You can learn the story of the Bible in seven easy stick figures. Several summers ago, I took a weekly crash course on salvation history. It absolutely changed the way I see the Bible. Have you ever heard the prophets or psalms talking about Israel and Judah as though they’re separate places and been very confused? That was me. A little Bible study changed that. For me, it took some long drives to Lakeway and Jeff Cavins. You can learn the same Bible storyline using the easy-to-read, info-packed Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History, by John Bergsma. You won’t regret it.
I’ve written here many times about how Catholics don’t read the Bible and how the lack of Catholic biblical literacy is terrible. My standard suggestion is to start by reading through the lectionary, even just on Sundays. Once you have that under your belt, though, it helps to know what the Bible is all about.
There’s a great scene from a late season of the sitcom Friends where Ross is taking as many free hotel room amenities home as he can carry. He reaches into the beside table and grabs the Gideon Bible. His friend Chandler says, “A Bible? You’re Jewish. What are you going to do with that?” Ross replies sheepishly, “Learn about Jesus.”
Most people think of the Bible as “a book about Jesus.” Yet it’s very easy to read the Bible the way Jen Fulwiler first did: flipping through the first few pages of Genesis, expecting Jesus to show up immediately, getting confused when he doesn’t, and not realizing that there even is a New Testament.
That’s because Jesus doesn’t show up immediately—or does he? If you follow the line of seven primary biblical covenants, he kind of does show up right away. Bergsma describes his own journey to learning and teaching covenant theology in the introduction. He managed to get all the way through a Ph.D. without ever thinking of the Bible as the story of Jesus or the story of the Church! Many Bible classes focus on historical contexts, purported authors, and controversies. Far fewer will break down the story and make it easy enough for anyone to understand. That’s how Bergsma teaches his popular class at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and that’s how he’s written his book for the rest of us.
When I said you can learn the Bible in stick figures, I was serious. Bergsma illustrates each of the seven covenants by drawing single-curve mountains; stick figure people with crowns, knives, etc.; and even some stick giraffes, stick altars, and a stick Crucifixion. Simplifying complex concepts such as the Temple and Christ’s place as the New Adam is the key to the method. It works for two main reasons.
First, stick figures are easy enough to view that you can quickly memorize and reproduce them. I could probably draw and name all seven covenants even if I didn’t have the book fresh in my mind. Committing concepts to memory is the first step to getting them close to your heart and entrenched in your faith. They’re like the ABC’s for salvation history literacy.
Second, the connections are immediately visible. As Bergsma draws his stick-figure Jesus, you realize that it looks just like stick-figure Adam. This is not a coincidence. The Temple built by David stands on the very place Jesus will one day be crucified.
Bergsma’s ending suggestion is to take the knowledge he offers and share it with others. It’s easy to get bogged down in reading Leviticus, but when you know how it fits into the greater plan of salvation, that can lift your spirits. It’s hard to grasp how Jesus is the Son of David, but it makes sense in the overall scheme. If you’ve been looking for an easy, humorous way to finally “get” the Bible, this book is for you.