While browsing recently at a Thrift store, I found Scandalon (1986), one of Michael Card’s earliest recordings. It was fascinating to go on Amazon and read customer reviews praising this release. If you have any familiarity with Card’s music, you know that he has a remarkable ability to convey depth in biblical truth within the confines of a song.
It seems fitting that all of his Bible study for songs would lead first to theological books and now an ambitious commentary series on the four gospels. Mark: The Gospel of Passion is the second release. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement was released last year, and commentaries on Matthew and John are scheduled for 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Each of these will have a separate companion recording related to the themes of each gospel. Card has not given up his music career; writing commentaries is just another means to fulfill his primary calling as a teacher.
As I read, immediately (a favorite term in Mark’s gospel) I was inspired by Card’s meticulous study. His attention to detail is an example for us all. His way of combining facts and imaginative thought makes the text come alive, and it is what this series is all about.
Card was mentored in this approach by William Lane, and he most likely gets more into the “how to” aspect in his touring conference series. Here in these first two commentaries he teaches more by example and asides. If you are familiar with the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, you may recall the centurion’s confession, “Truly this man was the son of God” (Mark 15:39 ESV). In his comment on the passage, Card encourages, “Stop and take time to engage with the text at the level of your imagination. Imagine the centurion covered in the blood of three men, a hardened warrior of the Italian cohort far from his home. ‘Son of God’ is a title that belongs solely to the emperor he has sworn to serve. Imagine the response of Mark’s first Roman readers as they hear this glorious confession coming from the lips of a Roman soldier …” (184).
When I read of the crucifixion I am continually struck by the monumental nature of the events. I appreciate that Card makes it even more vivid. Popular depictions of crucifixions show the crucified in loin cloths. Card corrects this misconception when he writes, “The custom was that crucified criminals would be stripped naked on the cross” (180). After Jesus has been nailed to the cross, Card adds, “It is apparent that Jesus is now naked” (182). This is the first time I have come across anyone addressing this small detail.
Card continually shows that it is important to gain the facts through references like his own so that they can be thoughtfully engaged. If we don’t know the context and background, our imaginations can lead us astray.
From the start of this commentary I was eager to see how Card would handle the ending of Mark’s gospel, and he did not disappoint. Card speaks with authority, referencing William Lane and other sources in Appendix E in support of Mark 16:9-20 not being part of the original ending. Some believe that part of it was lost, but Card provides convincing logic in his commentary on verses 1-8 that this is the original ending. This is one of many insights that make this a keeper.
More detailed and exhaustive commentaries are designed as references to be consulted. This is a book to read. Both kinds are valuable, but the readability makes this a pleasure. Plus, readers easily gain the basic background, context and meaning, which all are critical for teaching, preaching and one’s own exegesis.
The cover, layout, graphics, and outlines are all pleasing to the eye. The book includes the full text of the gospel broken up by short commentary sections. The Holman Christian Standard Bible is used except where noted.
Card’s interactions with the sacred text have made him a fine scholar. William Lane, if he were still here, would be proud. Card might find it even more rewarding if this series inspires readers into a deeper engagement with the Scriptures.
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About the reviewer
Michael Dalton (mdalton)
I live in Eureka on the coast of Northern California. I am about 250 miles north of San Francisco. Our redwood trees are some of the tallest in the world. I like books, music, movies, … more