Michael Card, A Violent Grace: Meeting Christ at the Cross – a review

A Violent GraceMichael Card,  A Violent Grace: Meeting Christ at the Cross (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000).  ISBN 978-0-8308-3772-4.

A guest review by Graeme Ferguson

I hope that Mr Card is a much better gospel singer than he is a writer. This book is intended to be a spiritual guide to bring people back to reflect on the cost of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and to call them once more to a renewed and more costly discipleship. It fails badly.

At heart, Mr Card is a foiled romantic who wants the scandal of the Cross and its violence to be seen as ‘beautiful’ but he has neither the verbal skills nor the spiritual insight to be helpful or to draw people on into deeper faith.

He has a very cavalier way with Scripture and abuses the integrity of the text in order to press his points. He has an alarming inadequate understanding of prophetic discourse and tries to ‘apply’ prophetic imagery directly to the event of the crucifixion. The result is that texts are twisted in ways that are not helpful. One gains the impression that he has become entangled in a clutch of half digested proof texts but has not waited to discover how they might enrich his meditation.

The heart of the problem is that he rushed to write but did not wait to be renewed by the texts he is attempting to meditate on. As a result there is no authentic insight and no sense that here is a humble and wise guide who has struggled and wept and written slowly and with restrained care.

It has not occurred to Mr Card that sacrifice as his preferred image for the Cross needs to be placed in a very demanding context before it can begin to sing. Genocide, holocaust and nuclear bombing, torture and abuse are all images of suffering to be addressed and lived through before anyone can dare speak of the Cross as once and for all sufficient for the sin of the world. We all speak far more hesitantly than Mr Card realises.

The production of the book is regrettable and gives Christian publishing a bad name. The print faces attempt to reinforce the sad romanticism of the writing. The steel engraving, in the style of nineteenth century devout religious pictures, are sad pastiches, and they are unacknowledged.

I hope that this severe critique is not simply a clash of cultural expectations. I approached the book looking for guidance from a spiritual master. I gained little.

7 thoughts on “Michael Card, A Violent Grace: Meeting Christ at the Cross – a review

  1. Could you tell us a little more of what Mr Card actually has to say. I certain understand that you don’t like the book, but surely there is some theological content with which you might engage and argue.

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  2. ps: I haven’t read it… So perhaps I am mystified that someone would presume to write a book on the cross without engaging seriously with the logic of sacrifice… And simply revealing my own nativity.

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  3. @Bruce – I’ll leave it to Graeme to respond to your earlier questions (fair points, by the way, coming from one for whom Anselm is just shy of being the antichrist). But I will say that I’d love to see your ‘nativity’ sometime. I missed the first one ;-)

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  4. I have really enjoyed this blog for the past few months, but I will be taking a break for a while after reading this. “And if I . . . know all mysteries and all knowledge . . . .but have not love . . .

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  5. Bill. Thank you for weighing in here, and for expressing your thoughts. I appreciate it. For what it’s worth, my wife agrees strongly with you (we’re big Michael Card fans here at our place, and have been greatly blessed through his music ministry). I’ve not read the book that Graeme refers to here, so cannot comment except to say that while I sympathise that the review could have been kinder in tone, the matters he raises seem fair enough to draw attention to and are not in themselves, if true, foreign to love’s domain.

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