Why We Should Care (and Talk) About Mary

“And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’” — Luke 1:28

Author and podcaster Michael Hyatt, a former Protestant and current deacon in the Orthodox Church, states in one of his podcasts* that in Protestantism, Mary is “eerily absent.”

“I don’t think I ever heard, as a Protestant, a single sermon about Mary,” he says. Outside of the Christmas narrative, Mary is not talked about much. Having been raised in the Evangelical church, this was certainly true of my experience. If Mary was ever discussed in my Sunday School classes or from the pulpit, it was to emphasize how normal she is —  presumably as a way to distance themselves from Catholicism, the churches I grew up in presented Mary as just like the rest of us. That’s the impression I was left with, at least.

It’s true that Mary is not divine like God, and she should not be worshipped or thought of as such. Redemption and salvation come only from Christ. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot benefit spiritually from a proper understanding of his mother. To diminish or even dismiss Mary —  also referred to as the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or the Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”), among other titles —  is to miss out on some deep and incredible theological realities about God, humanity, and womanhood.

Now, there is truth to the sentiment that Mary is just like us: she is a human being in need of a savior just as much as anyone else, a fact she herself acknowledges (Luke 1:47). But she is an example for all Christians because she fully submits to and obeys God. In fact, her humanity makes her actions and responses to her circumstances all the more outstanding and inspiring.

Dn. Michael calls Mary the “prototypic Christian” because her humility and acceptance of God’s will for her life is a model for us all. Her humility, he says, “is a huge shift…from the way we think about ourselves as Americans in the twenty-first century. We think we’re entitled. We deserve better. And even as Christians we sometimes think that…why didn’t I get a different life? Why didn’t I get an easier life?…But not Mary.”

After hearing Gabriel’s announcement that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, Dn. Michael points out that Mary calls herself the maidservant of the Lord, and says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) “She knows who she is and she’s content to obey,” explains Dn. Michael. “And she puts herself fully at the mercy of God’s word.” This is central to Mary’s significance to Christianity; Dn. Michael continues, “To me, whatever else Mary is for us as the Theotokos, she’s also the proto-Christian. The first Christian. The best example of what it means to receive Christ, not just with lipservice, but in our hearts, and to abandon ourselves completely to God.”

Further, we learn from her words in the Magnificat that “[Mary] begins with God…in verse forty-six: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’ (Luke 1:46) This is the essential feature of Mary’s life. This is why she is the protoypic Christian. This is why she’s a worthy example for all of us…Mary understands: it’s not about her…it’s about [Christ].” Mary demonstrates the proper Christian posture toward God: one that is marked by humility, acceptance of God’s will, and Christ-centeredness.

Another important reason we should care about Mary is that through her, womanhood, motherhood, and unborn life are redeemed and sanctified.

Christ redeems all of humanity. There seems to be, though, a special redemption given to women through the Mother of God. What does it say about God that the way he chose to redeem humanity was to become human, and the way he chose to become human was to be carried by and born of a human woman? God chose to be born and to have a mother who nursed and nurtured and raised him. This says that God values and esteems unborn life, women, and motherhood.

Through Mary, womanhood was redeemed: as Eve disobeyed, Mary obeyed. Through Mary, childbirth and motherhood were redeemed: as Eve was cursed to bear children in pain and suffering (Genesis 3:16), Mary was blessed to bring forth Christ and to be the vehicle of salvation and life. Christ is the second Adam. Mary has been called the second Eve.

Abortion is, to say the least, a tragedy for the unborn children who lose their lives, but it is also a tragedy for the women who lose or even willfully deny a part of themselves that is, in a way, divine. I am not suggesting that women who don’t bear children have an incomplete or lesser identity, but generally (and biologically) speaking, childbearing and motherhood are uniquely female things, and they therefore are part of the female identity. Because Christ was conceived and born and has a mother, the ability to conceive and bear children and the role of mother will forever be linked with the incarnation. Just as dismissing Mary is to dismiss a rich aspect of Christian theology (of which I’ve really only scratched the surface here), dismissing childbearing and motherhood is to dismiss a deep and sacred aspect of what it means to be a woman as well as what it means to be human.

“And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” — Luke 1:41-42

*quotations are taken from episodes of At the Intersection of East and Westa podcast of Ancient Faith Radio. The episodes quoted here are “Mary — The Prequel,” “Mary — The Annunciation,” and “Mary Meets Elizabeth.”

Titillatingly Subversive or Clandestinely Orthodox?

It can be rather exciting to have a minority opinion. You read the forbidden book. You stayed to hear the crazy preacher speak. You worked in your lab late after the wide world went to bed. Everyone thinks you crazy, but no — you are sane and they are the deluded sheep! They rot in the comfort of unchallenged tradition but you flourish in the desert of hidden truth! To be fair, majority opinion determines not what the truth is but what most people are going to do about it — whether or not they know the truth. It should feel good and right to be in the truth, and the horror in the moment you discover that you killed your father and married your mother should be the exception that proves the rule that remaining faithful to the truth from the very beginning is in a way pleasant, no matter what you suffer for it. Continue reading Titillatingly Subversive or Clandestinely Orthodox?

Oh Orthodoxy, You’re So…Romantic!

I read romances during church.

Or so GK Chesterton writes in his book Orthodoxy, (see my previous post for a overview). When my congregation recites the Apostles’ Creed, we are declaring what Chesterton calls “the best root of energy and sound ethics…’orthodoxy’.”  Christian Orthodoxy, he believes, is the root and fount of romance.

Before elaborating on Chesterton’s connection between orthodoxy and romance, I should poke deeper into what Chesterton means by ‘romance’. When he says ‘romance’, he doesn’t mean dinner and a sunset stroll on the beach. Romance is the profound excitement and wonder that springs from being in love—not only sexual love, but in Chesterton’s case, a deep love for earth that is rooted in our love for God: a longing for God that inspires a love of ‘earthy’ things.

Romance is chosen: commitments take intentionality and work. And yet romance is also an accident: thus the phrase ‘love happens’. To a degree, we really do “fall” in love. Chesterton compares the experience to “dropping into poetry.” It is fostered by our freely willed behaviors, and certainly requires consent, but there is no equation for romance, no test tubes bubbling with liquid love. Chesterton rightly acknowledges that romance is both mysterious and absolutely compelling:

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

So then we return to the original question: What does Chesterton mean when he says ‘orthodoxy’—which he says “means the Apostles’ Creed”—is romantic?

Romance has elements that make it romance. Consider orthodoxy in light of other particulars: what makes patriotism, marriage, and orthodoxy examples of romance? What do they have in common?

All contain the paradox of being accidental and chosen. We don’t choose the country we were born into or the person we find ourselves in love with. Also, we don’t choose that God the Father “created the heavens and the earth,” that Jesus was incarnated, crucified and resurrected to the right hand of the Father or that the Holy Spirit has established a holy catholic church that promises fellowship, forgiveness and resurrection to eternal life.  In other words, we didn’t choose the truths of orthodoxy.

But we do choose to believe them. The beloved accepts the lover’s proposal on the strength of invisible love, has enough affection for her country to question its faults without questioning its existence or has faith in the creed’s unseen truths.

Love is not comprehended, and it isn’t controlled. We can’t prove love—there is no geometric or modus ponens proof. Yet somehow, in a wild and mysterious way, human beings continually find love so certain that we will live (and sometimes die) for a romance. I’ve yet to see a person live or die for a proof.

Orthodoxy takes us outside ourselves and, in so doing–in seeing how small we are in the cosmic scope of God and His creation–we also find our highest significance:

It has been often said, very truely, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary. (Chesterton)

The romance of orthodoxy lies in the God that the Creed pronounces—one that Chesterton finds mysterious and transcendent, but also imminent and certain, the foundation of existence. That is not to say Christianity is without evidence…Chesterton just does not believe that experimental evidence is sufficiently persuasive. People need more than logic:

I will not pretend that this curt discussion is my real reason for accepting Christianity… I have another far more solid and central ground… And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one.

The Christian Church lives in Jesus, and in turn, offers the “huge and ragged and romantic rock” of orthodoxy, comprised of powerful and perilous doctrines surpassing understanding, but requiring that we accept the thrilling adventure. We say ‘I do’ in response to a living God, Instructor of the joy of Creation, tragedy of crucifixion and final cosmic comedy of resurrection and eternal life. ‘

Soils for the Seeds of Doctrine: Chesterton’s Orthodoxy Turns 100

By Matthew Anderson

I have always thought that every academic–or wannabe, such as myself–ought have one or two hypotheses that are held very loosely, are somewhat defensible but impossible to prove, and just fringe enough to make academic parties mildly interesting.

One such hypothesis that I have occasionally advanced is that G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is the most important work of the 21st century, even though it was written in the 20th.
Though Chesterton attained more fame during his than C.S. Lewis–he was greeted by massive crowds on his trips around the world– by the beginning of World War Two his position as chief apologist and defender of the faith had been taken over by Lewis. In particular, Chesterton’s influence on American evangelicalism has been relatively non-existent compared to Lewis’s.

And no wonder: Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which has influenced numerous evangelical leaders over the past few decades, is a masterfully written apologetic for the truth of Christianity. The discovery of Lewis helped many evangelicals in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s realize the importance of having a faith that was as intellectual as it was spiritual.

Yet the situation within evangelicalism–and without–has now changed, and Mere Christianity is an apologetic suited to its time. While evangelicals have made significant strides in recovering the life of the mind, it is now en vogue to criticize evangelical Christianity as too propositional. The new generation of post-modern evangelicals is moved more by the story of Christianity than its ideas, and more prone to appeal to the imagination than the intellect.

Such critics would do well to consider Orthodoxy.

Continue reading Soils for the Seeds of Doctrine: Chesterton’s Orthodoxy Turns 100