Book Plunge: Mary for Evangelicals

What do I think of Tim Perry’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Mary is often a controversial topic for Protestants? Why? We see what the Orthodox and the Catholics do and while I agree it is over the top, we can go too far in the opposite direction. Protestants don’t really have much of a position on Mary other than “We disagree with Catholics and Orthodox.” Protestants like myself need to really learn how to view Mary.

Fortunately, Tim Perry has written an excellent book on that topic. One who reads this book will have to agree that it is thorough. Perry goes from Paul to the Gospels to the early church, the medieval church, to the Reformation, and finally to our own time. Of course, not everything can be covered, but major highlights in the timeline will be.

Perry also works on sticking with what the sources say and presenting differing viewpoints where relevant. We could say that for Protestants, usually Mary shows up at Christmas and then is rushed off of the scene so we can move on to other aspects of the life of Jesus. This could be the case for the Gospels. Mark presents Mary in a section alongside of Jesus’s opponents where she and the family are well-meaning opponents, but still acting as opponents. If all we had was John, we wouldn’t even know Mary’s name.

Going through church history, we start with the early fathers and see the impact of the Protoevangelium of James on the early church. Many did believe it to be a true report, though thankfully some were skeptical. At times, it looks like the early church decided to fill in some missing gaps (Much like many of think needs to be done with the childhood of Jesus) and those explanations can be seen as accurate not because they’re shown to be, but because they’re thought to be fitting of what God would do.

When you get to the Middle Ages, you get to a time that seems to have really stretched. You will have feasts that are done to honor the conception of Mary. This is a good entry to prepare us for the Reformation period.

Here, you have Luther and others who at the start are not opposed to Marian devotions. Later on, this seems to change as appeals to Mary and the saints are often seen as being practices that easily lead to idolatry and less honor being given to Jesus. I can easily say I share these concerns.

As we get to the modern era, we start seeing different looks at Mary. There are feminist looks that think that Mary is too unrealistic for a woman to relate to. There is liberation theology that looks at her as an example of the poor standing up against the rich. While many of us would not agree with a feminist or liberation theology approach, we can agree that Mary’s being a woman needs to be seriously remembered and realize that she was someone who was poor and yet gave a magnificat┬áchallenging Herod and Caesar.

Perry at the end gives us his own Mariology. I do think he is too quick to agree with the perpetual virginity of Mary. I don’t think there’s any real basis for this in the Gospels as I think it’s best to treat the brothers of Jesus at face value as brothers. I also think it’s important to look at Josephus’s testimony here who regularly could easily differentiate between cousins and brothers.

He is open to praying to Mary and treating her as a sort of co-redeemer, though I still am suspicious of each of these. I do get concerned about trying to contact those on the other side of the curtain as it were since I don’t see this as a recommended practice in Scripture. I think Perry would probably agree with me that if this cannot be done in good conscience by a Christian, then it should not be done.

This is a good book to read on the importance of understanding Mary. Whether one agrees or disagrees, they will walk away with a greater appreciation of Mary. While we have many disagreements between us, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox should all agree that Mary is certainly a very important woman in salvation history and be thankful for what she did for us in being the mother of our Lord.

In Christ,
Nick Peters