Friday, December 15, 2006
A Gathering with Scot McKnight and The Real Mary
This past Monday my Emergent cohort, up/rooted, got to hang out with Scot McKnight and about 25 others out at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Park Ridge. The first half-hour we spent mingling and connecting with all the new faces. Having up/rooted on a totally different side of the city brings a lot of new people out of the woodwork. Among many others, I was especially excited to connect with John Armstrong from Act 3, Nanette Sawyer from Wicker Park Grace, and Helen Mildenhall from Conversation at the Edge. I also enjoyed meeting Michelle Van Loon, an author and playwright who actually named one of her books after up/rooted!

Pastor Fred was making some excellent coffee on his church's espresso machines, and there was a full spread of Christmas cookies and other snacks provided. After we filled up our plates we migrated from the lobby to the back of the sanctuary which was set up with round coffee-shop style tables. As we were there to discuss Scot's new book, The Real Mary, we began with some opening thoughts from Scot about the book and why he wrote it. He says he consistently gets the question of why a Protestant would want to write a book about Mary. He responded by asking why evangelicals are so afraid of Mary.

Much of his comments and the subsequent Q&A revolved around the Magnificat, Mary's song recorded in Luke 1:46-55. He suggests that, in contrast to the passionless, pensive, pious, passive, ponderous... Mary that we see in Christian art and popular conception, the Magnificat actually paints for us a picture of Mary as a woman with fire in her eyes. She was a woman who longed for justice and liberation for her people, and agitated for the overthrow of the established political and religious order. Her words were revolutionary, and it is likely that she had a huge influence on Jesus and his brothers/cousins (e.g. James, John, etc.)

One of the more interesting points that came out, however, is that Mary had to undergo a transformation in her own faith in her son, and her expectations for what the Messiah was supposed to be and do. She believed that the Messiah would lead a violent overthrow of the Romans and reestablish the political kingdom of David. When Jesus started deviating from this script Mary began to fear that he had lost his mind, and even showed up with his family to "intervene" in his ministry at one point. However, as Scot reminded us, later on we see Mary at the foot of the Cross, and Acts 1 portrays Mary as part of the earliest gathering of believers at the day of Pentecost. Obviously she had to go through her own process of re-discovery in her faith. As an emerging Christian whose own faith has undergone a radical transformation in recent years, I can really identify with and take inspiration from Mary in this regard.

The conversation naturally got a little bit into the controversial aspects of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox views of Mary. I think the comments were very respectful of differences for the most part, as was Scot's own book in the chapters where he discusses these issues. We also talked about the implications of Mary's example and role in the early church for women in ministry in the evangelical church today. Helen asked the best question of the night when she wondered what would happen to women in evangelical churches who have the same fire in their eyes that Mary did. Though it of course depends on the particular church, sadly the answer often turns out to be that they are squashed, forced out, or otherwise supressed.

We also asked what benefit Mary can have for us as Protestants. What can we learn from her? How can she inspire us? Scot and others gave us some great suggestions. I would open that question up to all of you as well. What has (or could) Mary do for you? Feel free to talk about it here.

BTW, several others have written reviews of the event already as well, including:
Helen Mildenhall
John Armstrong
Scot McKnight

Check them out!

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posted by Mike Clawson at 11:56 AM | Permalink |


At 12/19/2006 10:00:00 AM, Blogger The young fogey

Jesus came not to abolish the law, the natural order, but to fulfil them. I'd say that's the Catholic position.

So I wouldn't be so keen on painting Our Lady as a 1970s liberation-theology devotée though of course social justice is part of the Catholic message.

Thanks, though, for reminding Protestants of Mary's importance: the first Christian and the Mother of God.

Evangelicals have forgotten that Jesus and his mother are not competitors, certainly not for Catholics! All Marian devotion is really to and because of her Son.

As for the rôle of women in the church, a young formerly Protestant woman (a brilliant Swarthmore graduate BTW) pointed out to me recently that Catholicism has always had a place for women - not only the rank and file engaged in the remarkable vocation of bearing and raising human beings but the various kinds of vowed religious life (including the nuns who were and are hospital administrators and presidents of colleges) - whilst the Protestant churches that stress male headship (their reading of 1 Timothy) as the reason not to have women pastors (not the same as the Catholic sacramentalist, sacerdotalist reason against that), she said, have next to no leadership rôles for women.


At 12/19/2006 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Welcome to my blog. Thanks for the reply.

May I ask, how does the Catholic tradition typically understand the Magnificat?

I don't think the point is "liberation theology". The Jewish longing for liberation from their foreign oppressors predates that theological development by a few millenia. I think Mary's song clearly reflects that longing for rescue (salvation) and a new Exodus. If that longing also holds relevance for oppressed people groups in today's world, so much the better.




At 12/20/2006 09:11:00 AM, Blogger The young fogey

Thanks and my pleasure.

Looks like 'you got me' on at least one point: I can allow your political reading of the Mag (such longing certainly wasn't a bad thing). But although I don't think she said fully formed orthodox theology like the Byzantine Rite has her doing at the foot of the cross I also don't think she was entirely clueless about the real meaning of what was happening either, wrong or even heretical about her Son at first. (The Catholic consensus is she was preserved from all sin by her Son, who is sinless in himself.) If all that was needed was a political liberator/new king of Israel you wouldn't need a virgin birth as prophesied in Isaiah (using the older English translation of 'virgin')!


At 12/20/2006 11:31:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

It's an interesting question: how much did Mary understand, and when? Was her understanding much like that of the other disciples: limited and developing over time? (E.g. we see Peter confessing Jesus as Messiah in one breath, and Jesus rebuking him as a "tempter" (ha-satan) in the next.) Does "sinlessness" necessarily mean Mary couldn't make mistakes in her initial beliefs about the Messiah? And what did she think the significance of her Virgin Birth really was?

I'm not sure we can definitively answer all of those questions. But speculating is fun and hopefully instructive.


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