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Postscript: Michael Card and the PC(USA) Exegesis Exam

By Mark D. Roberts | Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Part 5 of series: Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

I had thought that I was finished weighing in on recent changes in the PC(USA) exegesis exam. But an experience I had this past weekend motivated me to add a postscript to my series. This experience was of Michael Card.

If you’re familiar with Michael Card, you probably know him as an award-winning Christian musician and songwriter. His best known song is “El Shaddai,” which was recorded by Amy Grant, among many others. Michael has released over 30 musical albums, and has won several Dove awards from the Gospel Music Association (the Christian music Grammy). You may not know that Michael Card is also a fine author, having written many books, several of which have also won awards. And you may not know that he is also a radio talk show host and a fine Bible teacher.

Michael came to Laity Lodge this past weekend in the unusual role of speaker and musician. Usually two or ever three people fill these roles in a Laity Lodge retreat. But Michael did it all . . . quite splendidly, I might add. He was also a delight to hang around with. He’s not impressed that he’s Michael Card, even when those around him are.

Michael’s subject was not one that would immediately jump out at you as something you’re dying to learn more about. In six messages he addressed the issue of slavery: in the Old Testament, New Testament, and in our lives. Though he mentioned the ethical crisis of slavery in today’s world, his focus was not so much on questions of justice as it was on what it means for us to be slaves of our Heavenly Master, the one who took the form of a slave in giving himself up for us on the cross.

Michael offered many new insights into Scripture. Among other things, he showed beyond question just how important it is for us to understand slavery if we’re going to make sense of New Testament Christianity. Slavery played a major role in the culture of the Roman world, and the imagery of slavery fills the pages of the New Testament. Jesus, for example, told many parables in which slaves were prominently features (for example, Matt 25:14-30). Paul identified himself as a slave of Christ (for example, Rom 1:1). The prominence of slave language in the New Testament is hidden by most English translations, which prefer to translate doulos, the Greek word for slave, with servant, rather than slave. But close attention to the original Greek of the New Testament proves how central slavery is to the life and theology of the first Christians. (Photo: Michael Card teaching at Laity Lodge. If you look closely, you’ll see doulos, a Greek word for slave, on the tablet behind him.)

Michael Card was able to see the centrality of slavery in the New Testament, in spite of the limitations of English translations, because he has some facility with Greek (also Hebrew). I didn’t ask him how much Greek he has studied, but he used it frequently and competently. His knowledge of Greek enabled him to see things that would be almost impossible for someone without some knowledge of Greek to see.

As he taught, I couldn’t help but thinking of my recent laments about the PC(USA) exegesis exam, which no longer expects potential pastors to demonstrate basic knowledge of the ancient biblical languages. Although candidates are still expected to take these languages in seminary, I fear the new standards for the exegesis exam serve as a sign of the PC(USA)’s lagging commitment to serious study of the Bible.

What I experienced with Michael Card this past weekend at Laity Lodge was a powerful reminder of why it’s so important for Ministers of Word and Sacrament to know and to use Greek and Hebrew (even if with the helpful crutch of a computer). Translations, no matter how good they might be, only get us so far in the task of biblical interpretation. One who can investigate the original languages has an unparalleled chance to find deeper truth, just as Michael Card has done when it comes to slavery.

The main point of Michael’s study of slavery was to challenge us to consider how we can be truly free by submitting ourselves fully to Christ as our Master. The point is not bondage, not at all. It is experiencing the freedom of the Christian life, a “better freedom,” as Michael calls it. If you’re interested in what this is all about, let me point you to a new song Michael has written, called “A Better Freedom.” It is not available on one of his CDs yet, but it can be found on the “By/For” website. (This website, by the way, is a wonderful new ministry inaugurated by Michael and some of his colleagues. It seeks to make available for free works of art, music, and teaching that are “by the church” and “for the church.” Be sure to check out

Michael Card also did a concert for us as a part of his leadership of the Laity Lodge retreat. It was a giant blessing to enjoy his music both in person and in such an intimate venue (70-person venue). I have enjoyed his music for more than two decades, but have never heard him in person. (Photo: Michael Card in concert at Laity Lodge from my perspective in the front row. Click here to see a short clip of Michael at the concert.)

If you’re not familiar with his music, I’d certainly recommend it. Michael is wonderfully gifted musician (singer, guitar player, piano player, etc.). But what makes him almost unique is his ability to write songs based on Scripture, songs that tell the story of the Bible in profound poetry. After this weekend, I now know one more reason why Michael is such a fantastic songwriter: his deep study of the biblical text includes attention to the original languages, which gives him the ability to write songs such as “El Shaddai” (a Hebrew term for God, usually translated “God Almighty”).

To sum up, my point in this post is to show how knowledge of biblical languages isn’t just some arcane denominational requirement that should be jettisoned. Rather, it is a precious tool that allows a teacher – and even a contemporary Christian songwriter – to plumb the depths of biblical truth.

Topics: PCUSA: End of? |

11 Responses to “Postscript: Michael Card and the PC(USA) Exegesis Exam”

  1. RevK Says:
    September 2nd, 2008 at 1:52 am

    Great words, great application!

  2. Rodney Reeves Says:
    September 2nd, 2008 at 8:46 am


    I met M. Card when he was just beginning his music career (Grant had just recorded “El Shaddai”). I was in my doctoral studies at the time, and he was very curious about what I was learning. Further in the discussion, I found out from him that he was Bill Lane’s student (when Lane was at Western Kentucky), and that he had just begun his doctoral work in biblical studies when the “music career” happened (presenting Card with a dilemma: do I forget the contract and keep working on my doctorate, or do I leave behind my “first love” and give full attention to a career in music). Card said he consulted his mentor, Prof. Lane, who told him something to the effect, “These opportunities don’t come around that often. Pursue a musical career. If that doesn’t work, you can always come back and finish your doctoral work.”

    Given what I’ve read of his stuff, I think Card has kept up with his language skills.

  3. HenryH Says:
    September 2nd, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    In the case of the New Testament letters, the authors wrote their (presumably) Greek thoughts in Greek. However, when we’re dealing with the words of Christ, an interesting (well, to me, anyway) question arises. If he spoke in Aramaic and his words were almost entirely translated into Greek when written down, is understanding Greek enough?

    For instance, this need for translation could certainly account for slight variations in phrases Jesus spoke as recorded by the different gospel writers.

    Or take the story from John 21 where two different Greek words are used for the English word “love.” What is the significance of those two words when we consider that they are both translations of Jesus’ Aramaic word or words? Are there two (or more) Aramaic words for love? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that addressed. It seems at least as significant as the tension between agape and phileo.

    Likewise, what is the significance of Luke’s translation of Jesus’ words recorded in Acts 1:8 — “…you shall be my witnesses…” I understand that the Greek words translated witness and martyr are the same. But what would Jesus actually have said? Or did the word take on new meaning in the first century or so of the early church? Words do change meaning, after all.

    Just curious. I personally only know enough New Testament Greek to get into trouble, as you can probably tell.

  4. Dean Weaver Says:
    September 2nd, 2008 at 6:50 pm


    Thank you! What a resounding affirmation of the essential place of theological scholarship in the context of ministry. Your description of the time with Mike is inspiring and instructive.

    I had a similar experience with him at our New Wineskins Convocation a couple of years back. I spent much of the time during our gathering (as he was leading us in worship and teaching) sitting with his oldest daughter, who was likewise not impressed that he was Michael Card.

    Reading your post reminded me not only of the importance of biblical fidelity (with application of the original languages) but also of the importance of such fellowship time with sisters and brothers of the reformed and evangelical faith who come out of a different denominational context (Michael is a active participant in a PCA congregation). He has a warm, sweet and gracious spirit, loves the savior, is a beautiful communicator of God’s truth and just so happens to be a fellow presbyterian.

    All of the above applies to you as well Mark. Thank you for your faithfulness.

    Dean Weaver

  5. David Etheridge Says:
    September 3rd, 2008 at 6:46 am

    Thanks for provoking our thoughts in this area, Mark. After serving for many years as Chair of our local Committee on Preparation for Ministry, your blog has me wondering what might have prompted this change. I can’t help but wonder if the ministry candidates trained by our seminaries were having difficulty passing this portion of the standard written ordination exams. It seems to me that this change will make it easier to pass the exegetical portion of the exams in the future.

  6. Dick Powell Says:
    September 3rd, 2008 at 9:28 am


    I have read the post on biblical exegesis and agree with your analysis. However, sadly most PC(USA) pastors do not use the ancient languages of the Bible in either sermon prep or when conducting Bible studies. I use them (in fact am tutoring in Hebrew presently) because I enjoy exegesis and I take the the Reformed understanding of preaching seriously. Sadly, we are a dying breed.

    Take an unscientific survey - ask the next 10 preachers how they used the ancient languages in preparing their sermons. I suspect you will be saddened.

    So as a denomination, we require working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew (I think the only Reformed denomination requiring both)for ordination, however,for the most part they are quickly forgotten and the ancient text languish on the shelves in the study.

    Grace and peace,


  7. J. Falconer Says:
    September 3rd, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Rev. Mark Roberts, Thanks for sharing Michael’s story & gifts. The world is blessed to have people & families like Michael’s & yours. Thanks again for sharing such an informative, inspring & uplifting post! Have a great rest of the week & week-end. God Bless the Falconers’

  8. J. Falconer Says:
    September 3rd, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    P.S. Accept the typo- Inspiring! Again, Thanx!!

  9. Tom Brown Says:
    September 4th, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Yes, as a contemporary Christian song writer, he is almost without peer. How much I wish others came in nearer proximity to his theological depth and poetic sense. Mark, since you write for W.Leader mag, I consider it a curious omission that his name was not mentioned in two issues devoted to songwriting during the last year or so. (not you’re fault, of course, but you might “correct” them :) ) A similar experience when my church hosted him in concert: he was indeed delightfully unenamored with being Michael Card. Thanks for your post.

  10. Robert T. Says:
    September 12th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    I met Michael Card many years ago. He was a very humble man who had but one purpose, and that was to share his one passion, in either word, song, or talk, and that one passion is Jesus. I am very thankful that God has gifted us with such a brillant and talented man who loves to share his passion of Jesus. Michael is indeed a very bright light in a very dark world.

  11. Quick Takes - 9/13/2008 at Ray Fowler .org Says:
    September 13th, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    […] Roberts appreciates Michael Card’s use of original languages in his teaching ministry. “What I experienced with Michael Card this past weekend at Laity Lodge was a powerful […]


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