Stop. Close your eyes. No wait! Open your eyes and read the next sentence. When I say the words Virgin Mary what image pops into your head? Close your eyes now so that you can the picture can take form in your mind’s eye. For many, the picture will be of a young woman, swathed in blue and white holding the baby she named Jesus close to her breast and gazing placidly upon his visage. She may be an anthropomorphism; a stained-glass window come to life. She is, for many Protestants, an important component of the gospel story but a role player at best. The two-dimensional figure that we come to know around Advent each year fades into the background soon after Christmas. Scot McKnight, in The Real Mary, seeks to bring her out of the background of the nativity scene and bring to the reader’s attention numerous dimensions that are often dismissed in the Evangelical community.
The mention of Mary beyond the role of Jesus’ mother in many Evangelical circles can cause shoulders to rise and eyes to narrow as people steel themselves for the expected challenge to the deep chasm they have scratched out between themselves and the Catholic (capital C) church. McKnight brings us a different perspective to ponder, that of an unknown young woman from a backwater town called to an extraordinary task in giving birth to the Lord. But the story does not end there as the blue thread of Mary’s life weaves its way through the entire ministry of Jesus. She learns what it means to follow him, how difficult and challenging it is, and McKnight helps us to discover how much we are like Mary in that respect.
A many faceted Mary emerges from the pages of this book. We are invited to narrow our Bible study to those passages in which Mary is featured and each adds a brush stroke to the character that evolves. She is not the passive young woman we often picture but in total, a bit of a radical, following Jesus from His birth until he gives up His spirit on the cross. During their years together Mary as mother is often able to perceive the uniqueness and likely the divinity of her child, perhaps more intimately and sooner than the others who surrounded him. She comes to know that the Messiah expected and the Messiah realized are much different.
The immense value of this small book is its combination of popular presentation of scholarly material combined with devotional possibilities spread throughout the book. Mary should not be feared by Evangelicals. McKnight touches on the divisive lore that surrounds Mary in the Catholic teaching and helps to clarify many that have been misunderstood by the Evangelical church. Perhaps Mary can be added to the many scriptural events and people that we utilize to teach an uncompromising and immediate affirmative is necessary to any call of God. To quote Scot, “As Kathleen Norris has said so well in her own reflections about Mary, “When I am called to answer ‘Yes’ to God, not knowing where this commitment will lead me, Mary give me hope that it is enough to trust in God’s grace and promise of salvation.””