Four questions and answers with the creator of the Bible Timeline Learning System, the basis of the chart-topping "The Bible in a Year" podcast.
Jeff Cavins, a keynote speaker for the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (to be held on September 14) created the Bible Timeline Learning System, which is the basis for the chart-topping “The Bible in a Year” podcast.
Although interested in learning more about the Bible, many parishioners may be unsure if now is really the best time to launch a Bible study. Even if their pastor were to support the proposal, many Catholics wouldn’t know the best place to start.
Aleteia asked Mr. Cavins the following questions.
How do today’s challenges mirror times of captivity in Bible history? Why does that make the present time the best time to rebuild and restore our Church?
Jeff Cavins: In the Bible there were three major periods where the people of God found themselves in captivity, in a situation where life was not as they had known it. Times when they were stretched to walk into a new reality. The first one was the 400 years in Egyptian bondage. And then after that 400 years of captivity, God sent Moses to deliver them and to lead them into freedom. The second experience of captivity was in 587 B.C. when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took the people of Judah into Babylon for 70 years. And then in the New Testament many of the disciples found themselves in prison because of the Word of God. In all three of those instances, it looked bad, it looked hopeless, but it was actually the place that God wanted His people to be in order to fulfill their destiny and walk into the next chapter of the Story He had in mind for them.
And so it is often precisely when things are very difficult that we discover the heart of God and His plan, if we lean into it. What we’re facing today with the pandemic and its challenges is very similar to those three examples of captivity. Life is not the way it used to be, we don’t even know what “normal” means anymore, and people are looking for two things: first, someone to trust, and second, a brighter future. Scripture reveals the heart of God and the plan of God which fulfills those two desires that we are ultimately looking for.
The sad thing is that many of us will settle for less, which may mean another 40 years in the wilderness.
How can Bible studies energize parishes, revitalize souls, and restore hope?
Jeff Cavins: As a result of the last two years, not only have individuals lost their sense of direction, but many parishes have as well. As a result, people feel hopeless, as if something happened to their “internal compass.” When done well, Bible study isn’t simply about learning facts—it’s a reorienting of our lives around Jesus. It’s a relationship. And that’s exactly what people need right now, in these challenging times.
Meeting God everyday in His Word is the anchor that our lives need. The book of Hebrews says that “hope is an anchor for the soul,” and God’s Word gives us hope, no matter how difficult things get politically, medically, socially, Bible study teaches us who we are, and who God is. Bible study shows us that there isn’t anything we can’t face with Christ at the helm.
What are the biggest obstacles to starting a Bible study in a parish, and how can parishioners overcome them?
Jeff Cavins: One of the most common comments that I receive from people is that they don’t have a good Bible Study at their parish, and they ask me what they can do about it. And my answer is, “you go start the Bible Study!” Ascension’s The Great Adventure Bible Study program makes it so that you don’t have to be a scholar to lead a Bible study, you just have to love people. The program videos and materials do all the teaching—you just have to be willing to serve, to help welcome people, and to press play on the video. You truly don’t need to be an expert at all, just a willing disciple. If you’re willing to serve in this way, then you can be a major part of restoring joy and hope in your parish.
One of the incredible things this year was that Ascension moved all our Bible studies online—so that your group can meet in person if you’re able, but if for some reason you have to go virtual, it’s all easy to do with our website. The tremendous staff at Ascension is available by phone and email to help you with any tech support you need so that again—you don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to serve others by organizing your group.
In the Bible, both Israel and the early Church were “dispersed.” They called it the diaspora—due to persecutions the people of God were forced to flee their homes, and their communities of worship. In that season they were forced to become creative and found new ways of spiritually feeding people. I think something similar is going on with the Church now—we are seeing new, creative ways of evangelization and catechesis and community bubbling up, like the incredible response to our Bible in a Year podcast. We have over 100 million downloads and we’re not even through the year yet! It’s incredible. I think in some ways we’re going to look back on this time and think: why didn’t we do it this way from the beginning?
How does being a regular reader of the Bible impact [your] everyday life?
Jeff Cavins: Every single day my wife and I meet downstairs and begin our mornings with the readings from daily Mass, which of course follow the liturgical calendar. Every morning, without any deviation, we have a cup of tea, open our Bibles, and read the Bible using lectio divina.
This does a number of things for us: first, it creates a habit of meeting God on a daily basis, because we need to hear a fresh Word from God every day. When I used to be a Protestant pastor, before my reversion, we would ask people the question, could you use a Word from God today? And the response was overwhelmingly always, “Yes!” We need a daily Word from the Lord. It feeds us, directs us, corrects us, and also gives us a Word that we may be called to share with others we meet later that day.
And as a married couple, this habit brings us together around God’s Word every single day. Even if we’re in an argument, we still meet around God’s Word because that’s where our souls are met, fed, corrected, and that’s where we come to know the heart of Our Father and His Plan. This creates a foundation of trust for our family: trust in God.
Another advantage of starting each day in lectio divina this way is that the liturgical year is not just random readings—it begins with Advent and ends with the feast of Christ the King. The liturgical year is the life of Christ laid down on a calendar.
I like to joke that if you were to look at Jesus’s “Google Calendar,” you’d get the liturgical year with all its readings and feast days! And of course, we want our lives to reflect His life. So when we follow the Church’s liturgical calendar on a daily basis, we are literally conforming our life to the life of Christ.
It’s beautiful because as Catholics we are not at the whim of one particular pastor who has special verses or passages that he/she likes, but rather we are getting a steady diet of all the major stories of Scripture, we are encountering all of the major people, over the three year cycle of readings that the Church gives us. It’s a beautiful thing.
There’s so much anxiety right now in the culture. Many people are spending so much time and energy watching the evening news, cable news, YouTube, conspiracy theories, all of that … I listen to them talk about these things and wonder: have you given any time today to listen to God? A loving God, who knows your situation better than any network news channels? That God has a Word for you in the midst of whatever you’re going through, and it’s going to bring you so much more peace than watching more news and social media.
I think our friends who listen to the Bible in a Year podcast have learned this lesson: that there’s something better than the news! It’s the GOOD news, and that Good News has changed their life.
Jeff Cavins is the creator of the celebrated Great Adventure® Bible Timeline study series which has empowered generations of Catholics to understand the Bible’s central “story of salvation.” Jeff has been a leading Catholic evangelist, author, and podcast host for decades, and is particularly well known having hosted EWTN’s “Life on the Rock” TV show for six years. Jeff’s best-selling books and Bible studies include “The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation,” “Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible,” “Jesus: The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” “The Activated Disciple and Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible.“