"When you find the real Mary of Scripture, the Mary of the first century, you'll discover she'll be talking about Jesus and pointing us all to Jesus" writes McKnight in his engaging exploration of the most important woman in the Bible. He peels back the controversy surrounding her legacy to reveal a flesh-and-blood woman of courage, humility, spirit Today's Christian Woman Spring, 2007
McKnight wants Protestants to overcome past neglect by holding an annual "Honor Mary Day." Perry lays ground for a fullfledged "evangelical Mariology," borrowing that category from Catholic theology. Christmas as such is no issue (except for liberals who deny the biblical report that Mary was a virgin when she miraculously conceived and gave birth). On other topics, McKnight says, "the Mary of the Bible has been hijacked by theological controversies." A rundown: Protestants, who believe the Bible is Christianity's supreme authority, think some Mary traditions go beyond what Scripture says or violate its teachings. The harshest polemics say popular devotion to Mary overshadows Jesus and constitutes heresy, blasphemy or idolatry.
One very troublesome tenet, the Immaculate Conception, means that God forever freed Mary from original sin. In 1854, the papacy made this a mandatory "doctrine revealed by God." The Catholic catechism affirms that "Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long."
Belief in Mary's unique sanctity underlies the papacy's required dogma of the Assumption (1950), meaning Mary was taken bodily into heaven upon death.
Protestants say Catholicism contradicts the Bible's teaching that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23), Mary included, and that Jesus is the lone exception, "tempted as we are, yet without sinning" (Hebrews 4:15). Perry says Mary was at least misguided because she joined doubters who tried to physically restrain Jesus and thought "he is beside himself," that is, crazy (Mark 3:21-35). Yet Mary eventually accepted Jesus' vocation and became one of Christianity's 120 founders (Acts 1:12-15). Speculations about the beginning and end of Mary's life are unnecessary when the Bible is "utterly silent," Perry thinks. He esteems Mary not as the model of perfection above human limitations but of persistence in faith.
Is it proper to pray to Mary and other saints in heaven? Perry sees some biblical basis, since in this life believers ask each other for prayers. He proposes that both this practice and its rejection be recognized as "authentic forms of Christian witness." From early times, Christians taught Mary's perpetual virginity, meaning she and Joseph never had marital relations. Protestants disagree because Matthew 1:25 says Joseph "knew her not until" Jesus' birth and passages including Mark 6:3 mention Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters." Catholics think these weren't siblings but cousins. Perry rules that out but says they could have been stepchildren from a prior marriage of Joseph, as the Orthodox believe. However, he thinks this belief caused "regrettable" denigration of sexuality. Fortunately for interchurch relations, Catholicism has never officially proclaimed Mary's popular titles of mediator and co-redeemer with Christ. Perry says that however such terms are used, Jesus' uniqueness as the only savior must never be compromised.
Associated Press December 21, 2006
Scot McKnight, founder of Jesus Cree. and the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University, has written a most conciliatory volume exploring The Real Mary. While the book is just in time for Christmas and coincides with the release of The Nativity Story at theaters nationwide, it is not only for the holiday season. While the movie leaves off shortly after the birth of Jesus, McKnight is just getting started. He takes a high-level look at Mary as she is portrayed throughout scripture and keeps on going. He discusses the accumulation of traditional Catholic teachings about Mary and suggests a way for Evangelicals to embrace a balanced treatment of her. This is an appropriate gift book for the Christmas season, but it is one that could be read any time of year.
The book is divided into three sections. Part I, making up the bulk of the book, takes us through a historical look at Mary throughout scripture. Part II devotes three chapters to the ongoing life of Mary in the church, explaining the origins of much of Roman Catholic tradition and dogma surrounding Mary. McKnight treats this topic with respect, pointing out the essential presuppositions that mark the divide between Catholics and Protestants on the subject of Mary. The fact that the book is published by Paraclete Press is ample evidence of his even-handed, courteous treatment of Catholics. His charitable approach is a refreshing tonic to the often vituperative animosity commonly found in Evangelical writing. Part Ill, consisting of a single chapter, summarizes the crux of McKnight's theme - that Evangelicals need to reclaim at least what the Bible says about Mary. To be honest, we are likely to hear more sermons about 'Doubting Thomas" of whom much less was recorded in scripture, than we are of the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Heresy is sometimes defined as truth out of balance. Evangelicals recognize that Mary has received a disproportionate amount of emphasis in the Roman Catholic church with relation to her mention in scripture. However, instead of giving a proportional emphasis to her role in the gospel narrative, many Evangelicals deemphasize her almost to invisibility, mentioning her only during the holiday season. I cannot recall ever hearing a sermon taken from or examining the Magnificat. Attempting to correct Roman Catholic excesses, Evangelicals may have erred in the other extreme. McKnight attempts to return balance to the discussion by placing Mary back into perspective as part of the story of Jesus. I applaud his efforts in this regard and would recommend this book for that purpose.
The book s neither a scholarly examination of the place of Mary, nor an adoring pagan extolling her virtues, although the scholarship and respectful treatment behind the text are obvious. This is an easy book to read, intended for a popular audience and well suited to reflection on what it was like to be a young mother of the Messiah in a dangerous world. By humanizing the account of the gospels, McKnight takes us beyond the encrustation of centuries of tradition to look at the flesh-and-blood person who was the mother of our Lord. Indeed, we can join with Mary in her Magnificat praising the God who saw fit to reveal himself in human flesh in the person of Messiah Jesus for the purpose of delivering the world from its sins.
Beyond that, McKnight advocates the collective church setting aside a Mary Day to reflect on the life of Mary and the meaning of her impact on the Church. Personally, I am disinclined to support such because we lack days dedicated to Paul, Peter, James and others of whom the Bible says more. However, for those who would benefit from the discipline of reflecting on the importance and influence of Bible characters at set times, McKnight provides a helpful guide. Indeed, he includes a comprehensive list of scriptures, suggestions for reflection, prayers, and hymns at the back of the book for this purpose
For years, the screensaver on the computer of Bishop Sally Dyck (Minnesota Area) was Fra Angelico's famous painting "The Annunciation." Depicting the moment the angel first appeared to Mary, the image reminded Bishop Dyck daily of God's calling in an "in-your-face-way."
Some would like to see more Protestants following Bishop Dyck's example of looking to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a source for inspiration. In three new books - Mary for Evangelicals, by Tim Perry, Strange Heaven by Jon Sweeney and The Real Mary by Scot McKnight - Protestant authors assert that their fellow believers have neglected Mary. And that's a spiritual loss, they add.
While Mary has long been an important and revered figure in the Roman Catholic tradition, for Protestants, she's typically been "little more than a figurine in a manger scene", says Bishop Dyck.
Why? At the time of the Reformation, Protestants deemed many of the Roman Catholic beliefs surrounding Mary as unscriptural. "But they threw out Mary with the Catholic bath water." Bishop Dyck said. "That was unfortunate."
All Christians can profit from Mary's example, she says, because "God called Mary to bear Christ into the world. And God calls each of us, in our own way, to bear Christ in the world, too."
Mary Jacobs United Methodist Reporter December 1, 2006
Los Angeles - Scot McKnight, a religious studies professor, was teaching years ago when he had an "aha" moment. McKnight had read the Magnificat, the Virgin Mary's hymn of praise from the Gospel of
Luke. "What kind of woman would have said this?" McKnight asked his students at North Park University in Chicago.
As he listened to their answers, McKnight, an evangelical Christian, became convinced that one, most Protestants know next to nothing about Mary; and two, the popular conception of Mary as "hyper-pious, with her hands folded in prayer . . . like a nun," has little to do with the "courageous, gutsy" young woman - "the real Mary" - of the Bible.
McKnight vowed to "reclaim" Mary, a New Testament figure revered by Roman Catholics and largely overlooked by Protestants. His new book, "The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus," tries to do that.
McKnight isn't the only Protestant taking another look at the mother of Jesus.
"The Nativity Story," a movie that chronicles the lives of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus, hits theaters Friday. McKnight and his publisher, Paraclete Press, have organized more than 60 Protestant groups to host forums in early December to discuss the movie and the book. The goal, as McKnight sees it, is nothing short of a coup. "There are a few of us who are in a Trojan horse," McKnight said. "It's as if we've been released in the Vatican, and we're swiping Mary and taking her back to the Protestant world."
"The Nativity Story" will premiere at the Vatican. Filmmakers, however, held some 60 early screenings for Protestant leaders to energize their flocks.
"We've taken the film around to every big Protestant leader we can think of," said Wyck Godfrey, one of the producers. "We've gotten it to Rick Warren, the Pat Robertson family, Focus on the Family, Mission America, Young Life, Campus Crusade."
Godfrey, a Presbyterian, said the film tries to portray Mary as down-to-earth. "The bent we took was very Protestant, really, treating Mary as a human, someone going through something very difficult, with real emotions. We were not trying to create her as some iconic saint."
Tim Franklin, pastor at the evangelical Bridgeport Congregational Church in Vermont, said he hoped his sermons on Mary would build a "bridge to greater understanding" between faiths.
Before reading McKnight's book and watching "The Nativity Story" at Willow Creek mega-church outside Chicago, Franklin would never have dedicated an entire sermon to Mary, he said. Now, Franklin plans four sermons on the Virgin.
"It's a big step," he said.
The Plain Dealer November 25, 2006