IM PERRY’S MARY FOR EVANGELICALS (published in Downers Grove, Ill., by Inter-Varsity Press, 2006) hints at its provocative thesis in its subtitle: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord
. This unusual volume from a historically evangelical publishing house is comprehensive in its scope of research and examines perceptions of Mary from the Gospel writers to the current time.
The author, an associate professor of theology at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada, divides the book into three parts: “Mary in Holy Scripture”; “Mary in the History of Christian Thought”; and “Toward an Evangelical Mariology.”
Since the general Roman Catholic Church council known as Vatican II (1962-1965), there have been progressive developments in ecumenical understanding between Roman Catholics and Protestant evangelicals. But until recently, Mariology (the study of and theology of Mary) has remained a point of special contention. Tim Perry’s book seeks to bridge the gap in order to further the ecumenical dialogue, and, he says, to provide a biblical, historical, and dogmatic account of the place of Mary in the faith of the church.
Perry admits to a “preoccupation with Mary” (p. 13), and notes that North American Protestant theologians are also developing an interest in Mary as evidenced by cover stories in Christianity Today, Christian Century
, and even Time
(p. 15). In writing the book, Perry states, “I have followed a simple method rooted in my own theological and ecclesial convictions: Scripture, tradition, and reason” (p. 17). The three-part outline of the book tracks these three sources.
As Bible students well know, there is very little said in the New Testament about Mary. In fact, everything we know about her from Scripture would fill no more than one page in a standard edition of the Bible. Accordingly, Perry notes after first reviewing the writings of Paul (who wrote more than half of the New Testament): “Having completed a close reading of texts in Paul, we are left with very little direct information about Mary” (p. 29). He adds, “Paul indirectly mentions Mary [not by name] only with respect to her role as Christ’s mother. He says nothing regarding Christ’s miraculous conception” (p. 30).
During the centuries following the apostolic era the Roman Church developed Marian theology from simply asserting the truthfulness of the “virgin birth” to proclaiming that she herself was “ever virgin.” Catholic dogma relative to Mary states: “Mary was a virgin at the time of Christ’s conception (virginity ante partum), remained a virgin in the act of giving birth (virginity in partu), and persisted in virginity thereafter (virginity post partum)” (p. 281). To his credit, in his review of the biblical data, Perry acknowledges that “the continued virginity of Mary is not a concern of the New Testament authors” (p. 40).
The great contemporary emphasis on Mary as “the blessed virgin mother of God” evolved during more than 1,800 years of tradition and interpretation by the Roman Catholic Church. This trend reached a climax of sorts in the “Marian Century”—1850-1950 (p. 240). That 100-year span included two papal decrees or dogmas—infallible papal statements—about Mary’s place in the life of the Roman Catholic Church and many Marian visions, some of which have been “officially approved” by the church.
In 1854 Pope Pius IX, invoking apostolic authority, wrote: “We . . . DECLARE, AND PRONOUNCE, AND DEFINE, that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her Conception, has been, by a special grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, preserved and exempted from every stain of original sin, is revealed by God, and consequently is to be believed firmly and inviolably by all the faithful” (p. 232). This dogma is known as the “Immaculate Conception” and states that Mary, like her divine Son, is exempt from original sin.
Nearly 100 years later in 1950, Pope Pius XII decreed: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority, We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (p. 244). This dogma is known as the “Bodily Assumption.”
In language sure to chill many Protestant hearts, Perry concludes: “As a result of this history, talking about Mary’s intercession, mediation, and coredemption is fraught with difficulty. But it is not impossible [emphasis supplied]. There is sufficient groundwork in place to offer a biblically sound, theologically constructive, and ecumenically sensitive understanding of each of these issues, which while certainly not undoing Protestant reservations, can at least move us beyond the recitation of polemics” (p. 299).
What meaning does this new volume have for Bible-believing Christians such as Seventh-day Adventists? There are several serious problems that cannot be overlooked, even in the name of respectful relationships with persons of other faiths.
First, we must remember that all “Mariology” is based on nonscriptural sources and is based on unbiblical teachings such as the natural immortality of the soul. In fact, Seventh-day Adventists will be quick to note that the two primary constituent elements of spiritualism—the natural immortality of the soul and communication with the spirits of the dead (Mary and “the saints”)—are both present in Mariology and in Marian theology. The ever-adapting nature of the spiritualist challenge to biblical Christianity requires that we pay special attention when these two elements combine in the heart of a powerful and widespread teaching of another Christian denomination.
Just as predicted, and in fulfillment of prophecy, spiritualism is the adhesive that is bringing Protestantism and Catholicism into both closer contact and greater agreement in advancing unbiblical ideas.
G. Edward Reid, the director of stewardship for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, has authored numerous volumes about prophecy, last-day events, and current events. He writes from Highland, Maryland.