JACKSON, Tenn. – April 18, 2013– Students of Scripture from as close as Jackson to as far away as Myanmar spent April 12-13 at Union University learning about the Psalms during the biennial R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies conference, “Read, Pray, Sing: The Psalms as an Entryway to the Scriptures.”
In addition to two plenary sessions and nine breakout sessions, the conference included audience participation. Conference songbooks in hand, attendees blended voices with the Union University Singers as they sang Psalm-inspired songs for an hour on April 12.
Union music faculty and students led attendees in a responsive style, singing the verses of many songs like Jewish cantors while the congregation joined in on the chorus.
“(The corporate worship) was amazing,” said Kyaw Zin Htwe, a pastor from Yangon, Myanmar, who traveled to the conference because he was interested in learning how to better preach the Psalms. “I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Word is not human words; it directly comes from the Lord.”
Ray Van Neste, director of the Ryan Center, said the conference created a platform for fellowship between people from a wide variety of backgrounds and seasons of life — seasoned pastors and Sunday school teachers learning alongside Union undergraduate students.
Heath Thomas, associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and director of Doctor of Philosophy Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Andy Davis, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., headlined the conference.
Using Psalm 117, the shortest Psalm in the Bible, Thomas developed the conference theme of the Psalms serving as an entryway to understanding the Bible in his plenary session.
“He did a good job of seeing and placing Christ in the Psalms, recognizing that they were ultimately about him,” said Brain Denker, assistant to the director of the Ryan Center.
Van Neste said there were a number of conference attendees who had some idea of this use of the Psalms, but they were eager to learn more.
Davis, in his plenary session, argued that psalmists prophesied the gospel, even though they may not have understood their prophecies.
“(Davis) fought against modern scholars’ tendency to de-emphasize the prophetic nature of Psalm 22,” Denker said. “He was able to show from Psalm 22 how the life of Christ had been predicted by David, and how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy completely. It was really quite inspiring.”
Thomas walked through problematic ways of approaching Scripture in his breakout session, “The Magnificent Seven: Seven Ways of Reading (or Misreading) Scripture.”
“The Bible is a piece of culture that needs to be understood,” Thomas said. “But, actually, if you do that and that’s all you do, you’re missing the voice of God. The Bible is not just a cultural weapon that we throw at people . It is the Word of God.”
The Ryan Center’s mission is to promote reading, study, interpretation and application of the Bible.
By Samantha Adams (’13)