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Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changes; PC(USA) Exegesis Exam

Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2008 by Mark D. Roberts

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Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed: Section 1

Part 1 of series: Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed
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I just became aware of a couple of major changes in exegesis exams of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I want to offer some comments on these changes. This may seem like a detour from my series on The End of the PCUSA? Revisited, but, in fact, it is not. The changes in the grading of the exegesis exam illustrate why the PC(USA) is struggling to stay alive.

Let me offer a brief word of background for those who aren’t familiar with PC(USA) exegesis exams. For decades, candidates for ordained pastoral ministry in the PC(USA) were have been required to pass an exegesis exam. This required careful, well-informed, accurate interpretation of an assigned biblical text in the original languages (Greek or Hebrew). Moreover, the candidate prepared a sermon outline, so as to demonstrate the ability to use scholarly exegesis in a practical, pastoral context.

When I took the exegesis exam in the 1980s, it was a four-hour “open book” exam. Candidates were allowed to use any tools or helps they could bring, including dictionaries, grammars, concordances, commentaries, etc. At some point during the last twenty years, the exam was changed to a “take home” exam, in which candidates were given several days to finish it. I actually thought this was a positive change, since it did not place a premium on academic speed. Moreover, it provided candidates with a situation that was similar to that which they’d face as pastors, with a few days to work on a sermon.

Now, the exam itself and the way it will be graded have been changed in a couple of crucial ways. Here’s what I have learned from the PC(USA) website:

1. The demonstration of a working knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew will no longer be a requirement in order to complete the examination successfully.  When exams are graded, the readers will comment on the language facility which is demonstrated in the paper.  Such comments will be offered as guidance for Committees on Preparation for Ministry in determining readiness for ministry. 

2. The wording of the instructions for the Biblical Exegesis examination have been amended.  Inquirers/candidates will be asked to offer “a faithful interpretation” of the assigned text, rather than “the principal meaning” of the text. 

Why have these changes been made? The website explains that the committee in charge of the exams has completed a two-year evaluation process. Their goals in making the changes are stated as follows:

It is the sincere hope of the members of the PCCEC that these changes in the Biblical Exegesis examination will free students to focus on the larger issues of interpretation and practical application of Scripture, as well as to use the biblical languages as tools in that process.

We believe that these changes will make it possible for the seminaries to do what they do well, namely to teach Greek and Hebrew and to train students in the art of exegesis, and not have the examination repeat an academic exercise that students have already experienced.  At the same time, the changes in the requirements of the exam will allow presbyteries, who know their inquirers/candidates in a way the exam graders cannot, to use the exam as a tool in determining one’s readiness for ministry, including a working knowledge of the biblical languages.

My Reaction to These Changes

You will probably not be surprised to learn that I’m not happy with these changes. I say this, in part, as one who has taught both Greek and Biblical Exegesis in seminaries, including the PC(USA)’s own San Francisco Theological Seminary. But my unhappiness with the changes in the exegesis exam has less to do with my seminary teaching experience and more to do with what the changes imply about the PC(USA)’s understanding of Scripture, its authority and interpretation.

First of all, notice what the committee hopes will happen because of the changes in the exam. They hope that the changes “will free students to focus on the larger issues of interpretation and application of Scripture, as well as to use the biblical languages as tools in that process.” Now I’m all for getting people to focus on the larger issues of interpretation and application of Scripture. But let’s do a careful exegesis of the phrase: “will free students to focus.” From what will students be freed? Here's what's implied. They'll be freed from:

• From using original languages in their exegesis.

• From knowing what the original words really meant and
   how they were used.

• From trying to discern “the principal meaning” of text.

In other words, students will not be expected to know what the original language of the text said, or what the original author of the text intended to communicate. They will be set free from these disciplines to offer simply“a faithful interpretation” of the text.

Wow! What a watershed moment in the history of Presbyterianism! For the first time, as far as I know, we are officially rejecting a traditional understanding of biblical interpretation, one in which the text has a principal meaning, one that takes seriously the intentions of the author, and one that requires the student to wrestle with the original meaning on the way to creating some "faithful interpretation." Now we are allowing “a faithful interpretation” of a text to suffice, even if this “faithful interpretation” is not in sync with the original language or meaning of the passage. What a monumental move for the PC(USA)!

If you know anything about the study of textual interpretation in the last few decades, you’ll immediately recognize what’s happening here as a postmodern view of textual meaning. The notion that a text has a primary meaning has been rejected by many in our day, in favor a more subjective approach. Some theorists would even say that the real meaning of text inheres, not in the text or in the intentions of the author, but in the responses of the reader.

I certainly recognize that different readers respond differently to the same text. Moreover, I acknowledge that I can learn a great deal from the way other people respond to a text. Further, I’m willing to admit that my own readings, however much they are based on relatively objective criteria, like Greek or Hebrew definitions and grammar, are nevertheless impacted by my own subjective biases. A purely objective reading of a text is impossible.

But, in spite of these admissions, I, along with the PC(USA), have always believed that it was still possible to get fairly close to “the principal meaning” of a text. One way to access that meaning was by translating from the original language of the text. This was assumed by the PC(USA) . . . until now. Apparently, as a denomination we no longer believe that a principal meaning exists, or that it can be found even if it does exist, or that it matters even it exists and can be found. We’re satisfied only with a faithful interpretation. And this opens up a Pandora’s box of subjectivity.

I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed: Section 2

Part 2 of series: Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed
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Yesterday I began commenting on recent changes in the exegesis exam of the Presbyterian Church (USA). For the first time in ages, the PC(USA) will no longer require candidates taking the exegesis exam to demonstrate a knowledge of ancient biblical languages or to find the “principal meaning” of a passage. Now, candidates can pass the exegesis exam without showing that they know the original language of the text. And instead of trying to explain what that text originally meant, they need only to offer a “faithful interpretation” of the text.

What does this mean, exactly? Who’s to say whether an interpretation is faithful or not? In the end, who can say those who have injected their personal faith into a text that their interpretation is not faithful? I suppose if one defined “faithful” as “faithful to the original meaning of the text and to the use of the original language,” then we could argue about the faithfulness of an interpretation. But this is clearly not what the PCUSA means by “faithful interpretation.”

Let me offer an example of one reason why I have a problem with “faithful interpretation” as the new standard. When I was teaching New Testament Exegesis for San Francisco Theological Seminary (Southern California), I would assign a biblical passage to my students. In 15 pages or so, they were to provide an exegesis of the passage, showing their understanding of the passages’s linguistic basics, context, theology, etc. One year, I had a student from an ethnic minority write a paper that showed almost no attention to the original language, context, history of interpretation, and so forth. What he wrote was a “faithful interpretation” from his ethnic perspective. To that extent, his paper was fascinating and insightful and full of his own faith. But it had very little to do with what the text actually meant, or what the text’s author intended. When I gave this student a low grade, he was incensed. How could I suggest that his interpretation was wrong? It was, after all, his interpretation. It reflected his experience, his insights, his worldview, his feelings. The fact that he failed to deal with the experience, insights, worldview, or feelings of the original author was irrelevant, as far as he was concerned. To use the language of today’s PC(USA), his interpretation was certainly “faithful.” It reflected his faith journey and relationship with God. But it had little to do with what biblical exegesis is all about, which has to do with digging out the original meaning of the ancient text. Once one has labored to discern that “principal meaning,” then one is free to make all sorts of “faithful interpretations” in the work of teaching and preaching.

What the PC(USA) is saying, in effect, is that the original meaning of the text doesn’t matter nearly as much as one’s personal, faithful interpretation. Now I’m 100% in favor of personal, faithful interpretations. But I also believe that the principal meaning of a text matters. In fact, it is the principal meaning of a text that allows us to determine whether a purportedly faithful interpretation is, in fact, faithful to the text. For years, many Christians offered faithful interpretations of Scripture that were racist. Yet these were not faithful to the text of the Bible, when properly understood, even though they reflected the faith of the interpreters. Once we make faithful interpretation the measure of exegetical skill, we have lost the ability to critique those who get it wrong. We’re left simply with competing faithful interpretations, but no common ground upon which to discover a truthful interpretation.

The committee offers almost no rationale for their choice to jettison “principal meaning” in favor of “faithful interpretation.” They supply one comment from someone who said: “Rich passages of Scripture contain more than one ‘principal meaning’, and may lend themselves to several interpretations which are valid.” Well, that’s a theory worthy of debate, to be sure. But it’s certainly not so obviously true that it deserves to be accepted without argument. Nor is it consistent with what most Presbyterians have believed for centuries. We have traditionally affirmed that even rich passages of Scripture do contain one principal meaning, though this meaning may have many nuances and multiple applications. Moreover, we have not affirmed that biblical passages may have several valid interpretations. Several interpretations, to be sure, but not several valid ones. We have admitted that we may not be able to interpret a passage correctly. And we have realized that our best interpretations do not fully represent the text’s original meaning. But, nevertheless, we have sought to discern the original meaning as accurately as possible, using the tools of historical-critical exegesis, including knowledge of the original languages. Now the PC(USA) officially expects its pastoral candidates to come up with faithful interpretations, nothing more.

These changes in ordination exams are indicative of much larger issues in the PC(USA). They show how biblical interpretation has moved from a scholarly, relatively-objective discipline to a subjective matter of experience and feeling. They show how the original meaning of Scripture has lost its authority, since it either cannot be accessed or isn’t relevant if it can be accessed. “Faithful interpretation” is enough. The changes in the exam show precisely why the PC(USA) is in such a mess over the gay/lesbian issue. While some of us continue to believe that the Bible’s original meaning is still discernable and authoritative, others in our denomination do not feel the need to anchor their theology in the bedrock of the Bible’s original meaning. So, then, while some of are saying that the Bible reveals homosexual activity to be sinful, others are not especially moved by this claim, or even eager to engage with it. They are satisfied with their own “faithful interpretations” of Scripture, in which they take their particular faith in God and read it into the text. Their loving, accepting God would never expect gay and lesbian people to be celibate. So, in spite of what the Bible actually says about homosexual activity, they are willing to endorse gay and lesbian behavior, and to ordain those who practice it, and even to claim that their position is biblical. It is biblical if, by “biblical,” we mean “according to my own faith.”

I expect that nobody on the exam committee of the PC(USA) meant to make such a monumental statement about biblical authority and interpretation. And I’m quite sure that nobody on this committee believes that their two changes to the ordination exam are contributing to the demise of the PC(USA). But, in my opinion, what we have seen is indicative of why this denomination is reeling, well on its way to oblivion. We have lost touch with the common ground of biblical truth on which the PC(USA) was founded. And we no longer have any reliable way of getting back to that common ground in a denomination filled with equally-valid faithful interpretations. The changes in the ordination exam add up to a placard that reads: PCUSA . . . the end is near!

Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed: Section 3

Part 3 of series: Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed
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In my last two blog posts I have commented on recent changes in the exegesis exam of the Presbyterian Church (USA). In a nutshell, the PC(USA) no longer requires candidates for ordination to pastoral ministry to demonstrate knowledge of biblical language (Greek and Hebrew). Moreover, candidates do not have to try to show the “principal meaning” of a text.” Now they can simply offer one “faithful interpretation,” whatever that means.

If you want to see why I’m critical of these changes, please read what I’ve already written. Today I want to add some final comments before I finish my diatribe about the exegesis exam changes.

The Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates, the group responsible for the exam changes, offered little by way of defense of its actions. It did reproduce some questions or comments that it received from folks outside of the committee. They were meant, I suppose, to provide some sort of rationale. So let me respond to these.

Does the format of the exam truly allow inquirers/candidates to demonstrate a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew?

No, it doesn’t. In the past, candidates could pass the exam with much less than a “working knowledge” of Greek and Hebrew. But they would have needed at least a basic knowledge of one of these languages.

Is this examination the appropriate vehicle through which to judge one’s facility with Biblical languages?

No, by itself, it was not the appropriate vehicle. But it was an essential part of this judgment. It showed that candidates could do more than pass exams in Greek and Hebrew. They needed to have some ability actually to use one of these languages.

Is it reasonable to expect readers who may not have had training in Greek and Hebrew, or who themselves have not maintained a working knowledge of these languages, to determine if an exam adequately demonstrates facility in these languages?

No, it is not reasonable to expect readers who don’t know biblical languages, or who have once studied them but have since forgotten them, to grade exams with respect to their use of Greek or Hebrew. So, if we think it's important for candidates to know Greek and Hebrew, then readers (at least of certain sections of exams) should be people who have some facility with these languages. The choice of graders, as well as the content of the exam, should reflect our values as a denomination. [Many thanks to Jim Berkeley for helping me see that my original answer to this question was based on wrong exegesis of the question! Jim, apparently, wasn't satisfied with my faithful interpretation. For some reason it mattered to him what the original questioner actually meant. How modern of him!)

Examinations which are otherwise well written cannot receive a passing grade without demonstrating a working knowledge of the biblical languages.

Yes, that is right. And that’s because the PC(USA) used to believe that a working knowledge of biblical languages was something a pastor should have, and that a candidate for ordination should be able to demonstrate.

The language requirement in the biblical exegesis exam seems to duplicate, or call into question, academic work that students have already done in their language and exegesis classes in seminary.

Yes, in a sense that’s true. But this is true with almost every kind of examination or credentialing for the professions. The bar exam, more or less, duplicates what law students did in law school. Etc. etc. etc. I don’t think, however, that requiring the use of Greek or Hebrew in an exegesis exam necessarily calls into question the academic work students have done. It does require all students, no matter which seminary they have attended, to demonstrate similar ability, and this seems fair. But it also helps students to retain their biblical languages, knowing that they’ll need to use them for the exegesis exam.

Rich passages of Scripture contain more than one “principal meaning”, and may lend themselves to several interpretations which are valid.

I’ve already commented on this at length.

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up this series within a series on the PC(USA) and its exegesis exam.

Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed: Section 4

Part 4 of series: Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed
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So far I’ve put up three posts on recent changes in the exegesis exam of the Presbyterian Church (USA). If you haven’t been reading along, I’ll summarize by saying that the PC(USA) no longer requires candidates for ordination to pastoral ministry to demonstrate knowledge of biblical language (Greek and Hebrew). Moreover, candidates do not have to try to show the “principal meaning” of a text. Now they can simply offer a “faithful interpretation.”

The Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates, the group responsible for the exam changes explained their intentions this way:

We believe that these changes will make it possible for the seminaries to do what they do well, namely to teach Greek and Hebrew and to train students in the art of exegesis, and not have the examination repeat an academic exercise that students have already experienced. At the same time, the changes in the requirements of the exam will allow presbyteries, who know their inquirers/candidates in a way the exam graders cannot, to use the exam as a tool in determining one’s readiness for ministry, including a working knowledge of the biblical languages.

First of all, the exam in no way makes it possible for the seminaries to do what they do well, since the exam is independent of the seminaries. This is bluster. It is true, however, that the exam in its new form does not have students repeat an academic exercise they have already experienced. But why have an exegesis exam at all, then? Students have taken exegesis and preaching already. So why have an exegesis exam with a preaching component? According to the committee’s logic, the exam in its new form is still redundant and unnecessary. If what the committee has done remains intact and becomes part of the PC(USA) practice, I predict that this is the beginning of the end of ordination exams, period. Think about it. Right now we require candidates to pass ordination exams on Presbyterian polity. But we also require students to pass seminary courses on Presbyterian polity. Isn’t it redundant and unnecessary to have a polity exam, if we accept the committee’s logic? Ditto with theology and worship exams.

Second, the changes in the exam will not give presbyteries any greater ability to determine a candidate’s readiness for ministry, except that they will receive comments about the candidate’s language ability. But this was true in the past as well, so there is nothing gained here. In fact, the new exam will take away from presbyteries the chance to have tested a candidate’s ability to use the tools of biblical study to determine the original meaning of a text. Presbyteries will now be able to know only that candidate can produce a faithful interpretation of a passage.

And so, once again, we see evidence of the end of the PC(USA). Up to now, the PC(USA) has been distinctive (though not unique) among denominations and churches in expecting its ordained pastors to have a basic knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and to be able to use language and other skills to discover the “principal meaning” of a biblical text. When so many churches and denominations allow people to be ordained as pastors without seminary training or instruction in biblical exegesis, the PC(USA) continued to affirm the importance of such training. Behind this affirmation was a conviction about the importance of the original meaning of Scripture. The new PC(USA), even if it continues to exist into the future, will not be like the old PC(USA), a denomination committed to the right interpretation of the Bible. The PC(USA) we have known is ending right before our very eyes.

I want to close with a story and a word of encouragement for candidates and seminarians. A good friend of mine, a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA), is in the midst of taking the biblical exegesis exam. When I mentioned to her the changes in the exam, she almost became unglued.

“What is my denomination saying to me?” she asked, angrily. “Why did they require me to take so many classes in Greek and Hebrew if I didn’t need to use what I had learned? Why did I have to take exegesis classes if I need only to come up with a faithful interpretation? Why has the PC(USA) wasted my time this way? I am really angry.”

“I understand your anger, and share it,” I replied. “But don’t despair. Yes, the PC(USA) isn’t interested in whether you can use Greek and Hebrew. And it isn’t going to ask you to find the original meaning of a passage. But you didn’t take so many classes just to pass your exegesis exam. You took those classes and learned those skills so you could be an effective interpreter of Scripture. You did those things so you would be a better pastor. And you will be because of your efforts. So, forget about the PC(USA). What you have learned will help you know with greater accuracy what Scripture means. It will make you a better teacher and preacher of God’s Word. And it has been and will be honoring to God, who chose to reveal himself through a Greek and Hebrew, the original meaning of which is hugely important, no matter what the PC(USA) thinks.” (Photo: I’m presenting Bibles to children at Irvine Presbyterian Church. I loved giving children their very own copies of God’s Word.)

I preached weekly sermons and taught weekly Bible studies for over 20 years as an ordained pastor, at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and at Irvine Presbyterian Church. During those years I prepared more than 1,000 sermons and studies. I will admit that there were some occasions when I was just too busy to pay close attention to the original languages or even to seek out the original meanings of the biblical passages. But, for the most part, I tried every single time to go back to the Bible to discover, not what I thought it meant, but what it really meant. And, believe me, there is a difference between these.

On literally hundreds of occasions, I would come to a biblical passage with what I thought was a fairly good idea of what it meant. Sometimes I’d even have planned a sermon on the basis of my own faithful interpretation. But then, as I studied the text, going back to the original language, I would discover that the text actually meant something different from what I had presupposed. Because I was committed to careful exegesis and to the authority of the biblical text itself, I sometimes had to change the main point of a sermon. My faithful interpretations, however well-intended and reasonable, turned out to be wrong.

Now you may want to object that I was able to do this sort of exegesis because I had unusual training. I agree that the average pastor did not take the number of language classes I had to take for my Ph.D. in New Testament: five years of Greek, two-and-a-half years of Hebrew, plus many exegesis courses. Indeed, there was a time when average seminary graduates were mostly unable to use the ancient languages they had learned in seminaries. But this has changed drastically because of the computer. Now people with a solid year of biblical Greek can use that Greek well. To be sure, they will miss some of the nuances. But, with a decent computer and a fairly inexpensive computer program, they can use their Greek with competence. I know this for a fact because I taught Greek to dozens of seminarians. I also helped most of them prepare for the PC(USA) exegesis exam. I’m not aware of any who were unable to pass that exam in its earlier form, at least on their second try.

So, if you’re a candidate or seminarian or pastor, don’t let the PC(USA) mistaken change discourage you. Continue to learn and use the biblical languages. Continue to seek the original meaning of a biblical passage. These disciplines are precious, and will help you know and communicate God’s truth with greater accuracy and impact.

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

Part 5 of series: Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed
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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's 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.