A Protestant Thinks About the Blessed Virgin Mary

Talking about Mary can feel dangerous, especially if you are a Protestant who adheres to Protestant orthodoxy. Sure, we sing about Mary at Christmas, feel her pain on Good Friday, and maybe even read a little about her in the gospels. But for most American Protestants, almost any other interaction with Mary is borderline Catholic. So we don’t talk about Mary, we don’t engage with Mary, and we don’t think about Mary. Life seems easier that way. But in truth, this approach is historically and theologically problematic.

Some Protestants are aware that there is more to the story of Mary than American Protestantism often lets on. Some might know that the Protestant reformers, for example, held views on Mary different than most Protestant churches today. Martin Luther affirmed Mary’s divine motherhood, perpetual virginity, and immaculate conception. Likewise, John Calvin affirmed the perpetual virginity and espoused (with qualifications) a view of Mary as the “mother of God.” Although these Reformers did not advocate the same robust Marian theology that Rome and the East did in the 16th century, these perspectives are nonetheless quite different than those of their spiritual descendants.

To assume—as many Protestants do—that everything the Church has always believed about Mary should be excoriated as a “Catholic corruption” is simply an error. We must take seriously the biblical and historical insights on who Mary is—and how she is to be approached. Modern Protestants cannot simply be content to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Continue reading

Questions about Getting Saved in America

Praying before CrossIn “Getting Saved in America: Conversion Event in a Pluralistic Culture,” Bill Leonard outlines the history of the salvation conversion experience in the American context, more specifically the history of the eastern “evangelical protestant”[1] conversion experience. Tracing the event from its Puritan beginnings in the New World to its current usage among American church people, Leonard writes in such a way as to both describe and problematize the process and actions of the current “conversion experience.” As a result of this article, a number of important questions need to be asked regarding the history of the experience. Continue reading

Reflections on Mary: Historically Informed Theology

One of the perils of being a graduate student is constant busyness. For me, this busyness often distracts me from writing about subjects which are interesting and important but which are (unfortunately) beyond my ability to find time to address. One such subject is the Blessed Virgin Mary. In my searching for answers, Mary has often “come up” as something of a stumbling block for any progress I might make towards Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Below is the launch of my series reflecting on Mary, stemming primarily from an article written by my good friend Ben Cabe.[1] Today’s post reflects on why Christians (especially Protestant Christians) ought to seriously think about Mary and her role in Christian faith.

Icon of MaryReflecting on Mary can be “dangerous”, especially if you are a Protestant who wants to claim Protestant “Orthodoxy.” Sure, we sing about Mary at Christmas, feel her pain on Good Friday, and maybe even read a little about her in the gospels in-between. But for most American Protestants, to have almost any other interaction with Mary is borderline Catholic. So we don’t talk about Mary, don’t engage Mary, and don’t think about Mary. Life is simply easier that way.

But this is historically and theologically problematic. Continue reading

A Protestant Reformation Without Martin Luther?

 

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

One of the more interesting thought-experiments that Reformation-era scholars embark upon is asking if there could have been a “Protestant Reformation” without Martin Luther. Understanding that we would likely need to reconceive our current notions of “Protestant” and “Reformation,” it seems likely that some form of theological reformation would have occurred in 16th century Europe even without the flamboyant figure of Martin Luther. In historical inquiry it remains a highly abstract (and somewhat fanciful) process to ask “What if…?” questions. However, given the pre-Protestant Reformation circumstances and European theological and socio-political context, it seems appropriate to let our minds wander and ask “What if there had been no Luther?” Certainly Luther powerfully shaped the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent history of Western Civilization. One need only look to Biblical Studies and the justification-centered interpretation of Pauline thought and the book of Romans that only now, nearly five-hundred years later, Protestant (and protestant influenced) scholars are beginning to emerge from in earnest. One need only to drive down the street in any town or city to notice the diversity of Christian Churches in America, each with the conviction that they cannot give into to other forms of theology, lest they betray their conscience. Unquestionably, Luther indelibly colored the fabric of the reformation and its subsequent impact on our world, few would argue otherwise. Continue reading

Book Review: The Institutes of Christian Religion (John Calvin)

John Calvin

John Calvin

In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 16th century theologian John Calvin presented the systematic explanation of his reformation theology. In this modern edition, editors Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne seek to re-present Calvin’s Institutes in an easy-to-access book for non-specialist readers (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1995.). In redacting portions of Calvin’s extensive work, Lane and Osborne offer readers unwilling to engage the totality of Calvin’s work the “highlights tour” of the Institutes, retaining the most important passages for understanding his reformation theology and development of thought. In this review we will consider the outline of Calvin’s work, as well as some of the issues that he raises, before turning to some brief critiques of the presentation of Calvin in this work. Overall it will be argued that this edition of the Institutes provides non-specialist readers with an excellent introduction to Calvin’s work.

The first of the fourteen sections in The Institutes deals with “Knowing God and Ourselves”, where Calvin argues that an appeal to conscience and the innate knowledge of God in each person allows for all humanity to know God, thought ultimately faith in God is necessary to truly see God at work in His creation (21, 29, 34). Calvin almost immediately begins to critique scholastic forms of theology as he writes that “attempts to discover the essence of God [are] fruitless speculation” and generally opposes ritualized practice that he writes allows for little sincerity of heart (25, 27). Calvin’s argument in this first section offers much for consideration in our modern context, as questions concerning both natural revelation and humanities ability to recognize God as well as concerns with ritual and sincerity of heart in worship abound in many churches and contexts even today. In the second, third, and fourth sections, Calvin writes concerning the relationships of God, concerning Word, Spirit, the Trinity, and His Creation. Here he argues for the necessity of scripture as a guide and teacher for understanding the world,  as well as a typically Western conception of the Trinity (39-40, 51, 55). Concerning God’s relationship with humanity, Calvin writes that regeneration restores humanity to its original relationship with God, namely a free existence and argues that God is sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe, and that everything that happens has been allowed by God (63, 69, 81). While he writes that, “Everything is controlled by God’s secret purpose, and nothing can happen except by his knowledge and will”, Calvin pushes back against a totally fatalistic process of events in human history (77). Anyone remotely familiar with Calvin (or his present-day followers) is well-aware that Calvin’s conception of God’s total control over the world, which seems almost to assign every action as commanded by God, has long been subject to discussion and debate. While Calvin argues that his conception of God’s omnipotence and omniscience does not dictate that Jehovah be necessarily deterministic, his argument here appears to be only a nuance away from such a deterministic position.  Continue reading