Really Useful Guides: Psalms

Simon Stocks, Derek Tidball

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This is a very accessible book, laid out in an easy-to-read format. The author manages to pack in a lot of information in a short space and to teach the nuts and bolts without being patronising and without shying away from the difficult bits. I commend it to you as a genuinely useful guide to the Psalms. You should find plenty to learn.
Thomas Renz


Each Really Useful Guide focuses on a specific biblical book, making it come to life for the reader, enabling them to understand the message and to apply its truth to today's circumstances. Though not a commentary, it gives valuable insight into the book's message. Though not an introduction, it summarises the important aspects of the book to aid reading and application.

This Really Useful Guide to Psalms will transform understanding of the biblical text, and will help you to engage with the message in new ways today, giving confidence in the Bible and increasing faith in God.

The series is edited by Simon Stocks and Derek Tidball.

What is special about the 'Really Useful Guides'?

They are laid out in an easy-to-read format, with less text on the page and plenty of headings, bulleted lists, bold type and diagrams where helpful. Despite this they are not patronising, and do not hide away from engaging with difficult bits of the book. While reading them straight through would probably be the most helpful, they can certainly be dipped into as well, with some sections that people might like to come back to more than once. Similarly, they can be read 'straight' or side-by-side with the biblical text; a slower, more engaged read will probably be more helpful but a reader who didn't do this would still find plenty to learn.


This is a very accessible book, laid out in an easy-to-read format. The author manages to pack in a lot of information in a short space and to teach the nuts and bolts without being patronising and without shying away from the difficult bits. I commend it to you as a genuinely useful guide to the Psalms. You should find plenty to learn.
Thomas Renz


Baptist Times e-newsletter 1 February 2019. Reviewed by Pieter J. Lalleman

With its new series of Really Useful Guides, the Bible Reading Fellowship follows the trend towards smaller and shorter books. So far in this series the volumes on the Psalms and on Colossians have appeared, written by the series' editors, Stocks and Tidball, respectively. The books are tiny (4 by 6 inches) but sturdy and the contents are fine, so they should not for that reason be looked down on. If you are uncertain what to give to a Christian friend, books like these make nice little presents.

Stocks does indeed offer a 'very useful guide' of over 100 pages. Writing with obvious love for the Psalms, he explains many aspects briefly yet clearly, and in a personal style. Whereas he is aware of the gap which separates us from these old songs, he points to many bridges across it. After a brief introduction, the second chapter covers introductory issues such as composition and authorship. Chapter 3 gives a brief theology of the Psalms (what they say about God) and chapter 4 focuses on how they say it (the stAyle and the imagery).

The very brief chapter 5 surveys the relevant part of the history of Israel and chapter 6 gives suggestions for reading psalms today. Chapters 7 and 8 look at some unknown psalms in more detail. The final page contains questions for discussion but there are no suggestions for further reading.

In the Colossians and Philemon guide, our fellow Baptist Derek Tidball takes some 70 pages to introduce us to Colossians, but less than 15 for Philemon. Yet in these few pages he manages to get across key elements of Philemon and its lasting value.

The treatment of Colossians is more traditional than that of the Psalms: it largely consists of Tidball making his way through the letter, commenting on backgrounds and contents along the way. Like Stocks, he uses bullet points and he prints the key Scripture verses in his text.

A separate chapter compares Colossians to other parts of the New Testament. In addition to some questions, suggestions for further reading are included. My one query is that slightly divergent outlines of Colossians are presented on pages 27, 28-29, and in what follows.

The Revd. Dr Pieter J. Lalleman teaches the Bible at Spurgeon's College


Review on Picking Apples of Gold, Jules Middleton's blog

I've been asked to review this new guide to the psalms, the first Old Testament title in a series of 'Really Useful Guides' from the Bible Reading Fellowship. The series hopes to provide compact accessible guides to books of the bible, enhancing biblical literacy with a simple, unintimidating, but authoritative overview of each text. Sounds like my kind of books! I do get frustrated when theologians use lots of long words and endlessly long sentences when a few simple words would do, it can make subjects so inaccessible. Simon P Stocks 'Psalms' is exactly as intended, easy to understand but at the same time, bringing the psalms alive.

The Psalter is a funny book in the bible, a bit like marmite, you either love 'em or hate 'em, perhaps because for many of us, as Stocks himself found, he didn't at first 'get' them. Filled with a rollercoaster of emotion, the psalms can be hard to decipher but Stocks seeks to explain the difficult bits, address common misconceptions, show the reader how they can incorporate psalms into their own lives & suggests that they need to be 'experienced and felt'.

Of 8 chapters, the first 5 ask questions to explore the topic: Why read the psalms? What is the Book of Psalms? What do the psalms say? How do they say it? What was going on at the time? In these, Stocks uses themes to delve deeper into the psalms. He explains particular terms, gives good tips and helpful facts but without overloading the reader.

Although the final few chapters are focussed on reading the psalms today and how that can help us, in fact the book is filled with helpful pointers for us to use the psalms in every day life, how the psalms can encourage us when we are discouraged by the world around us and the importance of lament in refocusing our perspective.

Particularly helpful I found, is the explanation of the style of writing, which helps to clarify some difficult areas and explains the Hebrew poetic style, again with simplicity. Similarly the author points out key metaphors of imagery and symbolism, and the need to understand the context in which a psalm was written and in how we use them today.

At just 112 pages long, this is a quick and easy read, but one that you can delve into deeper if you wish. Stocks includes suggestions of psalms to read, asks questions for the reader to consider and reflect upon, and points out circumstances in which we might find a psalm helpful. The guide is aimed in general at Christian readers, as well as home group leaders, lay leaders and anyone who just wants to know a bit more about the psalms, and it really is accessible enough to be read by anyone, and interesting enough to keep you focussed.

Book details

  • ISBN: 9780857467317
  • Published: 19 October 2018
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 112
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