The Bible continues to top bestseller lists, and remains a beloved favorite for people of all backgrounds. Yet for many people--from those with a casual interest to long-time Christians--reading the Bible is a daunting and difficult exercise.
Dr. J. Tom Cowley, professor of Biblical theology at Olivet Theological College & Seminary at Olivet University in San Francisco, has taken up the task of charting a clear course through the “heart of the Bible” elucidating its central truths for all people in his new book Remember the Heart of the Bible: Love God, Love Neighbor.
Recently, Olivet Theological College & Seminary interviewed Dr. Cowley about his book and its contribution to Biblical scholarship.
OTCS: What inspired you to write this book?
Dr. J. Tom Cowley: Nearly twenty years ago, after reading the Bible cover to cover in 1988, I began a teaching ministry focused on making an overview of the Bible truths simple for all people to understand and use. This has led to many teaching approaches used in churches with lay persons that provide frameworks to remember and recall Biblical stories, narratives, and persons for everyday sharing and meditation.
Remember the Heart of the Bible is a culmination of approaches that I have tried in my own study and teaching. The idea for this new book grew out of my earlier book; A Biography of Jesus which provides a framework of the life of Jesus from the four gospels. I felt called to provide a framework for lay person of the whole Bible.
OTCS: Does your book address any specific issue or concern in your ministry?
Dr. J. Tom Cowley: I believe Bible literacy--the ability to know, use, and share the Bible is a great need today. The Bible is a best seller every year in the United States, with more that 20 million copies being sold. The average American home has four Bibles. With such popularity one might think that knowledge of the Bible is quite high. Yet the opposite turns out to be true; many surveys show Bible knowledge is abysmal. To fulfill the purpose of this book I taught an outline in classes and among churches for the past two years. I would use these classes for my refinement and improvement of materials and methods of communication. For this book I used Deographics, a specialty design firm, to help make ideas and text flow and be designed for easy use by readers.
OTCS: What’s heart of the Bible as presented in your book?
Dr. J. Tom Cowley: Simplifying and ordering scripture was important to Jesus. In Matthew 22 Jesus was approached by a Pharisee with the question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" At the time there were more than 600 rabbinical laws and Jesus brought focus with his answer:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40)
Jesus would go on to share in the Upper Room with his disciples, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
Love, agape love, is the heart of Jesus' message. Readers will get a better understanding of the Bible as a framework for life by studying all three sections of the book and its appendices.
The three sections are:
Foundations: 9 Narrative studies to order the key event chronology of the Old Testament
Fulfillment: 8 Studies organized by: "Love God/Father" and "Love our Neighbor"
First Followers - 9 studies organizing the 23 Epistle letter of the New Testament.
OTCS: Before your latest book, you authored A Biography of Jesus. What impact do you hope these two books will have on churches and believers?
Dr. J. Tom Cowley: Hundreds of churches and believers have used A Biography of Jesus as a study guide, preaching outline, and individual meditation study. The feedback has been very encouraging that people now understand the life of Jesus and can recall events from his life more easily. While I have not received specific feedback, I am blessed that young people around the world are exposed to a simple way to recall and remember the Life of Jesus, God's only Son.
My initial response from readers of my new book has been very encouraging.
People will often say I now understand the Old Testament, or simplifying the teachings of Jesus has been really helpful. I expect Bible literacy among readers and users of my book will increase dramatically. I am excited about the possibilities of my books being translated into many languages and used electronically and at OU for learning.