Former evangelical Protestant helps Catholics understand Scripture

GREENVILLE — Mark P. Shea calls himself a double-jump convert, and that is one reason the St. Mary Church Center for Evangelical Catholicism sponsored his three talks Aug. 27-28.

Shea is an award-winning author of dozens of books and articles and is a regular on television and radio, including Catholic radio in South Carolina. He travels the world from the home he shares in the Northwest with his wife and four children to speak at parishes and conferences and seminars.

The director of the center, a parish ministry, said that the famed author and speaker brought a unique point of view to the middle of the Bible Belt.

“Mark went from being a pagan to an evangelical Protestant in college to Catholicism in 1987,” David Tiede Hottinger said. “He taught us what Catholics can learn from evangelical Protestants and how we can reach out to them. That’s something we need here in the Upstate.”

Bill Rippon, a St. Mary parishioner who came to each of Shea’s lectures, liked the biblical scholar’s Catholic apologetics and his experience.

“He has the ability to cover both sides of a situation,” Rippon said.

Tom Lewis, another local parishioner, said that Shea spoke from the pew. “He was giving the perspective of a layman in the church. And he never lost respect for his evangelical background,” Lewis said.

Shea admitted to enjoying himself in the Diocese of Charleston, but he also took on some heavy-duty concepts. On Sunday, he spoke for 90 minutes about reading Holy Scripture as the first Christians did, understanding it from the four different applications that were the work of the Holy Spirit.

“Because of this inspiration, the authors of the Scriptures wrote more than they knew,” Shea said. “According to the teaching office of the Catholic Church, you can read the Bible in the literal sense, the allegorical sense, the moral sense and the anagogical sense.”

He spoke of a “developing revelation,” an evolution in the teachings of God to his creation on Earth.

“The New Testament completes and fulfills the Old Testament. Like a parent teaching her children to spell when they are not yet ready for quantum physics or calculus, Scripture started with a race of barbarians and progressed,” he said.

One way to know the Bible is in the literal sense, when Christian Scripture writers alluded to traditions and promises made by the prophets to the ancient Jews. One such promise was to King David, that his dynasty would be forever.

“With the Babylonian conquest of Judea, the political reign of the Davidic dynasty suddenly ends. But the prophets talked about the shoot of Jesse, David’s father, so we can see now that the Davidic kings were foreshadows of the final and ultimate prophet, Jesus Christ,” Shea said.

He said that the literal sense of the Bible was both the foundational one to understanding and the one hardest to appreciate. We are reading translations, for one thing, and trying to interpret outmoded terminology from an entirely different culture. And we come at the texts from our own perspective.

“As moderns, we ask questions of a Scripture that the author was not trying to answer.”

Shea said that Catholic Church guidelines for reading Scripture enjoin us to remember that every passage exists in a context and we must read it in that context. Also, we should study the Bible with an eye toward our own Christian tradition and by being attentive to the analogy of our faith (i.e.: the Creed).

The second sense of the Bible is the allegorical sense, the imagery of the writing. The manna that fed Moses’ wandering Jews, for instance, refers to Christ as the bread of life. Samson foreshadows John the Baptist.

“Connections between the Old Testament and the New are usually allegorical,” Shea said. “The early fathers of the church looked for allegories all the time. They may be explicit or implicit.”

The moral sense of the Scriptures concerns itself with discipleship. Much of the imagery is that of morality: physical ugliness standing for sin, and the word “temple” referring to a person’s body. Warfare in the Jewish testament means the moral struggle with sin.

Anagogical sense means the ultimate spiritual sense of interpreting the Bible, that which goes above and beyond the literal, allegorical and moral meanings.

Shea talked about going to heaven every time we go to Mass, even though this life is itself a foreshadow of the one to come.

“The point of learning the senses of the Scriptures is to see the reality of Christ, to obtain our heavenly destiny,” he said. “Life is the title page of our story. Chapter One begins after we die.”

Hottinger said that Shea “has gone beyond apologetics; he speaks of discipleship as well.”