Friday, November 6, 2015

Bible and New Testament Basics for Catholics (Ave Maria Press)

Dr. John Bergsma is one of the great Biblical minds of the Catholic Church currently. I have read his writings in the academic journal Letter and Spirit, and in these he shows his brilliance in a way that leaves you reading and rereading, because it is so indepth. In his books from Ave Maria Press, Bible Basics for Catholics and New Testament Basics for Catholics, his brilliance is again on display, but he puts it in a way that is both understandable and fun to read. Let me tell you about these two books.

Bible Basics for Catholics is a 200 page walkthrough salvation history with pictures! Dr. Bergsma begins the introduction by explaining three important terms that are key to this book and salvation history - 1. covenant, 2. mediator, and 3. mountain. At first blush, it seems like a case of "one of these things is not like the other," but it all makes sense. In layman's term, he tells us that "a covenant is a legal way to make someone part of your family." Two examples of this are marriage and adoption, and those apply perfectly to our relationship with God. A mediator is the person who represents the large group of people within the covenant, i.e., Noah, Moses, etc. And we all know what a mountain is, but it is significant because this is where six of the Biblical covenants were made.

The book then walks us through the seven covenants - Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Prophets, and Eucharist. I was familiar with six of these covenants, but the one on the Prophets is not one I understood too well. Dr. Bergsma pulls Scriptural quotes from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel to discuss this New Covenant, and how it will be a restoration of the Davidic Covenant. All the other covenants had been broken by the Israelites until now, but with the restoration of Davidic Covenant, there will be a new Zion and a new King from the line of David. The last chapter of the book discusses the book of Revelation, Heaven, and the Great Wedding Feast, or as Dr. Bergsma refers to it, "covenant consummation." There are also notes and study questions for every chapter at the end of the book. This was a marvelously written book that condensed the Bible to its main message and made it very understandable. What set this book apart from others was the stick-figure illustrations. There are copious amounts of these illustrations in the book, which help the reader to understand better, remember more, and be able to teach/share these lessons with others. Highly recommended book, which I will reference for teaching students as well as my own children!

After tackling Bible Basics for Catholics, I turned my attention to New Testament Basics for Catholics. My first impression of the book was that it was thicker than I expected. Dr. Bergsma did a whirlwind tour of all of salvation history in 200 pages, so when I discovered that this book on the New Testament was almost 300 pages, I was a bit surprised. I then read the Table of Contents and realized that not all 27 books were covered either! So what exactly is in this book and which books will we be studying? Dr. Bergsma focuses on four authors (Matthew, Luke, Paul, and John) and gives us a brief description of them and their writings in the introduction. Don't worry! The stick figures are back and each one comes with his own stick figure. Matthew has a money bag (tax collector) and a quill (scribe). Luke has a head mirror and stethoscope (doctor) and an icon (first iconographer). Paul has a sword (the Word of God and was beheaded) and a letter (wrote a lot of epistles). Lastly, John has one hand giving a priestly blessing (was a priest) and the Eucharistic cup (taught extensively on this in John 6.)

The first chapter of the book gives us a prequel of the Old Testament and is basically a brief summary of Bible Basics for Catholics. Chapter Two is on the Gospel of Matthew. Chapters Three and Four are on the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Chapter Five is on the Letter to the Romans. And Chapters Six and Seven covers the Gospel of John and Revelation. Each chapter is a summary of each Biblical book complete with helpful illustrations for teaching/memorization purposes. I especially liked Chapter Six as I believe that Dr. Bergsma did a masterful job explaining the seven signs in the Gospel of John. I do wish that Chapter Seven had walked us through the seven seals, bowls, and trumpets more, but I did appreciate his summary of the seven churches. Also missing from this book was the study questions at the end. This was a good book, but it didn't feel as great as his first one. I'd still recommend it though as it is good for self-study or teaching.

These books were provided to me for free by Ave Maria Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!