Dwight’s Reply to David

For Mary’s month I’m posting some excerpts from the book called Mary-A Catholic-Evangelical Debate that I wrote with fellow Bob Jones graduate David Gustafson. (who comments on this blog)

In yesterday’s post David displayed a particularly extravagent dedication to the Blessed Virgin written by Stefan Cardinal Wyzinski. It seemed to David that such devotion to Mary must necessarily detract from the proper devotion to her Son.

My reply:

The problem with your analysis is the “either-or” mentality. You assume Marian devotion must take the place of proper devotion to the Lord. Let me use an analogy to show you how strange this charge seems to Catholics. Try to imagine what it would be like if you discovered that another Christian group thought Evangelicals were in grave error because of your emphasis on the Bible. These fictional Christians say rather aggressively, “You evangelicals stress the Bible to the neglect of Jesus. You call your churches ‘Bible’ churches and have ’Bible’ colleges instead of ‘Christian’ churches and colleges. Inside your church you don’t have pictures of Jesus, you don’t have any crucifixes; and you don’t have the Stations of the Cross. Instead, all you have is a big central pulpit to preach the Bible. The New Testament says that the early Christians “devoted themselves … to the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42) and that the way to remember Jesus and proclaim his death is through the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:24-26); yet you Evangelicals have the Lord’s Supper once a month, or even less often, and the main feature of your church service is a long Bible sermon. You have removed the cross of Christ and replaced it with the Bible.”
“You even have a formal doctrine named sola Scriptura. This man-made dogma is a later distortion and addition to the Christian faith—something that is unheard of both in the Scriptures themselves and in the early church. This dogma (which you treat as infallible) states that the Bible and not Jesus is the only source of Truth. You teach your children to memorize Bible verses instead of receiving Jesus in communion. You teach them to sing, ‘The B-I-B-L-E, / Yes that‘s the book for me. / I stand alone on the word of God….’ Notice how they are not to stand alone on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11), but on the Bible instead! Evangelical preachers say that there is no way anyone can come to God without believing the Bible. They declare their undying love for the Bible instead of Jesus. They say how their lives are totally dedicated to preaching the Bible instead of the cross of Christ.”
If someone were to make this charge a good Evangelical might well snort with dismay and bewilderment. How could someone so misunderstand his position? Surely they are doing it on purpose! The good Evangelical would patiently explain to his critic, “You have misunderstood completely. Sola Scriptura doesn’t set the Bible in opposition to Jesus. It does exactly the opposite: it helps us to glorify Jesus. Don’t you see that we love the Bible because it gives us access to our Savior? It’s true that we believe people need to know the Bible, but that’s because the written Word and the incarnate Word are inextricably intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. It is really Jesus we worship and proclaim through the Bible. If you just look at our whole practice and teaching with an open mind you would see how misguided and mistaken you really are.”
To your dismay your critic dismisses your explanations. “No, no,” he says as he sadly shakes his head. “That all sounds very plausible, but you will never convince me. I just know that you worship the Bible instead of Jesus, and all your clever word play just goes to show how blind you really are.”
Now perhaps you understand how Catholics feel when Evangelicals say similar things about their Catholic understanding of Mary. We reply, “Are you serious? How can you possibly make such a fundamental and basic mistake about what we believe? We don’t venerate Mary on her own, but because she has given us our Savior and because she constantly leads us to him. If you took time to study our whole teaching and practice you will see how this is true. We admit that some Catholics may over-emphasize Mary, just like some Evangelicals may take extreme views on the Bible, but when you see the full picture you can’t make such a terrible mistake.”

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  • Anonymous

    AWESOME, Father!! As Ed Sullivan used to say: “Really, really good shew tonight”. This is a keeper. Blessings, Jenny

  • Brilliant riposte, Father. Marian devotion is difficult to understand, from the outside. It is a lived and experienced reality.But is ain’t that difficult to imagine compared to our belief in a God who became man, a man who is both God and man, a man who then bore all the sins of the world and died for us, who then rose again and sits now at God’s right hand in Heaven.From an outside perspective, unaffected by the Western, Christian mindset that somehow all of this is normal, it’s rather ridiculous and for the Jews and Muslims, scandalous, not to mention blasphemous. But for Christians, it’s a blessed assurance, a mystery deep and yet personal.Similarly, from an outsider’s perspective, all this obsession with Mary is something that is hard for them to understand, incomprehensible even. But for Catholics, she is the Mother of the Saviour entrusted to the beloved disciples, the mother of all believers who have the testimony of Christ Jesus. For us, veneration of Mary brings us closer to Jesus her Son.The person of Mary can be debated until Kingdom come but to fully understand her is to pray to her and with her, to experience her maternal care and intercession and to contemplate with her the face of Jesus, her Son.

  • Brian

    Beautiful Andrew. And not so bad yourself, Father. 😛

  • I have a beautiful reproduction of a painting by (evangelical) artist Morgan Weistling hanging in my dining room. It is a lovely teenaged Jewish Mary with a beautiful baby in her arms. She is kissing the baby’s cheek. The title of the painting is “Kissing the Face of God.” My staunchly evangelical, Bible-school educated sister was looking at it and I told her the title of the picture. “That’s a Catholic thing, isn’t it?” she said. “I mean, Baby Jesus as God.” I was STUNNED. I said, “No, it is a Christian thing. We all believe that Jesus was and is forever God.”She was silent. Silence is her reaction when she thinks I might be off-base (brainwashed by Rome) but can’t defend her idea. End of conversation.I was raised fundamentalist evangelical and I can tell you that we avoided any discussion of Mary except at Christmas and even then it was limited so as not to be “catholic”. My mother objected to the line “Offspring of the Virgin’s Womb” in Silent Night. She would whisper, “He is the offspring of God!” I am beginning to wonder if the aversion to Mary stems from faulty Christology…

  • Indeed. The title ‘Theotokos’ or ‘Mother of God’ was instituted, not to honor Mary, but to defend orthodox Christology. To dishonor the vessel is to dishonor the Lord whom she bore.

  • RNW

    Bravo! Posts this well one should really come with sound effects.

  • Fr. D: I was about to write a reply, but then (a) I felt lazy, and (b) I despaired of ever getting major royalties from our book–so I thought, what the heck, I’ll post here the reply I made in the book:You imagined that the Evangelical who heard your hypothetical criticism of his supposed distorted emphasis on the Bible—can we call it “Bibliolatry”?—would “snort with dismay and bewilderment”, and deny the very possibility. On the contrary, I hope that would not be the response, and for many thoughtful Evangelicals, I think it would not. There is in fact a very good point lurking there in your pugnacity:From time to time throughout my Christian life, I have heard wise preachers and teachers warn that one’s study of the Bible could lose its focus and become a substitute for personal communion with God. I’ve been cautioned that Bible knowledge could indeed be a counterfeit for true piety. Knowing and affirming Biblical doctrine, they said, isn’t necessarily the same thing as real saving faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelicalism, with its admitted and commendable emphasis on the Bible, does carry with it the risk of “Bibliolatry”, and it is the job of our pastors to sound this warning. When our critics point out this risk, our response should be not denial and defensiveness but a resolve to avoid this danger that is so nearby. If in fact we do instead tend to be defensive to our Catholic critics, and to insist that we’re immune from this risk, then may God make us wiser and more humble.That would be my prayer, too, for any Catholic who sees the extravagant language of … Cardinal Wyszynski, and hears a warning about giving to Mary honor that is due only to God, but insists that “Mariolatry does not exist in Catholic piety.” As I know human nature from my own different but equivalent experience, such distortion could indeed happen. I fear it does happen.Of course, if Evangelicals have been rude and accusatory, then Catholics have to be excused for being defensive—and I do apologize for the times we have been rude. But as one Christian to another, asking God to please help me see my own sins and faults before I try to counsel others, can I get to a place where my Catholic friends can hear me speak frankly about this?— Mary, who should be a blessing and a help, could become a distraction and a hindrance.

  • Speaking of Kristine’s sister and Fr. Dwight’s remarks on “Theotokos”… I was discussing that title, “Mother of God”, with my Protestant parents, and I said it must be true because Jesus was God. To refute me they recreated a Christological heresy before my eyes, saying that Mary was the mother of Jesus’ human part but not the divine part. Of course Jesus has two natures but He is one indivisible person.*Great* post, Father. I think I’ll print it for my folks to read. To you and David Gustafson– would it be true to say you two are in agreement that Christians can obsess about the Bible or Mary (or other things) in a way that doesn’t help their relationship with God, but both the Bible and Mary will lead people *to* God if they’re at all rightly disposed?Or do I need to buy the book? 😉

  • Buy the book

  • Dear Rachel:If you’ll buy 20 copies of the book, then ALL will be made plain.But yes, I think that’s about it.

  • David meant to say ‘buy 200’ he left out a zero. This is unusual for lawyers who usually do the opposite–especially when they are computing what you owe them.

  • Francis

    Fr. Dwight,My answer to evangelical Christians who object to the “excesses” of Catholic Marianism is to play the “sola scriptura” card and point out to them that Luke 1:48 does NOT say: “Behold, henceforth all Roman Catholics will call me blessed.” It says “all generations.” So why all the stand-offish attempts to frustrate New Testament prophecy?

  • Anonymous

    The contempt shown towards Mary shows misogyny.Apparently, she as mother is less than even the most lackadaisical mother on the face of the earth today. She was just a surrogate and disappeared.(Yeah right…only if you ignore Genesis and Revelation)Hate Mary, hate women.kentuckyliz