Al Mohler Reminds us of the Importance of the Virgin Birth

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Carl F. H. Henry, the dean of evangelical theologians, argued that the Virgin Birth is the “essential, historical indication of the Incarnation, bearing not only an analogy to the divine and human natures of the Incarnate, but also bringing out the nature, purpose, and bearing of this work of God to salvation.” Well said, and well believed.

Nicholas Kristof and his secularist friends may find belief in the Virgin Birth to be evidence of intellectual backwardness among American Christians. But this is the faith of the Church, established in God’s perfect Word, and cherished by the true Church throughout the ages....

This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch Year / Liturgical SeasonsAdventChristmas* Culture-WatchMediaReligion & Culture* TheologyChristology

19 Comments
Posted December 15, 2011 at 11:04 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Catholic Mom wrote:

You know, this whole questioning of the Virgin Birth is just so strange.  I mean, if you’re a believer, are you saying “OK, sure God made the entire universe out of nothing, then became incarnate as a human being, lived on earth performing various miracles, died, rose from the dead in three days and ascended into heaven.  But don’t tell me that Jesus’ mother was a virgin because that’s…you know…that’s just unbelievable.”

On the other hand, if you are an unbeliever, wouldn’t you think you’d have a whole lot more to harp on than whether or not Jesus’ mother was a virgin?  I mean, you could start with the entire concept of God in the first place which ought to keep you so occupied that you wouldn’t have a lot of time left over for worrying about the Virgin Birth.

December 16, 6:28 pm | [comment link]
2. Teatime2 wrote:

CM, I obviously could be totally wrong on this but I think that some of the questioning of the Virgin can be attributed to two things—one, that various myths of different times and peoples have some take on an unusual or virgin birth for their heroes and, secondly, the ways in which the Church has taught the virgin birth and Mary’s virginity that seem to denigrate other mortal women and human sexuality.

In the first instance, non-believers aren’t impressed by the virgin birth because it appears in mythologies and literature. And some believers ponder whether it is literal or metaphoric, besides. Personally, I think it only makes sense that God Incarnate would not be conceived in the typical way but there are some facets of the RCC that take it to rather loony levels.

I once had some big-time Marian believers tell me that Mary’s pregnancy was so gentle and her labor so blessed that she did not suffer pain and her hymen remained intact. Um, really? And they know this how? Perhaps from the same Medieval sources that were selling her breast milk among the “holy relics?”

This leads to the second problem—the ways in which the Church remade Mary into some sort of sub-divinity in practice or 1st Century Jewish Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way!). She was presented as so far above us young human girls. Untouchable, the perfect female prototype in her virginity, humility, and obedience.  It was utterly impossible to aspire to that, even though she was a mere mortal. There is inherent confusion and disconnect in presenting a mortal woman as Mary has been by the RCC. Mortal but magical; mother but virgin; greatest among women but so very different from the average woman. By comparison, all other female roles and intimate relationships fail miserably.

Personally speaking, I’m much more comfortable with the Mary of Anglicanism/Protestantism. My inability to believe the RC Marian doctrines is one of the several reasons I left the RCC. She was used to shame us when I was a young girl and I grew to resent her. There was so much dissonance—she was mortal but kept free from sin; she was the role model for women in the Church but she was central to Jesus’ life and the Church and we were clearly kept in a secondary place. It made no sense to me. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until I became an Anglican that I was able to rise above my resentment and take a second look at Mary and find something much more understandable and real.

December 17, 8:35 pm | [comment link]
3. Catholic Mom wrote:

Wow!  You spent your childhood resenting the Virgin Mary because she was “so far above us young human girls”??  You needed Mary to sin a little bit and maybe show a little touch of disobedience, maybe slipping out of the house and sneaking out to parties when she was a teen and getting drunk or maybe as a mother and wife occasionally losing it with with Joseph and Jesus and shrieking “I’ve had it with you people!”  ?? This would make her more real and hence more someone you could relate to?

Seems to me that Jesus gave us an example of perfection that is far above us (and even told us that WE must be perfect even though he knew we can’t be!) and most people feel that gives them something to live up to, not something to resent.  But maybe that’s just me. smile

December 17, 9:30 pm | [comment link]
4. Catholic Mom wrote:

And if the fact that she was “far above all other women” although a human like us was what was bothering you, perhaps someone should have explained that that’s kind of the point of the whole doctrine of the immaculate conception.  She didn’t do it on her own—she did it with the special grace of God, specifically the grace of her son Jesus Christ, which is a model of how God’s grace will bring us all one day to perfection.  Starting with Mary and then with us.  Same for the doctrine of the Assumption.  Mary is the prototype for the destiny of all believers who say “yes” to God.  Just as none sin in heaven (but not because of their own merits), so Mary did not sin on earth, through the special grace of God, as a sign of the perfection that God plans for all of us.  The way I learned this, this was Good News.  Maybe you got some really bad catechesis.  Drop by a Catholic Church and chat about it some time—seriously.  I think you should talk to someone about this because I think you might find great comfort in the Marian doctrines if you understood them properly.

December 17, 9:43 pm | [comment link]
5. Teatime2 wrote:

CM,
Mary was a real flesh and blood woman. You can mock this and ascribe all sorts of silliness to what I said but you can’t distract from the fact that the RCC has remade Mary into an image they can use and have used for a variety of purposes. One that bears no or very slight resemblance to the real person, who was a very young Jewish girl with no status or particular attributes to distinguish her in society.

Do the RC statues and other artwork reflect that “realness” and humility? Nope. They even turned her into a blonde, blue-eyed babe wearing posh mantles and standing on pedestals. Remarkably, the few recorded words of Mary in the Scriptures reflect strength in humility, not a shimmering apparition of herself who asks people to focus on her and pray to her. There is not one bit of Scriptural evidence for the Marian doctrines of the immaculate conception and assumption. The Orthodox Church doesn’t believe these doctrines, either. I’m not the one who needs catechesis.

The Cult of Mary flourished under JP II and took it to heights probably not seen since the Middle Ages. If there’s one good thing about Benedict it’s that he doesn’t seem taken to flights of fancy, encouraging the lunatic fringes like Fr. Gobbi and the Marian Movement of Priests.

Since the Church itself made up all sorts of things about Mary to suit its purposes, it’s no wonder people still question the virgin birth. And if one studies medieval English and French literature, in particular, one sees how and why the RC image and teachings about Mary became what they did. We no longer require a goddess figure for Christian instruction and conversion so it would be nice if the RCC could revisit what it’s done and lead a reintroduction to Mary that is authentic and straightforward. I wonder how many Catholics fully understand what is meant by the “immaculate conception” and personally believe in it because they are sure it’s true, not because they were told they had to believe.

December 17, 10:54 pm | [comment link]
6. Teatime2 wrote:

Oh, and CM, IIRC, Mary and Jesus did have words when she and His siblings went to see Him and asked one of the disciples to tell Him they were there. He went off on the discourse, “Who is My mother? Who are My brothers?” Etc. She was bummed. He was being rather hard on her. This is REAL. It is HUMAN. They were human. Does it disturb you to think about that? Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

And, yes, that helps me to consider that they were human but are also alive in God’s Presence and can understand the physical pain and discouragement I deal with on a very regular basis. They dealt with it, too. The humanity AND divinity of Jesus are what make Christianity transcend condition, time, and place. It’s powerful and almost unfathomable.

December 17, 11:08 pm | [comment link]
7. Catholic Mom wrote:

Um…the Orthodox Churches do teach that Mary was sinless throughout her life and was assumed into heaven.  Sorry.  And I can assure you that Benedict believes this as well.

December 17, 11:16 pm | [comment link]
8. Dcn. Michael D. Harmon wrote:

Um, the first comment was about the Immaculate Conception, not Mary’s sinlessness after birth.  The Orthodox do not accept the former, because it includes elimination of Original Sin, a doctrine the East rejects, saying we inherited the consequences of Adam’s fall, but not the guilt, which inheres only in the one who sins.  They do say Mary was capable of sin but willingly chose not to during her life.  Second, the Assumption in RC terms involves Mary’s being taken to Heaven without dying, as Elijah and Enoch were.  The East thinks she died, but then was resurrected by Jesus (the Dormition) and carried to Paradise.  I have a feeling Teatime2 might find these doctrines also unpalatable, but it is fair to say the beliefs of East and West, while similar in some regards, are not identical.  (I stand to be corrected by those more advanced in theological studies than I.)

December 18, 12:08 am | [comment link]
9. Teatime2 wrote:

Thanks, Dcn Harmon! (Any relation to the blog owner, btw?) Actually, I find the Eastern understandings to be intriguing. I’m aware of them but haven’t studied them in-depth and really should. While we Anglicans don’t have absolutist stands on the Marian doctrines, I know some who believe the Eastern teachings. I also know some who believe that when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary , the Spirit removed any sin. That makes sense.

Because I can’t find any Scriptural evidence for the RC doctrines, I couldn’t honestly say I believed them. Because I don’t think that these Marian teachings are necessary for salvation, I haven’t spent much time on the alternatives. There are some things that are mystery and perhaps should remain mystery until all is revealed. That’s where I’m at and why the Anglican flexibility on these issues suits me. I’m quite content to let God be God and don’t expect humans to come up with explanations for everything.

December 18, 2:06 am | [comment link]
10. Catholic Mom wrote:

Well, I thought I was phrasing this carefully enough to get around the exact differences in the beliefs of the East and West, but perhaps not.  But my point was that this concept of Mary as “sinless” and thus “far above all other humans” is certainly not something the Roman Catholic Church made up to beat Teatime over the head and make her feel resentful, and if that’s how it was used, that was very very wrong.  Instead, it is an ancient teaching of the East and West.  I would say the Western version should actually be more acceptable to Teatime than the East.  If the East says “Mary choose never to sin even once in her life” than that certainly supposes that we could too if we just were motivated/tried hard enough.  The concept of the Immaculate Conception says that this was a special grace of God granted to Mary and to no other human (in this life—but the intention of God for all of us eventually) and thus, rather than resenting her, we should look at her with great joy .  Mary gives us a little glimpse beyond this life to the relationship we will enjoy with God in heaven.  Even the doctrine of the Assumption anticipates the bodily resurrection which is promised to us in the Apostle’s Creed.

December 18, 10:35 am | [comment link]
11. Catholic Mom wrote:

Sorry, I wrote 10 before seeing 9.  So Teatime, you are not made resentful and angry by the idea that Mary was made sinless when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her (which has no more specific biblical basis than the concept of the Immaculate Conception) , but the idea tha she was sinless from birth makes you (or made you, as a girl) very “upset and confused”  because it holds up a model which no human can aspire to?  I’m trying hard to see the difference. 

I certainly understand that Protestant complaint that the Marion doctrines can lead to “Mariolotry” (although I totally don’t agree, but that is the subject for another thread) but this is really the very first time I have heard this novel objection.

December 18, 10:42 am | [comment link]
12. Charles52 wrote:

Dcn Harmon -

My understanding (also subject to correction) is that in the East, Mary died before being assumed and that in the West, the dogma is defined so as to leave her physical death an open question:

... Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

I never understood the Eastern view to include a resurrection, but there are boatloads of things I don’t understand about the East. grin

Or the West, when you get down to it.  grin  grin

December 18, 10:59 am | [comment link]
13. Dcn. Michael D. Harmon wrote:

No, so far as I know I am not related to the good Canon, though oddly enough we attended the same small liberal arts college in Maine, though not simultaneously.  Regarding the Eastern view of Dormition, I would not understand it to include the idea of the assumption of a dead body.  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, our Lord said quite clearly. Being neither Roman nor Anglican nor Orthodox, my views of this issue are unsettled, as I too regard it as a matter not essential to salvation.  I suspect we will find out the full truth when we meet the full Truth.

December 18, 11:37 pm | [comment link]
14. Teatime2 wrote:

CM,
The second paragraph of my last post describes exactly where I’m at with this issue. Why it seems to be utterly impossible to discuss issues reasonably without you going snarky and personal befuddles me, especially since this is an Anglican blog and you visit it with full knowledge that we have different beliefs. So why go personal and hyperbolic?

Anyhoo, I’ve had my fill of snarky, mean, and outright dishonest people in the past week so I’m done with this discussion and, hopefully, any sort of unpleasantness in hopes I can salvage some sort of charitable and prayerful mood before Christmas. I hope you have a lovely holiday.

December 19, 5:06 am | [comment link]
15. Catholic Mom wrote:

Teatime—you took a thread about belief or lack of belief in the Virgin Birth onto a tangent about your personal problems with the entire way the Virgin Mary was presented to you as a child by the Catholic Church.  Specifically you spoke in considerable detail of being “resentful” “confused” and “upset.”  You went on to discuss the “Cult of Mary” under Pope JPII.  I wrote that I believed that you had either misunderstood the significance of those doctrines or that perhaps someone had deliberately misused them to make you confused and upset.  I went on to point out that the beliefs that so upset you have been present in the Eastern and Western Church for well over a thousand years and that they are not intended to make you feel inferior but rather to look forward joyfully to the model of God’s plan for you yourself.  You then said that you found the Eastern view that Mary was made sinless at the time of the Annunciation to be more palatable to you and my reply consisted of “I’m trying hard to see the difference” (in terms of your problem with Mary as the “perfect” woman.

  If you can find my comments “snarky, mean, and outright dishonest” (or at least you are comparing your discussion here to an interaction with snarky, mean, and dishonest people) than I would like to suggest that you have a significant problem with misinterpreting things as being somehow negative and personally directed against you.  I’m sorry you found the teachings of the Catholic Church to be hurtful to you and I’m sorry you found my comments to be hurtful to you.  I would like you to understand that neither were/are intended to be so.  If you want to salvage some sort of charitable mood then I would suggest that you begin by being charitable.

December 19, 9:50 am | [comment link]
16. Dcn. Michael D. Harmon wrote:

Sigh.  Part of the problem when people from different faith traditions discuss deeply held beliefs is that they share them with others as one would share one’s love of a child or of some treasured heirloom.  That others do not seem to appreciate their value (in the case of doctrines, by acceding to their truth) can lead to feelings of rejection.  Please do not think that by my expressions of uncertainly, I was dismissing as palpably untrue any view of Mary’s story.  The discussion began as a testimony to the Virgin Birth as a Christian essential, and it most certainly is.  Regarding the views of East and West on other Marian doctrines, God has not revealed to me the truth of either view (or any other), but both are defensible, and I would not be surprised if in Heaven I discovered either (or some admixture of the two) was the actual case of the matter.  God bless all here, and Merry Christmas to all.

December 19, 10:32 am | [comment link]
17. The_Elves wrote:

We encourage commenters to keep to the thread topic and to avoid ad hominem characterisations of other commenters - thanks - Elf

December 19, 12:24 pm | [comment link]
18. Teatime2 wrote:

#15—No, in my very first post I simply stated my opinion as to why the doctrine is still debated and my own thoughts on the issues involved. I never made fun of you. Anyone can reread post #3, in particular, and pick up the tone, CM. It oozes hyperbole and sarcasm and belies your claims.

Sorry, Elves. I’m done. I won’t be addressing or responding to this person ever again.

December 19, 10:50 pm | [comment link]
19. Catholic Mom wrote:

Teatime—whatever “sarcasm and hyberbole” there was was intended in the spirit of lively, friendly discussion, as per the tone of most of these blogs.  I did not intend to “make fun” of you—only to poke gentle fun (in a single comment) about the position you took.  The rest of my arguments were completely serious and directed at the substance of what you were saying.  I assure you that no offense was intended and I’m very distressed to see that you took offense.  Please accept my apologies.

December 20, 10:23 am | [comment link]
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