[b]Mary for Protestants? A New Look at an Old Question[/b]
Should Mary be venerated by Protestants? That question frames the March 21, 2005 cover story for TIME magazine. David Van Biema has written an expansive and insightful report on contemporary developments among Protestants--developments that may influence some evangelicals.
Van Biema begins by introducing Reverend Brian Maguire, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio. Pastor Maguire has decided to combine his church's Good Friday observance with a Marian Festival, calling this move "a beautiful, poetic opportunity." As Van Biema notes, this kind of attention to Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have been controversial just a few years ago.
Nevertheless, the situation has changed so much that TIME's cover carries this explanation: "Catholics have long revered her, but now Protestants are finding their own reasons to celebrate the mother of Jesus." What's going on here?
The TIME cover story is part of a larger phenomenon, with many mainline Protestants turning to a reconsideration of Mary and incorporating the veneration of Mary into personal devotions and corporate worship. Some are going so far as to acknowledge Mary as an intercessor, addressing prayers to her as well as to other saints.
The background of this includes the argument put forth by feminists that a male-oriented world of biblical scholarship has ignored the roles played by Mary and other women of the Bible. Going beyond this, some feminist scholars argue that the Bible is itself warped by a "patriarchal" bias that sublimates and hides the role of women. Added to all this is the doctrinal evacuation of many mainline Protestant denominations and the influence of New Age forms of spirituality, often packaged as a "do-it-yourself" mix of whatever elements appear to be most interesting.
In the world of biblical scholarship, much of the attention to Mary can be traced to Beverly Gaventa, Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary. In Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus, Gaventa argues that Protestants have missed much of the biblical teaching concerning Mary. In other writings, she has pressed her case, proposing a recovery of Mary as a major figure in the history of the church. Furthermore, Gaventa has pressed on to argue that Protestants should join with Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians in addressing Mary as "Mother of all Believers." Looking especially at texts in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, Gaventa argues that Mary is so central to the gospel story that, other than Christ, "there isn't a figure comparable to her." Specifically, Gaventa points to several aspects of Mary's role as revealed in the Gospels, including, "Mary's consent to God's intervention in her life, her exultation in God's redemption, her pondering the meaning of Jesus, and certainly her persevering presence with other believers." As she concludes, "By identifying Mary as our Mother, we do not so much elevate Mary as recognize in her story the fundamental Lukan claim that nothing will be impossible with God, not even our consent to God's will."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon