Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Bible Basics for Catholics

I’ll admit that when I first saw this book I was tempted to not buy it.  An explanation of the Bible in 150 pages (and large print at that)??  I’ve read larger books trying to explain just one sentence in the Bible.  I thought this book would be a waste of my time.
And I was wrong.
John Bergsma is an award-winning teacher from the Franciscan University at Steubenville (it was this back-cover notation which really caused me to buy the book.  I am going this coming weekend to a conference at Franciscan University, a great island of Catholic orthodoxy in our country.  If he teaches there, he must be good.).  In this book Mr. Bergsma walks the reader through a simple explanation of the Old Testament and New Testament covenants in the Bible.  He explains that a covenant is like a contract, only with a covenant you exchange persons, not property.  “A covenant is a legal way of making someone part of your family.”  Keeping it very simple, he walks you through the covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus --- and he even draws stick-figure pictures to illustrate his point, about as basic a summary as you can get! 
Again, even as I read the Introduction and glanced ahead at the stick figures drawn throughout the book, I was thinking: “Maybe I should stop here.  This is a waste of my time.  I won’t learn anything here.”  It just seemed too basic, but I had heard so many positive comments about this book….  Could I be wrong in my thinking?  And then, of course, there was the pedigree of the author, and so I continued.  And I admit that through much of the book I was thinking: “Yeh, yeh, yeh.  I got that.”  But still I continued.  And then he wrapped it all up around page 150 and I was somewhat pleased that the quick read of “explaining the Bible” was done.  But then I had some time to ponder on what I had read, and what I had recently read in the catechism (the parts about how to live your life in Christ), and other books I had recently read on our purpose in life, and on the purpose of God’s creation.  And although I was correct in my assessment that I had not learned much new in this book, I realized that it WAS a very good re-enforcement of what I did know.  It was another parable, if you will, explaining things in a simple way, a way I expect that I will remember long after I have forgotten what I read in other “more interesting” books.
This book is truly “Bible Basics.”  It reminded me of a review I did on another book a while back, a book “aimed at the average Catholic.”  Like my first impressions about this book, I initially panned that book too, until I realized that I was not “the average Catholic.”  I read more and so I know more, which may seem to be a good thing, but if I don’t retain what I read, if it doesn’t “change my heart,” --- as God in so many places tells us we must do --- then reading all the books in the world won’t matter.  I think that from the average Catholic to the deeply-understanding orthodox Catholic, this book will help you retain the knowledge of the unity of the Bible.  The Bible is a book, a whole book with a complete story, like any other good book.  It has a story to tell, and a message for us to receive, but so often we get focused on a particular scene in the story and forget the total message.  This book will help you focus on the key message of the Bible:  “the sonship Adam once enjoyed with God has been restored to us by Jesus Christ.”
The longest chapter in this short book was the last one, on the Eucharistic Covenant.  Mr. Bergsma explains how all the previous covenants are summarized in Jesus, and points out (a new insight for me) that all the original covenants were between God and a man, but the new and final covenant was IN a single man, Jesus Christ, true God and true man.  Instead of bringing God and man closer together as in the original covenants, this final covenant MADE God and man together.  And in this final covenant, Jesus, was the image of the everlasting covenant: God and man will be together eternally in heaven.   This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.   “What Isaiah predicted is coming true:  the servant of God is becoming the covenant itself (Is 42:6).”
I strongly recommend this book to any Catholic or Christian, weak or strong in their faith, and weak or strong in their understanding of the Bible.  It is a short and easy read, and you WILL remember the points the book makes.  But I will end this review with a few quotes from the final pages of the book (don’t I always steal quotes in my reviews?  ;-)   )
·         The main goal of this book was to show the Bible’s “unity” – how it all fits together.
·         We now have an idea of the “big story” of salvation history … (and) we should want to take part in it, and God has provided a way, through the sacraments.
·         (The) privileges of Adam have been restored to us.  Like Adam, we can call God “Father.”  As royalty, we rule over our passions and possessions, rather than being ruled by them.  As prophets, we speak God’s word to the people around us.  As priests, we offer to God our very lives on a daily basis, as a “living sacrifice” for the salvation of the world.  Finally, as grooms and brides, we find our love and joy in embracing our true Spouse every time we come forward to receive communion.
·         I believe the concepts we have shared, and the symbols we’ve used, can be a powerful way to remember and convey some profound concepts about God’s plan through history.
I agree.


  1. I've just found your blog and like everything I'm reading - thank you for writing it. Hope you had a terrific and fruitful conference at Franciscan!

  2. Well, the Defending The Faith conference is this weekend. More than myself, I pray the non-Catholic attending with me will be open to whatever the Holy Spirit wishes.

    Relative to things here, well I read lots but only will review the better books here. As the sidebar indicates, much of the rest of my writing is done in the chapel; I don't consider myself the real writer, but I am pleased that a real writer thinks there is something here worth reading. I bookmarked your blogs; a glance tells me that you write in the manner in which I like to read. Thank you, also.

    1. I trust that the Defending the Faith Conference was truly inspiring. Having Franciscan University planted solidly in my own bones (through conferences, plus being a grad of an off-campus program, plus being a hopelessly proud parent of a Franciscan alum), I feel quite at home just reading of it.

      And after this digression, I think I'll put the rest of this comment on your more recent post....

    2. Me again, to say "oh." You said the conference IS this weekend, not "was."