The Rev. Dr. Walter E. Keller (1929-2011) earned a master in divinity from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and earned his doctorate from Cambridge University, England. He spent his life in service to God, and to a large degree, this was done through his work as a professor of theology at Valparaiso University, where his goal in teaching was to lead students into a greater knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith. He also served in the pulpit, and any who listened to Walt’s deep, booming bass voice as he read scripture or preached could easily imagine that the words they heard were the words and voice of God.
After his retirement from Valparaiso University, Walter undertook a project to work through the Psalms. Because the Psalms document for us the prayer life of ancient Israel, we might read them from that point of view in order to satisfy our historical curiosity, but the Psalms are also inspired scripture, and are therefore deeply embedded in the piety of Christians. With this in mind, Walter wished for all to understand the Psalms, not only as the great exemplar of the prayer life of out forbearers in Biblical faith, but also as they serve to shape the prayer life of today’s Christians.
In order to assist readers to grow in grace by praying the Psalms, Walter’s commentaries were written from the perspective of the question: How can a Christian pray the Psalms in our times? Rather than writing a treatise, he chose to do this by looking at the Psalms one by one, and with each new instance asking the question anew. His objective was not to produce a fresh translation of the Psalms, but in Walt’s words was “always to provide that kind of understanding which allows a New Testament Christian to pray the Psalm, without doing violence to its original intention.”
Walt began this undertaking at the end of January, 1996, with the Psalm of the week as listed in the Sunday Lectionaries of the Lutheran Book of Worship and Lutheran Worship (often the same, sometimes different). Because this weekly selected Psalm often did not match the liturgical Psalm selected by the Revised Common Lectionary used by his local home church (Immanuel Lutheran Church in Valparaiso, IN), Walt’s weekly Psalm selection soon gravitated toward following the three year cycle of Revised Common Lectionary. The target audience for his work initially was his five children, though long before he had completed the first three year lectionary cycle he understood that he was writing his devotional studies of the Psalms as much for his own sake as for others.
The Lectionaries do not use all the Psalms, and therefore there were many of the Psalms that Walt did not consider for his more detailed devotional studies. However he did write some briefer comments on nearly all the Psalms in conjunction with the “Early Morning Prayer” services held at Immanuel Lutheran Church every Monday through Friday. Walt initiated and led these services as another pet project beginning in 2001. Walt designed the devotional format for this daily service and compiled the weekly worship programs from the inception until shortly before his death in 2011.
In late 2009, I was assisting Walt with the set-up of his new computer and the transfer of data from his old machine. I noted a digital folder named “Psalms” in with various Early Morning Prayer program digital folders, and upon looking at the contents of these files, learned of this treasure of commentary. The file folder contained Walt’s Early Morning Prayer commentary on the Psalms, his Sunday morning Bible Study outlines of several Psalms and the devotional studies written on the Psalms for his family (and later also for other friends and acquaintances). Walt graciously allowed me to make and retain a copy of this digital folder.
After Walter died in 2011, it seemed a fitting tribute to Walt to edit and organize his Psalms commentary work into some sort of cohesive compilation that could benefit others. What follows is the result of this undertaking. I have updated his files through combining commentary written for differing audiences, reformatting, proofreading, minor editing, and in rare occasions, adding my own comments (i.e. Psalm 119). In nearly all instances, I have been diligent to retain the original thoughts and words of Walter Keller.
Included in this compilation are Walter’s detailed devotional studies of sixty-five of the Psalms. In the related .pdf files on the Psalms, those (eighty-five) file names ending with “(for EMP)” contain the briefer comments on the Psalms as written for supplementary observations on the Psalms used in the “Early Morning Prayer” services. For these Psalm files, I have added the text of the Psalm and reformatted the files in an attempt to provide consistency in presentation.
Early in Walt’s writing of his devotional studies on the Psalms, he wrote to his initial audience, his children, seeking feedback and commenting on the work he was doing. I have included this letter below. Although we can no longer respond to his invitation to provide feedback, the letter provides valuable insight into Walt’s thoughts. Further, there should be absolutely no doubt that Walt’s desire that his work would be a blessing to his children extends communally to each of us.
Mark O. Kretzmann
January 4, 2014
Submissions from 2000
Psalm 110: A Psalm of David, Walt Keller