Bringing the Bible to Life
BY EDDIE O’NEILL
September 13-19, 2009 Issue | Posted 9/4/09 at 2:02 PM
Tim Gray paid attention when the Vatican held a synod on Scripture in the life and mission of the Church last October.
Now he’s helping to spread the wisdom that came out of it. Gray, president of the Augustine Institute in Denver, was an organizer and speaker at the 2009 National Catholic Bible Conference, which took place in late June. Its theme mirrored that of the synod.
Gray, who holds a doctorate in biblical studies from The Catholic University of America, spoke about the conference and the renewed interest in Bible studies that is sweeping across the Church.
You received an invitation to work for Archbishop Charles Chaput. How did that come about?
I went and did my master’s at Franciscan University in Steubenville [Ohio], and when I was finishing my studies, I got a call from a bishop in Rapid City, S.D. He wanted me to help him with a new high school he was launching.
I told him that I wanted to get my doctorate in biblical studies; and he said, “You can do that — but just come and work for a few years out here.” His name was Bishop Chaput, now the archbishop of Denver.
Tell me about the Denver Catholic Biblical School.
Denver has been a special place for biblical studies because 27 years ago Denver started what is known as the Denver Catholic Biblical School. Vatican II called for a renewal for Scripture for Catholics, and the Denver Catholic Biblical School was one of the first places where that response came. It had 600 people enrolled in the program immediately.
It is a four-year adult education program that walks people through the Bible. Adults study the Bible intensely. They read and study all 73 books of the Bible.
When Archbishop Chaput brought me out to Denver seven years ago, I took over the school and directed the biblical school for a little over five years.
Why do you think it has been so successful?
It took lay education seriously. People had a lot of reading and homework to do. Bishops around the country have asked me why this is successful. When they hear that we charge $500 for tuition, they tell me that in their dioceses they do not charge anything and still cannot fill up their classes. I tell them you get what you pay for.
The program has its own curriculum. It has a staff of five full-time people who go to parishes around the dioceses. In fact not only the Archdiocese of Denver, but also the Diocese of Colorado Springs [Colo.]. It gives good, quality instruction, so people want to pay for it and engage in it.
What is the connection between the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Augustine Institute — the school you head?
The biblical school helped us to start the Augustine Institute. I knew that there was a need for the Augustine Institute, because there was no graduate school that had a focus on evangelization and Scripture. Archbishop Chaput was a big encouragement to start it. And so, inspired by Pope John Paul II, we started up in 2005.
The theme of the Bible conference was “Scripture in the Life and Mission of the Church.” It is the same theme of the Scripture synod held in Rome last fall. A deliberate connection, I suspect.
The synod of bishops, which happened last October, focused on Scripture and the life and mission of the Church.
Scripture and the Gospel are at the center of any evangelization. And we believe that a renewal of Scripture and a renewal of evangelization have to go hand in hand.
There can be no proclamation of the Gospel without Scripture, and there can be no evangelization without Scripture being at the forefront, and that is what the Church has basically said in Vatican II and in the synod on Scripture.
You give a number of talks and conferences across the United States each year. What are you seeing when it comes to Catholics and their study of the Bible?
Bible studies are exploding all over the Catholic world. I was just in Tulsa, Okla., doing a Great Adventure [Bible] Time Line, and we had 250 people present. I asked them, “How many, 10 years ago, were in a Catholic Bible study or even knew that there was a Catholic Bible study?” No one raised their hands. And then I said, “How many of you now have heard of Catholic Bible studies and have them at your parish?” Almost everyone raised their hand.
There is a dramatic shift that is going on. In the ’70s and ’80s, the Church was hemorrhaging because good people were going to Protestant churches because of Bible studies. Now what we are seeing is Catholic Bible studies are blooming all over the place. And we are seeing Protestants who are converting. They are going to Catholic Bible studies. It’s the turning of the tide.
What were you hoping would come out of the National Catholic Bible Conference?
We brought together some of the best Bible study teachers in the country to Denver. We were trying to bring them all together to train and produce Catholics who can teach Scripture and advance biblical studies all over the country.
This conference uniquely married mind and heart and drew it to the word of God, which is exactly what the synod just called for in the life of the Church.
Eddie O’Neill writes from
Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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