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Mary, the Church, and Neo-Gnosticism

March 12th, 2007 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I have sometimes argued that the evangelical church is afflicted by the ancient gnostic heresy.  The old heresies don't die.  Like the eastern notion of reincarnation, they are always being revived and cast in different clothing.  Gnosticism is one of these (as is Pelagianism, Docetism, etc).

Tonight, Joe Carter wrote an appreciation of Catholicism that included this thought:

[Evangelicals] complete renunciation of Marian theology, however, often causes me to downplay the importance of Mary herself, indisputably one of the most incredible humans who every lived. How can we not be in awe of this woman when we realize she held God in her womb? Our Catholic friends remind us that Jesus wasn’t just the son of God; He was Mary’s son too.

I wrote a comment immediately, then thought I would share it here:

Incidentally, as I read your thoughts about Mary, I wondered whether the resistance to thinking hard about Mary stems from the neo-gnostic strain that seems to afflict much of evangelicalism. It seems that Jesus' humanity (including his corporeality), Mary, and a robust ecclesiology are interconnected. After all, the Church is (on some accounts) the "hands and feet" of Jesus on earth now. Mary reminds us that he had real hands and feet--neglecting her may cause us to forget that.

I will confess that I don't have a good handle on what evangelicals should do with Mary (no, I haven't read Scot McKnight's book yet!).  But it seems interesting to me that our appreciation of her is as robust as our ecclesiology.  Perhaps the proper recovery of the latter will lead to a growth in the former.  What might such a robust appreciation of the mother of God look like?  For evangelicals, it is an open question, but a question that demands an answer, especially if we are to escape the gnosticism of old.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.