Review: Mark: The Gospel of Passion (Biblical Imagination Series) (5 Stars) @ivpress

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Michael Card has written a breathtaking narrative commentary on the Gospel of Mark which at once introduces the reader to scholarship material, both a narrative and a canonical take, as well as a passionate performance of the often times glossed over second Gospel. This commentary is for the heart and soul while refreshing the mind. Just like the Gospel of Mark, with its quick pace and immediate actions, Mark: The Gospel of Passion is written so that it draws in the reader and without a depression or lull in reading pushes that reader further along. Frankly, I was so enthralled with Card’s writing style that I read it in a matter of hours.

Commentaries are dry, often times more original language than English, and used to induce the lay reader into a coma. Mark: The Gospel of Passion is something that cannot be rightly classified as a commentary, but perhaps more as an ongoing sermon. Card bases his work off sound scholarship, in what generally appears to be from his acknowledged mentor, William Lane, and carries the conversation forward about the Gospel of Mark in a canonical-narrative way. It is a narrative and takes the Gospel and presents it in the receptive tradition of the Church and in many ways, how Preachers use it on Sunday morning. This doesn’t mean that critical issues are glossed over, but the goal of the author is not the minutia of scholars; instead, it seems to be to present Mark freshly and energetically. There is scant attention to the original languages, which often times will bog down preachers and other ministry leaders, although the original Greek is used somewhat strategically. Further, there is the constant dialogue with the other Gospels as well as Tradition which connects Mark to both Peter and Paul. Card takes Tradition seriously, employing Papias and the Canon to set Mark’s Gospel as a deeply Christian one which ties together the New Testament as well as Church History. Further, while I may disagree with him, he ignites the fires of imagination of Mark’s setting by placing it within the immediate aftermath of Nero’s burning of Rome, even going so far as to suggest that this is the reason that the Gospel writer leaves off “and fire” in Mark 1.8 (cf Matthew 3.11, Luke 3.16). After all, why would you want to give your persecutors any more evidence that your started the fire?

Michael Card, a proficient author, is known more for his musical talent, and perhaps more so, having written one of the most popular Christian songs of the last century, El Shaddai. While he maintains that he is first and foremost a teacher of Scripture, his musical talent must have played a part in writing this work. I’ve noted the ease of reading this work, but there is a bit more to that. Card is almost speaking this commentary to the reader. I don’t know his voice, but I do know the difference between a lecture from a charismatic speaker and a dusty book. This falls into the former. I initially approached the book with trepidation, after all, I prefer critical commentaries, but from the start, Card’s writing style will draw you in. It is not overly lyrical, as you might find in works written by Rob Bell, but the talent and artistry of the musician is present, as is the humility of a bible teacher, especially when he proclaims that at times, his assertions are fanciful, realistic but unprovable!

The layour of the book follows the chapters found in modern Mark texts. Beginning with an introduction which should be pared with Thomas Oden’s recent work on Mark, Card discusses the major themes. As noted before, he sets Mark, perhaps more for dramatic effect than any other reason, during the persecution began by Nero after Rome fell. He also discusses the emotions assigned to Jesus in this particular gospel. Following the full commentary are five appendices which are of a more critical nature. He discusses the relationship between Peter and Mark as well as the New Testament picture of Mark. There is also one on connecting Mark and his historical context. Of special interest is Card’s inclusion of a miracle story from the Emperor Vespasian. Beyond that though, and one of which is what draws me to the Gospel of Mark, is the appendix which shows that for Mark, Jesus was a deeply emotion, perhaps as Card says, passionate, teacher. He ends his commentary with Mark 16.8, which may be unsettling to some, but he includes a list of the reasons why in the final appendix. These are very reasonable facts and follows what William Lane has done nearly a generation, now, before. But, before all of this is the introduction to the series in which Card begins to defend his view on the biblical imagination. In this, he follows preachers such as Peter Marshall and writers, poets, and apologists such as C.S. Lewis in suggesting that though the Holy Spirit, our imagination, a word shadowed with a suspicious eye due to the King James Version, can be shaped in such a way as to be used for the Kingdom of God. He then proves this theory with his commentary.

As a budding Markan scholar, I often needed reminded of the completeness of Mark and of the way it is received in every generation. Michael Card presents the Gospel According to St. Mark with a fresh, passionate approach which is once immensely loud and deeply intimate. There is little wonder for the lay reader, then, why the Gospel of Mark, often considered a parred down version of Matthew and Luke, and often chided for some of the things it lacks, has begun to recapture the Christian imagination.

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