What an incredibly uninspiring and unimaginative title to this article. I hope you will read it regardless.
As you may know, a few weeks ago the cover of Time magazine featured a portrayal of Mary and the words “Hail, Mary: Catholics have long revered her, but now Protestants are finding their own reasons to celebrate the mother of Jesus.” The thrust of the article, written by David Van Biema, is that in our day there is a resurgence of interest in Mary amongst Protestants. He offered a fair bit of proof. Among them:
While some of Van Biema’s evidence is weak, it seems that there is truth in what he says - increasing numbers of Protestants are becoming interested in Marian devotion. This may not be as fully-developed as the devotion many Catholics give her, but it is more than what Protestants have traditionally expressed. Van Biema seems to say that there has been a conspiracy to downplay the emphasis the Bible places on the mother of Jesus.
For the past two weeks, Mark Roberts, author and pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California, has been writing a series of articles about this topic. Roberts believes that “those who see some sort of anti-Mary conspiracy among Protestants are overplaying their hand.” He also correctly points out that “we should remember that the emphasis of the New Testament is not upon Mary’s worthiness to be the mother of Jesus, but rather upon God’s grace in choosing her.”
Throughout the series Roberts reveals a sympathy towards Catholicism and devout Catholics that seems atypical for a Presbyterian. For example, he writes about a habit he formed in graduate school of attending mass daily. He says, “I’m quite sure this priest believed more about Mary than I did, and, for that matter, more about the nature of the church than I did, and more about the authority of church tradition than I did. But there was no question in my mind that we shared the same basic faith in God who has made himself know through Jesus Christ. Thus, much to my surprise, I found more common ground with this priest than I expected, even when it came to the way he talked about Mary in a church named in her honor…But what I do know is that what I once perceived to be a vast gulf between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism turned out, in my experience, to be a modest gap that I found surprisingly easy to cross.”
With that as backdrop, Roberts turns to outlining some reasons for the mending of the divide between Catholics and Protestants in America. He suggests that the greater openness of Protestants to Mary is simply one sign of the greater openness among Protestants to Roman Catholicism in general. “What many Protestants, including me [Roberts], once perceived to be a “vast gulf between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism” has turned out to be “a modest gap” that we can easily cross. Or to put it differently, we Protestants sense a deeper unity with our Catholic brothers and sisters than we once felt, and we recognize more clearly than we once did the extent to which we share a common faith in the triune God who has been revealed most plainly in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior. Sure, there are still lots of differences in belief and practice between Protestants and Catholics, but these just don’t seem to be as important as they once seemed.” He briefly outlines some of the changes the Roman Catholic Church instituted in Vatican 2 and then begins a list of other factors which Van Beima overlooked that he believes are critical to understand when examining the closing of the rift between Catholicism and Protestantism.
I agree with Roberts in many of these assessments, but I believe he has missed some that are very obvious.
Mark Roberts’ series is one for which I held out high hopes, but as it continues my concerns are increasing. Admittedly, I know little about the man, but he is clearly revealing that he places little importance on the giant rift that exists between the Protestant and Catholic beliefs about, for example, justification. To simply shoo away the differences between Protestant and Catholic theology as being “a modest gap that is surprisingly easy to cross” is to deny the clear teaching of the Bible and to betray God Himself. It is to downplay such important doctrines as the authority of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture and justification by faith alone. Roberts surely knows better.