands is devotional jazz, designed to help you improvise more harmoniously with the Great Composer.
Such a lengthy rationale (I have reproduced less than half of it above) invites the question of whether Tripp's approach succeeds in creating a devotional tool whose effect matches its creativity. As one who has undergone advanced training in both music and theology, my answer is in the affirmative. Whether his artistic deployment always works is another question, to which my answer is, "almost always." Poetry, as music, is an extremely subjective medium, but I did not always enjoy the amount of white space in Tripp's free verse poetry. For instance, monosyllabic words should have good warrant for occupying an entire line and should be used sparingly. Again, poetry is a very subjective medium. Each of the 52 meditations, whether poetry or prose, are followed by two "Take a Moment" questions for personal reflection. Many of these questions also lend themselves to group discussion if a small group were to decide it wanted to go through the book in eight or nine weeks at the rate of one meditation per day.
My free verse quibbles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of meditations. Although I did not meditate on one entry a week for an entire year per its recommended use, I did still benefit from Tripp's musings. I use the word "musings" advisedly, for there is no discernible pattern to the sequence of verses serving as themes for meditation. Devotional jazz, remember. Nevertheless, the collection does progress in its own circular fashion. I found the six prose meditations in the middle of the book to be the richest and most helpful for my own soul. One such excellent meditation is entitled "Wrecking Balls and Restoration," containing echoes of Broken-Down House by the same author.
"It's time for us to embrace, teach, and encourage others with the theology of uncomfortable grace," says Tripp. He exemplifies such an approach in Whiter Than Snow. While you won't find in these pages a discussion of the continuity or discontinuity of David's spiritual experience vis-a-vis the Holy Spirit's pre-Pentecost indwelling and/or infilling (one of my own hobbyhorses, I must admit), you will find Tripp relentlessly ushering you towards a robust theology of God's grace located at the intersection of holiness and mercy. This is the very same intersection where repentant David and his God met in Psalm 51.