This is a post in defence of Christain ethics. Lets face it, when we are challenged on our beliefs, it is often an attack on Christan ethics. And so, the attacks on our faith are often rarely that rational or reasoned. They are often emotional and raw.
As an apologist, this is a tough task. We must be able to answer the accusations drawn up against us with a reasoned argument, being kind and loving but importantly without cutting corners on our reason.
So when faced with an assault on Christain ethics, draw it away from the emotion and on to the reason. Do what ever you can to calm the debate. You could even say something along the lines of: “look, if we are going to have this debate, we are going to do it properly. Lets be reasoned”. When it comes to some areas of Christian ethics, especially questions involving abortion and Christian sexual ethics, we will be faced with very passionate, very emotive arguments about rights. However, often these arguments are not fully developed or reasoned from a theoretical basis. Thier power is in the force to which they are believed (an accusation so often focussed towards Christians).
And from this point, we must go to the root of the beliefs of those we debate. We must show that from the base that underlies their ideas, their ethical views are just unsustainable. And the tough bit is that we must do this with compassion and grace. Which will be difficult, because the other side don’t have to, and therefore often don’t. The Dawkins of this world will never contemplate the basic polemical rule of presenting the opinions of the opposition in terms which they would agree with. And this makes it very hard for those who are desperately trying to follow this rule and to be fair.
The key to all of this is in remembering that this will not be a debate in which we approach the topic from the same starting point. And as such, I doubt that the Christian position will ever be convincing, as the basic presuppositionn will be rejected. The key, therefore, is to be consistent.This must be a consistency both to the teachings of Scripture - which must be our rule, our anchor, and our root - and also consistency in our arguments as a whole. What the world wants to do is show us that our thinking is all muddled. Our task, therefore, is that if the God in whom we trust is real, then the ethical provisions that Christians hold to are justified, and more, demanded by that God.
And finally, our arguments must, carefully and with compassion, demonstrate that there is an inconsistancy in all other ethical systems, and more importantly, how they are put into practice. Lets face it, most people who hold to an ethical system do not follow it. And of course this is an accusation that can be aimed at Christians, and we must be careful to be honest on this point and actually show our consistency - we are sinners, and fail to live up to our ideals, but at least we know we do. Don’t be afraid of showing people the logical consequences of their beliefs, and how they simply don’t add up.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” John 13:1 (ESV)
I felt the need to write today, and as it is Maundy Thursday there is no better time than to look at this verse. For me, there are fewer more potent and beautiful chapters in the Bible than those addressing the Upper Room Discourse. There are few passages which drip so sweetly in expressing the wonders of the Gospel. Here is where Jesus most wonderfully and personally expresses his love for his own. Here we receive from Christ the most wonderful assurance and love.
And it is this one verse that I want to look at, out of all of the wonders of Jesus’ discourse, to capture this. Before the footwashing, the promise of the Spirit, the declaration “I have overcome the world” comes this jewel of a verse. It is this most beautiful sentiment which sets up all that follows, all the way to Calvary.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”
This one verse frames the whole of the Upper Room Discourse. Moreover, it frames the whole of the book of John. John is 21 chapters long. The first 12 and a half chapters are Jesus making his way towards Jerusalem. Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem occupies merely half a chapter (38 verses). Jesus’ death and resurrection, 4 chapters. One evening of Jesus’ life and ministry equal that, taking up a third of the book.
If this one evening demands such space, this one verse encapsulates the whole of Jesus’ mission.
The verse is directional. John does not just point us to the Passover to tell us when the events occurred. John is situating this evening, these words of Christ, with an event. In an almost sacramental way, John is attaching the sign with the thing signified. Ahead lies the slaughter of the unblemished Lamb to turn aside the wrath of God, the reality behind the shadow which was the Passover. The message is clear: Jesus’ moment when he would depart from the world is the Passover, he is the Lamb to be slain.
And why is he doing this? Love.
Not an airy, mystic, disassociated love. No, this is a particular love, a devoted love. As Thomas Goodwin points out in his book The Heart of Christ, when this verse talks of those who were “his own” it does not talk of his own as goods but “a piece of himself… his own by a nearer propriety, that is, his own children, his own member, his own wife, his own flesh” (The Heart of Christ, Banner of Truth, p7). Christians, we should never lose sight of who this love is for. Jesus makes it clear later on in the book that those who are his are those given to him by the Father. None were lost in Christ’s lifetime on earth, and none will be lost whilst he lives in heaven interceding for us. So when we feel week, weary, hopeless and helpless, we must know with surety and certainty that Jesus loves us.
“having loved his own who were in the world”
Everything that Jesus has done thus far in his life was in love of those whom he had called. In a world which rejected him, which discarded his message and hated him, he loved those whom he had called out to be his. Every act if his was an act of devotion to them, of love for his bride. He had loved them even whilst they lived in a sinful world, themselves sinful men. He loved them whilst he was with them.
And yet the beauty is in those last words:
“he loved them to the end”
Again this is looking forward. The scene is set. The knives are drawn, and upon the dawn the Lamb will be sacrificed, the blood spilt, the wrath turned aside, the people redeemed, purchased and drawn out of slavery.
All because of love. The love which had first manifested itself in the life of Christ with that first breath of the infant Jesus, which was manifested in every act of Christ in his ministry, this love was lived out until the end. The love that Jesus showed in all his dealings in live were lived out right up until his death. Not just to his death, no, but beyond that. Jesus was going to be with his Father. He was ascending to Glory. But again, as Goodwin points out:
“What was Christ’s heart most upon, in the midst of all these elevated meditations? Not upon his own glory so much, though it is told us that he considered that, thereby the more to set out his love unto us, but upon these thoughts his heart ran out in love towards, and was set upon, ‘his own’” (The Heart of Christ, Banner of Truth, p7)
Jesus’ great moment of glory, his going victorious to his Father having overcome the world, all this was out of love. His sacrifice on the Cross, his defeat of sin and death, his substitutionary sacrifice, all of this was because he loves his Church. As the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt was for love of his undeserving people, so the redemption of those given to Christ, you and I, Christians, was a pouring out of God’s love.
This puts John 3:16 into beautiful context.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ESV)
Now, the word “so” is more accurately read (and the original English meaning of the word “so” meant also) “In this way”. This captures the same emphasis as John 13:1.
Here is how God showed his love to the world. This was the manner in which his love is manifested: that the Son, who shared the divine essence with the Father and Spirit, eternally co-existent, humbled himself, gave himself as a sacrifice, that all who believe in him will not die but will share in his life. The cross is God’s proclamation: “I love you. And this is how I show it”. How great is this love which wins us life. From this flows all other blessings - our dwelling in Christ, our life, our being sanctified by the word, being dwelt by the Spirit. (all of these things discussed and expounded in the Upper Room Discourse in John).
Having loved those who were his in the world, he loved them to the end. He loved us to, in, through, by, and past the Cross. I hope this sets up Good Friday well.
ps. I heartily recommend reading The Heart of Christ by Thomas Goodwin! Here is a link to the book. It’s only a littleun! http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Heart-Christ-Puritan-Paperbacks/dp/1848711468/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1364515529&sr=8-1
And I don’t mean nasty apologetics, or apologetics that upsets people.
I mean it in this way: that the best form of defence is a good offence.
In most of my previous apologetics conversations with non-believers, I have seen a trend emerging. What generally seems to go down is that I mention that I am a Christain, and then spend the rest of the conversation defending my worldview.
I think it is time for a change of footing here. I am good at defending my worldview. But I have realised that I am not the only one obligated to offer a coherent understanding of the world. The person I am in conversation with has that duty too.
There is a basic assumption in the world that secular emperical scepticism is the default position, and any variations from this must be held to account against this sceptical worldview. But this presupposes a whole load of philosophical truths that themselves must be tested, and I believe are found to be utterly wanting.
So I now make this endeavour: when I am next in a defence of the Christian faith, I will question the basic beliefs of my conversation partner. Why does that person believe what they believe about the world? A materialistic atheist who says they believe that man is essentially good, or that right and wrong even exist, just because they “feel” that it is true (see Bertrand Russell for this one) must be maded to prove this hypothesis, and be forced to accept this “feeling” is inconsistent to the empiricism that they affirm and use to dismiss Christianity.
Because, if we are Christains, we should believe that the other alternatives are inconsistent. And we should be able to show that this is the case. Too often today, Christians tend to back down into a position of “I don’t know. I guess thats why it is called faith”. There is some merit to this position on a personal level: not even the best of us are right all the time! But if we truly believe that God has revealed himself to us in Christ and in his word, we should be positive. God has given us the tools to prove the world wrong! Of course, the wisdom of God is folly to the world. But this does not mean we should show the folly of the world by proclaiming the wisdom of God, secure in the knowledge that it is true.
The great gift of scripture is that we CAN have an answer, for we DO know God. And because we have communion with God in Christ by the Spirit, we should be assured. The skeptic ain’t got nothing. Take his questions seriously, and deal with them seriously, knowing that dealing with them properly may even be effective as we proclaim Christ.
Essentially what I am getting to here is that we shouldn’t be afraid of putting ourselves forward confidently, picking holes rather than watching for holes in ourselves. The gospel is true, and alternatives are not. I guess that what I am saying is this: be confident!
“What is your only comfort in life and death?”
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto him
What a beautiful answer to a simple question. This answer from the first question of the Heidleberg Catechism rather delightfully sums up the Christian hope in one neat, short paragraph. It is the answer to this question so succintly explained that the rest of the Catechism goes on to unpack and develop. But here, in one short answer, the whole Christian message as relates to Christians is explained.
And that means that this is true for me. And if you are a Christian it is true for you too.
Lets look into this and see what is going on.
Firstly, the question. What is your comfort? Comfort, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “consolation for grief or anxiety”. For something to give one comfort, one must be in need of comforting. There must be something that causes one grief and anxiety if one is to be releaved from it.
And not only that, the question makes the proposition that we only have one comfort, one hope, one method of relief. In our every day lives, faced with all the toils and strife of the everyday, there is only one cure. For our eternal state - whether we exist after the grave, and if we do what happens to us - there is only one hope. There is no other hope than that contained in the answer to the catechism’s first question.
And what is this hope? It is a hope that all of you, your whole being, are Christ’s. In the proofs for this, the writers point to Romans 14:7-9. This passage concerns the preservation of unity in the Apostolic church, with an encouragement to do all things in honour of the Lord, whether one eats or abstains (v6). Paul writes:
“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lords” (ESV)
Paul reminds his readers that if we are in Christ, we are no longer living for ourselves, our own glory, according to our own will, but that we live to the glory of Christ, that we exist to honour and serve him, to live lives obedient to his will. And Paul continues:
“For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (v9 ESV)
The purpose of Christ’s death was to ensure that we who were distant, living only for ourselves, are now brought near by Christ’s death and ressurrection, to live lives of devotion to him. Christ died and rose again to become Lord over all, the living and the dead. And thus, all that we do, whether eating or abstaining (i.e. those who knew the bounds of Christian liberty and thus could eat, and those who were unsure and thus took a more conservative approach), we do not to please ourselves but to please God.
And more than that: we belong to Christ, for we have been purchased for a price, “ransomed from our futile ways” that we once knew by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 18-19), that we should live holy live to him. He have been redeemed away from the sinful lives we once led to lives of obedience to God. Christ gave himself to “redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own posession who are zealous for good works”(Titus 2:14).
So here explains what we have been saved for, what we can be comforted in and of. And how did Christ do this for us? The writers of the catechism point to 1 John 1:7 and 2:2:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son clenses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV)
“He [that is Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2 ESV)
Christ died to guide us into the light that John had been talking about in the beginning of his letter. God is pure and holy above all things (1:5), and so demands holiness from us also in light of this spotless nature, in which there is no darkness. We are redeemed to walk in holiness, and if we do not walk in holiness, we cannot say that we are living to God (1:6). And this holiness is achieved only in the factb that the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, clenses us from our sins, allowing us to know that if we confess our sins then God is faithful to forgive (1:9). This blood is a propitiation, a satisfaction of the wrath of God and his demands for justice.
Furthermore, we are set free from the power of sin by Christ, no longer slaves, obediently following it’s passions, but freed to obey the will of God (John 8:34-36). The Cross destroys the power of the devil, as is illustrated in Hebrews 2:14-15.
Thus, this simple answer briefly covers the mission of Christ - to rescue sinful men, to redeem them from sin for life as a holy people of God; his means - the Cross and the blood of Christ as a satisfaction for the wrath of God that is kindled against us; and how this is applied - in our being washed clean, that before God we are viewed as spotless, justified in the eyes of God’s demands for justice; and set free from the rule of sin and the devil in our sanctification.
But the writers of the catechism go on. What does this assurance lead on to? It leads on to the knowledge that we now have a Father in heaven, sovereign over all things, over every bit of our lives. And thus we live or die to God, all for his glory and in all things for that end.
The writers of the catechism state that Christ “so preserves me”, because we know from the Lord himself that:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of the Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40 ESV)
Christ has not come to merely point the way to God, for men to weekly attempt to follow by their own will power, but to claim those who have been given him to be his own. He has come to purchase by his blood all those who God has given to him, that all who look upon Christ shall recieve everlasting live in him. What assurance this is for the Christian! Not only have we been purchased by the blood but we are non-returnable! There is no cosmic refund for the blood that has been paid for us, and nor should there need be: God has given us to Christ, and by the will of the Father Christ will not ever lose any one of us.
We are Christ’s flock: we know his voice and we follow him. Christ has given himself for his flock, and so “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-30). It is the Lord who is faithful, who guards us against the devil, and it is he who sets us up as his son’s (2 Thess 3:3). So whatever happens, God will hold onto us. Those he has given to Christ he will not lose (John 10:27-28).
And how does he bring this about in our lives as we live here and now? By giving us the Holy Spirit, our paraclete, the advocate helper who applies all that is Christ’s to our lives, who unites us to him who has the power to save.
We often lose sight of the wonder of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is God’s giving of himself in full Trinitarian glory: The Son gave himself, humbling himself to live a life and die a death on our behalf, and now by the Spirit God gives himself to his people, to dwell amongst and within those who are his, to give them life, and Paul labous the point to illustrate the glory of this (see Romans 8:9). If we are a Christian, we are a temple for God (1 Corinthians 6:19). And from that same passage, we are reminded that we are bought for a price, and that we sould srive to honour God with our bodies and lives (1 Corinthians 6:20). It is the Spirit who accords us our adoption as children of God (Romans 8:15-17), and it is he who reminds us that we are his.
And so the first question of the chatechism concludes with that reminder: that the indwelling Spirit of God in us encourages and enables us to live godly lives in the here and now, assuring us of the efficacy of the work of Christ to save us, and driving us to live holy lives as we seek to be like our Father in heaven, and our elder brother Christ, who by his work gives us life, and life to the full.
This is our comfort.
Yesterday, the 20th November 2012, the General Synod of the Church of England voted overwhelmingly in support of the ordination of women bishops, but failed to receive the requisite 2/3rds Majority in the House of Laity needed to pass the measure.
I start with that observation, because it is important to realise what happened. The Bishops and Clergy were astonishingly in favour of the measure, and as were a majority of the laity. But the Church of England failed to convince a principled minority that the legislation would offer them enough protection for their views.
Now, why am I, a devotedly complementarian presbo, commenting on a decision of the Church of England? I don’t even believe that the episcopacy is a biblical form of church government, so why do I even care who is in it? I am a non-conformist, so why do I care about the established church? I believe in male headship, so why am I concerned about a denomination who to the larger part rejected this doctrine a long time ago?
Well, it may be because, at heart, I believe in the “establishment principle”, even if I do not believe that I can be part of the current church that holds that position of privilege. Maybe I am just interested in politics generally, and church politics then gets included. Maybe. But in general, this issue bothers me due to the reactions towards it, which show a rather sad side of this country’s national church. So here is what I see as the issue, which may involve a little projection of I would think and react in the same situation.
Firstly, I believe that it was right that this measure was rejected. There a a good number of parishes in this country who are Reformed, conservative and evangelical, and who,for reasons of conscience could not countenance the idea of women bishops sitting over them. When the individual parish is on its own, the issue of women in leadership is not a pressing one: where a parish holds a complementarian position, it has the freedom to only have male ministers. But when you then place an overseer over them all, the issue of headship once again becomes pressing. And if a congregation cannot accept the idea of a woman as having authority over them, what happens to that congregation?
The job of the pro lobby was to convince the anti lobby that provisions were in place to protect their freedom of conscience. They overwhelmingly failed in this task. Rather than make any real efforts to be conciliatory, the pro lobby harked on about how the majority were in support of women bishops, and the rest should, essentially, bend to their will. It was an attitude of “this is all you are getting. Lump it”, that the minority should play ball and accept that they have lost on this issue. Thus, the provision for those who could not sit under a woman bishop for reasons of consceince was woefully inadequate. If you have an under bishop who is of liberal stripe, the consevative evangelicals would still not be represented. Thus, the measure presented before the synod yesterday was woefully inadequate.
Secondly, the tone of disappointment is worrying. It sounds llike a school teacher telling off a class of pupils, being ordered to stay behind after school because “some of your peers who won’t behave. The behavior of a minority have let you all down”. It must be remembered that the reason why the measure was voted against was because there were some very principled people who just couldn’t vote for the measure. Yet, that minority are treated as if they are a cruel and evil gang of ne’er-do-wells. And the number of people saying “well, next time we need to ensure that the lay house are more representative of the majority” is just unacceptable. What you are essentially saying is this: lets silence any dissenting opinion, because they are essentially unwanted.
And that is what the issue is. The conservative evangelicals are not wanted in the denomination. A yes vote would have been an overwhelming statement of this. The no vote leaves nobody happy either, as those who opposed the measure are now villainized.
What is even more worrying is the reason for disappointment. Twitter is full of people saying “look at how the CofE is now an irrelevance”, “the CofE is stuck in the past, needs to get with the times”, and “what will the World think of us”. I’m sorry, but when has it been ok of the church of Christ to worry about matching the World’s standards. The World hates us! It is not our job to submit to the morality of the world, but to be faithful to the teachings of Christ. Even if you think that the bible teaches that women may be in positions of leadership, which I do not, then that must be the reason for your disappointment, NOT the general opinion of society. We will be hated because of our ethics on life issues, sex, money. We will be hated because we believe all are sinners under the wrath of God, that the only way to salvation is through the man who is God who died on a cross and rose from the dead. The World is unregenerate, with clouded minds as to the will of God. The World will never understand the hope that Christians have, but for the work of the Holy Spirit who reveals and proclaims Christ. It is his work that saves, through the preaching of the Word, not our relevance by looking just like everyone else.
For what its worth, the CofE will eventually appoint women to the episcopacy. Whether there will be any conservative evangelicals left when this happens is a moot point. Many have a deep attachment to the CofE. The CofE has advantages that we non-cons can only dream of: money, resources, access to every area of the country. But the way the women bishops debate was carried out, not so much in the synod where it was full of grace but in the wider church, shows that those who hold to a more Reformed, traditional evangelical hermerneutic and theology will be viewed increasingly as ,at best, an irritating irrellevance, and and worst an obstruction needing to be removed. Many will stay, out of loyalty, and will simply ignore the fact that they are episcopalian, rather holding a strange congregational govvernment, as if the state of the wider CofE does not affect them.
Further, I should add that there are many evangelicals, including the future Archbishop of Canterbury, who support women bishops. My comment here is not a comment on their evangelical credentials or their passion for the gospel of Christ. Nor am I commenting on their love for the Church. My issue is with they way that the disappointment is aimed at those who voted against, rather than seeing that the failure was a failure to convinve a sizeable minority that they are still appreciated, and that provisions would be made for their dissention on this issue.
One final point. On the radio last night I heard an interview with a lady who voted against the measure, and a man from WATCH (Women and the Church). The saddest moment was when the gentleman from WATCH said “[The lady] comes from a church who are very good at talking to people on the same page. I come from a liberal church in a market town, where the majority of the people we meet do not come to church”. The lady the replied, “well, actually, I am also from a small market town, and our church does reach out and many of our congregation are unchurched”. This little conversation just illustrates a point. The view from the pro lobby is that the anti lobby are a group of insular, self interested, ignorant people, holding back the intelligent, missional, forward thinking majority. This is such a sad, sad statement. And the lady picked up on this: actually, she comes from a small market town too, and their church is missionally focussed. Deeper rifts lay under the snow…
Premier Radio is currently undertaking an experiment. It is calling on Atheists to pray for 2 to 3 minutes each day that God reveal himself to them, clearly in the hope that God will reveal himself and that the Atheists will then become Christians. Here is the link to the page: http://www.premier.org.uk/atheistprayerexperiment
Now, I must first of all say that I understand Premier Radio’s hope. They, like me, believe in a God who saves, and who wants sinners to turn from their sin and be saved. It is good and godly to desire people to be saved, and to call sinners to repent. I also believe in a God who powerfully calls those who are far from him to have communion with him, sometimes in extraordinary ways.
And I have no question that their heart is in exactly the right place. They want people to be saved! That’s wonderful!
However, this methodology is seriously flawed and lacks some serious understanding of the nature of God and in the call of the gospel.
Firstly, we must see the fact that God is in no way obliged to respond to the prayers of “seeking” atheists requesting God to “reveal” himself, as God has already fully and sufficiently revealed himself in Jesus. Not only does nature testify to the existence of God (Romans 1:20) but Jesus, in whom the fullness of God has chosen to dwell (Colossians 1:19), has come calling sinners to repent and believe. The truth is that God has already given all humans the full evidence not only of his existence but of his promise of redemption in Christ, and wherever the gospel is faithfully preached, God calls sinners to repent and trust in Christ. It is through God’s preached word that the men are effectually called to come to Christ and through this calling are regenerated, given a new heart of flesh to serve the Lord.
And so it is utter arrogance for man to demand an extra sign or signal, that little bit of proof that shows us that God is real. The Bible is clear: we know full well that God is there, that he is righteous and just, but we suppress that fact, pushing it down so we don’t have to confront our sin (Romans 1:18, 21-22, 32). This prayer experiment plays up to the atheist agenda which states that there simply is not enough evidence to believe in God, an assertion which is simply false. Further, it enforces the party line that faith is based on personal experience and opinion rather than objective fact.
I am not saying that man has the ability to reason himself into faith in God from his revelation in the world. The Westminster Confession puts it well:
“Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church”
Further, I still believe that man needs the operation of the Holy Spirit to regenerate him that he may call upon God. Again the Confession states “We acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word”. But It is important to recognise that there is a difference between calling on God in response to the proclamation of the Gospel, and merely praying to an unnamed god separated from the promises that come in Christ. There is a difference between an atheist calling out to God for redemption, that God would save them from sin, and an atheist calling on God to show himself to them, as if God needed the atheists approval in order to exist.
Secondly, the Bible is clear that prayer is the privilege of those who in the people of God: those united to Christ by faith, the Church. An atheist has no right to call on God to do anything, especially to reveal himself.
When a Christian prays, they pray by the indwelling Spirit, who carries their prayers with inexpressible groans to the Father (Romans 8:26), and through Christ the mediator, who forever brings our petitions before the the throne of God. Prayer is a wonderful expression of the fullness of the Trinity, and a privilege of us who have been called into communion with Christ. Christ is the great high priest of the new Israel, the Church, who by his atonement presents us as holy before the Father. As such, we are adopted as children of God: no longer children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), we can call “Abba! Father!” to the Father in heaven and know that we have a God who wants to shower blessings upon us (Romans 8:15, the Lord’s prayer in the Gospels - Matthew (9:9-14, Luke 11:1-13).
This is an exclusive privilege. The passages make it clear that to call God Father, and to receive gifts as such, is the unique advantage of believers. More than that, the Bible is littered with examples of God refusing to listen to the prayers of the unrighteous due to their rebellion, even the unrighteousness of the his own people. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is a stark example. The Lord declares:
“Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them”.
God is here concerned for true worship from Judah, for an end to their sin and their backsliding. Earlier, God says through Jeremiah
“They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.”
This is stark, yet it is only one example of God’s judgement. If God will refuse to accept the prayers of those who are outwardly his people (though inwardly not such) what are his thought towards those who reject him outright?
I can hear some objections coming, so let me answer them.
The main objection will probably be something like this: doesn’t Jesus open up the ability to prayer to all people. And my response is yes. And no. Christ opened up the gates to all nations, so that all gentiles could be ingrafted into the true Israel by faith. But that is the key phrase: by faith. Every healing, every answer to prayer in scripture was the result of faith already held. How many times in the Gospels does Jesus say “Be on your way: your faith has made you well” or words to that effect? It was because the individuals already had faith that they could pray. And it is only by faith that we can say “Our Father”, for only by faith is he “Our Father”.
And this is the same for every prayer for coming to faith. A real prayer for faith is actually an act of faith already held.
I must state that I do not deny that God can use extraordinary measures to bring people to faith. There are some cases of amazing providence in binging almost clueless sinners into the Kingdom of God. But this is different from Atheists asking abstractly for God’s revelation of himself apart from the proclamation of the gospel.
Because (and we have lost this in the modern world) the gospel is a proclamation and a call. Salvation is a call. It is not something sought by man: it is a summons from the almighty God to rise and follow him. Thus, it us utterly absurd for us to think that atheists can try and summon God like some kind of genie, giving the golden lamp a couple of rubs to eek him out. He is not some abstract force that surrounds us, that will just flow into us if we ask nicely. No: it is God who calls people to himself, not the other way round.
So, if you are an atheist reading this (its a long shot) then hear this: In this way, God loved the world, that those that believe in him shall not perish but will receive eternal life (John 3:16). Its not about proving the existence of God. The Hebrews had God appear to them as a pillar of fire by night, a pillar of dust by day, showering them with food from heaven and water from rocks, covering a mountain with fire before them, and they still built a golden calf to worship instead. The evidence isn’t the issue. There is a Father who calls you into communion with him, giving up his one dear son to a tortuous death on a cross so that this could occur. Believe. Its not a leap of faith: it is trusting in someone who has already proved his worth.
Ok, so I have used a provocative title in order to get attention, so bear with we.
It is often said that Christianity isn’t about obeying rules, but about a relationship with Jesus. And this is kind of true. But on its own, this statement means virtually nothing. The statement relies on a set of propositional truths for it to have meaning.
Would I say that Christianity isn’t about obeying rules? Yes. And very much no. As a Reformed Christian, I believe that my salvation is not dependant on my good works and my obedience to God’s law, but on the obedience of Christ in his death on the cross and his perfect life, which by faith is counted as my own before the judgement throne of God. But the result of my salvation is that I am compelled by a new nature and the Indwelling Spirit to obey God. So, being a Christian is about obeying God’s law, willfully and happily.
And what about the relationship with Jesus? What does that even mean without some propositions behind it? Who is Jesus? What does this relationship entail? Actually, my relationship entails my obedience to him. To have a relationship with God is to obey God’s commandments, so much so that you really have to ask yourself whether you have a relationship with him if you refuse to obey his commands.
I am certainly not saying you are saved on account of your obedience, nor do you maintain your salvation by obedience. In fact, your salvation purchased by the work of Christ alone is the background necessity to any obedience of yourself. You are saved on account of Christ’s obedience - in his life and in his death. But because you as a Christian are united to Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit who leads you in righteousness, you cannot but be changed from disobedience to obedience due to the cross work of Christ and the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit. If you are a Christian you have died to sin with Christ, and have been raised to newness of life with him, you will do as he does. In short, you will be obedient (at least in part - we all continue to sin, but we are no longer by nature sinners). We were called to a freedom from the curse of the law, a freedom that gives us an opportunity to obey the law by loving God and neighbours (Galatians 5: 13-14).
And this is all by grace. It is the same grace that justifies that sanctifies, that rids us from sins guilt and from its power. It is grace that teaches us to resist temptation (Titus 2:11-14), and it is in Christ, in his death and resurrection, that we have died to sin and risen to newness of life (Romans 6, Colossians 3:1-4). It is God’s grace in dwelling in us by the Holy Spirit and uniting us to Christ through which the process of sanctification occurs. It is the wonderful gift of the gospel - that Christ died to remove the just punishment that your sin deserved, and rose again in vindication, that you too may die to sin with him and rise renewed to love and serve the Lord. You did not merit salvation, and nor do you do anything to “stay in the club” as it were: “by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your doing, but a gift from God” (Ephesians 2:8). And the joy of this gracious salvation in the life we live now? That we have been saved for good works prepared for us in eternity - Ephesians 2:10.
So be careful when saying that being a Christian is not about obedience but relationship. This gives a false impression. God cares about what you do, and that you obey him. Christ says himself that if we love him we will obey him (John 14:15). Because the Christ with whom you are united is Lord as well as saviour, and so to have a relationship with him is to have a relationship with him in his capacity as King, as well as his capacity as brother. And because we are united to Christ, we obey the Father, because now he is a loving Father who wants whats best for us, and we want to honour him in obeying him.
Yes, being a Christian is about relationship. But as with human relationships, the relationship entails different requirements based on the title of the person you have a relationship with. And if you love your daddy, you will love to do his will.
This relates to something that happenned a while ago
This blog post is about my generations ability to reason. Because, put simply, we have lost that ability.
This comes from watching a series of lectures given by Doug Wilson at the University of Indiana. Here is the link to it: http://www.canonwired.com/bloomington/ . For those of you who don’t know, Doug Wilson is trying to present a consistent biblical view on sexuality.
Now, I don’t really care whether you agree with him or not in this instance. He takes a number of cheap shots that I disagree with. Some of his lines of argument I may think are incorrect, or he missed little nuances which are important reflections of the questioners presuppositions.
No, the reason why I blog is this: throughout his whole lecture, Doug Wilson was continuously heckled, interrupted, and his talk disturbed by protests. And none of this interruptions had any real intellectual value. They failed to interact with his actual argument, though some of the questions in the Q & A were actually quite intelligent.
But whooping when someone asks a question is not rational debate. You have to wait for the answer first. A killer question is only killer if the guy can’t give an answer at all.
Neither is slandering or making ad hominum attacks a legitimate method of making an argument.
In order to make an argument, you must be able to actually engage with the opponent. You must be able to present their arguments in such a way that the opponent would agree with. You cannot misrepresent the view of your opponent to create a straw man augument for you to blow down.
But this is exactly what the audience did. They showed little interest in what Wilson had to say, and as such showed themselves completley unable to rationally debate in an academic context.
And this attitude is endemic. We live in a culture where real debate is suppressed because people refuse to really debate things. It happens in politics as well as in wider cultural and moral issues. People get uppety without really putting in the simple effort and courtesy to engage with a counteracting viewpoint. This is not just an unwillingness to reason but a blunt refusal to reason, whilst at the same time believing that they are being reasoned.
Here is my response to the comment made by Tom on my previous post on theological opinion. As it was quite a long and comment (which is welcomed, as it shows I need to sharpen things up a bit), I have decided to do a full length rejoinder to it. And by full length, I mean long… 3500 words or there abouts.
Firstly, I must address the issue of straw men, which I must admit I was somewhat guilty of building in my previous post. Straw men do nothing to aid and assist a debate, providing false results to many questions. Reading Tom’s comment, I was really challenged about how I had presented my previous argument through the use of blunt and sweeping assertions. I realise now that I had created a “liberal” without actually describing what one was. In fact I only used the term once in the blog, and right at the end. The term “liberal” has little use today, as those who are described as such hold to a broad spectrum of opinions, many of which are strictly neo-orthodox and which have an emphasis on post-modernism rather than the modernism of the traditional liberals. As such, I did hit out at somewhat of an imaginary character with no set characteristics, which was wrong.
However, whilst characterising an invisible man in a certain way is uncharitable, I must deal with those doctrines (or denial of crucial doctrines) that an individual may hold to. I am not in fear of some “liberal bogeyman”, a figment off my imagination who, a spectre who is attacking the church. Rather I fear a set of doctrinal affirmations and rejections that are truly held by some who, for want of a better label, I call “liberal”, even if some of their understandings are actually closer to neo-orthodoxy (for example their doctrine of scripture). These are real doctrinal issues which I believe are dangerous.
This is a long blog post. And it is not even a complete rebuttal of any point. The aim of it is to illustrate, without sweeping statements, how the gospel to which I hold cannot co-exist with rival gospels, for to do so would create a rival God.
Why does your theology matter?
The simple reason your theology matters is this is because your whole theology determines the answer to one simple question: what is the gospel? What propositional truths you hold defines what you think the gospel is, and what the gospel is defines what a Christian is. Change the gospel, change the God.
The New Testament writers states very clearly that not all those who call themselves Christians will be so, and the reason for this will be their tampering of the gospel. Galatians 1:6-9 is clear on this: there is one gospel, the gospel as proclaimed by Paul, and any who distort the gospel by preaching another gospel which contrasts to Paul’s have simply abandoned the faith. Those of the “circumcision party” would call themselves Christians, believe that Jesus was the Christ, and that he died for sins, yet by adding the need to keep the Law of Moses to the gospel they renounced Christ, so much so that Paul states that if righteousness comes through the law, “Christ died for no purpose”.
Paul makes the simple case that we can demark who is and who isn’t a “true” Christian through the content of their beliefs. Jude also writes:
“I was very eager to write to you about out common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only master and Lord” (Jude 1:3-4)
Jude here is imploring his readers to hold to the true gospel, which clearly has a deal of propositional content, as there are those who have entered the church and who by perversion of the gospel deny the Lord. It is clear: there is only one gospel and one Lord, and to fiddle with what each of these is, or what stands behind each, is to abandon the God who is the author of our salvation. Peter warns that there would be false prophets who “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). There is no room in the Apostles understanding of God for any deviation from the gospel which they proclaimed.
So how we define the gospel is vital if we are to be in the household of faith. To believe in Christ is to trust in him for the accomplishment of our salvation, which intrinsically involves understanding how he accomplished it, and what salvation is. Again Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Galatians: the Christ he portrayed was the Christ who was crucified (Galatians 3:1). To Paul Christ’s death has specific salvific effect which relates to justification by faith alone, the argument of Galatians, and so that what we believe about the work of Christ on the cross is vital to what the gospel is. Paul goes on to develop the importance of the cross, illustrating that on the cross Christ was made to be accursed, and through this process redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). Christ himself talks about his work on the cross as being a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul talks of how God has made us “alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of the debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15).
And this affects how an evangelical understands the gospel. For an evangelical, the gospel is that Christ died on the cross to satisfy the just demands of the law, to save us from the curse of death for disobedience inaugurated in the Garden of Eden. It is not the story of an innocent son being pummelled by an abusive Father. Neither is it merely an act of human injustice illustrating the nature of God. It is said that God did not kill Jesus, man did, but this is only a half truth: Jesus who is God laid down his own life willingly and obediently to the Father’s will, it was not taken from him (John 10:18). This ensures a truly Trinitarian soteriology: it is the determination of the entire Trinity in one united purpose to rescue man from sin, so that man may be adopted as sons of God. The Father ordains, the Son achieves, and the Spirit applies. The Father desired children, the Son a bride, and the Spirit that God receive the glory. Through the most unjust act to ever have occurred, God’s merciful justice was fulfilled: it was by man’s sin that Christ hung on the cross to destroy the full demands for that heinous act and to release men from its power.
So, how does this apply in the interaction between “liberals” and “evangelicals”?
Firstly, it must be understood that orthodoxy is orthopraxy. Holding to sound doctrine and rightly dividing “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is a requirement for Christians. It is a form of orthopraxic obedience. To hold to erroneous doctrine is roundly condemned by Paul and the Apostles. We are warned to be wary of false teachers who tamper with the gospel, who promote licentiousness, who are worldly and who deny those basic doctrines. Examples are found in Galatians 1:6-10, 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 2 Peter 2, 1 John 2:18-26, amongst others. In 1 John 2:21, John clearly states that we can know “the truth”, not merely a perspective on that truth.
Secondly, the characterisation of evangelicals as possessing “dead orthodoxy”, individuals who have all the right doctrine but do not live in a “Christian” manner, is as much a straw man as any depictions of liberals that go the other way. Furthermore, it seriously lacks theological understanding. Yes, there are some who have supposedly flawless doctrine, but who have never truly had faith in Christ, instead trusting in their own righteousness, or, more often, falling into serious moral sin indicative of lack of repentance and faith. However, the truth of the gospel is that those who have died to sin with Christ and are now a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) cannot continue to live as they did previously. This is not a “cannot” in terms of an order but is rather a “cannot” insofar as it is an impossibility. There is a real change wrought through the work of Christ and the application of the Holy Spirit of his sanctifying work – for we are sanctified in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2) – which means that a Christian is given a new disposition enabled to follow God in obedience to his laws and statutes. In Ezekiel, part of the change which is wrought by regeneration, the granting of a new heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is that believers will be caused to “walk in [God’s] statutes and be careful to obey [God’s] rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). The sentiment is also stated in Jeremiah 31:33, and requited in Hebrews 8. The result of this new covenant relationship is sanctification by the Spirit, which implants new laws in man’s heart, that they may walk in righteousness. Yes we still sin, but if you are a Christian you will bear fruit, and that will be known by it (also see John 15:8, 16, and Matthew 7:16). It is the outworking of the salvation from sin, not a contribution to it (i.e. your fruit comes from being saved, it does not save you).
In terms of the Gospel, the question comes down to which side holds to that Gospel “once delivered to the saints”. You see, to an evangelical, the entire gospel rests on the fact that, on the cross, Christ was a propitiation for man’s sins, that he satisfied the wrath of God that was owed to man so that those who were predestined in him could be called righteous before God, the merits of Christ counted as their own, and that they could die to sin and rise to newness of life. All the benefits of salvation rely on what Christ did to achieve this salvation in the first place, and to deny this is to completely change what the subsequent salvation entails.
Yes, there is a restorative aspect of the atonement: that we that are united with Christ by faith have with him died to sin and are raised to newness of life (Romans 6:6-8). But this issue was what the whole Reformation was about: that our just standing before God was not on account of the work that he achieves through us by grace, but on account of the work Christ does for us in a judicial sense, becoming “sin on our behalf, that we may become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). If the exegesis of the scripture is in this way correct, and I truly believe it is (this isn’t the place for a full exposition of the atonement), then to deny the propitiatory nature of the atonement of Christ is to tamper with the gospel, and to tamper with the gospel is simply to deny God.
To make the work of Christ on the cross only that of Christus Victor (or moral influence), without the propitiatory and legal aspects of it, is to change what salvation is. If the work of the atonement is merely that of the defeat of powers and principalities, justification is not forensic (legal) but transformative, that it is our works that ultimately justify us. And many on the progressive wing of Christianity see salvation as an ethical change in an individual, that Christ came to make “the now” better. To remove the penal penalty of sin creates a God who does not care about the just demands of sin, only its presence, and such a view fails to recognise that only through the vindication of the law can sin be removed. If Christ did not bear sins on the cross, only suffered being sinned against, nothing really changes, except potentially man, who must change himself by reacting the right way (a serious slide to semi-Pelagianism, condemned for the last 1600 years or so). And if the Cross merely illustrates that God isn’t angry with mankind any more, what does that mean universalism? It must do, unless the idea of salvation is seen in purely ethical terms, which is what has generally happened. Love wins and all that…
Further, It must be remembered that Satan means “the accuser”, and that illustrates exactly what his role is in the rebellion against God. His aim is to accuse, to point out that we are unworthy of salvation, that our sins must be punished. The victory of Christ on the cross cannot be separated from the fact that in propitiation Christ pulled the carpet from beneath the Devil’s feet: his accusations count for nothing against those united to Christ in his death. Further, the justifying work of Christ – imputing a declaration of righteousness to sinful man – allows the Spirit to dwell in man as a Holy Temple, which itself produces a sanctifying change in man, that they turn from sin.
The view that views Christ’s incarnation purely in terms of Christ’s identification with man simply changes what the gospel is. No longer is salvation the redemption, nor is Christ’s work redemptive. As BB Warfield explains in his fantastic essay “Redeemer and Redemption”, redemption must be seen exegetically as the ransom of man, for to think otherwise is to rid redemption of anything resembling redeeming.
If Christ came to show the way to man, to identify with man only to show them that there was a better way to live, then the cross achieves nothing. It may signify something, but it actually changes nothing except the thoughts man, if man lets it. It ushers in no change of status before God. The High Priestly work of Christ is sucked of its redemptive and mediatorial work: if our status before God was not an issue, God merely pretending that we never sinned, then we have no need for a mediator. However, in reality Christ stands before the father saying: “I have purchased this bride for a price Father, for my own name’s sake. I was tempted like she was but did not sin. I love her and gave my life in her place” (see Hebrews 4:14-15 for eg). Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22) and it is clear that this shedding of blood was a price through which man was purchased (1 Corinthians 6:20), the price of their sin paid for, and that this blood is the route through which peace with God was achieved, removing our alienation from him and allowing us to be presented blameless before God: we were not blameless before, but the blood has made us blameless not by changing us but changing our status(Colossians 1:20-22). Christ bear’s the sins of many (Hebrews 9:27) not only in becoming an outcast, suffering an unjust death by men, but in paying the price for justice for many. God was no “fellow sufferer” who needed to hang on the Cross to realise himself, but a God perfect in himself, who ordained to rescue sinful man in a united Trinitarian action.
This isn’t even a full argument. I could go on, but I already fear my few readers would have already stopped some 1000 words ago. The aim of this is to show that what you believe is vital, for the gospel is only the gospel if certain propositions are true. Change the propositions, change the nature of the God and the gospel. If I am wrong, I have been worshipping a different God: I cannot be said to have had faith, as I had faith in something else.
Let us turn to the second example given, that of the issue of conservative Christian sexual ethics. This, like the atonement, is a gospel issue. For if in Christ we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Paul makes it clear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God, and includes in this list fornicators, adulterers and homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). But the real crux is in the following verse: “For such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul indicates that there has been a change in the believer in the deliverance from sin, so that they are no longer defined by that sin. Furthermore, the law of God, i.e. God’s moral commandments which are a guide to life, are in no way called to cease. These laws, set out in the Decalogue, are still binding to Christians as they represent God’s perfect character. Christian sexual ethics all fall under the command not to commit adultery. The root of this command is summarised by Jesus himself (Mark 10:6-9): for God created them “man and woman”. Christ was not merely pandering to a backward society around him, as some on the left of the faith suggest. He was calling attention to the eternal plan for the ordering of the world, the plan of the bringing together of man and women to become one flesh, as an illustration of the love between Christ and the Church. If to love Christ is to obey him (John 14:15), then we must face the truth that, on this issue, one of the sides is not loving Christ because one side is not obeying him. Sin remains sin, and appealing to a vague idea of “love” disconnected with God’s law is folly.
I have not fully developed the exposition of why I believe what I believe, and many of the critiques of opposing views have, I admit been in equally broad strokes as the presentation of my own book. That was not the purpose - if you want fuller arguments, there are books. I also have not critiqued the predominant doctrine of scripture held by the progressive wing, that of Barthian neo-orthodoxy, the mistake in conflating God’s revelation and God’s essence and therefore the need to reduce scripture to a mere record of revelation rather than revelation itself. Neither have I addressed the problem of post-modernism, the rejection of the author in favour of the text alone and the addition of subjectivity into scriptural interpretation. Nor have I addressed the pantheism and panentheism, or the “becoming” of God as held by some of a progressive persuasion. But again, that is by and bye – it was not the purpose of this response. The purpose of this post was to illustrate this point:
In being truly consistent in my reading of scripture, and bearing in mind the scriptural commands to watch for false teachers and to contend for the gospel as delivered to the saints, I cannot but reject as heresy those deviations from what scripture has revealed to be true.
In this I am not being small minded. It is simply the case that the gospel is built on certain propositions. The Early Church recognised this. This is why we have the ecumenical creeds. This is why Modalism and Arianism and Nestorianism and Apollonairanism and Manichaeism and Pelagianism were all condemned by the Church as heresy. These heresies tampering with the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Christ were rightly understood to be a complete rejection of the Biblical God, God who has revealed himself by prophets and, in time, in fullness in Christ. I cannot but hold to the same principles as these early fathers also held. I cannot say that these ideas are merely “perspectives” in a subjective world where there is just the text, and we all get it a little bit wrong so we must have freedom to all contribute to the shared journey of faith. The Fathers realised that to get much right but to tamper with one key issue is to abandon orthodoxy in the totality of your system.
Let me finish off with this illustration. Imagine that in front of you are three lists of the doctrines held by three un-named religions. You read down the list, and conclude that all three are equally as different from all the others as each other itself. There are three different doctrines of God, three different descriptions of Christ, three different explanations of his purpose, three different descriptions of his cross work, three different accounts of salvation. You would, looking down these lists conclude that they are three separate religions. Now, if I was to reveal that one list was the Reformed faith, one was the “liberal” faith (though now adays liberalism and neo-orthodoxy have rather subsumed each other), and the other was a description of the beliefs held by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, what would you think. The truth is that the number of differences between an evangelical and a “liberal” is to the same extent as the number of differences between the evangelical and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is clearly a different religion. Thus, if the differences are as great in these two situations, I cannot describe one faith so polar opposite to my own in the beliefs held, either the JW’s or the liberals, to be the same faith as that which I hold.
Now, I’m not an exclusive psalmodist.
But I am getting closer to it.
The truth is, we massively neglect the psalms in Churches here in England. We sometimes sing worship songs based on psalms or on scriptural songs. We sometimes sing songs which have some vague references to the psalms. But we rarely sing proper psalms in our Churches.
And this is tragic. In Scripture, God has provided his own infallible songbook. He has in the psalms provided us with his own words of how he wishes to be worshipped. These songs contain the full range of human emotions, from desperate pleading to God for mercy to ectatic praise, both the highs and the lows. They are beautiful expressions of worship to God, and further they are God’s word and so speaks back to us. Every time we sing the psalms, God word is proclaimed back to us. He speaks to us when we are worshipping him.
And more than that, we are exhorted to sing “hymns, psalms and spiritual songs”, not just man made hymns. And why wouldn’t we? Think about it: when we sing God’s word back to him, it is always going to be more pure, more brilliant than any words that we can write.
Now, I do believe that there is a place for hymns not in the Scriptures. I think that is what is referred to when Paul exhorts us to sing “hymns, psalms and spiritual songs”. I think that non-inscriptured hymns fill a gap in the collection of psalms, that being that there are no recorded scriptural hymns after the resurrection of Christ (at least, not in the form of a full hymn - there are references in the epistles). Thus, to express the full glory of God’s work of redemption in Christ through a song, we are required to write hymns reflecting the teachings of scripture. This is very much like preaching: a hymn is an exposition of God’s word, merely in the form of a piece of music.
But I would love to sing hymns, simple and straight, with no alteration other than translating into metrical form. It is something we don’t do enough, and really should do more.