Eugene Peterson Collaborates with Bono on the Psalms

Fuller Theological Seminary wants to put the psalms back into daily life of Christians, and it enlisted Bono and Eugene Peterson to make this happen. But when they began their pursuit, they discovered that many Americans already show a great interest in this book of hymns and poetry. Almost a quarter, 22 percent, of the 100 most popular Bible verses searched for in 2015 came from Psalms, according to Bible Gateway data. The one highest on the list at number five was Psalm 23:4, which reads, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me” (NRSV). Another psalm, 56:3 (“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you”), was one of the top 10 most shared Bible verses on Twitter in 2015. Of the psalms, the 23rd was most popular, according to Bono and Peterson’s report.

“Historically, this may be explained for Protestants, anyway, by Luther, Calvin, and other early reformers, all of whom held the psalms up as special—indeed, elevating it practically to the status of gospel,” stated Thomas Davis, project advisor.

About a quarter of Americans have a favorite scripture passage, reported from a Mark Noll-endorsed study, and about a quarter of these people said their favorite verse came from Psalms, more than any other book.

“It is possible this passage was named most often simply because it is so frequently memorized or quoted,” the two researchers wrote in their report. “But it is worth noting that this soothing chapter, which for centuries has been read aloud at funerals and in other times of trouble across Christian cultures, fits well with another of our findings: more people read the Bible for personal prayer and devotion than for any other reason.”

 Conversely, Bono and Peterson discovered, Psalms also comprise half of the least-popular Bible verses on Twitter, with 13 of them receiving only a single, solitary tweet in 2015. The researchers hope that there is a drastic change in this number, as Psalms is a very powerful book. “The psalms … showed me that imagination was a way to get inside the truth,” Peterson told Bono on a Fuller Seminary video.

 The rawness of Psalms is missing in a lot of Christian music, Bono said. “The psalmist is brutally honest about the explosive joy that he’s feeling, and the deep sorrow or confusion, and it’s that that sets the psalms apart for me,” he said. “And I often think, ‘Gosh, why isn’t church music more like that?’” He went on to say that Christian art could use more of the naked abandonment of David, an exemplar who gave himself over to emotions.

“I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful gospel songs to write a song about their bad marriage, write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you—that truth. That truthfulness […] will blow things apart. Why I’m suspicious about Christians is because of this lack of realism, and I’d love to see more of that in art, and in life, and in music.”