It is time for evangelicals to recover a fully biblical appreciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in the history of salvation-and to do so precisely as evangelicals.
I think evangelicals do have a “fully biblical appreciation” of Mary–I wonder if he’s really asking evangelicals to be more sympathetic to extra-Biblical Catholic teachings.
Can we, without forsaking any of the evangelical essentials, including the great solas of the Reformation, echo Elizabeth’s acclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42), or resonate with the Spirit-filled maid of the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48)?
I’ve never known any Evangelicals who had a problem with either. They are Gospel texts, after all.
It seems to many evangelicals that Catholic preoccupation with Mary obscures the preeminence and sole salvific sufficiency of Jesus Christ and thus leads many people away from rather than to the Savior himself.
Yes, it does. A key example is seen at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Jesus is seen as a stern visaged figure ready to pop you upside the head, but Mary, Immaculately Conceived, stands atop the baldachino, mercifully coming between you and him. Catholics are exhorted to go “to Jesus, through Mary.”
Mary has a pivotal and irreducible place in the Bible, and evangelicals must reclaim this aspect of biblical teaching if we are to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. When it comes to the gospel, Mary cannot be shunted aside or relegated to the affectionate obscurity of the annual Christmas pageant.
Mary does have a pivotal role–she says “yes” to the angel and gives birth to Jesus. She and Joseph raise him. After that, she pops into the story a couple of times and then disappears, with neither Acts nor the epistles concerned with her after Pentecost.
Is Mary the “new Eve”? That’s not a Biblical image. Jesus is the second Adam–it was his obedience that overcame the disobedience of Adam. Mary did agree to the incarnation–but the Bible doesn’t separate her in any other way.
Was she a virgin mother? Yes, the Bible is clear that a virgin conceived. That’s all it says–it has none of the legends about her remaining a virgin in the act of giving birth, without pain; nothing about her remaining a virgin in her relationship with Joseph. George notes:
More difficult is the claim for the inviolate virginity of Mary in partu: the virgin birth in a precise sense. Not only does this belief stem from a post-canonical writing, the Protoevangelium of James, but it also seems to undermine the anti-docetic emphasis of the doctrine. This is especially true when it is said that Mary gave birth to Jesus without pain. If indeed the virgin mother of God is the link that unites Christ and humanity, it is hard to see why the virginal conception of Jesus, attested by Scripture, should entail an anesthetized delivery. While Cardinal Newman was surely right to say that God could have spared the mother of the messiah the pains of child-bearing, there is no sound biblical reason for assuming God did so. Indeed, if the woman of the apocalypse in Revelation 12 harks back to Mary, then the opposite seems to be the case, for there we are told that this woman “was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth” (Revelation 12:2).
I think this a critical point–the separation of Mary from normal aches and pains of womanhood seems to be heading in the direction of docetism. We saw this issue raised by some Catholic critics of “The Nativity Story,” who were aghast that Mary should be shown having discomfort. We see it in articles like that of a young Bryce Sibley wondering whether Mary had a period. According to Scripture, Jesus was like us in all things except that he didn’t surrender to temptation. Scripture doesn’t make even that exception for Mary.
Can Evangelicals call her “Mother of God”? Certainly, for the child in her womb was indeed her creator.
What about Mary in prayer? George says,
Evangelicals do not pray to Mary, but we can learn to pray like Mary and with Mary-with Mary and all the saints.
I’d say we can pray like Mary and the saints–we can pray as they did. Now they await the resurrection of Christ. We’ll join together one day in praising God together.