Beyond a few Christmas songs, Protestants in general and evangelicals in particular do not tend to reflect deeply on the theological importance of Mary. In this book, Amy Peeler redirects readers toward a more robust understanding of Mary’s unique role in God’s enfleshing. Peeler avoids what many see as an overemphasis in Roman Catholic theology while also recovering what has been lost by neglecting Mary’s importance.
As the introduction explains, to write about Mary and Jesus forces one to consider broader questions about sex and gender as well as the language we use to speak of God. In the final full chapter of the book, “Ministry,” Peeler is finally able to address Mary’s role throughout Jesus’s life, considering the importance of her presence in his life as a boy (Luke 2:41–52), in his early ministry (John 2:1–12), and perhaps even after his ascension (Acts 2). Before this chapter, however, Peeler spends the bulk of the book developing a robust argument about how the Scriptures can refer to God in mostly masculine language (he, him, Father, Son) and yet also assert that God is neither male nor masculine. This setup is important not only for the final objectives of the book but also as a corrective to the all-too-common assumptions about God and gender that simultaneously devalue women and limit the splendor of God.
The first chapter argues that “God is not male”—as in, biologically male—an idea with which most readers would likely agree but may not have considered in depth. In the next two chapters, Peeler explores how the Scriptures treat the female body and devotes significant time walking through the exegetical history of the birth narratives in the Gospels. In chapter 2, she argues, “The Christian confession contains this immovable fact: God was willing to touch the female body” (59), and then in chapter 3 she notes that Matthew and Luke carefully portray God’s absolute power and sovereignty in approaching Mary, while also removing any possibility that God is forcing himself physically on Mary. “God has not oppressed Mary with the birth of the Messiah; instead, God has presented her with a great honor. Equally important, it is an honor she has accepted willingly” (84).
This brings Peeler to the all-important argument that, while “God is not masculine” (chapter 4), the wonderful mystery of God the Son coming as a male dependent on a female body shows that God deeply values both male and female (chapter 5). As the argument develops, she connects Trinitarian theology, Christology, and the imago Dei, writing, “When the Holy Spirit cultivated the body of the Son from Mary of Nazareth, the image of God was revealed” (139).
Peeler also addresses the tendency among some theologians to avoid all masculine language when addressing God, using language such as “Godself” rather than “himself” in order to avoid any false impression that God is limited to maleness. Though she is sympathetic to the concerns around such language and argues (and some readers may disagree) that it is appropriate to understand God metaphorically as “Mother” (102) or “Parent” (112) based on the masculine and feminine images of God in the Bible, she also includes a twenty-page appendix called “God the Good Father,” which addresses many of the cultural problems of paternal language and reasserts the goodness of affirming the biblical language and frame.
Throughout the book, Peeler is conversant with the early church fathers and more recent feminist and womanist authors, weaving in helpful points from all and drawing lines where appropriate. The footnotes are often as helpful as the main text, and readers will be grateful they are included on the page rather than as endnotes. This book is an excellent choice for classes on the doctrine of God, trinitarianism, Christology, and anthropology.
About the Contributors
Channeling Eric Liddell, John likes to say, “When I code, I can feel God’s pleasure.” This desire to glorify God by showing how our creativity is an important aspect of our role as image bearers, drives John’s work and teaching. A former youth pastor, he enjoys working with students to see how the biblical story brings insight and clarity to the ideas found in science, sociology, and culture. John is married to Amber, a literature and philosophy professor and has two lovely children.