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Catholics go back to the Bible
BY BARB ERNSTER
As an evangelical Protestant,
Sarah Christmyer made sure her spiritual life
revolved around Scripture.
So, she says, she was “kind of
shocked” when she became Catholic in 1992 only to find few Catholics who seemed
interested in reading, much less studying, the Bible.
“I got tired of reading the Bible
in a Protestant setting,” she recalls, “and not being able to find the
viewpoint of the magisterium.”
She began writing and teaching
Catholic Bible studies. In the process, she met Catholic author and speaker
When she presented his “Great
Adventure Bible Study Timeline” program to her Bible study group in Payoli, Pa., folks reported that it had “enriched
their faith and made all the things they were doing already as Catholics make
Christmyer co-authored two Bible studies on
Genesis and helped launch Catholic Scripture Study International via
CatholicExchange.net, before becoming the director of Cavins’
Bible Timeline (thebibletimeline.com).
Today she says she has seen
Catholics’ interest in the Bible steadily increase in various parts of the
world. “It’s reaching a critical mass, and there are enough people working on
it and enough materials to keep up with the demand,” she says.
Thousands of Catholics are now
participating in Bible studies offered online, in dioceses, and through
Catholic bookstores and publishers. There’s definitely a hunger for it, says
David Scott, managing editor of SalvationHistory.com, the website for Scott
Hahn’s St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.
Scott believes that Catholics want
to go deeper in their study of the Bible at just the time a new crop of dynamic
and orthodox resources have become widely available.
“We’ve been telling Catholics for
30 years that the Scriptures are a treasure, and there have been some great
teachers,” he says. “But the materials available for parishes have had no meat.
We’re seeing a hunger for the really strong meat of the Gospel, not just a
wimpy overview of the Bible. People want to understand it as the Word of God.”
Scott says that more than 26,000
people have downloaded study materials from the Salvation History website. They
are being used by Catholic high schools, home schoolers
and prison ministries, as well as seminarians in Nigeria,
Mother Teresa’s sisters in Albania,
missionaries in Russia and
lay ministry groups in Denmark.
“We put these things up three
years ago,” he adds, “and have done no advertising. It’s amazing what’s
happening out there.”
Cavins says the large number of
Protestants coming into the Church in recent times has fed interest in Bible
study — but he also believes a new movement led by the Holy Spirit is afoot.
“Over the last 15 years, we’ve
seen a renewal in apologetics; now we’re beginning to see a renewal of
Scripture study,” he says. “It began with the papacy of Pope John Paul II, his
clear leadership bringing us back to Scripture, which is a love letter from the
What we’re seeing today is “the
beginning of a new wave and we’re seeing it in the numbers,” adds Cavins. “In the Twin Cities we have more than 4,000 people
participating in the ‘Great Adventure’ studies, and we’re growing. Nationally,
we have more than 450 parishes and are adding three new parishes a day. That’s
Gail Buckley, co-founder and
director of Catholic Scripture Study International, says her group’s Bible
studies are used in 48 states and 40 countries. Participants tell her they come
away with new knowledge of Scripture, renewed faith in the Church and new
fellowship with the people in their parish.
As a convert, Buckley is pleased
to see Catholic Bible studies take off after witnessing so many Catholics get
drawn into big Protestant Bible groups and away from the Church.
“I had been to those Protestant
groups and I knew what they were like,” she says. “They’re wonderful studies,
but they’re not Catholic.”
Because Scripture is meant to be
read within the tradition of the Church, non-denominational Bible studies don’t
provide the full revelation of Christ, says Cavins.
As a result, they come up short when it comes to explaining Mary, the
sacraments, the communion of saints, the papacy and the liturgy.
“The reason these new Catholic
studies are so popular and successful is that we’re using the method the early
Church Fathers used,” he says. “That speaks to the heart.”
Elizabeth Burch, an evangelical
Protestant from Spruce Pine, N.C., participated weekly in Bible Study
Fellowship, the largest non-denominational Bible-study program in the world.
But when she began reading books by Catholic apologists, she felt drawn to the
Catholic faith. She attended the Catholic Scripture Study International
conference in April to meet Scott Hahn — only to undergo an “unbelievable”
experience that led her to begin the process of entering the Church.
“I often left Bible Study
Fellowship not agreeing with it,” recalls Burch. “I’m excited now to have that
safety net of the Church, the teaching magisterium
and that authority over me.
“The Mass is so rich with
Scripture and it’s lived out,” continues Burch. “I’m envious of lifelong
Catholics who just breathe this stuff.”
The Archdiocese of Denver offers a
four-year scripture study at its Catholic Biblical School, which is considered
one of the most successful Catholic adult-education programs in the country,
according to its director, Tim Gray. More than 1,500 adults have graduated from
the program and, this fall, some 700 souls will begin courses — the highest
The curriculum is rooted in a
program the archdiocese has offered for 25 years. It focuses on the overarching
story of salvation history, says Gray, who also teaches at Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary.
One common testimony among the
school’s graduates is that the Mass becomes more meaningful to them after
studying the Bible. Archbishop Charles Chaput told
the Register that people meet God most intimately through the Eucharist and the
Word of God.
“What makes the Catholic Biblical
School a real treasure for the Archdiocese of Denver is not just its scholarly
excellence, but also its authentic Catholic spirit, fidelity to the Church, and
the joy and energy it communicates to its students,” he says. “It’s a great
gift to Catholics in Colorado,
and the more people nationwide who can share in its content, the better.”
At least a half-dozen other
dioceses are seeking the program for their areas and several others are already
offering programs modeled after Denver’s.
Now that the curriculum has been
updated, Gray said he hopes there will be Catholic biblical schools all over
“We have people from every state
of mind, some educated, some not so educated, and all of them want a deeper
sense of their faith and who God is,” says Gray. “Our goal is to spread this
program because it’s having such an impact on people.”
Personal and group Bible study:
It’s not just for Protestants any more.
Not that it ever really was.
Barb Ernster writes from
Scripture Study International
St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology