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Psalms in an Age of Distraction

Experiencing the Restorative Power of Biblical Poetry

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The psalms endure. Throughout the centuries, Christians have read, prayed, and sung this rich collection of poems. But in our current age of distraction, the daily rhythms of modern life revolve more around screens than biblical texts.

This book argues that the psalms are poetry for the soul, poetry that shapes us. Beyond highlighting the poetry of the Psalter, the book attends to the theological freight of these poems. As such, we learn to read Scripture more attentively and love God and the world well. The first part of the book explores how we can read the psalms amid the pull of modern distractions. The second part highlights the various features of several psalms, showing what these poems can teach us about living in a more focused, attentive way.

This engaging book demonstrates how our thoughts, emotions, and worship of the triune God are sharpened and deepened through the psalms. In an era of dimly lit faces and multitasking, the poetry of Psalms remains ready to train our ears, steady our hearts, and teach us to pray so that we might flourish in Christ. The book includes a foreword by Elizabeth Robar.

Foreword by Elizabeth Robar
Part 1: Psalms, Poetry, and the Distracted Self
1. An Age of Distraction
2. Not a Story
3. Poetic Scripture
4. A Scaffold for the Soul
Part 2: Experiencing the Restorative Power of Poetry
5. Juxtaposition in Poetry: Psalm 1
6. Openness in Poetry: Psalm 3
7. Repetition in Poetry: Psalm 8
8. Paradox in Poetry: Psalm 13
9. Metaphor in Poetry: Psalm 42
10. Ambiguity in Poetry: Psalm 62
11. Turns in Poetry: Psalm 73
12. Worship in Poetry: Psalm 96
13. Creation in Poetry: Psalm 104
14. The End of Poetry: Psalm 150


"Ethan Jones plunges us directly into a contemporary form of the 'human condition.' He recognizes that the Psalter offers a compelling, powerful response to that condition. In a discussion tautly guided by attention to textual specificity and fully informed about current scholarship, Jones invites the reader to be alert to the rich resources of the Psalter. Readers can expect to find in these pages suggestive connections between the imaginative claims of faith and the day-to-day reality of our common life."

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

"In his Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis makes the claim that if the psalms are to be understood and used aright, they must be read as poetry, with an understanding of the distinctive modes of poetry: its tropes and metaphors, its particular way of handling language itself. Ethan Jones's excellent book does exactly that, paying scrupulous attention to juxtaposition, paradox, and metaphor and the way these poetic devices work to enhance meaning. As a result, his reading of the psalms is refreshing, prophetic, and strikingly relevant to the age we live in."

Malcolm Guite, life fellow of Girton College, Cambridge

"T. S. Eliot once wrote that we are 'distracted from distraction by distraction,' and that was long before our present plethora of mobile devices and social media sites came along. In this thoughtful volume, Ethan Jones offers a remedy for the distraction and boredom that plague us--namely, the poetry of the Psalms. What biblical poetry offers us is not relaxation into 'pampered self-care' but 'a better life': one marked by the habits of attention and studiousness. After introducing readers to Hebrew poetry and the content and nature of the Psalter, Jones displays his approach (and his gifts) in insightful readings of ten psalms, each oriented toward a particular aspect of biblical poetry. Designed for nonspecialists, this book will prove edifying and instructive for a wide range of readers--from beginners to seasoned experts."

Brent A. Strawn, D. Moody Smith Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and professor of law, Duke University

"Observing that social media can distract us from investing in meaningful relationships, Ethan Jones suggests a novel alternative. While the physicality of digital images on our mobile devices provokes curiosity so that we want more, the ethereal quality of poetic images in the book of Psalms provide a reassuring stability. Jones uses several psalms to illustrate their universal poetic appeal in our transient world, offering a fascinating reclamation of ancient biblical poetry for a contemporary setting."

Susan Gillingham, emeritus professor of the Hebrew Bible and emeritus fellow of Worcester College, University of Oxford

"Psalms in an Age of Distraction is a faith-infused and timely encounter with the Psalms, filled with wisdom for embracing a Scripture-shaped life in the present cultural moment. Fueled by insightful research into distraction, boredom, and attention, Jones's book compellingly presents the poetics of the Psalms as positively soul shaping. Jones illustrates poetry's formational potential before leading the reader through selected psalms, exploring their specific poetic conventions with scholarly insight and making relevant connections for living faithfully in our time."

Katie M. Heffelfinger, deputy director and lecturer in biblical studies and hermeneutics, Church of Ireland Theological Institute

"Books on the Psalms tend to come in several flavors. Among these are academic studies focused on form, with little to no religious emphasis, and devotional books highlighting the spiritual but ignoring the literary. Jones's book admirably fills the gap by drawing attention to the psalms' poetic features in the service of deepening our understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the Bible's best-known poetic book. With chapters dedicated to individual psalms and their use of various poetic features, Jones unpacks the richness of the psalms rooted in their original language and form."

Aaron D. Hornkohl, associate professor, faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, University of Cambridge

The Author

  1. Ethan C. Jones

    Ethan C. Jones

    Ethan C. Jones, PhD, is associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and Don and Helen Bryant Chair of Old Testament at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He previously served as a visiting scholar in Hebrew studies at the...

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