Monday, November 10, 2014

The New Book of Praise

(As published in the recent issue of Clarion)

The New Book of Praise

George van Popta

At long last, the new Book of Praise is printed and ready for shipment to the churches. Orders are being sent in to the publisher, and soon we will all be singing from the 2014 version. This is the third complete edition, after the 1984 and the 1972 editions, and the hope is that it will serve the churches for many years.
The committee is thankful for the tremendous amount of feedback, encouragement, and cooperation it has received from the churches throughout the past thirteen years, as well as the good guidance and leadership given by the General Synods convened during this time. Above all, praise and gratitude is due to our heavenly Father for providing the churches with a songbook that will be used weekly and daily, in church, school, and home, to praise his most holy Name.

The Book of Praise is rooted in our Reformed past. The first complete Genevan Psalter was published in French in 1562, and since then versions have appeared in many languages used by churches throughout the world.  When our parents and grandparents landed on these shores with the waves of immigration from the Netherlands after the Second World War, and felt obliged by the Lord to establish the Canadian Reformed Churches, they also felt strongly led to produce an English version of the Genevan Psalms. They had been singing them in Dutch all their lives and were not inclined to give them up. Acting in faith, some may say, audaciously, the far-flung federation of a handful of churches set out in the 1950s to produce an English Calvinistic songbook where the Psalms were to be set to the beloved Genevan tunes and which would also include hymns faithful to scripture. We are the heirs of our fathers’ vision.

2001 to 2013
The Standing Committee for the Publication of the Book of Praise of the Canadian Reformed Churches (yes, that is its real name; “SCBP” for short) received from recent synods the mandate to add some more hymns to the 65 of the 1984 Book of Praise, to revise and improve the Psalms, and, recently, to amend all the Biblical text references to the ESV (from the NIV). From the perspective of the SCBP it was an interesting task. It could be said that the whole federation was turned into a huge super-committee as the work progressed over the years from Synod 2001 to Synod 2013.
The most significant part of the work was the revision of the 150 Psalms. About fifty of them required little revision, about fifty needed some revision, and about fifty were completely redone. The SCBP was able to engage Dr. William Helder for this work. Many will know that Dr. Helder has been involved with the Book of Praise for many years. In his work, Dr. Helder did not especially use any one English translation of the Psalms; rather, he used a large number of English, Dutch, German, French, Latin, and other translations. At times ministers on the committee would give him a literal translation of the Hebrew from which he would then work, and the Hebrew scholars at CRTS were always ready and willing to help.
In 2010 Synod Burlington instructed the SCBP to publish an Authorized Provisional Version (APV) which the churches were then to use for three years and submit comments on to the committee. The result of this three year “test-drive,” comments to the committee, the report of the SCBP to Synod 2013, and the decisions of the Synod, is the new edition of our songbook.
APV to 2014 edition
To become more particular, the differences between the APV, 2010, and the new, 2014, edition can be summarized thus:
1.) Changes to the Psalms:
a. In about 20 stanzas in the Psalm section some words, or a couple of lines, have been changed as
compared with the APV.
b. In Psalm 17 significant changes were made to the text of stanza 5.
c. Psalm 25:6 was replaced with entirely new text.
d. Psalm 81:6 was also replaced with entirely new text.
e. In Psalm 90 the first stanza has been changed back to the 1984 version and the second stanza has been deleted. Consequently this Psalm is significantly different from that found in the APV.
2.) Changes to the text of the hymns:
a. In about five stanzas some words, or a couple of lines, have been changed as compared with the APV.
b. The lyrics of Hymns 58 and 77 have received significant and substantial changes.
3.) Changes to the melodies of the hymns:
When the SCBP, in the APV, returned many of the melodies to their original composition, some churches objected to the changes. The Committee, being sensitive to these objections and not wanting the music of the Book of Praise to be a divisive issue, recommended to Synod 2013 that some of the corrections be undone. Synod adopted these recommendations and added others as well. Undoubtedly, the local organists will point these out to their respective congregations.

Once a church has decided to adopt the new edition for use in the worship services it will not be possible for members to continue using the APV. The significant changes to the text of the Psalms and hymns as well as to the melodies of the hymns make it impossible to use the two versions together without creating confusion in the worship service. Using both songbooks at the same time to sing would be unedifying for the worship service because of the difference in some lyrics. Similarly, the changes to music, rests, and fermatas in some of the hymns would also be a cause for unnecessary confusion. Further, due to content and formatting changes in the 2014 Book of Praise, the page numbering in the two editions is no longer the same. The APV and the new edition are not compatible.

Premier Publishing has also produced a digital version (a tagged PDF) which can be bought and downloaded from This version is suitable for tablets and smartphones.
A few churches project the text of the Psalms and hymns in the worship service. While the SCBP had originally expected that the tagged PDF would be suitable for this use, some have indicated that this may not be the case. The SCBP will be discussing this at its Fall meeting and is committed to accommodating the needs of the churches that make use of projectors.

The SCBP is thankful that the Book of Praise continues to be a blessing to the church of Christ. Above all, may our God be “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3) also through the use of our songbook. To him alone be all glory, now and forever!

Rev. George van Popta has served as chairman of the SCBP since 2001 and is due to retire from the committee in 2016.