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The Consuming Fire

The Consuming Fire: A Christian Guide to the Old Testament.  By Michael W. Duggan.  Our Sunday Visitor, 2010.  686 pages, softcover.  $29.95

Reviewed by Steven Schultz, MA

I fear far too many Catholics operate under the mistaken assumption that the New Testament somehow replaced the Old Testament, or at least rendered it to relative unimportance.  This unfortunate notion causes many of us to give the Old Testament nothing more than a passing glance.  Not only is this notion unfortunate, it’s downright dangerous to our salvation.

The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Therefore in order to truly understand the New Testament, we must truly understand the Old Testament.  Reading the New Testament, we should be struck by the fact of how thoroughly everyone – Jesus, the Apostles, their fellow Jews – knew the Old Testament (or for them, the Scriptures).  Keep in mind, the Apostles were simple working people, yet they all intimately knew the Old Testament.  Why should we hold ourselves to any lesser standard?

Beyond this, the Old Testament is fundamental to our spiritual perfection as Christians and to our salvation.  We are called to live in Christ – to transform ourselves in Christ.  St. Irenaeus terms the process “recapitulation” in Christ.  Our Lord fulfilled and perfected the Old Testament. Therefore, in order to recapitulate ourselves in Christ, we too must live through His perfection of the Old Testament.  Like the Apostles, we too must know and understand the Old Testament to truly and fully live in Christ in light of the New Testament.

Since many of us have “lost touch” with the Old Testament, reading it can prove an intimidating task.  However, in The Consuming Fire, Michael Duggan provides us a great aid in taming this daunting process.  Dr. Duggan is an Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies and the inaugural holder of the CWL Chair for Catholic Studies at St. Mary’s University College in Calgary, Alberta.

The first edition of The Consuming Fire was released by Ignatius Press in 1991.  It has long since gone out of print.  This near edition, appearing nearly twenty years later, is thoroughly revised and updated.  Significant Biblical scholarship has added greatly to our knowledge of the Old Testament since 1991.  Dr. Duggan incorporates this latest scholarship into the new version of The Consuming Fire.

Dr. Duggan sets the stage for our journey by providing introductory chapters on the development of the Old Testament, in particular the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) compared to the Septuagint (the Greek Bible), as well as background on the people, places and history of Old Testament times.  He then takes us through every book of the Old Testament, explaining and relating them not only to the other Old Testament books, but to the New Testament as well.  Each chapter concludes with suggestions for meditative reading along with an outline of the book(s) covered in that chapter.

I have only minor criticisms of this book.  First, I find the section of color maps to be of poor quality.  According to the copyright information, the maps apparently come from a 2005 do-it-yourself software program and they look like it.  Quality maps would have greatly enhanced this solid work.  Also, I take issue with the author’s use of “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” instead of “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” along with his use of “BCE” (Before Common Era) and “CE” (Common Era) instead of “BC” and “AD.”  He claims to do so out of “respect” and an attempt not to “offend” others.  Frankly, I find this complete silliness.

The book is directed towards Catholics.  The terms cited above are standard, traditional Catholic terms.  I don’t expect other religions to alter their terms in order to not “offend” me.  I’m strong enough in my faith that, for example, hearing a Jewish person refer to the Torah or a Muslim talk about the Qur’an doesn’t shake my belief in Jesus as Messiah.

Instead of watering down our terms as a way of being “politically correct,” I believe much more profitable discussion and interchange of ideas takes place when we’re honest about our fundamental beliefs.  I’ve enjoyed extremely profitable discussions with people of radically different belief systems.  We never felt the need to resort to “politically correct” silliness in order to avoid “offending” and thereby appear “tolerant.”

Other than these relatively minor criticisms, I find The Consuming Fire an excellent and profitable book.  Through it, we can come to know more fully the Old Testament and thereby come to know more fully the New Testament and our obligations in Jesus as Christians.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Consuming Fire and be sure to check out their great selection of baptism gifts while you are there.

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