A New Kind of Freedom

“Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome. Catholics, as a general matter, spend far too little time in studying and praying with Scripture.

Although Jeff Cavins was not a name familiar to me when I lived on the East Coast, here in Minneapolis (where Cavins currently resides), I have heard his name often from people who have taken his Bible study courses. As a result, I was happy to have a chance to spend some time with one of the books of his Catholic Scripture Study series, Galatians, A New Kind of Freedom Defined, which was sent to me as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program.

The aim of the Scripture Study Series of which this book is a part is to invite readers “on a journey that aims at more than mere knowledge, but transformation.” If we view the study of the Bible as a mere intellectual exercise designed to gather information, we miss that fact that the Bible is intended as living Word, as (in Cavins words) a “love letter” with the “power to transform our lives.”

His approach stresses a number of things that I think are very important aspect of studying and praying with scripture. First, he emphasizes the importance of context – of understanding where the book on which one is focusing fits into the larger scheme and understanding what was its purpose. In the case of Galatians, that means understanding who Paul is talking to and what was the issue the early Church was facing that caused conflict, i.e., the extent to which the Mosaic laws had to be followed by Gentiles. Too often, people pull a quote from one of the books of the Bible without paying attention to what motivated the line and what the author was trying to convey. In order to help readers with that understanding here, the book includes some important interludes from Acts that help set the stage.

Second, there is a focus on understanding how the scripture passage being studied relates to our lives today. One of the criticisms I had of some material I looked at a year or so ago from a Cavins course was that it did not seem to me to view this aspect as critical. But if scripture is going to transform us, we can’t study it as simply a story of some people in a far off time and place. There has to be serious reflection on how this impacts our lives today. I think the questions that are part of each chapter/lesson (the book is divided into 10 lessons) invite serious reflection on our own relation now to each other, to the Church and to God.

Third, each lesson suggest a particular line for memorization. Memorizing scripture is not somethign we tend to do these days. I think many of us above a certain age recoil against memorization, recalling perhaps aspects of the education on our youth where there was an overemphasis on memorization over understanding. However, the danger in reacting against that overemphasis is forgetting that keeping pieces of scipture close to our heart can provide us with solace, comfort and joy at times when we need them. So the encouragement – not to memorize long passages for its own sake – but to take from each lesson a little snippet to carry around with one, strike me as useful.

This is a book that is useful for individual or for group study. (With respect to the latter, the book includes useful material on how to use the book in groups.) In addition to the questions on the text and questions for reflection, each chapters contains additional “points to ponder” for those wishing do deepen their appreciation of the material as well as references to the catechism and other material one might look to for further study. There is a lot here that will enrich your appreciation of Galatians and that, hopefully, will encourage further study of other books of the Bible.