Friday, May 23, 2014

God of the Old Testament (Catholic Courses)

If you love learning about your faith but are on a budget like me, then you look for inexpensive ways to grow in your faith. Maybe your public library has a decent Catholic book selection. (Mine doesn't unfortunately). Maybe, there are great classes that go on at your Parish. I know mine offers several, and I try to attend when my schedule permits. I'm still waiting for an online Catholic university to offer a free class per semester to audit, but until then, we have Catholic Courses. And while we still await the release of the long-awaited Dante's Paradise, they are still producing quality studies like the one I am reviewing today entitled God of the Old Testament.

Dr. Paul Niskanen is the presenter for this Catholic Course. He begins by explaining and dismissing common misconceptions people have about the Old Testament. For example, he makes it a point to explain that all of the Bible is not history and that reading it like a history textbook won't make any sense. He also talks about the negative bias most people have of God in the Old Testament. Many people see God as vengeful and fill of wrath but there are numerous Old Testament passages that discuss His love and mercy. We then dive into the three ways to read the Old Testament - Literalist (Fundamentalist), Secular (Liberal), and Catholic (Embracing the Whole).  He then goes on to talk about languages and translations, using coffee as an example. Different countries (like Italy) translate coffee as one thing and see it as a completely different thing. The same can also hold true when trying to understand the Bible. However, we also have to take into account the culture the Bible was written in and the genre of book we are reading.

Disc Two Lesson Three finally looks at actual texts in the Old Testament. St. Augustine believed that you could learn about every Christian doctrine in the opening chapters of Genesis. While Dr. Niskanen doesn't completely agree with St. Augustine, he does believe that you can learn a great deal about who God is and who humanity is. He then walks us through all the days of Creation. Lesson Four talks about the importance of names and more specifically the Name of God. For reference, Dr. Niskanen refers to the book Exodus when Moses met God in the Burning Bush. It was very interesting to hear his explanation on the name of God, which is Yahweh; how we started referring to God as Lord (or Adonai); and the mistranslation that resulted in the word Jehovah.

Hands down, Disc Three was my favorite disc. In Lesson Five, Dr. Niskanen discusses covenants found in the Old Testament. He does this by using the book of Leviticus to explain what a covenant is and how it differs from a contract or a promise. Lesson Six focuses on one of the most important Biblical covenants - the Davidic covenant. Using the first account of the covenant in 2nd Samuel, he contrasts it with the Sinai Covenant. We also get a brief lesson in Hebrew poetry when the Davidic covenant is recounted in the book of Psalms. I LOVE reading and hearing people talk about covenantal theology, and I feel each time I learn a little bit more and things begin to make better sense and click. Disc Four wraps up the lesson by showing God's love and God's compassion in the Old Testament. As I said earlier, these are traits people don't often associate with God in the Old Testament, but we must remember God is unchanging. Our view of Him changes, but He never does. He is always all-loving and all-merciful.

Dr. Niskanen has a sense of humor you don't expect when it comes to theology professors, especially Old Testament ones. He makes references to both "The Sound of Music" and cartoon legend Homer Simpson, and he also makes jokes about being a Bible Man superhero with an arch-nemesis of Marcion. Sense of humor aside, what you really notice in these DVDs is the love that Dr. Niskanen has for the subject matter, God, and the Catholic Church. So if those 46 books in the front half of your Bible have always intimidated you, or you just want to learn more about the Old Testament in general, this is the Catholic Course for you. For a brief preview, check out the video below: