Rosaria Butterfield and ‘man-made hymns’

In recent months I have read two excellent books by Rosaria Butterfield.  The first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, tells the truly remarkable story of the author’s conversion from an atheistic lesbian lifestyle, and her subsequent marriage to a Presbyterian minister.  This is a gripping read and is highly recommended.  The second book, Openness Unhindered, discusses sexual identity and union with Christ.  This also is an impressive work and could be of great help to someone struggling in these areas, though some parts of the book may seem rather ‘opaque’ to ‘straight’ people.

In reading these books, however, a phrase the author uses raised questions in my mind.  The phrase is, ‘man-made hymns,’ and to me it seemed to imply a negative, critical or even derogatory tone.  Ms Butterfield’s husband is obviously of the exclusive Psalmody persuasion, so one can understand why she uses that phrase.

Here, in Scotland, there are at least nine separate Presbyterian denominations, some of which sing only metrical Psalms in their services.  I have preached in churches belonging to several of these denominations so I am familiar with the content of the services.

That phrase Rosaria Butterfield uses caused me to ask such questions as these: Does the author’s husband pray man-made (extempore) prayers in the services?  Does he preach man-made sermons?  Are the tunes to which they sing the metrical Psalms man-made?  Are not the metrical Psalms a man-made paraphrase of a man-made English translation from the original Hebrew?  Even the Scripture reading will be from a man-made English translation of the original.

The fact is that there is no part of the services led by the author’s husband which is not, in some way, man-made.  And the same goes for any church, unless they read from the original Hebrew and Greek, pray only Scripture prayers and preach sermons found in the Bible.  To single out hymns only as ‘man-made’ is myopic at best and perverse at worst.

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