Considering Mary & Beyond

We know so little about Mary – the mother of Jesus – the woman who carried the Son of God for nine months in her womb.

Years ago, I spent months reading and researching all things Mary for my final graduate project at Johnson University. Protestants were beginning to examine and expound on the Biblical texts that focus on Mary. But I found few works penned by those from the Independent Christian Churches of the Stone-Campbell movement.

I’d love to see that change.

I’ve said this before. Mary stood at the crossroads of the Old and the New. She lived during a paradigm shift of enormous historical proportions.

Without Mary, would the incarnation have taken place? 1 I suppose we could argue that another could have replaced Mary – as if one woman’s womb is just as good as another!

But we should remember that it is Mary who agreed freely to carry, birth, and raise our Saviour. Mary witnessed and mourned her son’s death, rejoiced at his resurrection, and with many others, received her own son’s promised Holy Spirit. This is no ordinary woman!

How we interpret Mary’s story reveals our views of power and power differentials, aggression, passivity, and for sure, it plays into how we define what is masculine and feminine. It also reveals how we view God’ nature and God’s characteristics in relation to creation and humanity.

Hers may at first glance appear to be a quiet, peaceful story, but in reality Mary’s story packs a punch when it comes to theology and our lived reality!

It behooves us to get a bit more acquainted with the woman who first experienced the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, as presented in Luke’s infant narrative. “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy: he will be called Son of God.’ ” (Lk 1:35).

My initial goal for my research project was simply to answer questions regarding a woman’s role in marriage and leadership in the church. I had long before settled the issue in my mind. But, before I realized it, I found myself crossways with the teachings regarding women within the Restoration churches.

A monumental crisis resulted. Faced with a conundrum, I could either embrace what I now saw in the Scriptures regarding women or disregard all so I could remain safe and sound (but silent) within the confines of our predominantly male-led community.

I’ve taken the former view. Yet, I continue to fellowship within the Restoration churches – all with the hope of encouraging others – men and women alike – to take a deeper look at Scripture and the issues facing men and women in society and the church.

A phrase I read recently expresses a concern I’ve noticed about the shallowness of our Bible reading as we study to find answers for today’s issues.

Martin Boos, a German theologian (died 1829) had this to say about Bible readers of his day.

“The most,” says Martin Boos, “read their Bibles like cows that stand in the thick grass, and trample under their feet the finest flowers and herbs.”

The Golden Alphabet: An Exposition of Psalm 119, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p 3.

I’ve just finished reading Women and the Gender of God, by Amy Peeler. Amy Peeler is far removed from the type of Bible reader described by Boos.

She is a wife, mother, professor, and associate rector at a church in Illinois. In my opinion, here is a busy woman, with a full and rich life, who not only delighted in gathering the “finest flowers and herbs,” hidden beneath the weeds of the text, but took time to craft a bouquet of beauty in her work on women and the gender of God.

Hers is an important work because it is precisely the story of Mary that is “frequently used to reinforce … masculine conceptions of God. Mary stands for ‘feminine’ receptivity to the initiating “masculine’ God.” 2

Women and the Gender of God is not shallow reading of the text! It’s an in-depth study of the incarnation and birth of the Son of God via a woman’s body. Peeler’s study boldly dismantles two notions – dare we say heresy – that God is aggressive male and that female is passive and on the fringe of being foul, immoral flesh.

“Masculinizing God’s transcendent initiation results in a particular blasphemy. To say that God initiates and that humans’ role is to respond, and that these are masculine and feminine actions, posits God as an aggressive sexual human male.”

Women and the Gender of God, Amy Peeler, p 106.

Several years ago a professor from my alma mater declared in a live-streamed chapel sermon that man is made in the image of God and woman is made in man’s image. It was a blasphemous thing to declare, even in an institution that holds to a complementarian view of men and women.

I sent an email asking him to clarify, and he acquiesced, admitting that both male and female were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Since there was no public rebuttal of his view many in the audience were left wondering if men represented God’s image better than women.

This is why Peeler’s work is crucial for the church.

I agree wholeheartedly with Peeler in that, “If [we think] God is like a male in relationship with the world who is like a female, and God is clearly superior to the world, then that image suggests that males are superior to females. When women are considered less like God, they cannot be fully human, because they cannot bear the imago Dei in the same way as do men.” [p. 108-9].

She goes further:

“Those who argue for, or assume, a male-like first person of the Trinity fall short of the truth and goodness of the God revealed in the biblical text. God as both Creator and sovereign resists masculinization. When that resistance is ignored, great harm comes to humans, females as well as males. A theological assumption that is both false and damaging should be put to rest.”

Women and the Gender of God, p. 109

What I meant to be a short post on Peeler’s book has gone longer than I thought. There is much more to explore, discussions to be had, conversations about the purpose of God’s son coming into the physical world through the body of a woman. Those must wait for another time.

If you’re reading this, I hope you are encouraged to dig deeper into the text, to engage in the task of thinking about what the Incarnation means for both men and women, because as Peeler writes, “[t]he incarnation, and particularly the way in which it came to be, should impact everything—Christology, theology, and anthropology, including Christianity’s view of women.” (p 121).

  1. “The story of God is the story of Jesus Christ, and the story of Christ is also the story of Mary of Nazareth. No story of the Christian God can be told without the story of Mary. Incarnation through a woman reveals who God is.” (Scot McKnight’s endorsement of Amy Peeler’s book)
  2. Women and the Gender of God, p.

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