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The Debate about Mary, Mother of Jesus

posted by xscot mcknight

What do you really think of Mary? Most Protestants know far too little about Mary, and often don’t even know that the Immaculate Conception (Mary’s) is not the same as the virginal conception (Jesus’). I expect to be posting occasionally about Mary in the next six months or so, and I thought today I’d post a brief on the dialogue between evangelical-to-Roman Catholic convert Dwight Longenecker (from England) and his fellow Bob Jones graduate, Washington DC lawyer, David Gustafson. The book is called Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate, and it is a good book.
What is your view of Mary or your experience with Mary, Marian devotion, or whatever?
I’m working on a project about Mary, but the one thing I want to avoid is the polemical debate between Catholics and Protestants over Mary. Longenecker and Gustafson (L&G) do this so well it need not be done again. I want to write a piece that appropriates Mary (for Protestants) in a positive manner.
But, there are some very important issues to discuss for any kind of meaningful dialogue, and L&G have them all: what the Bible says, Mary as Mother “of God,” the virginal conception, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the “spouse of the Holy Spirit,” the immaculate conception, the glorious assumption, apparitions of Mary in history, the veneration of Mary, the holy rosary, Mary as co-redeemer and mediatrix and advocate.
Each of these topics is discussed in a back-and-forth discussion and debate. Gustafson is a conservative evangelical who has done lots of homework, and Longenecker is an enthusiastic participant in Marian devotion. It makes for a very good read. I commend them for it.
What first-time thinkers about Mary often learn is how early Marian theology developed. That second century document, Protevangelium James, sets the agenda for the entire development of Marian devotion.
If you are looking for a book that sorts through these issues in a dialogical and respectful way, rather than either a polemical defense of one side only, this is the book.



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Dan

posted June 8, 2006 at 7:23 am


Dr. McKnight,
I actually recently posted a reflection on Mary premised upon some remarks made by Tom Wright and some other comments made by Hans Urs von Balthasar. I have found Tom Wright to be an excellent example of a Protestant who has begun to draw from the deep well of Marian theology, and I have found that reading von Balthasar has made me excited about Marian theology — he has inspired me with his Marian reflections (as has Alexander Schmemann’s Eastern Orthodox emphasis on Mary as the Theotokos). I would love to hear your thoughts on my post which can be found here:
http://poserorprophet.livejournal.com/75150.html
Grace and peace.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:00 am


Dan,
Nice piece, and some nice poetic ideas. The two abandoned ones staring at the Abandoned One was a nice touch. I like it. I don’t think I’d call us “Theotokoi” for the simple reason that this expression refers to “bearing in the sense of giving birth to.” Where is Fr. Schmemann’s piece?



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Carmen

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:11 am


While this isn’t from a scholarly angle, I have noticed that Mary has cropped up recently in pop culture: Anne Rice’s “Christ the Lord” and New Line’s upcoming film “Nativity” as two examples (not to mention the number of times discussion of Mary cropped up on the edges of conversation concerning the “DaVinci Code”). As a lifelong Anabaptist/evangelical, I must admit I hadn’t given her much thought until these recent rises of conversation in pop culture. Why is that? Anyway, I look forward to your take on this. Blessings.



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Dan

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:22 am


Dr. McKnight,
I believe it was For the Life of the World that first introduced me to Schmemann’s view on Mary as the Theotokos, I think I also read another article where he further developed the idea, but I can’t remember if it was in another book or published in a journal — if you like I could go back and try to dig it up for you.
Perhaps I should nuance my usage of the term Theotokoi (I’m trying not to discard it altogether, so bear me out here). We have the Spirit within us, but the Spirit groans in travail, along with the world that groans as it awaits the new creation of all things. And so we “bear” the Spirit as the Spirit “gives birth” to the new life of the cosmos.
If we are agents of the new creation then could it be said that we are possessed by the Spirit but the Spirit is also birthed from us into the world? We groan as we birth the Spirit, and the Spirit groans as it births a new heavens and a new earth? I don’t know about this whole idea of “birthing the Spirit,” I’m just thinking out loud at this point. Thoughts?



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andii

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:34 am


I’d recommend Max Thurian’s “Mary, Mother of the Lord and figure of the church” as a good presentation of Mary in a way that protestants can get hold of without doing violence to certain important attitudes and convictions.



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Brian

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:35 am


I really appreciated your treatment of Mary in TJC. Also, McLaren’s short reflection in AGO “Why I am catholic” was good too.



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C. Wess Daniels

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:54 am


I look forward to there being good protestant Marian theology, I wonder if it could help the protestant church come to grasp with many of its gender issues as well.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:55 am


Dan,
You are being poetic with “theotokos” and the term has had a very narrow meaning. The poetic dimension is suggestive, that’s all I’m saying.
Yes, it is true that Mary is up both for re-evaluation among Protestants but that she is also gaining in public discussion.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:58 am


Wess,
That is a good question, for many have argued that Marian devotion and theology has been a structure that keeps women out of ministry. I’m thinking through this one myself. Just as I think her viriginity is not an attack on sexuality in general, so I’m not sure her role as Mother and humble receptive one is an attack on confident, courageous acts of faith.



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Phil

posted June 8, 2006 at 9:22 am


In recent years, there have been several books about Mary from a Protestant or Ecumenical perspective:
Alain Blancy, Maurice Jourjon & the Dombes Group, Mary in the Plan of God and in the Communion of Saints (Paulist Press, 2002).
Carl E. Braaten & Robert W. Jenson, eds., Mary: Mother of God (Eerdmans, 2004).
Raymond E. Brown & Paul J. Achtemeier, eds., Mary in the New Testament (Fortress Press, 1978).
Beverley Roberts Gaventa & Cynthia L. Rigby, eds., Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (Westminster John Knox, 2002).
Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (University of South Carolina Press, 1995).



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 8, 2006 at 10:50 am


Scot,
I am glad you are exploring this as well. As someone already mentioned, Anne Rice excellent novel “Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt” presents an historically robust and powerfully believable Mary.
While perhaps not an original or universal intent, the veneration of Mary, put forth closely attached to her perpetual virginity, glorious assumption, etc. seems (at least in part) to be an affirming way of subjegating both female spirituality and sexuality. Her veneration is dependant on “physical purity”.
That being said, this doesn’t, then, disqualify ALL Marian devotion, but simply adds a cautionary note. On the opposite extreme, you see the worship of the divine feminine as put forth in “The Da Vinci Code”. Again, though going too far, there are strong elements of important truth within the ideas, namely that eikonic nature of humanity is as much reflected in Woman as it is in Man.
Sadly, this has been lost to most of the Church, which is why Mary presents an important figure in exploring it. However, it is a journey between Scylla and Charybdis- on one hand we do not want to raise Mary so high as to lose her humanity, her sameness with us, but on the other, neither do we want to underplay the absolutely unique and sacred place she served in God’s most important engagement with Creation.
Peace,
Jamie



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J. B. Hood

posted June 8, 2006 at 1:42 pm


Scot,
Timely topic. I look forward to hearing how you treat (or intentionally avoid!) Matt 1. Mary’s connection or lack thereof to Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and ‘[ek] ths tou Ouriou’ is a large part of my dissertation.



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chad

posted June 8, 2006 at 1:44 pm


being married to a Catholic there was a lot of “unlearning” i had to do so that we could have meaningful conversation about matters of faith. i had several stereotypes about the Catholic view of Mary that were very negative. i now have an appreciation for Mary, her sacrifice, and her willingness to bear a child as a single, Jewish woman. my unlearning led to a greater understanding of Mary’s devotion and place in Christian faith.



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Doug Chaplin

posted June 8, 2006 at 5:49 pm


I’m surprised that you feel the need to type ‘mother “of God”‘ since that is primarily a christological affirmation: that from conception there is never a moment when Jesus is not God.
One very interesting, difficult and provocative take on Mary as co-redemptrix comes in Gavin d’Costa’s book “Sexing the Trinity” which explores the idea that this is archetypal for the ways in which God calls all his people to join in the work of redeeming the world, while at the same time de-masculinising the language to emphasize the all-embracing body of both the redeeemed and the Redeemer.
I wouldn’t myself entirely go along with him, but I’d like to draw it to your attention.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 8, 2006 at 6:36 pm


Doug,
Mother of God arose largely as a way of dealing with the Nestorians, and it demonstrated that Jesus’ was the God-Man not God and man. Hence, it is indeed a theological category. Theotokos, technically, means “God-bearer” and there have been many Protestants nervous about such a category for Mary.



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Dana Ames

posted June 8, 2006 at 6:49 pm


Dan and Doug (and anyone else),
Tom Wright delivered an exegetical address to the CofE generaly synod in 1991 which is reprinted in his book “The Crown and the Fire” as “The World, the Church and the Groaning of the Spirit”. As I was reading it, I felt like I just about had to to jump out of my skin. Talks about what the groaning could mean and about how we join God in the redemption of the world- deliciously Trinitarian with humanity caught up therein, and a worthy contribution to elucidating a pneumatology for the People of God with nuances that address the gender issue too. Fabulous.
I’m interested in the book Scot mentioned. I have reconciled a lot of my Catholic past with my life now, including Mary. The apparitions remain outside that reconciliation, but I don’t think about them very much.
Dana



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Anonymous

posted June 8, 2006 at 6:58 pm


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Will Nielsen

posted June 8, 2006 at 8:09 pm


I thought these quotes from Charles Hodge, Herman Bavinck and Francis Turretin (quoted by Hodge) might be interesting. A more historic Reformed view has great esteem for the Christological implications of Mary as ????????. You might also be interested in the following posts summarizing chapters in John Meyendorff’s book Christ in Eastern Christian Thought:
1. Christology in the Fifth Century
4. “God Suffered in the Flesh” (1 of 2)
As a Reformed Presbyterian type, I am encouraged by Mary’s example. She is presented to us as a disciple of disciples. My fear is that in approaching the topic of Mary in terms of a polemic (e.g., Protestants v Catholics) both sides will miss in trying to not be like the other. Echoing the post of the Protestant woman above (the one married to a Roman Catholic), there are a variety of positions on Mary in both the Protestant and Roman Catholic circles.



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Joel Richardson

posted June 8, 2006 at 9:21 pm


Thanks Scot. Really looking forward to your book.



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Joel Richardson

posted June 8, 2006 at 9:22 pm


Thanks Scot. Really looking forward to your book.
Cheers.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 8, 2006 at 9:26 pm


Joel,
Thanks. Thanks. :)



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Aaron J. Smith

posted June 8, 2006 at 10:58 pm


Just curious… does anyone else see Mary as the final barrer of the seed of promice? In this light, I rever her just as i rever Abraham or Judah or David, but still remember that her blessedness (which is real to be sure) is not something that elevates her beyond the other redeemed.



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Doug Wilson

posted June 9, 2006 at 3:45 am


Scot:
Jack Hayford wrote a lovely little book called The Mary Miracle: Receiving God’s Miraculous Touch in Your Life (1994) which appears to be reincarnated in his 1999 The Christmas Miracle: Experience the Blessing.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 9, 2006 at 6:22 am


Aaron,
I’m with you on how much she should be “revered.”
Doug,
Thanks for this suggestion.



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RonMck

posted June 9, 2006 at 4:15 pm


Gabriel said Mary would be honoured above all women (Luke 1:28)Thats good enough for me.



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Dan

posted June 10, 2006 at 7:44 am


I should have mentioned this before: another area of theology that speaks about Mary in a way that should be heard by Protestants is the Marian theology developed by the Liberation theologians. This approach to Mary could well bridge the gap that exists between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Segundo Galilea’s work comes to mind, but several prominent liberation theologians have developed a very transformative model of Marian theology.



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Ted Gossard

posted June 11, 2006 at 2:58 pm


I look forward to learning more on Mary and how the Church has perceived her through the centuries, and how we should perceive her now. I find this subject fascinating.



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