Story by Lois Rogers | Correspondent
It may be hard to imagine how anyone might cover thousands of years of Salvation History during a single Saturday seminar.
But with internationally acclaimed evangelist and biblical scholar Jeff Cavins presenting the timeline of the Bible, more than 400 seminar participants – many from out of state and more than 100 being catechists – were kept engaged as they were led on a spiritual journey that moved seamlessly from the Old Testament to the New.
Hosted Nov. 18 by St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, Freehold, and sponsored by the Diocese’s adult faith formation ministry in the Department of Evangelization and Family Life, the timeline was presented as a chronological narrative, illustrated with wide-screen projections and illuminated by Cavins’ free-flowing commentary.
The creator of “The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study Program” and the author of numerous Bible studies, including “Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible,” Cavins showed how the key people, places and events in the Bible throughout the millennium eventually fit together, pointing even in the earliest epochs to the coming of Christ.
The presentation was the second by Cavins in as many days; he had spoken to another group of some 200 people the prior evening on the topic of “God’s Amazing Plan for You!”
Early on, Cavins offered insight into his personal pilgrimage through the Bible, sharing how he left the Church at 21 wishing “I could get my head around the Bible.” Cavins said it troubled him that, like many Catholics and Christians, he knew the unconnected stories but did not know “the story.” He wanted to understand the Bible, he said, like archaeologists understand history.
When he came to realize the origins and foundation of the Bible, he returned to the Church, and set to work mapping a biblical timeline that sheds light on the historical route of the Bible. The timeline that offers the narrative, he said, is found in 12 books of the Old Testament and two in the New Testament.
“Anyone who reads these 14 books,” he writes in his introduction to “The Bible Timeline,” “will have a rough sequential knowledge of the history of the people of Israel and of the beginnings of the Christian Church.”
Understanding the events and putting them into the perspective of the whole timeline requires the guidance of the Church, said Cavins, urging that anyone undertaking the effort have a Catholic edition of the Bible and a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Inspiring Parish-Based Formation
Laura Rivas, diocesan associate director of adult faith formation, noted that some 30 parishes will be bringing “The Bible Timeline” concept home by offering “Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible” study series in their faith communities.
Rivas shared that the series, one of many from Ascension Press that focuses widely on Bible study for Catholics, “presents the Bible as more than a book, but rather, a library of Salvation History with God’s glorious plan for leading his people into an intimate relationship with himself.”
Rivas added, “Perhaps for the first time in their lives, many [participants] got an overview, which makes their Bible reading and Sunday Mass Readings come alive like never before.”
Beth Sentner, a longtime member of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, said she has been attending parish Bible studies around the area for 20 years. Currently in a study group in St. Veronica Parish, Howell, she feels that Cavins’ approach connects both Old and New Testament to Jesus, which is important when “you have to be familiar with the story in order to tell it.”
Celeste Grant, a catechetical leader in St. Andrew Parish, Jobstown, said she was fascinated by the way the program opened the door to finding Jesus in the Old Testament.
“I always heard that Jesus was there to be found. But [Cavins] put it out there and helped you to see the clues,” she said.
Grant said that her parish’s religious education program is aiming to bring the timeline program to its 155 students. “We’d like to start it in third grade and carry it through to sixth. My hope is that these kids will not be like me, at 56, just learning.”
Debbie Matthew, a member of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, has enjoyed seeing Cavins in his appearances on TV on EWTN. “He speaks in everyday language, which makes it more understandable. The stories he told and the notes we were able to take make for a better understanding of the Bible.”