LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Evangelicals must be careful not to elevate the role of Mary above what is presented in Scripture, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in the March 21 issue of Time magazine.
Mohler is among several theologians and scholars quoted in a Time cover story examining the Protestant view of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The article describes a recent trend within Protestant scholarship and church life of elevating Mary as a model of Christian devotion who is deserving of more attention.
Mohler acknowledges that evangelicals must look to Scripture as they consider Mary. But he cautions against singling her out as a mediator between God and man or an elevated model of Christian devotion.
“Insofar as evangelicals may have marginalized Mary’s presentation in the Bible, it needs to be recovered,” he says in the article.
“But the closer I look at the New Testament, the more convinced I am that it does not single her out for the kind of attention that is being proposed. We have not missed the point about her. To construct a new role for her is simply overreaching.”
In contrast to Mohler, the article presents Beverly Gaventa, a Princeton professor who believes that Mary has been the victim of “a Protestant conspiracy of silence: theologically, liturgically and devotionally.”
Gaventa, author of “Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus,” concludes that Mary appears earlier and at more strategic moments in the life of Jesus than any other New Testament figure. She urges Protestants to speak of Mary more frequently from the pulpit and in academic papers.
Time notes that Gaventa’s work has encouraged other writers to reconsider the importance of Mary. Another work by Gaventa, a collection titled, “Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary,” co-edited by Cynthia Rigby, presents several feminist approaches to Mary including one that contrasts Mary’s situation with the conservative concept of “family values.”
Protestants’ renewed interest in Mary is further evidenced by cover stories in both Christianity Today and Christian Century, the Time article says.
Also in the article, Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., cautions against worship or inappropriate celebration of Mary but says that Jesus’ mother does play a unique role in salvation history. Jesus’ instruction to the Apostle John at the cross to take care of Mary is one scriptural indication that Mary occupies a unique role, George says.
“I think that John does to some extent represent the church, and that scene indicates that Mary is to be honored and given a kind of recognition in salvation history,” he says. “And I don’t think you have to be Roman Catholic to say it.”
The Time article relates stories of several Protestant churches that have devoted sermons and Bible studies to Mary, such as Westminster Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio, where Pastor Brian Maguire teaches classes on Mary and plans to bring Mary into his Good Friday sermon.
Another Protestant church to follow this trend is Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church where Pastor John Buchanan recently delivered a message on Mary.
“We’re inclined, you and I, to think about our faith in terms of ideas and propositions and truth claims,” Buchanan preached. “[Yet] Mary reminds us that our faith is a response to a love that was expressed not in a carefully reasoned treatise but in a human life…. Let her be a reminder of the mercy and compassion of God.”
But Mohler warns that those who structure new “theological constructions” around Mary are guilty of “overreaching, “wishful thinking” and effectively “flirting with Catholic devotion.”
Time cites Mohler as being most exasperated that “Mary is held forth as the maternal face of God, some dimension that is fundamentally absent from Scripture. God’s love is presented in biblical terms without any need for Mary as an intermediary. To suggest that need, even as ‘symbolic’ instead of doctrinal … is the Reformation in reverse.
“It’s simply profoundly unbiblical, and it leads to the worst excesses of Marian devotion.”