Mary For Evangelicals by Tim Perry

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Evangelical reactions to Mariology fall into two main camps – an ignorant silence or an incensed rejection. There are those who know little and say even less about the place of this peasant mother of Jesus in our faith and practice. Then there are those, based on what they see and know, are violently against any acknowledgement of her. Yet this simple woman played a significant role in shaping a truer spirituality in the church. There is not one single church father or mother whose spiritual formation was not touched by Mary. It certainly surprises me that church luminaries like Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther were devotees of Mary.

It would seem the church today is diminished that much more without a more balanced and reasoned understanding of Mary in its spiritual theology. Tim Perry’s thoughtful and provoking monograph is helpful toward that end. He is a professor of theology at Providence College, Manitoba, Canada. The monograph is divided evenly into three sections:

Part 1 looks at Mary through Holy Scripture, in the letters of Paul and the gospels, mainly in Matthew and Luke, to know her and her role in redemptive history; Part 2 traces Mary in church history. At different epochs, various names were bestowed upon her: New Eve, Mother of God, Queen Mother, Mother of the Church. They encapsulate the church’s thoughts of her from the Patristic period to modern times; Part 3 works toward an evangelical Mariology, seeking a useful dialogue toward a doctrine of Mary’s person in our spiritual imagination and a doctrine of Mary’s work in our telling of the Christ event.   

Since the divine election of Mary as the human agency through whom the Son of God came into the world, this simple handmaiden of faith and obedience has provoked pietistic devotion and fervent veneration among believers in many traditions. To be sure, some responses are vacuous but much is genuine and serious. In a real sense, the church teaching has struggled in history to match this profound devotion with a formulated theology.

However, not all Mariology is reasoned or biblical. Needless, the following examples are without biblical credence: the notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity of the patristic era, her immaculate conception of the fifth century and her bodily assumption (ascending to heaven without physical death) of the 20th century.  As in all theological intercourse, when a doctrine is pushed to its extreme the result is at best wrong and is at worst heretical. Likewise, the Protestant reformation’s silent rejection of all Mariology is just as wrong and extreme.

Perry calls us back to a more balanced response to this iconic image of faith, devotion and obedience.  “Mary’s life is a faith-filled life in a very real world. Hers is a world as full of threats and challenges and joys and sorrows and moments of doubt and fear as ours. Her persistence in that world, her reliance on grace . . . marks that life as an example . . . for all who would claim the title ‘disciple’.” (p. 295) I have to confess that it was out of ignorance that Mary has been ignored in my faith formation. Just as the iconic images of David and Paul have been inspirational and instructive, the inspiring image of Mary can also illuminate brightly my walk with God in faith and practice.