Recently, I was able to interview Dr. Scot McKnight, who has a new book coming out entitled The Real Mary. Dr. McKnight has also written a commentary on 1 Peter in the NIV Application Commentary series (I highly recommend it)& one on Galatians, The Jesus Creed, Embracing Grace, Praying with the Church, The Face of New Testament Studies (with Grant Osborne) & The Story of the Christ. Dr. McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson professor in religious studies at North Park University, Chicago, IL & is a historical Jesus specialist.
What brought on your interest in the “Real Mary”?
I was standing in my classroom one day, about to delve once again into the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Mary's famous song. I chose to read the song with all gusto I could muster, and then I asked this question: "What kind of woman would have sung this song?" I became convinced through that class session that the question wasn't asked often enough and that its answer would reveal to us the real character of Mary. I began a search for the real Mary -- the Mary behind the trappings and clothings of years of devotion by Catholics and neglect by Protestants.
Why do you think that Mary has been so downplayed by Protestants over the ages?
Because we low-church Protestants have what I call "reaction formation." Our negative reactions to everything Catholic -- even the good things – have formed us into the kind of Protestants we are. One thing we have "reacted formatively" to is what Catholics say about Mary. In our apologetics and distancing, we have come to the conclusion that Mary is something Catholics talk about, but self-respecting, biblical Protestants can ignore. Not so, I've since learned. There is so much about her in the Gospels that we have ignored that can help us.
If you could get one concept across to the reader of The Real Mary, what would that be?
The story of Mary in the pages is a beautiful example of how and why Jews struggled with Jesus making it plain over time that he was a Messiah would have to die to bring the kingdom of God. We have for a long time pretended we know what Peter believed and why he reacted negatively when Jesus declared he would have to die. But, with Mary, we have concrete evidence of what Jews believed about the Messiah and what kind of Messiah they expected. Read the Magnificat and you will see what Jews expected for the Messiah.
What authors have influenced your writing &/or your spiritual life?
On writing ... Most especially Joseph Epstein, the Jewish author of essays; CS Lewis, Mere Christianity; EB White; CH Dodd.
Spiritual life... Augustine's Confessions, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World.
Do you see The Real Mary tying into the upcoming film The Nativity Story? If so, how?
Christians will come away from that movie asking "What was Mary really like?" I hope my book will point them back to the Bible to ask what the Bible says and to see that her story is there in almost full color. My book is not about the movie and does not respond to the movie.
Do you feel evangelicals today have a harder time saying, as Mary did, “May it be”? Why is that?
No, I'm not sure Mary is any different than we are. We all struggle with letting God be God, letting Jesus be Lord, and surrendering to the Spirit. She said "yes," and it changed the world. But, we have to admit that Mary's decision to surrender to God's plan would usher her into a life of constant stress. Mary, it must be remembered, lived in a Torah-shaped world – and that meant her pre-marital pregnancy gave her a stained reputation.
How do you envision this book be used within the church?
This book will help evangelical Christians reclaim Mary as one of their own and it will help them understand what and why Roman Catholics believe what they do -- and that is sorely needed because neither Catholics nor Protestants have done a very good job at figuring just what it is that Catholics do believe about Mary. I dedicated two chps just to explain in common terms what Catholics believe.
In what ways was Mary a dangerous revolutionary?
If one reads the Magnificat at its time -- that means during the reign of Herod -- one will sense that what Mary announced and predicted was dangerous and made her a marked woman. The story of the magi makes this clear: Herod tried to snuff all babies 2 and younger because he realized the story of Jesus was a story of the future king. What I think goes unnoticed is that Mary didn't back down: she kept telling the story that her son was the future king, the Messiah.
What do you envision specifically for evangelicals with a day in honor of Mary?
Because we have for so long ignored and even mistreated Mary, I would hope we would "apologize" to her -- or at least acknowledge our fault. Second, I hope we will see the significance of her motherhood, of her example of faith and courage, and see her struggle to embrace a Jesus of the cross is as contrary to our nature as it was to hers. I hope we will reclaim Mary for who she really way: a human being who struggled, as we do, to follow Jesus.
You interact with Tim Perry’s Mary for Evangelicals in your book. In what way do you find your book & his complementary &/or at odds?
Tim Perry goes as far as evangelicals can possibly go when it comes to appropriating Roman Catholic and Orthodoxy's beliefs about Mary. Tim provides us all with the standard, or maybe the high water mark of evangelical appreciation for traditional Marian doctrines. My book simply goes back to the Bible and asks a simpler question: What was the original Mary really like? In some ways I challenge Tim's book; in other ways I give the foundation for reading Tim's book critically -- after reading The Real Mary folks can decide whether or not there is biblical warrant for beliefs about Mary.