Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book Review: Memorial: The Mystery of Mary of Bethany

In Memorial: The Mystery of Mary of Bethany, Dolores Kimball seeks to answer questions about the character of Mary of Bethany and to show "life-changing truths women today will find inspiring and encouraging."  The author concludes the Introduction by noting that "As we look closely at Mary's life, we will find her to be the perfect role model for women today, one whose amazing story deserves to be told and retold, as Jesus said, 'in memory of her.'"  It's important to remember that the Mary of Bethany was an actual person and the account of her life in the Bible is a historical narrative.  Women today can learn from the events recorded in Scripture, but we are not Mary of Bethany, nor will we achieve her status.  I find it very refreshing that Ms. Kimball does not allegorize Mary's life, but she exposes the motivating force behind Mary's action: her strong faith in Jesus Christ.

Mary of Bethany does not have many words attributed to her in the Bible, but her act of anointing Jesus for His burial has given her a prominent role in the Gospels.  It would be easy to place her action above her faith.  To prevent this from happening, the author clearly lays out the biblical relationship between saving faith and works: "Even if we accept that we are saved by faith, and most Christians do accept it, we are still compelled to do something to add to that faith some kind of deeds...But good works are the result of salvation, not the cause of it.  They flow from salvation and are the fruit of it," (Kindle location 138).  The author also clearly identifies the Author of saving faith: "God's work is to give us the gift of faith that justifies us," (Kindle location 150).

This book brings the story of Mary of Bethany to life and highlights the incredible amount of faith that she had in Jesus Christ while He walked on the earth.  While reading this book, I was edified and convicted at the same time.  The author reminds Christians, and especially women, not to become dull and allow the cares of this world to override the desire for the sacred; but to set our minds on things above, (Kindle location 414).  Ms. Kimball also calls out one of the major problems with professing Christians today: "As Christians who possess the gift of eternal life and the presence of God in our hearts, our focus should be more on the Lord who saved us and less on ourselves," (Kindle location 1150).

In trying to show that the "desire for preeminence is a sure destroyer of discernment and wisdom," (Kindle location 911), the author relays a story of a deaconess in her church who tried to claim authority to rule the women of the church in contrast to the absence of pride and ambition in Mary.  (I do not agree with nor endorse the office of deaconess for women in the church.  The office of deacon is clearly laid out in 1 Timothy 3:8-11.  A deacon is the husband of one wife and his wife should be grave; therefore, the role of deacon is to be filled by a man, not a woman.)

It appears that Ms. Kimball did a lot of research for this book, but she does not cite her specific sources for behavioral studies or first century cultural practices.  I appreciate the plethora of Bible verses to support her statements grounded in Scripture.  However, there are times when she speculates about the feelings of Mary and Martha, the motivation of the disciples' response, etc.  The author's speculations are well-thought out and reasonable, nevertheless an assertion made where the Bible is silent is still just human conjecture.  When the Bible remains silent on internal motivation and feelings, Christians must be mindful that while speculation can help our understanding, it is not scriptural and should not be considered equal to or above the authority of the Bible.

One area of concern is the author's view of her speculation.  In the Epilogue, Ms. Kimball says: "Unraveling her [Mary's] mystery required a good deal of reading between the lines and putting seemingly unrelated passages together to come to conclusions that are not at first obvious," (Kindle location 1264).  She continues: "The significance of Martha's entire story struck me like a thunderbolt one evening...I have no doubt that was from God because I would not have come up with it on my own," (Kindle location 1284).  This statement places her book on level with the Bible because she has received direct revelation from God, and therefore, what she has written cannot be questioned.  This is a very dangerous stance to take on any book outside the Bible and does not show true humility of the author.

One area of confusion is the author's statement near the end of her book: "Faith is resting in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus...No longer are we burdened by the requirements of the law, not even those requirements we put upon ourselves or those put upon by others...we weary ourselves with the do's and don'ts of the Christian life," (Kindle location 1247).  This antinomian statement is confusing and contradicts not only the what the author has written, but also Scripture.  The author herself tells us (as noted above) that good works are a fruit of salvation.  Christians are not under the law in regards to salvation because Jesus Christ accomplished that for us, but the Apostle John says that Christians who know Jesus keep His commandments, (1 John 2:3-4).  James also tells us that faith without works is dead, (James 2:17).  It is unclear what "requirements of the law" the author is referring to and how that biblically contradicts resting in Christ for saving faith.  "Good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith," (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) Chapter 16, paragraph 2; [emphasis mine]).

Overall, I recommend reading Memorial: The Mystery of Mary of Bethany with the caveat that the author has included her own embellishments into the scriptural text that may or may not be true.  Mary of Bethany stands out in Scripture because of her faith.  At times faith may be weakened, but it gets the victory, growing up in the full assurance of Christ, who is both the Author and Finisher of faith, (LBCF Chap. 14, para. 3).

Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.